Notes for a More Coherent Sermon—The Normalcy of Active Compassion

St. Andrews Old Roman Catholic Church
138 Pears Ave. , Toronto
12:00 noon, April 6, 2008

1st Lesson: 1 Peter 2: 19 – 25

For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.

For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

Gospel: John 10: 11 – 16

I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.

But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.

I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.


It is hard this week to not think of those, like Rev. Martin Luther King, whose faith lead them to take risks on behalf of those they cared for—-risks taken as a direct result of their faith. From newspaper articles to public celebrations, we are asked to remember and consider what a life of committed faith can lead to.

It is easy to see the roots of King’s ”I have a dream” speech in scripture—Christ told his followers after his resurrection that there shall be one fold, not division and segregation. Jesus’ followers certainly had different perspectives and expectations; the arguments between Peter and Paul were dramatic. And yet they could find common ground because, through Christ, they were part of a wide and inclusive tapestry of faith. In South Africa and in the U.S. faith communities were split on racial lines and yet the Martin Luther King’s and Bishop Tutu’s of the world reached across racial divisions to find common ground and understanding with others seeking a world where being faithful to Jesus meant being faithful to the entire community.

Perhaps they could take such risks for others because they did not make a clear distinction between themselves, their faith and their community. Like the good shepherd, they saw themselves as caring for those around them as an extension of themselves. They were part of a larger presence in the world. Just as they would seek food for themselves if they were hungry, they sought to nourish with hope those around them. We see this same spirit around us in those who work in the Out of the Cold programme or with food banks or with refugees or in search of peace in times and places of conflict. Because of the interconnectedness among those that care, that reaches out into the broader community, comfort and healing and hope can be offered and sustained even in difficult times.

This care wasn’t limited to one person or group—-the love of Christ embraces everyone. It wasn’t just those that knew Christ that he cared for; it wasn’t just those that agreed with Jesus that he expressed compassion for. In his life, he helped those that oppressed his people, political opponents, those on the other side of ethnic and gender divides…and he made it clear that was most essential to be a true and faithful follower was to feed the hungry, house the homeless, help the refugee, support those in hospitals and in prison. Yes, we accept that Jesus was the chosen one, the presence of God with us, but it isn’t the articles of our faith that is the most essential—-it is how we live and show our faith in relationship to one another.

This compassion is dangerous. Not wanting others to be hated, not wanting others to face injustice on their own, not wanting others to be left to depend only on their resources can result in one being targeted—ignored, harassed, jailed, beaten, exiled, murdered. Rev. Martin Luther King was not the first or last person to die as a result of faith leading to public proclamation of God’s call to all of us to treat with love and compassion everyone in a society. And around him were thousands of others who shared in his vision—those who walked with him in Selma and in Memphis; those who prepared meals for the many meetings and services; those that shared with him the tasks of organizing and praying and singing for a better world for all. We remember Martin Luther King. Some may recall those, like Reverend Ralph Abernathy, who succeeded him at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who were other high profile leaders of the U.S. civil rights movement. But there were many thousands more who shared their hopes, time, talent and lives to bring to life the dream of Martin Luther King. We will likely never know their names but it is their example we see in the dream of an integrated, diverse community, not only the example of Rev. King.

From the earliest days of our faith people lived, been imprisoned and died because of their desire to not participate in causing harm to anyone within creation. From refusing to serve in the military to feeding the hungry to walking on picket lines to living in integrated and egalitarian communities, living a peaceful, sharing life can be as upsetting to the world around us as overturning the tables of the money changes in the courtyard of the temple in Jerusalem must have been. Almost always, trying to live in harmony with all one’s neighbours is not noteworthy. Most people make a difference in many quiet, efficient ways that put down the foundations of the divine kingdom. A few, like Dorothy Day and Caesar Chavez, seem to attract attention through public witness, take risks by insisting that living a loving life isn’t optional. Very few become the real targets of hatred—the Archbishop Romero’s and Martin Luther King’s of the world.

When Jesus promised to be with all of his flock, to gather them in to one loving community, he didn’t promise he’d do it on his own. He had called disciples and apostles, he challenged everyone who was serious about living his message to do so, to be a living example of someone whose love was universal, a love that embraced the unlovable—the enemy, the ill, the imprisoned, the one on the other side of good society. We were never promised that it would be easy or simple or peaceful; we were promised that we’d never be alone in this work of building the shalom kingdom. In the midst of everything, perhaps that is the most wonderful gift of all—the confidence that we are not alone.

If we can be open to this reality, that God’s love for us is such that we are not alone, we can be open to the reality that everyone is embraced by the love of God. We are the ones who can show this, in small ways and major ways, in overcoming racism and war, in supporting food banks and affordable housing, in sharing in the celebrations and sorrows of those we know—in all the ways that we take the love that God gives us and makes it real in creation.

We’ll soon be leaving this place. We’ll be exposed to stories of violence and hunger and racism and homophobia in the media. We don’t always remember that the reason that such things appear in newspapers is that they are news—for most of us most of the time we don’t directly experience injustice or privation; we aren’t alone in life. But we called at all times and in all places to show that compassion is not really newsworthy; that ultimately being the agents of God’s love is normal for us. By doing so we truly keep Martin Luther King’s dreams alive, we bring to life the divine kingdom, we reach beyond our personal limitations to more closely becoming the people we were created and called to be. We put aside the fear that the murder of those who inspire us can create and ensure that their loving life continues.


2 responses to “Notes for a More Coherent Sermon—The Normalcy of Active Compassion

  1. A friend of mine just emailed me one of your articles from a while back. I read that one a few more. Really enjoy your blog. Thanks.

    Jason Whitmen


  2. Pingback: Senior Living Communities » Blog Archive » Notes for a More Coherent Sermon—The Normalcy of Active Compassion

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