Pastor Michael Frye:
I watched a news story on Friday that was both disturbing and compelling.
It was about an American orthopaedic surgeon of Syrian descent who, along with other doctors, was risking life and limb to treat children and adults who had been injured by artillery shells and bombs used by the Syrian government to deliberately target and bomb hospitals.
Hundreds of patients and dozens of doctors and medical staff treating those patients have also been killed, and the hospitals have been destroyed.
In spite of the horrific danger, these doctors forge ahead every day treating injured patients, even in the midst of being attacked.
The only remedy to such danger has been to begin building entire hospitals, including patient and surgical areas deep underground in limestone caves; but not even that precaution will be enough to alleviate the danger doctors and patients face twenty-four hours a day.
Why do these doctors, nurses, and other staff risk their lives in this way to treat patients whose lives are under threat every day?
Because they, like Jesus in our Gospel lesson today, “had compassion for them.
Compassion is a word with which we are all familiar.
One dictionary defines compassion as: “having sympathy for someone who is suffering, with the desire to help;” also, “to show mercy.”
Without weighing the personal consequences, Jesus was one who valued every person he encountered with equal compassion and respect, and he expected those who followed him to do the same.
You may also notice in this passage from Matthew, that Jesus gave the twelve disciples authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.
Once they had been commissioned, Matthew referred to them as apostles.
From that day forward, they had gone from being pupils of Jesus who were with him to learn and observe, to being apostles who have been commissioned by Christ with the authority to not only preach the Gospel, but also to show mercy and compassion for those who were lost, harassed, pushed down, and spiritually unprepared for the kingdom that was coming.
The apostles were being sent on a thankless and dangerous mission, but somehow they knew that Jesus’ authority and power was with them every step of the way; and, they would return from their mission with astounding reports of countless healings and conversions.
You will notice that on this particular mission, Jesus sent the apostles only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
This mission was intended to show the children of Israel that God had not abandoned them but was keeping his word that he shared through Moses:
“You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself.
Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.”
But even with the successes they achieved among the people of Israel on that mission, Jesus taught them further that they could not withhold his compassion, mercy and grace from those who opened their hearts to him regardless of their religion or nationality.
Throughout the history of the Christian Church that same commission has been handed down from generation to generation of baptized Christians.
It is Christ’s compassion that moves us as the church today to carry on with his work among all people with the same fervor and determination that was shown by the twelve apostles.
Our own service of worship prepares us for our mission in the world by helping us to get in touch with who God has called us to be, both as individuals and as the church.
Marilyn Witte observes that beginning with the Act of Confession and the Kyrie, “we acknowledge our finitude, our need, our tendency toward grieving the Holy Spirit.
But with our heartfelt confession and the words: ‘Lord have mercy,’ we empty ourselves in preparation to
receive the gifts that God offers.”
Through the Prayer of the Day, the Scriptures, and preaching of the word, we acknowledge that we can’t help but share God’s blessings with others, and we pour out our hearts in the intercessory prayers as we acknowledge our concern for others throughout the world.
At the Lord’s Table, as Witte reminds us, “we physically taste God’s infinite love for us and are reminded of all that our Lord has done for us and given us.”
So this meal unites us with our sisters and brothers, not only at this table, but at Communion Tables around the world.
And at the conclusion of our worship service we are reminded of what we have received through the post-communion prayer; and, we will be blessed and sent on our way with the peace, compassion, authority, and power of God to use our unique gifts for the sake of the world.
Jesus gives every Christian, from the day we are born to the day we draw our last breath, the gifts and the ability to do what God asks of us.
Lutherans teach that all who believe in Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the world are priests (ones who are entrusted with acting on God’s behalf).
True, we do set apart individuals as Ministers of Word and Sacrament and Ministers of Service; but, each baptized person in this room (by virtue of the commission you were given on the day of your baptism to “proclaim Christ through word and deed, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace,” is a priest of Christ’s Church.
That’s a sobering thought, isn’t it?
But it is a reality, and our behavior with and toward one another (especially whether or not we have compassion for one another) has a lot to do with the kind of priests we are… the kind of apostles we are.
During World War II soldiers serving in France wanted to find a proper place off of the battle field to bury their friend who had been killed.
They found a well-kept cemetery at a Roman Catholic Church in the local village.
When they spoke with the priest he said that unless the soldier were a Roman Catholic he couldn’t be buried in the cemetery.
Seeing their disappointment, the priest showed them a place outside the cemetery fence where they could bury their friend.
They did so reluctantly and went back to their unit.
The next day they went to pay their final respects before moving on, but they couldn’t find the grave.
One said, I know that it was right there!”
Confused and bewildered, they went to the priest for an explanation.
The priest said, “Last night I couldn’t sleep.
I was troubled that your friend had to be buried outside the cemetery.
So, I got up and moved the fence to take him in.”
In Christ’s Church we should not have to wait until someone has died before we move the fence.
Whenever we see someone in dire need, or is bewildered, or who is disenfranchised in any way, let us draw
upon the compassion our Lord has given us and move the fence to bring them in.
God’s will for all his children is that they have a place in his kingdom.
And sometimes the best way to help them find that place is to open their eyes to the unmerited grace and love of God’s Church.
I will share another example:
The late Colonel Sanders, who founded Kentucky Fried Chicken, was on a plane when an infant began crying profusely and would not stop even though the mother and flight attendants tried everything they could think of.
After a while, Colonel Sanders asked if he could hold the baby.
The mother gladly consented, and he cuddled the baby in his arms, sang quietly, and began rocking the baby back and forth until he fell asleep.
A little later one of the passengers leaned over and said, “We all appreciate what you did for us.”
Colonel Sanders replied, “I didn’t do it for us; I did it for the baby.”
Showing compassionate care and concern for others (even those who might make us uncomfortable or who don’t seem to quite fit into our setting, isn’t about us.
It is about what God is calling us to do as his Church in the world for the sake of his kingdom.
Like Jesus said in the Gospel for today: “As you go, proclaim the good News, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Let us Pray:
Gracious God, fill us with compassion for all your children in this world, and enlighten our hearts and minds so we may approach all situations and relationships with the same openness, wisdom, and understanding as shown by our Lord in his own encounters with others.
In His name we pray.