From Matthew, Chapter 9, verses 35 to 38:
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’
From Acts, Chapter 3 verses 1 to 10
One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’ And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.’ And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God, and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
From Laura Schroff in “An Invisible Thread”
“Excuse me, lady, do you have any spare change?”
This was the first thing he said to me, on 56th Street in New York City, right around the corner from Broadway, on a sunny September day.
And when I heard him I didn’t really hear him. His words were part of the clatter, like a car horn or someone yelling for a cab. They were, you could say, just noise - the kind of nuisance New Yorkers learn to tune out. So I walked right by him, as if he wasn’t there.
But then, just a few yards past him, I stopped.
And then - and I’m not sure why I did this - I came back.
I came back and I looked at him, and I realized he was just a boy.
Earlier, out of the corner of my eye, I had noticed he was young. But now, looking at him, I saw that he was a child - tiny body, sticks for arms, big round eyes. He wore a burgundy sweat-shirt that was smudged and frayed and ratty burgundy sweatpants to match. He had scuffed white sneakers with untied laces, and his fingernails were dirty. But his eyes were bright and there was a general sweetness about him. He was, I would soon learn, eleven years old.
He stretched his palm toward me, and he asked again, “Excuse me, lady, do you have any spare change? I’m hungry.”
What I said in response may have surprised him, but it really shocked me. “If you’re hungry,” I said, “I’ll take you to McDonald’s and buy you lunch.”
Can I have a cheeseburger?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“How about a Bid Mac?”
“That’s okay too.”
“How about a Diet Coke?”
“Yes, that’s okay.”
“Well, how about a thick chocolate shake and French Fries?”
I told him he could have anything he wanted. And then I asked him if I could join him for lunch. He thought about it for a second.
“Sure,” he finally said. We had lunch together that day at McDonald’s. And after that, we got together every Monday. For the next 150 Mondays. His name is Maurice, and he changed my life.
Why did I stop and go back to Maurice? It’s easier for me to tell you why I ignored him in the first place. I ignored him, very simply, because he wasn’t on my schedule.
I’m fairly confident Jesus didn’t have a schedule as he went about the cities and villages teaching and healing, not like the ones we keep on our smart phones anyway. He too was walking among the crowds - needy people, reaching out to touch him, asking for healing.
And he was touched, but not just by a physical act. He was touched deeply by the crowds - touched in his heart. As Matthew tells us, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them.” Healing begins with looking - and seeing.
Compassion is both a feeling and a way of being that flows out of that feeling - feeling the suffering of someone, including yourself, and being moved to do something. For Jesus, compassion was the central quality of God, and the central moral quality of a life centered in God. “Be compassionate as God is compassionate,” he instructs his followers in Luke.
The gospels are filled with stories of Jesus having compassion, and being moved with compassion. And he acted on it - healing those he encountered of their pain and suffering and demons. And he asks us to do the same. Eugene Peterson paraphrases the last line of this passage: “What a huge harvest! How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands.”
The Buddha too spoke of compassion as the deep affection we have for every living thing because we’re all in it together - everyone and everything is connected. The Buddha is often called “the compassionate one.”
Unlike Jesus, the Buddha wasn’t born in poverty. Some stories tell us that 500 years before Christ, Buddha was born Prince Siddhartha. He had been sheltered and pampered all of his life before he left the palace walls for the first time in his late twenties, where he witnessed the world as it really was. As the story goes, he saw a sick man, an old man and a dead man. He was so overwhelmed that he left his wife and young child and the life he had known, and dedicated the rest of his life to easing the suffering of all who faced the pain inherent in being alive. He might not have known real compassion if he had never left the shelter of the palace walls.
Peter and John, in our story from Acts, broke that rule I was taught when I moved to New York City years ago: Do not to look at people on the street. Not only did they look intently at the man sitting by the gate asking for alms, they told him to look at them. Once again we see that healing begins with looking.
So often it is not just the person reaching out to us for healing, but we ourselves that are healed. Vince Amlin, in a recent Still Speaking Devotional, makes this point: “Whether the illness is physical, spiritual, or societal, the remedy always starts with a willingness to look; to observe and examine our wounds, our privilege, our apathy. It is easy to make rules that keep my eyes trained on my own feet, but if I dare to look up, I may be invited onto a new path. Looking into the eyes of another, I may be sent on a journey that will not end until we are both healed.”
That is what happened as a result of the encounter Laura Schroff had with Maurice. It changed both of their lives in unimaginable ways. I recommend her book “The Invisible Thread” as inspirational reading.
I recently saw on NBC’s Making a Difference a story of one man’s vision, after looking outside his own little world, a vision that changed and helped heal the lives of many. His name is Bill Lavin, a retired firefighter, who founded the Sandy Shores Where Angels Play Project.
Bill saw the faces on the news of those children and teachers who perished in the Sandy Hook massacre. He saw the outpouring of grief in their families and community. He saw the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy in the communities around him.
What could one person do, with eyes to see, a big heart, and a great deal of compassion? He couldn’t bring the children back, but he could bring the playgrounds lost in the hurricane back. He could help keep the memories of those 26 people alive, by dedicating a playground to each one of them, and inviting hundreds of volunteers, including the families of those who died, to help build them. The last one was dedicated to the principal of Sandy Hook this past week.
Lavin said “All the families love the project. The idea is that these (the Sandy Hook victims) are angels that are going to watch over the angels that are still here for generations.” What can one man do? - lots. He said this project has changed his life.
Our theme this month is “Outside our own little world”, and we will be looking outside our world in the next two weeks, but first I believe we begin by looking inside ourselves, and then at those around us here at the Eliot Church. I was reminded this week of a poignant poem by Ann Weems who will start us looking. It’s entitled “Touch in Church.”
1. What is all this touching in church?
It used to be a person could come to church and sit in the pew
and not be bothered by all this friendliness and
certainly not by touching.
Now I have to be nervous about what’s expected of me.
2. I have to worry about responding to the person sitting next to me.
Oh, I wish it could be the way it used to be;
I could just ask the person next to me: How are you?
And the person could answer: Oh, just fine,
And we’d both go home....strangers who have known each other
for twenty years.
3. But now the minister asks us to look at each other.
I’m worried about that hurt look I saw in that woman’s eyes.
1. Now I’m concerned, because when the minister asks us to pass the
The man next to me held my hand so tightly I wondered if he had
been touched in years.
2. Now I’m upset because the lady next to me cried
and then apologized
And said it was because I was so kind and that she needed
A friend right now.
Now I have to get involved.
3. Now I have to suffer when this community suffers. Now I have to be more than a person coming to observe a service.
1. That man last week told me I’d never know how much I’d touched
All I did was smile and tell him I understood what it was to be
Lord, I’m not big enough to touch and be touched!
2. The stretching scares me. What if I disappoint somebody?
3. What if I’m too pushy?
1. What if I cling too much?
2. What if somebody ignores me?
3. “Pass the peace.”
1. “The peace of God be with you.”
2. “And with you.”
ALL: And mean it.
3. Lord, I can’t resist meaning it!
1. I’m touched by it, I’m enveloped by it!
2. I find I do care about that person next to me!
3. I find I am involved!
ALL: And I’m scared.
1. O Lord, be here beside me. You touch me, Lord, so that I can touch and be touched!
2. So that I can care and be cared for!
3. So that I can share my life with all those others that belong to you! All this touching in church -
ALL: Lord, it’s changing me!
So it’s time to be touched. It’s time to really look at that person sitting next to us. I’m going to ask you to do something I first asked you to do when I came and preached my candidating sermon. (invite them to sing You Are the Face of God)