Sermons from St
'Compassion in Action'
Fr John Reed
28th July, 2019
Abraham and Sarah were two great people of faith. The story begins in the city of Ur, when Abram encounters God, a God who calls Abraham to walk before him, not just Abram, but Sari his wife, their relatives in the broadest sense of the word, their servants, their sheep, cattle and camels. Abram responded and a large group of people and everything that comes with them, in the way of retainers and four- legged property walked before God. There were many adventures along the way: God promised the aged Abraham and Sarah as many descendants as there were stars in the sky.
A sizeable part of the tribe that walked before God belonged to Abraham’s nephew, Lot. And when the pastures became a source of contention between the Shepherds of Abraham and Lot, and there was infighting, Abraham in his wisdom decided the parting of the ways had come. Abraham very graciously gave Lot the choice of which way to go first. And Lot being a man who was not the man of faith Abraham was and was a man who just looked out for himself , looked and saw the luscious green grass of the plain with its three cities on one hand and the stony sandy mountainous way on the other hand. There was no competition in Lot’s mind, the broad path was preferable to the narrow winding one. Lot decided for the easy way, Abraham for faith.
Later on in the story Abraham again encounters God, who promises a son, a new beginning for Abraham and Sarah, joyous, laughter-inducing new. God will keep his promise to make Abraham and Sarah’s descendants like the multitude of stars in the sky. And then God speaks to Abraham of his other plans; the destruction of the wicked cities of the plains, Sodom and Gomorrah. The cities had gained a reputation for acts of legalized banditry on those who unwittingly passed through, your possessions, your family members and your very body, were all at risk from the people of the cities who just looked out for themselves. Some of the cities in Star Wars films have been modeled on this idea of complete lawlessness.
Someone describes the area today as a sinister landscape by the Dead Sea, where salt mountains lie. Thousands of years ago a barren wilderness arose from the depths in a powerful earthquake, and nothing has changed since then. No creatures make their lair here, no bird sings it songs, no tree, no flower, no blade of grass grows here. No trace of human civilization can be found there. It is waste and desolation, God forsaken - just the sort of place where God’s powerful judgement is shown.
How does Abraham respond to this news of the impending destruction of these wicked cities that deserve everything God will do to them? The man of faith waylays God; if it were a person going to do something terrible and you knew it, you would hold them by the arm and ask them to think again. In all that wickedness and godlessness, if there were 50 righteous people there you surely would do the right thing and you save them? God replies yes. So in the spirit of bartering Abraham continues: in all that wickedness and godlessness if there were 45 righteous people there you surely would do the right thing and save them?
God replies yes again. Abraham says; excuse me God I know I am not as great and all-knowing as you, what if there were 40? God replies yes again. I hope you don’t mind me asking again God; what about 30? God replies yes again. And what about 20? Yes, and can I just ask one more time God; what about 10 which is the minimum number of men for a Synagogue? Yes, Yes, Yes says God. Lot and his family are saved, and Sodom and Gomorrah become the archetypal name for the terrible judgment of God. And Abraham and Sarah have learned an important lesson about the God that they walk before; wickedness and lawlessness are not what God intends for his creation, but judgement is tempered and stayed by compassion. Care for the weak and lost, caught up in the inhumanity and greed of others.
And God’s ultimate sense of care takes Jesus his only Son to the cross, not just for the innocent and the lost, but the wicked and lawless too. St. Paul uses the words, ‘cancelling the bond’; the words he uses describes a Roman legal notice of debt owing; like the one that was nailed to the cross ”Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.” St. Paul describes the debt as having been nailed to the cross, and cancelled by Jesus’s death: the same death that we are baptised into. And then St. Paul uses the picture of a Roman general’s triumphal procession after a great victory. The triumphant Jesus literally enters the city down the triumphal way, not dragging a procession of captured slaves in chains behind his chariot, but all the powers and authorities of this world literally subservient and disarmed, put in submission to God, unable to harm or keep humanity in limits any more. Compassion in action.
When Jesus’s disciples saw him praying, they realized he had a special or different relationship with God, so they asked him what they should pray. He didn’t give them anything radically different from the teachings of the Jewish faith that they all knew. He did give them an insight into God, yes a powerful God in heaven, but one they could call Father, using a very homely term. The same term they may have used to describe their own earthly fathers. Abba or just plain daddy. And he belongs to all. It’s Our Father. The words I me and my do not occur in the Lord’s prayer.
“Nor can you pray the Lord’s prayer and not pray for another
And when you ask for daily bread, you must include your brother”
If you seek a God of ultimate compassion as revealed in his Son Jesus, prepared to sacrifice all advantage and status in an act of practical love, you will be drawn in to sharing that love with others. Abraham gives us an idea of what it means to care for the innocent. Jesus shows us in words and deeds, calling us pray with him, not just words but a call to action. Next time you pray those words, spend time thinking about the people that you are called to have compassion for.
The Gospel finishes with a story of someone who discovers he has guests, which he must by Jewish tradition give hospitality too or risk losing face in the community. And he doesn’t have enough food in the house. So he calls his neighbour in the middle of the night. His neighbour doesn’t want to open up. it is night the children are asleep and the doors are locked. Begrudgingly his neighbour helps, as a refusal to help would mean him losing face too. The meaning of Jesus’s parable takes us to God, Father God who goes on genuinely and sacrificially giving, and who doesn’t know what the term begrudging means. A God who is our Father who wants to enroll all his children in the way the family should behave.
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