The Call to Universal Compassion
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, January 17, 2016.
The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (17:12-19)
The Gospel is a call to universal and unequivocal compassion. The life of Christ and his teachings are about doing good and being kind and bringing light into dark places. In the beginning Christianity was known as a religion of love. The Emperor Hadrian (117-138) looking for a reason to outlaw the new religion asked for a report from one of his officials by the name of Aristides. Here is what Aristides wrote to him.
Christians love one another.
They never fail to help widows; they save orphans from those who would hurt them. If a man has something, he gives freely to the man who has nothing. If they see a stranger, Christians take him home and are happy, as though he were a real brother.
They don't consider themselves brothers in the usual sense, but brothers instead through the Spirit of God. And if they hear that one of them is in jail, or persecuted for professing the name of their redeemer, they all give him what he needs. If it is possible, they bail him out. If one of them is poor and there isn't enough food to go around, they fast several days
to give him the food he needs.
This is really a new kind of person.
There is something divine in them.
Hadrian chose to adopt a policy towards Christianity that was largely indifferent.
Christians loved each other, wrote Aristides, and also extended their love to strangers following the example of the Lord. Jesus healed Samaritans after all and broke every law and social restriction that stood in the way of compassion. Today, I fear, many Christians demonstrate the opposite attitude and then wonder why they are not respected in the larger society. It is not rocket science. Respect begets respect. Judgement begets more judgement. Love and respect beget love and respect. And when we act hatefully towards anyone we cannot expect warm and fuzzy feelings to ensue. It is no wonder the greater society does not look kindly on us and where it is our fault, we must repent.
Our faith calls us to acknowledge the sacredness of all human beings and indeed all of creation without condition. St. Paul writes in I Corinthians that we must do everything out of love. St. James tells us that we must not be respecters of person, that is, extend compassion towards some and not towards others. Doing anything other than this is a betrayal of Christ, the church, our neighbors and ourselves. An example of this is the behavior of our Church in Lebanon that, unlike other religious groups, has no militia, choosing the way of peace, and whose charitable organizations do not reject people of any sect even during times of civil war.
In the Gospel reading today Jesus does not mention the heretical beliefs of the Samaritans when he tells the former leper, “your faith has made you well.” Faith and belief are not the same things. The Roman priest Richard Rohr comments that we often have worshipped Jesus and yet have not followed him, making of Christianity a religion rather than a way of life. He further writes these insightful words, “Christians are usually sincere and well-intentioned people until you get to any real issues of ego, control, power, money, pleasure, and security. Then they tend to be pretty much like everybody else. We are often given a bogus version of the Gospel, some fast-food religion, without any deep transformation of the self; and the result has been the spiritual disaster of "Christian" countries that tend to be as consumer-oriented, proud, warlike, racist, class conscious, and addictive as everybody else-and often more so, I'm afraid.”
You and I must be better than this. We must allow the Gospel to transform us, not just our behavior but our essence. It is the Gospel that must motivate us, be our reason, our guide, our method and our way of life. We must practice being like Christ: practicing love, peace, kindness and egolessness. These are not the goal of the Christian life, they are the Way of the Christian Life. For if we believe in him we will not only worship him, we will follow him and his path leads directly to universal, nonjudgmental and unconditional compassion.
Remembering that all men and women are our brothers and sisters, and each one is “fighting a great battle” (Philo) let us approach one another with care, laying aside fear and suspicion for the suspicious mind is always a sick mind, and let us consider how we might reduce the amount of suffering in this world rather than increase it, weep with those who weep, laugh with those who laugh, give without restraint and expect nothing in return.
I believe Christ’s mission was to deliver us and everyone from this pain and this is done not through avoidance but through radial acceptance. Let me end with Fr. Richard Rohr’s words about what faith really is: “Faith is not for overcoming obstacles, it for experiencing them – all the way through.
This from the poet Laurie Lee, “caught in one grief, we share one wound, and cry one dialect of pain.” There is no solitary suffering. Humanity is one. Christians who follow Christ dare to consciously live this truth and love all people. This from the poet caught in one grief, we share one wound, and cry one dialect of pain.