Compassion to the core

Compassion to the core

Mark 6:30-34

So as we go forward in Saint Anselm, we want to the people who demonstrate and bring that heartfelt inner core compassion and love and mercy into the world. And we do that because we are people of praise and worship

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In the name of the father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The gospel reading that we’ve just heard this afternoon from St. Mark contains within it little elements of, I think, three key areas of Christian life, three key areas of our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ. One is teaching. One is compassion and service, and one is worship. Well, because it’s very hot and we don’t want to be sitting here all afternoon. I’m only going to speak about two of these for a few minutes.

So if you just put in a different file teaching and we’ll come back to that on another occasion, I’m sure.

In the gospel reading that we’ve just heard, we are told that our Lord has pity on the crowds that he sees milling about in front of him. You’ll remember what’s happened. The disciples have been sent out a little earlier on to go and preach repentance, to proclaim the coming of the kingdom and to heal the sick. And then we have the little interlude in St. Mark’s Gospel about John the Baptist.

We can brakcet that out. And now here we are back with the disciples and Jesus realising that he needs to bring them away to be with him. But as we’ve heard just now, many people seem to know where they are. And so a great crowd gathers. And we’ve just heard Jesus had pity on the crowds because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Now, that little phrase that we’ve just heard in the version of St. Mark’s Gospel that we read a moment ago, Jesus had pity on the crowd that doesn’t quite to justice to what St. Mark actually wrote.

If we go back to Mark’s gospel and into the Greek, we find a very forceful and particular word that St. Mark uses here and in other and it crops up in other places. In the Gospels, the word is splanchnizomai, you don’t need to remember it, but I thought you might like to hear it. And it actually has something to do, not with perhaps the heart that we might normally associate with feeling taking pity on someone, but with the guts, with the innards.

It really means the bowels or the entrails. Bowels are really a subject for polite conversation in church on a Sunday afternoon. But what the word is getting out is that it’s really about what you feel in here. It’s about the guts of the matter. It’s still talk about everyday speech, a gut feeling, something that we really sense inside and that we feel with our whole selves. And this is what we’re told Jesus feels for the crowds, not just the sort of cerebral looking upon them and thinking, I feel rather sorry for them, but something that grasps the whole of him and moves inside. He’s moved with compassion and fellow feeling for these people who have come seeking his direction and seeking his care, seeking the care of the Good Shepherd. In the great Canticle, with which St. Luke begins his gospel that we call the Benedictus, which the church sings or says in its prayers. Every single day of the year we have the little phrase, the tender mercy of our God has come upon us.

And it’s the same word in the Greek New Testament splanchnizomai, the tender mercy, the merciful care and compassion and love which our heavenly Father feels for each one of us and which in Christ we see made visible on the cross when Jesus gives his all literally gives his life through the suffering and death which he undergoes on the cross for our salvation. And the interesting thing about this world is that it’s not just used by Jesus, used by our Lord in the context of many of the miracles of healing which he performs, healing the leper at the beginning of St. Mark’s Gospel, healing the blind man in St. Matthew’s gospel Gospel when he sees the disciples and sees how hungry they are, the same word is used. Not just our Lord himself uses that word, but other New Testament writers use it to speak of us, to speak of the church, and to speak of the way that we are called to relate to one another.

For example, in St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians the third chapter. St. Paul exhorts the Christians in that place to cloth themselves with heartfelt compassion.

It’s the same word kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. And St. John in his first epistle writes this, ‘Whoever has this world’s resources and sees his fellow Christians in need yet closes his heart against him. How does the love of God abide in hom?’ And again, it’s the same word.

So we are called to imitate Christ in his heart felt compassion in that sense of love and mercy and concern for the world which moves us in our very inner being. If you have a child or a grandchild or a member of your family and you see them ill and suffering, you perhaps understand a little of what this word is getting at.

It’s something that moves you deeply in the very core of your being, that’s the quality which Jesus shows in his care and concern, and that’s the quality which as disciples of the Lord, we, you are called to imitate. It’s a wonderful encouragement for the life of this and every parish in your service of outreach and concern for those in need in the community in which you are sent.

So I said there were three things teaching, which I’m not going to talk about today anyway, is compassion, this merciful love and care, and the third I said was worship.

Now, where do we find that? In the passage that we’ve just heard, St. Mark tells us. if you all remember that our Lord understands that the disciples need to be called apart, to be with him and to rest, to rest. We all need those times of rest and refreshment and renewal when we can take a little time out from our usual everyday routines and concerns. Rest is of course, at the heart of God’s purposes for his creation.

God himself rests at the end of creating the universe and all that is in it. And in the book of Deuteronomy, we understand the Sabbath rest to be part of the gift which God gives to his people after he has brought them out from slavery and led them into freedom in the promised land. Rest weekly rest is a sign of God’s irrevocable covenant with us, with his beloved children, his daughters and his sons.

Now, for we Christians, the Sabbath of the Old Covenant is, as it were, moved to this day to the Lord’s Day, to the day of resurrection.

Every single Sunday. We know it is a day of rest. But first, the priority, of course, is that it is a day of worship. It is a day of our celebration of the Eucharist, the mass. As we celebrate this and every mass, we are again taken out of our ordinary everyday routines and we are allowed to participate for a while in the life of heaven. We are allowed to participate in what many of the great theologians and writers of the church call the Eternal Sabbath rest.

We’re called to be taken up into this place and time of blessing and joyful festivity. That’s why it’s so important that every day of resurrection, every Lord’s day, every Sunday is marked first by the celebration of the mass and then secondly by being a day of rest and recreation. So for we Christians rest and worship are inextricably linked, we come to church, we come to mass on a Sunday to participate in the offering of the mass and then to have this day of rest and refreshment that we can then go out into the world for the remaining six days to be agents of that compassionate and merciful love which Christ himself shows and which we read about in today’s Gospel.

At the end of his great work, a big, thick book of of theology and devotion called The City of God, one of our great African teachers and bishops, St. Augustine, way back in the fourth century. So five hundred years ago, he finishes his great work. The final section is headed The Eternal for the City of the City of God in its perpetual Sabbath. And he ends his book with some very well known words. Then he says of the followers of the Lord as they enter into that Sabbath rest.

‘Then we shall rest and see. We shall see. And we shall love. We shall love and we shall rest. Sabbath rest leads into the praise of almighty God.’

So as we go forward in Saint Anselm, we want to the people who demonstrate and bring that heartfelt inner core compassion and love and mercy into the world. And we do that because we are people of praise and worship. People call to the vision of the Sabbath, rest of heaven. So may this be a place of worship, of refreshment and of service and compassion and merciful love after the manner of our saviour himself, to all the people of this place.

The name of the father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.