Summary: A sermon about seeing humanity through the eyes of God.
I want to ask all of us a question this morning: “How does God view the world?”
And there is actually another question attached to this first question: “How does God ask us to view the world?”
This really is a basic ethical question for all of us who call ourselves Christians.
And within our Gospel Lesson for this morning: the answer is given.
We are told that Jesus saw a great big crowd of people and He had “compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”
The term “compassion” is used throughout the Gospels, over and over again, to describe Jesus’ attitude toward human beings.
“Compassion” literally means to “suffer with”—to be in “unconditional solidarity with others.”
Compassion is truly the essence of the God.
It’s Who God is.
And because our attitude toward the world invariably mirrors our understanding of God—our ethics follow our theology, in other words—compassion is what Christians are called to have toward the world as well.
This might seem obvious, but, as history shows us, compassion is not the most common or popular concept that human beings have used to describe God’s attitude toward people.
God has often been thought of as angry, vengeful, violent, unapproachable.
But, suffering [agape] love of which compassion is a synonym is what the Gospels teach us about What and Who God is.
Contemporary theologian Douglas Hall writes: “Christians must ask not only whether we have grasped the full radicality of belief in a compassionate God, but whether as the Church we are ready to live that compassion in our profoundly threatened world.”
In Ashville, North Carolina there is a United Methodist Church called The Haywood Street Congregation.
They were founded in 2009.
They call themselves “a mission congregation.”
Their core programs include weekly worship, a clothing closet, a community garden, and the Haywood Street Respite, which offers a safe place for homeless adults to stay on a short-term basis after being discharged from the hospital.
Twice a week they offer a free community meal known as the “Downtown Welcome Table.”
On Wednesdays, this meal is lunch; on Sundays this meal is dinner.
Hundreds of people come to these meals each week.
And it’s not your run-of-the-mill soup kitchen type of situation.
They use real cloth table cloths and cloth napkins.
Meals are served on china plates.
The food is abundant.
Each table is decorated with flowers.
They do this to make sure people living on the streets and people serving those who are living on the streets know that “left-overs and hand-me-downs” are not all they deserve.
They do this to provide folks with dignity and to remember that when they are serving others, they are quite literally serving Jesus Himself.
The food is prepared by 16 area “restaurant partners” who have been impressed by the ministry and have gotten a taste of what it means to love and serve—to have “compassion.”
Church members volunteer and other members of the community serve as the wait staff.
They also sit at the tables with those who come to eat.
They socialize and get to know one another.
People are encouraged to linger, as they would in a fine restaurant or a dinner in someone’s home.
Their website makes the following statement: “This is not a ministry where ‘the haves’ help ‘the have nots.’
We are a ministry that acknowledges each of us as privileged and each of us as being in need.
While some come with hunger from the body others come with a hunger in their souls.”
In Mark Chapter 6 Jesus is teaching this huge crowd of people “many things.”
And it’s starting to get late.
So, Jesus’ disciples, who know that Jesus cares about people—think what might be best for the crowd is to send them away so that they can go and buy food for themselves, rather than getting all hungry out in the middle of nowhere.
And so, they suggest this to Jesus.
I think Jesus is always delighted when people around Him come up with ideas that show they are thinking about the needs of others.
But often, what Jesus does is takes those ideas and then calls us to do something much bigger than what we were originally thinking—much deeper, much more radical, compassionate and life-giving.
It’s kind of like our small idea of how to care for other people gets bounced right back at us with what seems like an impossibly huge proposition.
“If you really care for them,” He says, “why don’t you give them something to eat?”
This is pretty typical of God, I think.
And if I know myself well enough, my typical answer to this kind of proposal is: “I can’t do it.
I don’t have time.
I haven’t got the energy.