Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 6)

Text: Matthew 9:35-37

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (NIV)

Compassion for the Harassed and Helpless

Standing around after church one Sunday a man told this story, "I was sitting in my car outside Schwartzís Bakery, waiting for the missus to finish shopping, when I saw the strangest thing. I was watching the people walking along the footpath when I noticed a poorly dressed young woman pushing an old pram, filled with plastic bags of what looked like empty bottles and drink cans, and old newspapers. A small child sat in amongst the plastic bags, and another child about 2 years old walked alongside her.

Coming from the opposite direction I saw someone I knew. He was a smartly dressed young man. As he passed her, he turned around suddenly, and called out something to get her attention. I couldnít hear what he said. When she turned, he bent over and pretended to be picking up what looked like money - a paper note. He went up to her and indicated that she had dropped the money. He quickly put it in the child's lap and was gone.

It was less than a month later, when I saw the same young man again. He was standing in line at a checkout in a Supermarket. He was standing behind a person who obviously found it hard to make ends meet. The person was counting out small change to pay for her milk and bread. I saw the man bend down and he came up holding a twenty in his hand, and as he stood up he insisted that she had dropped it. She said it wasn't hers but the man insisted."

The man telling the story outside the church that day finished saying, "When you see someone do something like this, it makes me feel that there are still people in the world who really care. The trouble is that I never liked this man until now."

Compassion Ė how would you define compassion?
(Feeling pity,
sympathising with that person,
acknowledging the difficulties another person is facing, even identifying with that person and feeling some of their pain,
putting yourself in that personís shoes and understanding something of what is happening to him/her,
doing something whatever is necessary to help that person and to ease their burden).

Compassion will make people do the strangest things. When a person's heart goes out to another person who is in need, some amazing events are bound to follow. We only need to think of Mother Teresa whose heart went out to the poor and the dying of Calcutta and Albert Schweitzer whose compassion led him to the lepers in Africa. In an amazing way they gave their lives to helping them.
We read every now and then of people who put their own lives at risk in order to help those victims of war, sickness, poverty, neglect and unsympathetic governments.

In London in the mid 1800s, a young doctor was locking up for the night and as he was turning off the light, he spotted a dirty little boy huddled against the door. The lad begged the doctor to let him stay because he had no where else to go. The boy told him he had been living in a coal bin with some other boys. As he won the confidence of the child, the doctor persuaded the boy to take him where the boys were. After going through many dark alleys, they came to a hole in a wall that was part of a factory. Crawling through, the doctor found 13 boys huddled under rags to keep warm.

An outbreak of cholera swept through the East End of London killing more than 3,000 people. Thousands of orphaned children slept on the streets and many others were forced to beg after being maimed in factories.

The doctor's heart went out to such children and he opened a home for abandoned children. When he died, Dr Thomas Barnardo had founded homes for 80,000 homeless boys and girls. This work started with compassion for one child, extended to 13 others, and grew to a crowd of over 80,000.

There are many examples of those who had compassion on the harassed and helpless and have given a great deal of their life and money to help.

God has had pity on us. The second reading from Romans points out that all of us are "harassed and helpless". Paul says: "For when we were still helpless, Christ died for the wicked... God has shown how much he loves us - it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us" (Rom 5:6,8).
Paul makes it quite clear that we are helpless to do anything about our sin. We are helpless to do anything about our feelings of guilt that come because of the way we live our lives.
We canít do anything to stop ourselves from saying and doing things that are so opposite to what God wants us to say and do.
We are helpless when it comes to getting rid of sin in our lives and restoring our relationship with God. We are harassed and helpless because we are sinners and there is nothing we can do about it.

But that is not the end of the story. God doesnít want us to be harassed and helpless. God has compassion on us. His heart has gone out to us. He has had pity on us. And he has sent us his Son to deal with our sin. As Paul said in this morning's reading emphasising the amazing result of God's compassion, "By his blood we are now put right with God.... We were God's enemies, but he has made us his friends through the death of his Son" (Rom 5:9,10).

So you see, because God's love for us is so strong, his heart went out for us in such a way that he would do anything to make things right for us again, even let his own Son die in our place. "God has shown us how much he loves us Ė it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us! (Rom 5:8). We need Godís compassion. In fact, his compassion led him to identify with our sin, to even become sin and take on himself our sin, to free us from its power.

Jesus places us amongst people who are hungry
- sometimes they are hungry for bread
- sometimes they are hungry for friendship,
- sometimes they are hungry for understanding and encouragement
- sometimes they are hungry for the Bread of Life, Jesus.

There are times when we are challenged to meet their need for food and shelter, understanding and love. There are times when we are challenged to help them know the way of forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus.

Whatever their needs God calls us to be the compassion of God to the world. God doesn't expect us to be a Mother Theresa or a Dr Barnardo, but he does expect us to have a heart for those who are harassed and helpless and to touch the lives of those people with the Good News of forgiveness and the joy of knowing a loving Saviour. He expects action!

It's true that when there seems to be so many people in need around us, we throw up our hands in despair and say, "What will the little bit that can I do help alleviate suffering when there is so much of it."

There is the danger that we become immune to those needs and hardened to what is really going on in the lives of those who suffer. It is hard to feel for someone, to have our hearts go out to a person who is suffering, if our hearts are hardened and we no longer understand their suffering.

But the fact remains. People are no different today than they were in Jesus' day. We could look at our Australian society and say that it is harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
There are so many people who are hurting spiritually, emotionally and physically.
There are so many, young and old, who need someone who will take the time to feel their pain, understand what is happening in their lives and offer them love and a helping hand.
There is a huge crowd of harassed and helpless people who have never heard of the love and forgiveness of Jesus to heal their hurting consciences and would respond if they were given a chance.
There are those who need to get to know of the love and care of the loving Saviour who walks beside them through every trial and danger and will see them through it safely.
There is a crowd, there are sheep without a shepherd, there are those harassed and helpless and Jesus says to you and me, "Feed my sheep."

People come to pastors because they hope that pastors will listen to them. But the whole world can't get into the pastor's office to have a hearing. Neither can pastors make themselves available to every person in the world (itís even impossible for every person who comes under the umbrella of this church and school community).

You are in the world. You are God's salt and light in our community. Each of one of you is a part of God's family, God's team. You have known and experienced the love and compassion of God. You are equally able to share with those who are harassed and helpless, helping them in their physical needs and sharing with them what Jesus means to you and what it means to belong to the church. There are so many who are floundering in the mire of upset, troubles and disasters in their life and they are looking to you to for help. You may be the only one who has a consciousness of God's compassion in the places where you live and work. God needs you to represent the length and breadth and height and depth of God's compassion.

You might say, "But I canít do that! Iím just an ordinary sort of person! Thatís way out of my territory!" If thatís the case then itís good that the calling of the 12 disciples immediately follows. When Jesus picks the twelve disciples, no specific qualifications are mentioned. One might think that the gospel writer would have mentioned that Jesus chose those men because of their prior experience, or their great potential, or their great spiritual insight. But we are told none of that. Itís as if the gospel writer almost bends over backward to assure us that none of these people was special in any way.

Who amongst us here is qualified to heal a broken world and help those who are harassed and helpless? Yet he has chosen us to be his contemporary disciples. We may not be qualified, but by God's grace we have been authorised to be his disciples, and thatís rather wonderful when you come to think of it.
Perhaps he sees in us more potential than we see in ourselves.
Perhaps he can take the experiences that you have had in life and use those to help others.
Perhaps he wants us to learn to lean on him and let the Holy Spirit use us to help the harassed and helpless.

Jesus seems to delight in taking ordinary, everyday people, people who donít have any qualifications or credentials, and selecting them to be his disciples. He promises us that he will give us what we need to be his disciples. And then he sends us out into the world, to the harassed and helpless, to share with a dying world a word of salvation, and to offer healing for a broken people.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
12th June, 2005

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