Our sermon for June 18, 2023 was delivered by a special guest: Kate Fields of Belmont United Methodist Church.
Kate spoke about the two parts of compassion: the initial hurting, and the the commission to go and share compassion. Listen for Jesus’ example of experiencing pain and for examples of compassion in action.
Glencliff United Methodist Church is an inclusive and justice-seeking congregation in Nashville, Tennessee. To see how we are working in community to spread compassion and uplift one another on our spiritual journeys, visit: www.glencliffumc.org
Kate Fields [00:00:00]:
So this morning we are in one of my favorite scriptures. As it turns out, the lectionary has lent itself to this. It’s one of those texts that I had glossed over for many years and then heard a sermon once on it and it was like pam. It hit deep this bit about Jesus having compassion for the people. It stopped me in my tracks. So as I’m preaching and sharing a word this morning, I would love to invite you to think about a time when you needed compassion because something maybe that you did that you were in the wrong for, or maybe you were just tearing yourself up about something, whether or not you were in the wrong or not. Or maybe one of your identities didn’t fit the cultural norms of who gets to be in power and you felt lonely and hurting and you didn’t belong. And in that moment, someone’s compassion was a gift of air and a gift of safety.
Kate Fields [00:01:09]:
So think about that in your own lives today when someone showed you compassion. So with that lens, let’s dive into the gospel text today and explore Jesus’s compassion. We have this description of how Jesus showed up for the crowd through healing and sharing good news in our scripture of Matthew nine and ten today. And actually what’s so fascinating to me is that the text that we have today is so reminiscent of just a few chapters before in Matthew four. And if you’re cool with that, I want to read Matthew four and just try to listen for some of those similarities in our text today. Matthew four reads this jesus traveled throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues. He announced the good news of the kingdom and healed every disease there’s, the healing and sickness among the people. News spread about him throughout Syria.
Kate Fields [00:02:05]:
People brought to him all those who had various kinds of diseases those in pain, those possessed by demons, those with epilepsy, those who were paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decopolis, Judea, Jerusalem, and from the areas beyond the Jordan River. Now, when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up to the mountain, he sat down and his disciples came to him and he taught them, saying, do y’all know what this text is? We are leading into Matthew five, which is the Sermon on the Mount, which is what we know as the Beatitudes. AJ. Levine a New Testament a great New Testament scholar calls them Jesus’s greatest hits. The Beatitudes. And I think it’s a great way to explore those. But this is Matthew Four.
Kate Fields [00:02:53]:
What I just read is directly leading into the Beatitudes, right? So don’t lose that piece. That the impetus or the reason that Jesus went into this most famous sermon, his greatest hits, was because of the crowd suffering, right? And so if you remember, the Beatitudes are this blessed are those who mourn, blessed are those who are peacemakers, blessed are those who show mercy. Blessed are those who thirst for justice. Blessed are those who are pure in heart. They are the ones who get to see God. Blessed are those who are poor in spirit or in Luke’s version of the Sermon on the plane, they’re not on a mountain in Luke, it just says, blessed are the poor, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. So blessed, basically, are those who don’t have the power and leverage of money. These are Jesus’s Core Teachings.
Kate Fields [00:03:54]:
And the impetus of Jesus’s core teachings was the crowd who was suffering. And that’s what I can’t get over. That’s why I keep coming back to Christianity in the Gospel, because of that kind of love. And I want to talk just a moment, a little bit more about the beatitudes, because I think it helps set up Jesus compassion. In Matthew nine, Reverend Nadia Boltsweber is a Lutheran pastor and kind of become a popular author. She wrote or she preached rather, on the Sermon on the Mount in the United Kingdom, even though she’s from Denver, Colorado, and she decided to try to modernize the language of the Sermon on the Mount of the Beatitudes. And she does that in a great way. And I’ll share an abbreviated version of that, believe it or not, because it’s a little bit extensive.
Kate Fields [00:04:53]:
And so listen to this. Listen to this. As if Jesus was here in 2023, how would the Sermon on the Mount sound in 2023? She says, blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are they for whom death is not an abstraction. Blessed are those who doubt, those who aren’t sure, who can still be surprised. Blessed are they who are spiritually impoverished. Blessed are those who have nothing to offer. Blessed are those for whom nothing seems to be working.
Kate Fields [00:05:31]:
Blessed are the preschoolers who cut in line at communion. Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are they for whom death is not an abstraction. Blessed are those are they who have buried their loved ones, for whom tears are as real as an ocean. Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like. Blessed are the motherless, the alone, the ones from whom so much has been taken.
Kate Fields [00:06:05]:
Blessed are those who are still aren’t over it yet. Blessed are those who laughed again when for so long they thought they never would. Blessed are those who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus. Blesses you. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who no one else notices. Blessed are the kids who sit alone at the middle school lunch tables, the laundry guys at the hospital, the parts of ourselves that don’t want to make eye contact with a world that only loves winners.
Kate Fields [00:06:39]:
Blessed are the forgotten. Blessed are the closeted blessed are the unemployed, the unimpressive, the underrepresented. Blessed are the teens who have to figure out new ways to hide cuts on their arms. Blessed are the meek, you are of heaven, and Jesus blesses you. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are they who know there has to be more than this. Blessed are they because they are right. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Kate Fields [00:07:12]:
Blessed are those who make terrible business decisions for the sake of people. Blessed are the burnout social workers and the overworked teachers and the pro bono case takers. Blessed are the kids who step between the bullies in the weak. Blessed is everyone who has ever forgiven me when I didn’t deserve it. Blessed are the merciful, for they totally get it. Blessed are y’all y’all are the Kingdom of heaven. It’s you that is the kind of love that Jesus has. And so with that in mind, let’s take that and come back to our text today in Matthew nine.
Kate Fields [00:07:53]:
In this chapter in Matthew nine, we see the same thing that Jesus has been traveling to many cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom or Kingdom, and curing every disease and sickness. Matthew tells us that Jesus had compassion on the crowd because they were afflicted. This Jewish crowd was harassed and helpless or literally thrown down. Is the Greek there because they were like sheep without a shepherd? But what does it mean that this crowd was like a sheep without a shepherd? Because I don’t know, I don’t really get called I’m not really referred to as a sheep too often these days. But in the Hebrew Bible, or rather the Old Testament, the image of a sheep without a shepherd is used a lot and it describes the need of people. One example is in Ezekiel 34 five. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd. And scattered, they became the food for wild animals.
Kate Fields [00:08:57]:
And then later in Matthew, Jesus is described, the Messiah is described as a figure who is to shepherd God’s people or Israel. So this is a metaphor that would have been familiar in antiquity, in the first century. And so as their shepherd, Jesus enters the suffering of the crowd, the physical, emotional and demonic malaise. But I want to talk mostly today about how he enters the suffering of the crowd. Who knows how big this crowd was? We don’t know much about them, but Jesus was with them. And we hear from Matthew that Jesus had compassion on the crowd because the crowd had not yet known the good news, that Jesus was their shepherd. And you remember the sort of compassion Jesus had on the crowd just a few chapters earlier is what led to all of those blessed statements. And this time when Jesus has compassion on the crowd, the Greek word that we get to see for compassion is actually it’s not a strong enough word in English.
Kate Fields [00:10:16]:
Our English word is compassion. But in the Greek, what we have that describes Jesus here is a visceral aching. Jesus hurt for the crowd. It was not an emotional, mental feeling. The word actually means his, like, viscera. His bowels ached for the crowd. That is the strong, the strength of this word. That is how deep his love was for these folks.
Kate Fields [00:10:50]:
And he wasn’t just healing physical ailments. I think that he was hitting that deep core need that we have as humans to be seen and to belong, right? It was more than just physical healing. He was saying, y’all are my sheep, y’all are my sheep. You belong to me. You aren’t lost anymore. You don’t have to be lonely anymore. Because we know that loneliness is bad for us, right? Like, it leads us to be hyper vigilant. We don’t feel safe in being our authentic selves.
Kate Fields [00:11:29]:
And I think Jesus is saying, y’all belong. I see you. You’re not lonely anymore. You don’t have to sit on the edge. And that in itself is healing. The way that Jesus hurt for folks was just how he was. He entered into their suffering with and on behalf of the people. And there’s this interesting theological term for this notion, it’s called kenosis, and it means self emptying.
Kate Fields [00:12:02]:
Jesus emptied himself to take on full humanity so that he could hurt with us, he could coffer with us. That’s having a kind of love that hurts. And that’s what’s so compelling to me about the gospel. That’s why I’m in this. But the word compassion, that term that we see, there’s two parts to it. And that’s what I want to kind of explore in the sermon today. There’s this hurting part, this visceral aching at the beginning. But the kind of compassion that Jesus has, it became a commission, right? And we see this later in the text when he essentially compassion the disciples to go and go, he said, y’all see what I’m doing, go do this too.
Kate Fields [00:13:03]:
And that is the commissioning of the gospel. That is when he said, the harvest is great, but the workers are few. So y’all go do this, have that kind of love. I don’t want you to have, like this superficial, nicety kind of love. I want you to love people so much that it hurts. Y’all go do this. And I wonder if we can’t take that lesson too. What does this mean for us, that compassion? What is compassion, this sort of compassion, this sort of love look like for each of us in 2023 in our lives.
Kate Fields [00:13:42]:
Sometimes having compassion in the sense of aching for someone means that we’re just able to sit vulnerably with them in the hardest times and just be present with them. But sometimes compassion, if it’s because of an unjust system that functions to keep some folks on the bottom, that commission looks very different. So the situation kind of dictates the compassion and the commission. But in Matthew 25, we know that compassion and commission look like extending a cup of cold Kate to someone in need or visiting someone in prison. Feeding the hungry or clothing the naked. These actions require you to first know your neighbor’s circumstance and then be present with it, right? And respond with compassion. But today, a cup of cold water might look like leaving gallons of water for migrants coming through the Sonoran Desert, trying to get to a better life, where maybe visiting today in prison means getting to know someone on death row at Riverbend. Or maybe feeding the hungry today looks like getting involved in our local food system and helping folks have access to fresh, culturally appropriate foods.
Kate Fields [00:15:09]:
Or maybe eating locally so that we can reduce our carbon footprint and eat tomatoes from here instead of across the country. Maybe clothing the naked involves wearing second hand clothing so that we can have more clothes to go around. Maybe it’s accompanying a trans friend to a bathroom so that they feel safe. Maybe it’s learning the ways that your skin color could privilege you in showing up for racial justice. And maybe it’s joining the movement for common sense gun legislation to keep our children safe. Then the righteous will answer him, lord, when was it that we saw that you were hungry and gave you food? And when was it that we saw you were thirsty and gave you a drink? And when was it that we saw that you were a stranger and welcomed you or naked and gave you clothing? When was it that we saw that you were sick and visited you in prison? When was it that we saw you in these things? Truly, I tell you, just as you did this to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. Compassion and commission. Jesus hurt for them.
Kate Fields [00:16:33]:
He entered their suffering, and it changed Him, and it changed them. And then he said, y’all go do this too. This is how I want you to represent me in the world. People should know that you follow me by your love, by that kind of love. That is good news. That is good news. I want to end today by reading an excerpt of a poem that this text, the scripture text, reminds me of. I thought about it immediately as soon as I read the Lectionary text for today.
Kate Fields [00:17:18]:
I think we have a patron saint of poetry, and I think her name is Mary Oliver. So I’m going to read an excerpt of one of her poems. Her poems called what Have I Learned so Far? Can one be passionate about the just, the ideal, the sublime and the holy, and yet commit to no labor in its cause? I don’t think so. All summations have a beginning. All effect has a story. All kindness begins with a sown seed thought buds toward Radiance the gospel of light is the crossroads of indolence or action be ignited or be gone be ignited or be gone Glencliffe be ignited or be gone may it ever be so amen. Amen.