BIBLE READINGS:† Romans 5:1-8 ††††Matthew 9:36 to 10:8
Let me share a story. The author writes... "It was outside the bakery that I first saw this happen while I was waiting in my car for my wife to finish shopping. As I was watching the people go by, my attention was drawn to a poorly dressed young woman pushing an old pram, filled with bundles of rags, cans, bottles, and whatever else goes into living hand to mouth. A small child sat cushioned in the pram, and another child about 2 years old walked alongside her.
Coming from the opposite direction I saw someone I knew. He was a smartly dressed young man. As he passed her, he turned around suddenly, and called out something to get her attention. What he said couldn't be heard. When she turned, he pretended to be picking up some money. A paper note, how much it was couldn't be seen. He motioned that she had dropped it, and quickly put it in the child's lap and was gone.
It was less than a month later, when I saw the same young man again. He was standing in line at a checkout in a Supermarket. He was standing behind a person who obviously found it hard to make ends meet. The person was counting out small change to pay for her milk and bread. I saw the man bend down and he came up holding a twenty in his hand, and as he stood up he insisted that she had dropped it. She said "no" it wasn't hers. But the man insisted."
The writer concluded his story saying: "When anyone is lucky enough to see someone do kind and charitable things like that, it makes me feel that there are still people in the world who really care. The trouble is that I never liked this man until now."
Compassion will make people do the strangest things. When a person's heart goes out to another person who is in need, some amazing events are bound to follow. We only need to think of Mother Teresa and Albert Schweitzer whose hearts went out to the poor and the dying of Calcutta and the lepers in Africa and the amazing way they gave their lives to helping them.
In London at the turn of the century, a young doctor (22yrs) was locking up for the night and as he was turning off the light, he spotted a dirty little boy huddled against the door. The lad begged the doctor to let him stay because he had no where else to go. The boy told him he had been living in a coal bin with some other boys. As he won the confidence of the child, the doctor persuaded the boy to take him where the boys were. After going through many dark alleys, they came to a hole in a wall that was part of a factory. Crawling through, the doctor found 13 boys huddled under rags to keep warm.
Because of this experience the doctor's heart went out to such children and he opened a home for abandoned children in 1867. When he died in 1905, Dr Thomas Barnardo had founded homes for 80,000 homeless boys and girls. This work started with compassion for one child, extended to 13 others, and grew to a crowd of over 80,000.
There are many examples of those who had compassion on the harassed and helpless and have given a great deal to their life and money to help.
God has had pity on us. The reading from Romans points out that all of us are "harassed and helpless". Paul says: "For when we were still helpless, Christ died for the wicked... God has shown how much he loves us - it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us" Rom 5:6,8). Paul makes it quite clear that we are helpless to do anything about our sin. We are helpless to do anything about our feelings of guilt that come because of the way we live our lives. We canít do anything to stop ourselves from saying and doing things that are so opposite to what God wants us to say and do. We are helpless when it comes to getting rid of sin in our lives and restoring our relationship with God. We are harassed and helpless because we are sinners and there is nothing we can do about it.
But that is not the end of the story as far as the apostle Paul is concerned. God does not want us to be harassed and helpless. God has compassion on us. His heart has gone out to us. He has had pity on us. And he has sent us his Son to deal with our sin. As Paul said in this morning's reading emphasising the amazing result of God's compassion, By his blood we are now put right with God.... We were God's enemies, but he has made us his friends through the death of his Son (Rom 5:9,10).
So you see, God had such a strong love for us, his heart went out for us in such a way, he would do anything to make things right for us again, even letting his own Son die in our place. "God has shown us how much he loves us - it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us! (Rom 5:8). We need Godís compassion. We needed Jesus to give his life for us and as much as we might cringe at the thought of receiving charity, there is no other way to eternal life. God gives freely, graciously, even though we donít deserve it. Thatís the kind of compassion God has for us.
Jesus places us amongst people who are hungry - sometimes they are hungry for bread - sometimes they are hungry for the Bread of Life, Jesus. Sometimes we are challenged to meet their need for food and shelter, sometimes we are challenged to help them know the way of forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus. Whatever their needs God calls us to be the compassion of God to the world. God doesn't expect us to be a Mother Theresa or a Dr Barnardo, but he does expect us to have a heart for those who are harassed and helpless and to touch the lives of those people with the Good News of forgiveness and the joy of knowing a loving Saviour. He expects action!
It's true that when there seems to be so many people in need around us, we throw up our hands in despair and say, "What will the little bit that I can do help alleviate suffering when there is so much of it?" There is the danger that we become immune to those needs and hardened to what is really going on in the lives of those who suffer. It is hard to feel for someone, to have our hearts go out to a person who is suffering, if our hearts are hardened and we no longer understand their suffering.
But the fact remains. People are no different today than they were in Jesus' day. We could look at our Australian society and say that it is harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. There are so many people who are hurting spiritually, emotionally and physically. There are so many, young and old, who need to hear of the love and forgiveness of Jesus to heal their hurting consciences. There are those who need to get to know of the love and care of the loving Saviour who walks beside them through every trial and danger and will see them through it safely. There is a crowd, there are sheep without a shepherd, there are those harassed and helpless and Jesus says to you and me, "Feed my sheep." Take care of them and help them in their needs, both physical and spiritual.
People come to ministers because they hope that ministers will listen to them. But the whole world can't get into the minister's office to have a hearing. Neither can the minister make themself available to every person in the world. And that doesn't need to happen. You are in the world. You are God's salt and light in our community. You are a part of God's family. You have known and experienced the love and compassion of God. You are equally able to share with those harassed and helpless, helping them in their physical needs and sharing with them what Jesus means to you and what it means to belong to the church. There are so many who are floundering in a swamp of troubles and disasters in their life and they are looking to you for help. God needs you to represent the length and breadth and height and depth of God's compassion.
You might say, "But I canít do that! Iím just an ordinary sort of person! Thatís way out of my territory!" If thatís the case then itís good that the calling of the 12 disciples immediately follows. When Jesus picks the twelve disciples, sending them out to preach and heal and have compassion on the lost sheep, in other words to do exactly what Jesus had been doing, no qualifications are mentioned by Matthew. One might think that Matthew would have mentioned that Jesus chose those men because of their prior experience, or their great potential, or their great spiritual insight. But we are told none of that.
But instead, rather abruptly we are simply told that Jesus decided that it was time to pick some people to help him do his work and he picked these twelve. We know that several were fishermen, there was a hated tax collector, even one who would betray him. It is as if the gospel almost bends over backward to assure us that none of these people was special in any way.
Who amongst us here is qualified to heal a broken world and help those who are harassed and helpless? Yet he has chosen us to be his contemporary disciples. We may not be qualified, but by God's grace we have been authorised to be his disciples, and thatí rather wonderful when you come to think of it. Perhaps he sees in us more potential than we see in ourselves. Perhaps he can take the experiences that you have had in life and use those to help others. Perhaps he wants us to learn to lean on him and let the Holy Spirit use us to help the harassed and helpless.
Jesus seems to delight in taking ordinary, everyday people, people who donít have any qualifications or credentials, and selecting them to be his disciples. He promises us that he will give us what we need to be his disciples. And then he sends us out into the world, to the harassed and helpless, to share with a dying world a word of salvation, and to offer healing for a broken people.