God of Divine Compassion
Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
July 19, 2009
Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2: 11-22; Mark 6:30-34; 53-56
Pastor Mary Blessing,
Vicar, St. Philip’s, Scotts Valley CA
“…Jesus had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd…”
If you look at the cover of our Sunday leaflet, you will find an image of an African village with a shepherd and his flock; the shepherd leading the sheep, carrying one tired lamb upon his shoulders. This is without question, a shepherd showing compassion for his sheep. A “pastoral image” of the ideal—as we would want things to be in our Christian understanding of how God was revealed to us through the life of Jesus Christ—God has compassion, God “suffers as we suffer”, bringing us loving relief. Jesus reveals a God who always has time for us, always willing to bring us healing.
In our Gospel story Jesus has been trying to get away with this apostles to rest—to grab something to eat, yet the crowds come pressing in, desperate to be with them, to receive this compassionate healing. They are lost, they are hurting, and Jesus, like the psalmist says in Psalm 23, prepares for them a place to rest in green pastures, a place of healing, a place abundant with God’s nurturing compassion.
Preparing for today’s sermon, reading through these scripture passages which present us with a view of God as the great Good Shepherd, leading his flock through evil, danger, and even death, I found myself startled to hear of the continued destruction of the lives of “shepherd boys” in Africa.
Sadly, there are many others in other areas of Africa, in particular Uganda and the Congo, who were not as fortunate. In her Pulitzer Prize winning drama, “Ruined”, Lynn Nottage captures the depths of the evil which beset the victims of an insidious civil war, which stole the lives of both young Shepherd boys and young, motherless girls. This play depicts the struggle women face as a result of the civil war in Uganda. The horrific truth that Nottage and the director, Kate Whorisky reveal to the audience that one of the most insidious aspects of the Ugandan Civil War, is the way sexual rape of women and girls has been a strategy of war and genocide.
The fact of rape as a tool of war is not a new sin to humanity—as my anthropologist daughter reminds me, humanity has suffered from this insidious evil for centuries. But what struck me as particularly discouraging hearing an interview about the play “Ruined”, as the director’s description of the means by which extreme Muslim “warriors” kidnap young shepherd boys, and under threat of their own death, force them to return to their peaceful pastoral villages, similar to the one depicted on our leaflet, and slaughter their own parents. These young boys, maybe as young as 8-10 years old, are then taken by the “warriors” and raised to cause more evil as more villages are pillaged—as they grow into manhood they are taught to rape women and girls as a strategy of war….the Director of the Play “Ruined” said she interviewed a doctor in Uganda who is there to help bring healing to this war-ravaged area, saying something like “he has never had a warrior come to a place of conscious awareness of the harm he has caused”. While there is hope for the women who sometimes survive this horror by becoming prostitutes—and perhaps can eventually escape this ugly life, if they don’t die of AIDS first—but for the men, she says, “they will never get out of this horror—they eventually die of the violence of being in this state of savage war”…
Where is the COMPASSIONATE SHEPHERD, where is the Good News of Jesus Christ in this midst of this horrific life, which so many simply label “Ruined”??
For me, I find my heart broken to hear such a cynical view of the future of humanity. For where one part of humanity suffers, then we, too suffer. I am eternal optimist, who truly believes that God will find the means to express God’s long-suffering compassion—and, like Jesus and his apostles, exhausted from their work healing all who come to them, WE ARE CALLED TO “DIG A LITTLE DEEPER” within our souls, to move out of our comfort zone here in our affluent Western world, to awaken to our ability to offer what we can to bring HOPE to such people in despair.
Inasmuch as the media depicts The Episcopal Church as struggling through issues of human sexuality, we stand in danger of getting distracted regarding our true mission of outreach to the WORLD—including and especially in Africa. At the same General Convention that just passed resolutions regarding the inclusion of gay people to ordination and blessing unions, The Episcopal Church made a re-iteration of our commitment to support the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. MDG’s as they are known, are 8 Goals designed to eradicate poverty, bring about gender equality, etc.
Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger . 2. Achieve universal primary education. 3. Promote gender equality and empower women. 4. Reduce child mortality. 5. Improve maternal health. 6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. 7. Ensure environmental sustainability 8. Create a global partnership for development with targets for aid, trade and debt relief.
Embedded in these goals is God’s COMPASSION for the hurting masses—and we are called to bring this COMPASSION.
Karen Armstrong, the author of several books on the topic of what is most similar between the three major religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianity, as researched the roots of these 3 traditions and concludes that as long ago as the 9th C. BC that in the midst of the extreme violence of that epoch, religious sages advanced beliefs that eventually flowered into rabbinic Judaism, Christianity and Islam—and at the core of these original beliefs she found the concept of DIVINE COMPASSION.—during our generation we have once again seen a challenge to this core understanding of these three traditions—as we witness human violence against one another in the name of the God of these three traditions—and we wonder—WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THAT GOD OF DIVINE COMPASSION??
Our only hope, says Armstrong, is to return to the depths of theological wisdom that were explored in that ancient time, in the 9th C. before Christ. For me, we must embrace the practical reality that WE ARE TO BE THAT DIVINE COMPASSION to a hurting world. We must educate ourselves about what WE CAN DO to offer relief to people suffering from genocide.
Many of us are familiar with the dramatic story of the “Lost boys of Sudan”, some of who made their way out of the jungles of Africa, into refugee camps, and over here to the United States where they have been reborn into new lives filled with hope and possibilities. Many of these Lost Children, attribute being “saved” to the grace of God, and the very real work of Jesus Christ alive in the missionaries of Africa who took them in, introduced them to Christianity, and brought them into freedom in the United States.
We must look to this effort, and see the saving grace of our Compassionate God, and BE THE CHRIST in the world that offers DIVINE COMPASSION to ALL humanity. Unlike the Director of “Ruined”, as a Christian, I MUST believe—I MUST proclaim, that even the men who were kidnapped Shepherd Boys, brain-washed and raised to become evil sinners, are still God’s children. Even THESE souls can be redeemed by the God of DIVINE COMPASSION, bringing them from the depths of evil and despair, to a place at the divine table in green pastures, along still waters.
Can you and I find a way to reach out Africa, to at least support the noble efforts of our Episcopal Church leaders working to fulfill the Millennium Development Goals—through financing, raising awareness, or maybe even going in person? Can we “dig a little deeper” as Jesus and his apostles did, even as they were hungry and weary from their ministry, and give a little more, to be present—so that you and I become Christ in the world, so that we ARE for our generation, the God of DIVINE COMPASSION, mercifully healing even the most lost of God’s children?
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