Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
February 22, 2015
Isaiah 58: 6-7
“Share Your Bread”
“Hear now these holy words of scripture from the gospel according to Isaiah, chapter 58, verses 6 thru 7.”
6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
“May God bless our understanding of these ancient words.”
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Do you remember the great thoughtfulness Jesus had for the crowds when he preached from the Mount of Olives? His famous Sermon on the Mount! “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat.” /Mark 8:2/ Jesus continues with his lament saying: “If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way – and some of them have come from a great distance.” /Mark 8:3/ Such kindheartedness! Such love! Surely this man Jesus was a great pastor, and a great teacher! This is the man, surely this is the one to be lifted up and admired and ought to be the ultimate power of example that we offer up to our children! The concern of Jesus connects us right back to the words of Isaiah, who came long before Jesus. Hear the words once again as this prophet reflects on the bonds of injustice that had become so prevalent in his time. “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry?” / Isaiah 5: 7/ Even the Prophet Isaiah was trying to move the people back to a time of selflessness and justice, shared and received by all.
Looking through the centuries since the time of Jesus, now and then we get a glimmer of hope that others saw Jesus as a power of example, and thus his compassion for the well-being of others continues. Hear this example:
“It is said that during the Second World War some soldiers serving in France wanted to bury a friend and fellow soldier who had been killed. Being in a foreign country they wanted to ensure their fallen comrade had a proper burial. They found a well-kept cemetery with a low stone wall around it, a picturesque little Catholic church and a peaceful outlook. This was just the place to bury their friend. But when they approached the priest he answered that unless their friend was a baptized Catholic he could not be buried in the cemetery. He wasn’t.
Sensing the soldiers disappointment the priest showed them a spot outside the walls where they could bury their friend. Reluctantly they did so.
The next day the soldiers returned to pay their final respects to their fallen friend but could not find the grave. “Surely we can’t be mistaken. It was right here!” they said. Confused, they approached the priest who took them to a spot inside the cemetery walls. “Last night I couldn’t sleep” said the priest. “I was troubled that your friend had to be buried outside the cemetery walls, so I got up and moved the fence.” /Author unknown/
There are many stories in history surrounding compassion; perhaps they all saw it in the stories of Jesus, one can only wonder.
At the time of our annual Christmas celebration, recently passed, we retold the old, old story. On Christmas Eve, we read the lessons, and in the doing we told the ‘pageant story’ of Joseph & Mary, heavy with child, as they search for a place in one of the Inns. Hear this rendition of a church’s pageant story.
Wally was an awkward and shy child and it was time to hand out roles for the Christmas play, but what role should the teacher give Wally? She decided on the inn-keeper. It was an important role, but required Wally only to shake his head and say one line “Sorry, we’ve no room.”
The night of the play, all was proceeding according to plan. Mary and Joseph had traveled to Bethlehem and come to the door of the inn. Then Joseph knocked on the door and it opened to Wally. “Please sir, do you have a room we could take?” asked Joseph. Wally shook his head and replied. “I’m sorry, we’ve no room”.
Now the boy playing Joseph was a confident child, and while the script called for Joseph and Mary to turn away at this point, Joseph decided to exercise some dramatic license. “But sir” he said to the innkeeper, “My wife is about to have her baby and we need somewhere to stay. Couldn’t you find us a room?” Wally’s face went white, this was not planned for! He paused for a moment before repeating his line. “I’m sorry, we’ve no room.”
“But sir” replied Joseph, “We’ve traveled such a long way and we’ve nowhere else to go and my wife is very tired. Surely you can find us somewhere.” Wally bowed his head; shook it sadly and said, “I’m sorry, we’ve no room.” Unhappily Joseph and Mary started walking away. Wally, now fully into his role, felt shamed and saddened. A tear trickled down his cheek. Then his voice was heard calling out. “Wait! Please come back. You can have my room.”
It may not have been according to script, but at that moment Wally gave perfect expression to the Christmas story.” /author unknown/
There are many compassionate stories within our scriptures. Do you remember the thoughtfulness of the woman who wept and cleansed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dry them with her hair? /Luke 7:38/ Compassion is so powerful and so important and so basic in the well-being and in the relationships of humankind. It is something we must lift up and hold dear to our hearts. When we do look to that next stranger, that is hungry, we need to imagine we’re looking into the eyes of Jesus and have sympathy, sharing something that we have; something that we have more of than we need.
In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 23, when Jesus was crucified we hear how a man named Simon was forced to carry his cross. Taking in the whole scene of course is horrifying for us to look at; yet, in that moment, perhaps one of the soldiers had a flicker of consideration and had that man pick up the cross. One can safely assume that it was fear and possibly empathy that caused Simon to respond as he did. Not everyone will agree with my analogy, but it is certainly a possibility that there was a moment of compassion, in the midst of a horrific and brutal action. It is not always clear that an act of kindheartedness ‘is’ doing ‘something’ for a person. Oftentimes what we do for other people is not always easy. But if we do it, if we take time to do something helpful with empathy in our hearts, and we do it out of love for the children of God – then indeed kindness will be received!
Oftentimes we are given opportunities to do something for another. It may not seem like much at the time, but you never know for sure. Just stepping out of line, at the grocery store because you have a full basket of groceries, stepping out and letting the man, or woman, with one or two items in his or her hand that looks exhausted and frazzled, stepping out so they can go ahead of you. You never know what their situation might be, perhaps some-one doing an errand for a spouse, or an aging neighbor or parent, or someone simply trying to fend for them-selves.
But that act, your act, for the other person and your acknowledgement of her burden, your acknowledgement of her humanness, by stepping out of line, and letting her go in front of you can lift up one’s spirit and change the rest of their day! We don’t know what was in that woman’s heart and mind at that moment. Yet, if we work hard enough at this thought we will come across stories, or someone will share about this later in their life. One day they may tell about what an anonymous person (perhaps you or I) did. They may share how that so-and-so did such-and-such on a specific date, and that was the day they had decided to end their life! But because of the kindness, the generosity the acknowledgement of their humanness from another person, it jolted that person out of their depressed state of mind! I have read these stories over the years, so have many of you. I have even heard people share their stories, at least one or two. You see, we never know for sure just how our actions are going to affect another person’s life. In the same manner, the same token jester – done coldly, callously – may adversely affect that person. Our lack of acknowledgement of another person’s right to be in line can have the reverse effect. Again, don’t underestimate the power of a simple gesture!
Let us not forget the golden rule “Do unto others as you would have them do onto you.” /Matthew chapter 7/ Let us not forget that as we search our hearts and our minds for the right choice, whether we have just a moment to make that choice or we have the opportunity to deliberate on it and reflect on it over time, let us not forget, let us remember: we must knock on the door of our God, searching and asking, asking for help and guidance. You know how to do this – we talked about prayer quite a bit last week. Just remember, God’s guidance is always there for us personally. I find that in most situations the opportunity to help someone comes to me, that is to say I become aware of it. I know it because it often makes me feel uncomfortable, simply because I might have to let go of something, give up something. I may need to give up a moment of my time, a little bit of energy, or even a small portion of the money in my pocket from time to time. Trust your instincts, you know when there’s an opportunity to do that next right thing. /Mark chapter 7/
I believe it is imperative that we all understand that compassion, true kindness comes from the heart; it’s a spiritual thing. This is quite obvious in the works of Isaiah and in the examples set by Jesus. As we discussed the ‘call to be concerned’ in Isaiah’s prophetic voice to the people, his call for them to be more compassionate, as he prophesied to them, preached to them and advocated for God; thus advocating for the oppressed and the marginalized, on their behalf, we need to remember that Isaiah indeed was a prophet. Somehow God spoke to him, inspired him and motivated him to reach out to the people with these words. Therefore, we can see that when we look carefully at our scripture this morning and as we look carefully at the words of Jesus in the Gospels and how he reached out sympathetically to people, and as we learn more and more about who God is, who Jesus is, we can rest assured that the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of God was in Isaiah as he reached out and spoke about the need for kindness.
Yes there is a need for more empathy! Not just at the time of Isaiah, before the birth of the Christ Child. Not just during the time of the oppression of the nation of Israel during their oppression under the Roman Empire. We need a renewed effort, a revitalization of compassion today, here in the Twenty-First Century! Here in our local community in Palm Bay, Melbourne and Brevard County, we see homelessness and hunger. It is not diminishing, if anything it has been on the rise during the most recent deep recession that has statistically now passed. Over seventy homeless men and women died on the streets in the grater Brevard County area last year. At least that is the number that the shelters like the Daily Bread were able to verify.
Yes, the need for compassion is still desperately needed! When you look to the news around our great nation and around the world, it is all too easy to see the absence of kindheartedness. Shockingly absent at times! It does not take much effort to see it, if you are willing to look and examine the harsh truths! No, you and I, we cannot solve the world problems; at least not alone. But, we can make a difference in the numerous lives we do touch. So let us not look the other way when we see some injustice that needs to be recognized for what it is. Maybe we can do nothing other than to acknowledge it, acknowledge the humanness of those involved and bring attention to it! That may be the critical first step that we as individuals and as a community are called to do! You know and I know that often times, over time, we the people, with God’s help, we do make a difference!
Praise God! Amen.