This sermon was originally preached by Rev. James Morasco on July 1, 2018.
What does it take to show compassion for others?
Sometimes, we think that we aren’t capable of making an impact in people’s lives, so we don’t try. We think that in the grand scheme of things, whatever I do won’t matter. In reality, it doesn’t have to be that complicated. The world is full of stories about people making a difference. As far as impacts go, some at first glance we would consider big, and others small, but if you are on the receiving end there is no distinction.
Today I would like to approach this topic from several ways.
First is a story about the well known missionary, Albert Schweitzer.
Albert Schweitzer was one of the most famous missionaries of the modern era. Leaving behind both an academic career (Schweitzer had PhDs in both theology and physics) and a musical one (Schweitzer was also a concert organist), he set up a medical clinic in French Equatorial Africa. He was 85 years old when Andrew Davison of Colgate Rochester Seminary had the privilege of visiting. Davison tells how one morning, at around 11:00 am, he, Schweitzer and some others were walking up a hill. It was extremely hot. Suddenly the 85 year old Dr. Schweitzer walked away from the group. He made his way toward an African woman struggling up the hill with a large load of wood for the cook fires. Schweitzer took the entire load of wood from the woman and carried it up the hill for her.
When Schweitzer rejoined the group one of them asked why he did things like that. With the rest of the group this person was surprised and concerned that a person of Dr. Schweitzer’s age would strain themselves so. Dr. Schweitzer looked at the group, then pointed to the woman and said, “No one should ever have to carry a burden like that alone.” (1)
We all carry burdens with us. They may not always be something we can see, but the human condition makes us all vulnerable. No one can pass through this life without feeling pain, whether physical, emotional, spiritual we all have scars. If you believe, as I do, that God resides in each one of us, then it’s our obligation to support each other through the journey. As the saying goes – No man (or woman) is an island. Admit it or not, like it or not, we all need each other. It’s not a choice or a matter of “accepting” them. It’s a realization that we are all equal regardless of who we are. That we are all made in the image and likeness of God. Mahatma Gandhi said it best when he said:
“My wisdom flows from the Highest Source. I salute that Source in you. Let us work together for unity and love.”
There’s a story titled, “I Stopped to Help Her Cry,” by an unknown author, about a little girl who was late coming home for supper. Her mother made the expected irate parent’s demand to know where she had been.
The little girl replied that she had stopped to help Janie, whose bicycle was broken in a fall.
“But you don’t know anything about fixing bicycles,” her mother responded.
“I know that,” the girl said. “I just stopped to help her cry.”
Isn’t that what we are doing when we listen to someone who is distraught, angry, sad? Isn’t that what we are doing when we pray with someone, or hold their hand, or make their life a little more bearable just by letting them know we are there for them? It really doesn’t take much effort to show a little kindness, but you never know how it may affect the person. There are countless stories about people who were on the verge of harming themselves or others when an unsuspecting soul happens along and changes them forever with a few kind words. Some have even called it miraculous.
Now you might ask, "What’s this got to do with me? How does it reflect my journey through life?" Or you might be thinking, "Oh no, what’s the pastor going to ask us to do now?" Well relax, I’m not going to ask you to do anything other than be aware of the good you are capable of doing in this world. Things I know you are already doing.
As many of you know, last year for our anniversary we set out to record some of the “little things” we were doing for others. These were just day to day interactions that normally we don’t give a second thought to. But it’s amazing how much we do for others and how much we ourselves also reap the benefit of what we do. I thought I would present this in the context of a story, the story of our church.
What’s interesting to me is that most belief systems have a name for the energy that sustains life. Among other things, it is referred to as “the life force”, Chi, Prana, Great Spirit, and Holy Spirit. The word spirit comes from the Latin meaning “breath”. It is the part of God that dwells within us. For me it is universal and I call it Love; love from the creator that we are commanded to share. Again from our reading today in Matthew – “You received without paying; give without pay."
Once upon a time there was a little church, surrounded by picturesque farm fields, on a beautiful plot of land known as Morganville. Standing on its porch you could sometimes hear the whinnying of nearby horses or the hum of a farm tractor. It was the United Church of Christ and it indeed lived up to its creed of being a warm, God-centered place where people could find a spiritual home. Ever since anyone could remember it was the hub of activity for the local people as they gathered for worship and Sunday school, prepared and enjoyed dinners for the community, held ice cream socials and other events. It’s where people came to celebrate weddings, baby showers and to say their final goodbyes. As several generations grew together, supported each other, married and settled, it seemed like nothing would ever disrupt the ebb and flow of the lives it touched.
But one day the winds of change began to blow across the fields. No one even noticed at first. It started as a gentle breeze then occasionally becoming a gust or two until finally a steady force of nature. It was like watching storm clouds building, coming your way and there’s little you can do about it.
Older people began, one by one, to be called to their heavenly home. The younger generation lost focus. There were so many distractions that caught their attention. Time became as scarce as the money they worked so hard for. There were so many more material gods to pursue that eventually hardly anyone was left. Disagreements about changing cultural norms, what’s acceptable and what’s not, seemed to be the beginning of the end for the little country church. Children grew up and moved away. Some that stayed forgot about what it meant to be part of a church family. Those that attended could only think about the day’s gone by and wonder why. But, they never gave up.
Then, quietly at first, with hardly anyone noticing, the winds began to shift. Little by little a gentle breeze from a new direction. And with the breeze came new life and a glimmer of hope.
It began with new messengers, bringing God’s story in different ways. Oh, it was the same truths of God’s love and sacrifice for all, with an emphasis on inner peace and love for one another. But it was heard in such a way that people started talking and spreading the good news once again.
Next came a talented musician who played beautiful music. Her playing enhanced the weekly hymns, occasional solos, monthly sing-along’s and the newly formed choir. It was often said that it brought the feeling of God’s presence to the little church. It was such an inspiration that many came just for the experience of being moved by the universal language that is music.
An unexpected gift from neighbors brought with it needed repairs and a fresh coat of paint.
Two centuries were celebrated as community dinners fed the people once again.
Those in recovery found a new home and people with little means continued to receive free groceries – along with compassionate conversation.
Random acts of kindness flowed from the pews as God’s Golden Rule was put to the test. Rides were given, meals paid for, a listening ear, words of comfort expressed. People prayed with others and offered support. Driveways were shoveled for those that couldn’t do it themselves. The simple act of leaving the quarter in the slot for the next customer’s grocery cart might have made someone’s day. Infants and the elderly were fed. In just a few months over fifty acts of kindness were recorded and many more were left unsaid, all in the spirit of Christ. And the people continue to reach out to others even until this day.
Changes began for the little church in Morganville. People started joining again. Children’s voices could be heard throughout the services and celebrations. New families along with those who had been there for years, joined together to express ideas and make plans for the future. A future that looked dim just a few years earlier was now gaining momentum.
And so, the winds continue to blow - past the houses and the corn fields and into the church pews. If you happen to go there on a Sunday morning, alone, before the service and sit in the back, you can almost feel the presence of those that went before. As the sunshine illumes through the stain glass you can’t help but think of all that has happened here over the years. You can almost hear the singing, the prayers, the laughter and the tears and you will wait in anticipation for the chance to be a part of something special.
Now no one knows what the future holds, for them or for this sacred space. But one thing’s for certain, God’s spirit is present when people gather here to pray.
And when the gentle breeze blows across the landscape as the winds bring changes in life, may we seek comfort with each other, at the little church, surrounded by fields, on the beautiful patch of land we know as Morganville.
I found the following reflection by an unknown author that I feel sums up today's message:
Always Be Kind
If you see someone falling behind, walk beside them.
If you see someone is being ignored, find a way to include them.
If someone has been knocked down, lift them up.
Always remind people of their worth.
Be who you needed - when you were going through hard times.
Just one small act of kindness can mean the world to someone.
“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your
Liberation is tied up with mine, then let us work together.” - Lilla Watson
Watson, who is an activist, academic and artist, says that this quote is a collective belief born from the activist groups she was a part of. Our common humanity unites us in our struggles and in our achievements.
My hope for you today is that you come to realize the boundaries between people are manmade, not God made. Don’t let your fear of doing anything stop you from doing something.
As was said at the beginning of the sermon-
“The purpose of human life (your purpose) is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.”
- Albert Schweitzer
1. Hewitt, James S. Illustrations Unlimited: A Topical Collection of Hundreds of Stories, Quotations, & Humor. Tyndale House Publishers, 1988.