Second Sunday in Pentecost, 6.14.20

What is a Christian? We think we know what is a Christian, don’t we? Don’t we think a Christian is someone who at the core is charitable? Our role model might be the Good Samaritan, who reaches out in compassion to someone who is a stranger. He reaches out to the stranger, digs into his pocket for a gold coin, leaves the battered man with the innkeeper, and returns to his life. His job is done. Kind of like Superman!

Would it be correct to say we think of Christians are to be the essence of charity? That we are here on earth to learn to be more generous with our money?

So let’s think about that. What the Good Samaritan story and today’s gospel have in common is that there is a ROAD of COMPASSION. The Good Samaritan takes the ROAD of COMPASSION. He had been on his own road, going about his business, he had his plans for the day, but compassion COMPELS him to leave his road of choice and dictates a new road. The road of compassion determines what he should do next. We know what he does – he assists a stranger in the ditch. Someone outside of his tribe, which was a big deal. Still IS a big deal.

Today, Jesus sends his apostles out on a road of COMPASSION, too. Why? Today’s gospel says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” A translation of compassion is that Jesus feels a strong emotion in his guts. COMPASSION compels him to send out the apostles perhaps to the very people he spoke to at the Sermon on the Mount. They are “sheep without a shepherd.”

He tells the apostles to GO. THREE TIMES he tells them, GO! It’s an urgent mission. He says, “Go to the lost sheep of Israel.” Jesus, the head shepherd, is deputizing them on the spot as mini-shepherds in his place. It feels as if the apostles haven’t spent a lot of time with Jesus, yet he’s sending them down the road of COMPASSION, two by two. We’re at chapter 10, and it’s only one-third of the gospel, and yet Jesus says, GO.

The apostles have signed up for a life of compassion, but not necessarily in the way we understand it: giving alms, charity. They are to be mini-Jesuses. Whatever HE does, he empowers them to do, too, today.

When we look at today’s gospel, there’s not a whisper about giving to charity. In fact, Jesus tells them NOT to take any money with them: “Take no gold or silver, or copper in your belts.” Jesus understands that the people they visit will be so happy to receive them and hear the Good News that they will reward the apostles, “for laborers deserve their food.” This is a completely different view of a Christian.

What the apostles say is such a treasure that people will open their homes, and extend a warm welcome. They’ll want to hear more and give hospitality to them.

Let’s just stop here and reflect on how we understand Christianity as about giving charity, or is it telling the Good News?

Do we think we have Christianity figured out? Do we think we ‘know’ what it’s all about? Then we have to really examine today’s gospel because today, EVANGELISM, is Jesus’ top priority.

“Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest . . . “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’” Their mission is not one of giving charity as we often understand Christianity. No, it’s TELLING the Good News of Christ. They are on the road of evangelization, which is also the ROAD of COMPASSION.

One of the first things our new bishop did was reorganize the priorities in the Metro NY Synod. Bishop Egensteiner has put Evangelization at the top, topping Leadership, Congregations, and Advocacy. Evangelization is what we see at work in today’s gospel. The apostles are giving us an example of what Jesus wants from us. “Proclaim the good news. The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Their message is that Jesus, Son of God WALKS the EARTH! The Messiah is here! ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ That is GOOD NEWS. The GOOD NEWS changes EVERYTHING.

The apostles get to do deeds of power: “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” When they do those things, people will be ready to LISTEN to whatever they have to say.

What we are seeing is discipleship in formation. What Jesus is calling the apostles to do doesn’t look at ALL like the Good Samaritan, though they are walking the road of compassion.

Do the jobs and careers we choose limit or help us take the road of compassion?

What will happen when they knock on the doors? Will doors open to the apostles so they can receive the healing they offer? Or will they slam the door on the apostles and prefer to sit in darkness? Souls in trouble may often PREFER the darkness, so BLESSED are they when the apostles reach out to them. The apostles are there to speak a WORD of GOD into the CHAOS in which people sit.

            Theologian, Joy J. Moore says “There’s a comfort  – God knows the CHAOs we’re trying to speak the Word into. Comforting to know God gets it.”[1] God understands the challenges and always goes before us.

We might be envious of the apostles, as they go out into the unknown, armed with powers to heal the sick and lepers, and cast out demons. But don’t sell yourself short. As a Christian, you have a world of prayer to offer people, who are unchurched, or who haven’t been to church in a long time, or may just be in need.

And once the apostles speak the WORD of God to these people on the fringes, who were unsure if they were good enough by GOD’S standards, then what? Then the apostles were to draw them closer into the kingdom, the KIN-dom, the FAMILY of God. They are acceptable.

Where might the road of compassion take you?

Can you think of a time when you took the road of compassion?

Or a time you resisted taking the road of compassion?

The road of compassion cuts through Bellmore. Before the quarantine, I would visit the local stores and bars, and get to know the proprietors and people. I would offer to pray with people. Some would say no, but others would say yes, and one gentleman found it comforting that we would pray for his sisters who were struggling with cancer, right there on the spot. Anyone can do that. No special gifts are needed. It’s important to not keep our gifts to ourselves.

Sometimes the road of compassion is a short road: it goes from the kitchen to the living room, where a family member needs a word of compassion from you. The road of compassion may be even shorter – it’s at the dinner table.

In his June 12th message, Bishop Egensteiner said, “The world needs the witness of love and acceptance we as Lutheran Christians have to give. We are called to model the unity for which Christ prays. We live the reality that we hope to see out in the world around us so the world has an example through us what it means to be ONE.”

Bishop Egensteiner notes, “It’s not easy . . . but it’s necessary and it’s what God calls us to now more than ever . . . He said, “Look at the people participating in the protests. Look at the people demonstrating. They/we cross all demographics that’s so inspiring.” He said, “They’re putting their bodies on the line for a better society.”

We may think we know what compassion looks like – it’s the Good Samaritan, but compassion takes different forms, too. We see as never before that compassion is white people demonstrating on behalf of people of color. The road of compassion may mean reaching out to your friends of color and having new conversations about race. You may have to both put on your seat belts and take a deep breath and lean on your mutual good will.

If you go on YOUTUBE and write in Emmanuel Acho, a new discussion series about race pops up.[2] We can use it as a model for our conversations.

Can you imagine yourself having a conversation about race with a friend who is a person of color?

Loving Lord, help us to see the road of compassion that you wish us to take. Give us the courage to travel it. We are comforted that you go before us. Let us not waste this opportunity to be the people of compassion that you want us to be. We pray in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

[1] Joy. J. Moore.

[2] Emmanuel Acho.