Christ's Contagious Compassion
by Rev. Bob Clark
August 6, 2017
Text: Matthew 14:13-21
A few years ago, flight attendants for Southwest Airlines began spicing up their pre-flight instructions to passengers with humor. Soon other airlines followed suit. After all, why talk to passengers when most of them aren't really listening? Here are a couple of classics:
One flight attendant began her routine this way: "In the event of a sudden loss in cabin pressure, masks will descend from the ceiling. Stop screaming, grab the mask, and pull it over your face. If you have a small child traveling with you, secure your mask before assisting with theirs. If you are traveling with more than one small child, pick your favorite."
Another attendant concluded a flight like this: "As you exit the plane, make sure you have all of your belongings. Anything left behind will be distributed equally amongst the flight attendants. Please do not leave children or spouses."
On a recent Delta flight, the pilot announced that one passenger had left his belt and his jacket at the security checkpoint. "Pick them up today," he said, "or look for them tomorrow on eBay."
I don't know about you, but I am not crazy about flying. When I was younger flying was more hospitable and more fun. But even then, I would always say a prayer before taking off, and it would always be a prayer preparing myself for the worst - giving my life anew to God in preparation for dying. I did the same before going under anesthetic for surgery. In both cases we have no control whatever. Our lives are in someone else's hands - totally. So, I guess a little humor to lift the anxiety is probably a good thing.
I came across a story shared in a devotional book about an educator named Parker J. Palmer and an experience he had that will segue nicely into our Gospel lesson for this morning. The plane he was on made an unexpectedly long layover at a connecting airport. A truck that was supposed to deliver refreshments for the next leg of the journey had broken down. Finally, the pilot decided that it was more important to get his passengers on their way than to wait for the snacks to arrive. So, he took off.
As soon as they were in the air the passengers started grumbling. "A ticket is a contract," one said loudly, "and snacks are part of the contract!" "I ought to sue'" another muttered. A man stood up and said, "I am a lawyer. How many of you are willing to join in a class action suit?" A minor mutiny was in the making.
Then something interesting happened. A flight attendant came on the public-address system. She began with the familiar information on such flights. "Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has turned off the seatbelt lights. We have now attained the altitude of 30,000 feet." Then she said something quite extraordinary. "Having served many of you on the first leg of this flight, I know some of you still have your bags of peanuts, which you stuffed in your pockets. How many do we have? Five? Please open them and share them with the people around you. I'm sure some of you have mints. Would you pass these around also? Those of you with newspapers, you can only read one section at a time. Spread the other sections around for others to read. Some of you are parents or grandparents. Take out the pictures of your children or grandchildren and show them to others." With this brief announcement, she effectively changed the emotional climate of that flight.
Later, when the flight attendant came by educator Palmer's seat, he stopped her and asked her name and that of her supervisor, as he wanted to write a letter of commendation, telling he (and I quote) "That was the best example of group leadership I've ever seen." To which she replied, "The loaves and fishes still work!"
I want us to think a bit this morning about the wonderful miracle story of the "Feeding of the 5,000."
This story appears in all four Gospels. Therefore, it can very safely be assumed that it actually happened.
Jesus had just heard about the tragic death of his cousin, John the Baptist, and he needed to get away to a quiet, private place to grieve. No such luck! The people were so very needy! In fact, they looked to Jesus like a huge flock of sheep lacking a shepherd.
They had seen him launch off to cross the lake, and they ran ahead and were there to meet him in the other shore.
Hear now again the verse that grabbed me: "When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, and healed their sick."
COMPASSION IS A KEY CHARACTERISTIC OF CHRIST!
What, exactly, is compassion?
1. I believe that compassion is putting the needs of another above your own needs.
Certainly, absolutely for sure, Jesus was hurting. And, he was probably exhausted!
But he put the obvious needs of the crowd above his own.
2. Additionally, compassion always moves beyond attitude to ACTION. He healed their sick.
3. Compassion is contagious.
Three weeks ago as I listened to Misty Stetcher telling M.J. and me about a grade school student at King Elementary who on Monday was visibly lethargic, as his last meal had been the previous Saturday morning. And, she told us that this was not an isolated incident. It was unfortunately common. Our hearts went out to that kid, and we here at FCC are going to provide funding for teachers at King School to purchase protein bars to have available for their students. Compassion always goes beyond attitude to ACTION.
OK! How about the CONTAGIOUS part?
My parents believed in corporal punishment, of which I was somehow the most frequent recipient. My Dad was a fireman, and he worked 24-hour shifts, which meant he was home every other day. So, there were times when I gave my mother a bad time and had to wait a whole day for my spanking. He used a ping pong paddle. Ouch! And, I was so amazed that while I was getting the licking, my younger sister would be crying. Teachers often see this dynamic in their classrooms. This is a form of compassion.
In the feeding of the 5,000 (not counting women and children, which would probably make the crowd more like 8,000-10,000) Jesus' compassion was apparently caught by a young boy. It was getting late, and everyone was getting hungry. He felt it, and he innocently gave up his snack of five barley loaves, about the size of cookies, and two (perhaps smoked) fish - not big.
CHRIST'S CONTAGIOUS COMPASSION!
Most biblical scholars believe that what happened was that others, who had come from the towns to engage the Master, did not come out empty-handed. And when they saw Jesus' compassion and the irrational, innocent compassion of the lad, they reached in and shared what they had brought.
Does this explanation lessen the miracle?
Compassion that lifts the needs of others above our own needs and moves us to act for their good - IS ALWAYS A MIRACLE.
And friends, it is a miracle you and I are called to be part of, for which God provides multiple opportunities every day.
This world does not have to be ME FIRST!
This world does not have to be winners and losers!
This world does not have to be "Here's a quarter. Call somebody who cares."
This world does not have to be "My way, or the highway!"
I have never before focused on the young boy who was the Carrier of Christ's Contagious Compassion. May we each hold this boy as a model and become part of the miracle.
The miracle was COMPASSION - a key characteristic of Christ, AND OF CHRISTIANS. AMEN