Compassion Makes Us Brave!

Camp Compassion is our online VBS, where we are learning that compassion means: “I see your hurt, I feel your hurt with you, and I’ll work to ease your hurt.” This week we chatted about how compassion helps us be brave. I was turning that phrase over in my head,“compassion helps us be brave” , when I saw a stray pit bull dragging a pink leash around our yard. Twice bitten as a child, unfamiliar stray dogs make me skittish. I went outside to check on “Pitty”. Pitty ran right up and I reluctantly petted his powerful head.  Despite a gaggle of fleas, an infection, a dozen raw spots, and a chewed through leash, Pity was a sweet boy. He jumped into the truck for a ride to animal control. I felt a tad guilty when someone paraphrased Jesus on FaceBook “I was a stranger, and you rubbed my belly and took me in”.  Compassion or “concern for the suffering of others” spurs us to action.  As we hear again the story of the five friends, let us look for compassion and consider the ways compassion might help us be brave! 

Dear Jesus, 

Your compassion always looked like courage.

Strengthen our hearts with your bravery

as we risk, reach out, and lift up our siblings near and far.

help us keep our eyes on you. Amen ( VBS Prayer)

Compassion helps us be brave!

Our story of compassion comes from Mark 2, but is also found in Luke 5 and Matthew 9.  It describes faith as a group effort, but that is another sermon. Jesus traveled from town to town to bring free healthcare to everyone who was sick. Indeed, Mark 1:45 notes that the crowds grew so large that Jesus was prevented from entering towns. Still the people came. Our five friends show up looking for healing. Four of the friends carried one friend on a cot, because that friend’s legs were paralyzed.  I wonder who first suggested they go see Jesus? 

When the five friends arrived at the place where Jesus was, it was so crowded that they could not get in. In fact, Jesus is not healing right then but teaching!  I wonder if they thought about giving up and going back home? Instead of going home, they hatch a disruptive and perhaps tad destructive plan! 

With the line stretching of the door, they went up on the roof. Houses were made of mud or clay bricks baked hard in the sun. The steps were outside the house and the roofs were flat and usually had canopies for shade.  In the summer, people often slept on the rooftops catching the evening breeze! Deuteronomy 22:8 offers a new construction code requiring a railing to prevent anyone from falling off the roof!  In Acts 10, the first Bishop, Simon Peter had a vision of welcoming everyone in God’s church while taking a nap on a rooftop overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. 

 Up on the roof, the friends began to tear out the roof tiles or blocks.  The roof was sealed with a baked clay sealer which held the tiles together and kept the rain out! The friends dug into this coating making a hole in the roof. Let me say that again: “they made a hole in the roof!”  And, the hole was big enough to lower their friend down through it.  That gives me a lot of questions. Why did the homeowner not yell at the friends or call the police? Why did Jesus just sit there watching as sunlight cut through the dusty hole in the roof?  When I get anxious, I want to rush off and say or do something.  Jesus sits back and allows this shocking event to occur!  Pastor Heather sometimes reminds us to “breathe”- taking a breath prayer. Sometimes we need to just breathe, listen and wait! One more question, why does Jesus celebrate the faith of these friends who have just made a big hole in someone’s roof? Is Jesus telling us that people matter more than property? Is this a lesson for our focus today: do we focus on the destructive property or underlying injustice?  

In Mark’s telling he writes, “When the friends had made an opening in the roof, they lowered their friend who was paralyzed down into the crowded room. When Jesus saw the friends’ faith, Jesus said to the friend whose legs were paralytized, “Child, your sins are forgiven!”  Luke uses the word “Friend”. “Child”, sounds like Jesus is from the South. “Child, your sins are forgiven.” 

 Jesus saw the group’s collective faith. How do we see faith?  Do we see faith in the actions of the five friends?  Do you see compassion, hope and love as they carry the cot, dig through the roof, and lower their friend down to Jesus? Could we celebrate people making a hole in someone’s roof?  Do you see the strength, trust and bravery of the friend with paralysis, who rappels down to Jesus?  Jesus sees faith in actions. Jesus sees faith in teamwork!

But why does Jesus first say: “Child, your sins are forgiven!”  Why not just say: “Child, you are healed”?  How do forgiveness and healing work together? I think Jesus is saying to the friend with paralysis: God created you. God loves you. You are made in the image of God- just as you are.  You are beautiful with or without paralysis. So before Jesus heals this  friend, Jesus announces their status as forgiven. Your sacred worth is not rooted in your biology. 

When I entered first grade, I discovered my brain did not work like the other children’s brains.  The letters just did not make any sense to me. Numbers were even worse.  I was in college before I could spell “what” without thinking.  And slogans like “I after E, except after C and in words like neighbor and weigh,” go astray when you can’t see  that the I is not following the E”. I still spell “their” incorrectly maybe half the time and D(d) or B(b),  M(m) or N (n) 6 or 9 often elude me.  As a child and once in a while even today I can feel a little less than others. I hope the friend with paralysis felt beloved all the time, but we know some people used to believe that people with paralysis mattered less to God.  Leviticus 21:21 said that People with paralysis could not become preachers.  I think Jesus is saying: “let me be clear, let me say this first, before you even ask, and all y’all judgy church folks listen up: Child, your sins are forgiven. You are made in the very image of God. You are a beloved: whether you can spell Mississippi or not, no matter who you love, and whether you walk or roll.  No child of God is superior to another! God has enough love for us all! 

But there were some people in the room that day who loved the rules more than they loved people. There are always “some” people like that: who value laws over love, rules before relationships, and creed over compassion. In Mark 3, Jesus grows angry with these people’s hard hearts.  Hard hearts are easier to spot than to put in a creed. Some people noticed Jesus was breaking the rules. The rules said forgiveness requires repentance and a change of behavior. Repentance means you go to the temple, confess your sins, and make a sacrifice. So some church folks sat there muttering about how Jesus forgave too easily. “Why does Jesus speak this way? Jesus is insulting God.  I mean that guy did not even repent. Those guys made a hole in someone’s roof!   Yes, God is love, but they need to repent, apologize, and fix the roof.” Child! Jesus, who forgives and raises us all up, knows those theological mutterings and asks: “Why do you  raise such questions in your heart?”  Who appointed you a judge?  Why is your heart hard to people’s suffering? (Mark 3:5) Why are you so stingy with God’s grace, mercy and love?  Why do we allow our rules snuff out our God-given compassion? When did our compassion stop helping us be brave?  

 And then Jesus says: hey, just so you know that this is legit, Child, stand up, take your mat and walk.  And the person with paralysis stood up. They rose up. And I like to think they began to dance praising God with their whole body!  And a second miracle occurs, maybe bigger than the first, because everyone, even those muttering theologians, joined in the dance. They joined in the praise dance singing, “We’ve never seen anything like this!” Children, that is some good news. Amen? 

So I have a few homework questions for you, some of them from Camp Compassion! 

  • Who was brave in the story? 
  • How might compassion help you be brave? 
  • And are you on a team that helps you live a brave and compassionate life? 

Dear Jesus, 

Your compassion always looked like courage.

Strengthen our hearts with your bravery

as we risk, reach out, and lift up our siblings near and far.

help us keep our eyes on you. Amen ( VBS Prayer)

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