3. September 2017

The Harvest of the Heart – The Compassion of God’s People

Service Type:

‘…When Thou hearest, forgive…’ (2 Chronicles 6, 21b)
‘…I have compassion on the crowd…’ (Matthew 16, 32b)

Harvest Thanksgiving is all to do with giving as a way of saying thank you – Saying thank you to God – by making good use of the gifts, talents and abilities with which we have been blessed. God’s requirement of us is that we ‘love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength and with all our mind.’ This harvest season, we are thinking about what it is we have to give accordingly: hence today, ‘The Harvest of the heart – the Gift of Compassion.’ All of us, without exception, is gifted with compassion. None of us is totally unmoved when confronted with the tragic circumstances being experienced by others. Jesus spoke of having compassion because the people who had followed him were hungry and had no food. He felt sorry for them. But to show compassion requires more than just ‘feeling’ sorry; to show compassion requires that we act accordingly…

“Compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action, or it withers. The question of what to do with the feelings that have been aroused, the knowledge that has been communicated. If one feels that there is nothing 'we' can do - but who is that 'we'? - and nothing 'they' can do either - and who are 'they' - then one starts to get bored, cynical, apathetic.” (Susan Sontag: ‘Regarding the pain of others’).

…And there are those who speak of compassion fatigue; rarely a day passes without us being made to feel sorry for this person or that people because of this situation or that circumstance; and yes, if we are honest we are more likely to be bored than be enthused; apathy has overwhelmed us and cynicism has become our default position in so many cases. And when this becomes the case, when are without realising it forced into what be described as political or sectarian or partisan decisions in terms of who might benefit from any practical demonstration of our compassion we risk denying the very essence of the God given gift that is to be ‘compassionate’ - being ‘compassionate’ towards some and just ‘feeling sorry’ for the rest – is a fundamental failure to appreciate what compassion is, and more than that, what it demands of us. Compassion has to be for each of us a way of being; we have to get to the point of appreciating that  Jesus’ death on the Cross cannot but be understood as the inevitable outcome of a heart of compassion – profound, ultimate and universal – It was the only thing to do and Jesus was the only One who could do it.

“[The] insistence on the absolutely indiscriminate nature of compassion within the Kingdom is the dominant perspective of almost all of Jesus' teaching.
What is indiscriminate compassion? 'Take a look at a rose. Is is possible for the rose to say, "I'll offer my fragrance to good people and withhold it from bad people"? Or can you imagine a lamp that withholds its rays from a wicked person who seeks to walk in its light? It could do that only be ceasing to be a lamp. And observe how helplessly and indiscriminately a tree gives its shade to everyone, good and bad, young and old, high and low; to animals and humans and every living creature -- even to the one who seeks to cut it down. This is the first quality of compassion -- its indiscriminate character.' (
Anthony DeMello, The Way to Love)...What makes the Kingdom come is heartfelt compassion: a way of tenderness that knows no frontiers, no labels, no compartmentalizing, and no sectarian divisions.” (Brennan Manning, Abba's Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging). And so, at Harvest time we give as a way of saying thank you; we give to others from the very depths of our hearts, we promise God, we covenant with God to act compassionately any and every time the need arises, and to do so for no other reason than those in need are deserving of our help and that for no other reason than that they need to be helped. From God’s perspective, there can be no division between the deserving and the undeserving ‘poor’. But compassion is more than charity; one cannot be compassionate from a distance. To properly exercise compassion one has to be where the need is; to stand in the shoes of the needy; to breathe their air…

“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.” (Henri JM Neuwen).

Because true compassion goes beyond charity. It is charity plus. It demands of us that we be prepared to be with those who are in need, to associate ourselves with them, to realise that we too are bound to share their heartache precisely because we share a common humanity, precisely because God in Jesus shared that same humanity with them and with us. We cannot know what it means to be human until we have exposed ourselves to the emotional roller coaster that is a compassion driven lifestyle. But that is what the Church is meant to be…And so this Harvest we confess our love for God with all our heart, and demonstrate the same by our heartfelt compassion for each and all alike…Loving our neighbour as we ourselves would wish to be loved.