Stronger in Compassion

Bible Reference: Luke 10:25-37

Everybody needs Jesus. This truth drives Christian Crusaders’ ministry, and it drives me as a pastor. Everyone needs to see what a wonderful life giver Jesus is, and then step into a relationship with Him and follow Him.

Over the years, I’ve taught a number of evangelism training courses to people in my congregation. The desire is for them to be ready to share this wonderful Jesus with people around them. Everybody needs Jesus, you see.

One of the courses I’ve used is entitled, “How to become a contagious Christian.” This course teaches a formula: High Potency + Close Proximity to People + Clear Communication of the Good News will bring about Maximum Impact.

High Potency refers to Jesus’ challenge for us to be the salt of the earth. It is important for us to be salty and retain that saltiness. Saltiness involves having an authentic character and being sacrificial.

The course also talks about the importance of being a compassionate person. A statement in the materials says, “Uncaring Christianity does not attract inquirers into the fold. But a clear, consistent demonstration of Christlike love and compassion can be a powerful magnet to pull people toward Jesus. It can open up people’s hearts like nothing else can.” Max Lucado says, “Compassion is the best apologetic.”

When you think about it, there is a lot of truth to this. For example, Christians and non-Christians alike seem to really like Pope Francis. They are attracted by his compassion for people.

Richard Stearns wrote a wonderful book years ago called “The Hole in Our Gospel.” In it he said this: “When we are living out our faith with integrity and compassion in the world, God can use us to give others a glimpse of His love and character.” This should not be a surprise to those of us who really care. Caring and compassion for people, i.e., caring for the tangible needs of other human beings, has always been part and parcel of genuinely being God’s people in this world. We follow a compassionate God. The Bible tells us, “The Lord is gracious and compassionate” (Psalm 145:8).

In Deuteronomy 15:11, God speaks to His people through Moses, “There will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore, open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor in your land.” Be compassionate people.

James tells us in the New Testament, “Religion that is pure visits orphans and widows in their affliction” (vs. 1:27) That is compassion.

Peter writes to a group of people who are struggling to make a credible witness for the gospel in the world. “For this is the will of God that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (I Peter 2:15). Compassion.

Tenderhearted mercy and compassionate kindness were trademarks of Jesus Himself. Again and again the Gospel writers in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John point us to the compassion of Jesus, whether it’s healing a leper, feeding people, or spending time with the untouchables and the unlovables. Jesus showed compassion. When He saw people out in the wilderness coming to Him, He had compassion on them for they were like sheep without a shepherd. So He taught them about God’s kingdom and His love for them. Jesus touched the untouchable, the unlovable, the unnoticed. He seemed to see people with a different lens, and it attracted crowds to Him.

Today we find Jesus emphasizing the importance of loving compassion in our text. The expert in Old Testament Law asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life, Teacher?” Jesus showed remarkable restraint and patience with this question, because it’s a foolish question. An inheritance is something to be received, not earned or deserved.

Jesus answered, “What does the Bible say?”

The man responded, “Love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus kind of shut it down right there. He said, “Do this and you will live.” But the man wanted to take this discussion further, perhaps to prove that he was very smart. He asked, “Who is my neighbor?” He seemed to want boundaries. There must be a limit, he was thinking. So Jesus told him the story about a mugging.

A man was going down from Jerusalem – obviously a Jew – to Jericho. He was mugged and beaten up by robbers, lying half dead on the side of the road. Two people, both of them very religious, passed by as he lay there, but they didn’t do anything. A third person came along and when he saw the man, he had compassion. He stopped and helped this individual.

(It would have been rather shocking for a Jewish person who was listening to this story to hear a Samaritan – whom they hated and was hated by Jews – was helping his enemy.)

When he was done with this story, Jesus asked, “Who was the neighbor in the story?”

The Old Testament expert couldn’t even bring himself to say the word “Samaritan.” He responded, “The person who showed mercy.”

Then Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

We learn this very important truth from Jesus today: Compassion is commanded of God’s commissioned. Go and do likewise.

David Tiede, in his commentary on the Gospel of Luke, writes, “It (The Good Samaritan story) is more than a morality lesson. It is Jesus’ instruction in the observance of the Law of God in accordance with the kingdom of mercy and service which he (Jesus) has inaugurated.” Go and do likewise.

Jesus is giving a picture in this parable of compassion in action. It was risky. Robbers could have been waiting behind a boulder to jump out and beat up the Samaritan. (We’ve read stories of that happening in our own day.)

His compassionate action was sacrificial. He gave of his own goods to take care of this man. He gave up his time and convenience to get this man to a place where he would be safe and could be helped.

The Samaritan was extravagant, not only taking care of the man on the spot, but also paying his bill at the Holiday Inn and then leaving money behind to take care of future expenses until he was back on his feet. Compassion looks beyond skin color and cultural differences – even religion – as the Samaritan shows us in the story today. It knows no boundaries.

How often have you felt compassion for people in need lately? How often have you followed up those feelings and actually helped someone by serving them, encouraging them, visiting them, or expressing love in some tangible way?

To help you quantify your response to this question, I challenge you to rate yourself on a scale of one to ten – one been pretty cold and ten being a Mother Teresa clone. Write down a number that represents your present level of compassion. And by the way, you can’t use a five.

Our compassion quotient can sometimes get dangerously low – I know mine does. And it can take away from our effectiveness to get everybody to see Jesus and receive Him. A number of reasons play into why we get low on compassion. Compassion busters are all around us and within us. Perhaps our own background works against us. Maybe we grew up in a home with little love and compassion – more judgmentalism and criticism than anything else. Maybe a wise Christian friend or a counselor is needed to help you with these issues in your life.

Our busyness can get in the way. We live such a hectic pace of life, and it can be difficult to love when we’re tired. It’s tough to even notice people when we’re rushing. We need to slow down. I think sometimes we’re so bombarded with needs on the news and on social media that we become desensitized. We see hungry, hurting people every time we watch the news or turn on a computer.

Perhaps we have compassion fatigue. Some of us are caregivers to a loved one and feel burned out. Maybe we’ve been burned along the way by those for whom we care, and we don’t want to experience disappointment and discouragement again. Maybe you need fresh touches of God’s compassion and love yourself. It’s difficult to give away something you don’t have.

Let me remind you how crazy God is about you. Let me reawaken you to the depths of His love for you. He gave His Son, Jesus Christ, to rescue you from your sinfulness and the consequences of it. He was nailed to a cross for you. Even if you were the only person who ever lived, Jesus went to the cross for YOU out of compassion. He wants you to have a relationship with the Father who created you and is crazy about you. He wants you to receive forgiveness and the promises God has in mind for you. He loves you!

So let me ask you this: how can a person grow stronger in compassion? How can they move their compassion quotient up a couple numbers – maybe from a three to a five or from a six to an eight? Well, there are a variety of things a person can do.

Expose yourself more to what’s going on in the world. Read this book, “The Hole in our Gospel,” by Richard Stearns. He is the President of World Vision International. It’s a great book that reawakens us to a world so much bigger than the little world we live and exist in. Max Lucado’s book “Outlive Your Life,” talks about following Jesus out into the world and what life in the Church can be. I like Ron Sider’s book, “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.” Study the newspaper more. Read stories about the hurts in the world. Educate yourself, and pray about those things. Put them in God’s hands. Start noticing people and studying them. It’s going to mean slowing your schedule down a bit. Step outside of your own little existence and step into someone else’s. Take control of things. Take time to notice people, their hurts, and what’s happening in their lives.

Something else that can really be valuable is to begin each day with this daily prayer: “Break my heart Lord, the way yours is breaking. Show me where there is hurt, and where I can help.”

Finally, take some steps to be involved. I really believe positive choices lead to positive actions and will result in positive feelings. It will enlarge your heart when you put compassion to work. So many people are by the side of the road and need you. Maybe it’s someone in a nursing home. When was last time you visited someone in a nursing home – when you didn’t have to go but you wanted to? Maybe someone needs you to adopt them as a friend. If you live in a senior citizens home, look around for a lonely neighbor who doesn’t get much company. Show them some compassion.

I know people who teach English as a second language and volunteer to the refugees to our country. Do you quilt? Do you knit? Maybe someone needs a prayer shawl or organizations like Lutheran World Relief that could use quilts to provide warmth to those who don’t have anything. Then study about the people for whom you quilt.

How about intercessory prayer for the hurting? Telephone calls to those who are lonely? A meal for someone who is hurting? Hospitality to someone who lives alone? Adopt a child from Compassion International. My wife, Julie, and I do that. Each month we send a payment to help a little boy named Alexander go to school and have materials like food and good clothes to wear. Pray for them; get to know them.

I want to seal this sermon with a saying from Saint Teresa that means so much to me. I hope it does for you as well.

Christ has no body on earth but yours;
no hands but yours; no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out.
Yours are the feet for which He is to go about doing good,
and yours are the hands with which He is to bless now. Amen.