Like tiny stitches
A friendly smile and kind word
Mends heart-broken rends
Like tiny stitches
A friendly smile and kind word
Mends heart-broken rends
There is that which divides us
Creating wedges and space
That make us distrustful
Of things like class or race
Yet there is more – which us does link:
Love and compassion
Music, and good food and drink
Smoothing the edges
Reconciling our mood
And when we look at this globe
From afar in the air
We are but a race human
As a common existence we share
Jesus said upon the mount,
“Blessed are the poor”
But have you ever bothered –
To read but a few words more?
“Blessed are the poor in spirit” –
Those without big egos –
Or “me first” undue pride
So in these uncertain times
Put others first instead
Think of what they need and keep yourself inside.
Pastor Joe brought us a passionate message this week on mission. He called us not only to identify our mission in life, but to undertake it as well. He noted that this was a area of life which had very much been on his heart of late, and enacting his personal mission was now a priority.
He noted that the idea of mission is not new to Christianity. He said the fact that there is a Christianity at all is because Jesus himself had a mission. Matthew 18:11 tells us, “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.” This very point is repeated again in Luke 19:10, as well.
Jesus’ mission was the reason He came to Earth. We were a lost and dying world, and God so loved us, that He sent His one and only Son to save us (John 3:16).
But it was a mission that would require sacrifice. Jesus would not take any short cuts in fulfilling His duty. In Matthew 4: 1-11, we find Jesus being tempted in the desert. He is offered two direct shortcuts to His mission. The first was for Him to cast Himself from the Temple-top. This would truly get people’s attention. But He refused quoting scripture. He then is offered the end result of His quest – the souls of all the world. But at all too high of a price – the worship of Satan. This too is rebuffed. The end result is Jesus would have to die to complete his task.
Ephesians 1: 5-7 tells us,
“In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.”
Jesus not only came to seek and save us, but in His blood adopted us! It was and is an ultimate act of love.
It is that love in the form of selfless compassion that was at the heart of Jesus’ mission.
Matthew 9: 35 – 38 reads,
“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
But the passage continues in by showing us, as that as Jesus’ adopted siblings we too should show the same compassion and sense of mission.
“Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
This is summed up in what is often called the Great Commission. Matthew 28: 18-20 says,
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
We are to do this out of love for God, but also because of our compassion for our fellow humans. If we open our eyes we will see the needs (see Colossans 3:12).
Seeing the need is not always the “religious” thing to do, but it is the right thing to do. Look at Luke 10: 33 and following. A man is robbed and left for dead. Yet the “religious” figures of a priest and a Levite ignore the man’s need and distress.
“But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity [compassion] on him. . . . “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers? The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
And so should we. “Your mission if you choose to accept it . . . ” is plain to see.
Vale laid down in the grass, hands forming a pillow under his head. The sky above was clear, non repeating, robin’s egg blue, astonishing in a thousand infinitesimal ways. There were no clouds as far as the eye could see. There was nothing at all on which to fix one’s gaze, no way to compartmentalize or digest the sheer vastness of that perfect/imperfect canvas. When looking straight up he didn’t see the stone walls or the heavy metal gate, he didn’t see the prison. He felt free and although that freedom was a self-induced delusion, it was still better than a white room clad floor to ceiling in foam.
Vale had lived at Applewhite Psychiatric Center for three years, on and off and in that time he’d changed doctors, prescriptions, and diagnoses more times than he could count. Three years was a long time in the life of a teenage boy. He was aware, painfully aware, of how much he lost/gained by being here. More than anything he was aware of all the irreplaceable memories that he would never have the chance to forge. Of course if he’d been able to live outside he wouldn’t be here. Intellectually he understood why his father had admitted him. Emotionally it was a betrayal that kept him up at night. He hadn’t actually forgiven his father and he hadn’t thanked him either. It was complicated. They were complicated. He’d sought to disassemble the boundaries of their relationship and he didn’t really know why. Teenage rebellion didn’t begin to cover his destructive tendencies. He’d went too far. He knew that now. Yet, for all that, he still hadn’t managed to crack the mask that his father wore. His father was unreachable, seemingly insensate. His mother was the same. She never visited. His father was willing to assume more responsibility. He visited at regular, if somewhat infrequent intervals. Vale needed time to prepare in between. It was easy to fall into old roles when confronted with a familiar cast. His father would visit soon. He’d marked it down in his calendar with a star.
He’d had a good week hence the free time outside. If he kept up his good behavior he could win a day pass, escort mandatory. Vale was still considered a suicide risk. He was an expert at committing suicide and resurrecting himself after. He was unexpectedly hard to kill. It had been a couple of months since his last, almost successful attempt. He’d required a blood transfusion and days in the ICU. Anything could be used as a weapon with enough ingenuity.
Suicide was about the furthest thing from his mind today. Today was a good day. He wasn’t happy exactly. The medications didn’t allow him full access to his emotions. He no longer knew how to classify his emotions because they didn’t quite feel like they belonged to him. He’d always hated it when people responded “Just fine” to “How are you?”. It struck him as being dismissive at best. Fake at worst. He hated that kind of self-aggrandizing mediocrity. Today if someone posed that same question to him he could honestly answer “Just fine.” because he was just that, no more, no less. Honestly being fine didn’t feel like he thought it would feel. He’d equated fine with a kind of loss, an emptiness and that was almost true of his current state but not quite. He could feel the wind on his skin, just a touch too cold, and a little musky with the encroachment of autumn. He could feel the sun on his face, just a touch too confronting. He could even feel the grass beneath him despite his canvas jumpsuit. He wasn’t numb and the morning was far from mediocre. He uncrossed his arms and held up his fingers in a makeshift rectangle in an effort to shrink everything down to a level that he could comprehend. He laughed out loud, letting his arms fall open. He brushed against someone’s leg and then bumped their shoe lightly. He scrambled to his feet quickly, fussed a little with his hair (not for the sake of neatness but for the sake of checking for grass, bugs, and twigs) and looked up unsure of who he would find. He’d completely lost track of time.
The man there was a stranger but somehow familiar. He wasn’t “good-looking,” but still he drew Vale’s attention to his face.
“Why did you laugh?” the man asked.
“I – I was – happy. But it was probably the meds,” he quickly added.
“Why not happiness for what it is?” the man asked.
“What do you mean?” Vale challenged.
“You were at peace, the sun is warm, and the sky is an unbroken blue. Isn’t that in itself worth a little joy?” the visitor asked.
Vale felt uncomfortable with the question and tried to frame a dismissive response, but the cool breeze on his face seemed to instantly cool his annoyance as well. And there was that look in the man’s eyes, not the patronising half concern of the doctors, but something akin to true compassion. He blinked.
“What’s wrong?” the man asked.
“I’m okay. No – I’m not,” he corrected. “I’m not okay, because I am really confused by what I’m feeling,” Vale admitted.
“And what is that?” the bearded figure asked.
“Well first of all – I am ‘feeling,’ the meds usually cloud that, but it is – it’s – peace.”
“Peace sounds a good feeling to me,” the man observed.
“But I never have peace,” the boy replied. “My life. My life, it’s like my parents – always conflicted.”
“Not all parents are conflicted. My father is always loving,” the man replied. “Would you like to meet him?”
The man put a hand on Vale’s shoulder and led him across the manicured lawn. It was then that Vale saw that the stone walls and iron gates were gone.
In the infirmary, the doctor stepped back from Vale’s pale form. “Looks like we have him back again. Good work everybody.” Vale had not attempted suicide on this occasion, but his attempt the month before had left his heart weak. He had suffered a heart attack in the night, but the near death experience would stay with him always. He had found peace.
I penned this not as a tale of the sadness for the plight of a young person (which is a tragedy), nor as a diminishing of the need for compassion and concern over those who suffer mental illness. It is rather an affirmation that all are loved by God, no matter what toils and distresses they face in life.
Pastor David Flanders presented a great message this week on the theme of love. Jesus had said that the greatest commandment of the Law is to love the Lord our God. People of faith easily say that this is sensible. What is faith without an object? But Jesus continued, that the second part is like it, “To love your neighbour.” Essentially the love of God is to be shown not just in prayer, and Bible reading, but in honouring and caring for those made in His image. The two are inseparable. And notice, love is used to some up the greatest “commandment.”
The practical nature of godly love is also evident in scripture. I Corinthians 13, shows the primacy of love,
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing (vs 1-3).”
Love is at the centre. And why? John explains this in First John 4,
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love (vs 7 – 8).”
How do we love then? Paul continues his discussion in I Corinthians by explaining,
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (vs 4-8).”
Jesus had said that there is no greater love than sacrifice. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).” Okay, fair enough, most of us will not be called upon to give our final breath for others. But, we can give our lives in other ways. If we are truly “loving our neighbours as ourselves,” we should give of our time, wealth, and compassion. Living sacrifices are creatures of love.
This godly love is an imperative. Moving beyond Jesus’ summing up of the Law as “love,” He reiterated and in fact elevated the status of love with a “new commandment,”
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13: 34-35).”
I have written on medical ethics, patient care, and general compassion before. I am one of the first to realise and acknowledge that most health care professionals are dedicated, and want positive outcomes for those under their care. I am also aware that ALL health care workers are human beings, and have bad days, long shifts, and personal problems of their own. That said, their is still an issue in patient care with compassion.
We have spent a lot of time in hospitals over the last few years. In that time the medical file has become replete with notices and warnings about anxiety issues, and fatigue from the process. Yet on our last two visits in the same department, both with appointments at the end of clinical days, we met with totally different treatment.
I had called in advance on Monday to make sure they were aware of issues, and to verify that measures which had been worked out in procedures over years of trial, error, and compromise would be okay on the day. All was assured, and the appointment went wonderfully. The CT technician seeing my wife’s stress (and understanding from her file that I had the authority) allowed me to answer the routine questions of in advance of the scan. The place was busy, and appointments were running a little behind, but to make the process better, we were taken to a different area and seen sooner to not let the stress to build. The tech was kind, smiled, and took the notes seriously (even if it did make her job a little more difficult).
On Friday, I rang ahead, was given the assurances, and we arrived on time. We filled in the forms, and she was called. She was after the fatigue of the Monday outing – stressed, but when I began to answer the routine monitoring questions, was cut off. She had to answer for herself. The stress increased. She became frustrated with having to repeat herself. He leaves. Enter second MRI technician. Routine questions finished, we are then told that measures which had been made in the past will not be available today. In fact, he argued they are never available. This despite they being used in the same department, same sub-clinic, and same procedure on the two previous visits. He wanted to get in, get it done, with no variation in the smooth running of his schedule. Patient anxiety, fear, and physical limitations (beyond those of his immediate focus) were irrelevant. The end result was the cancelling of the appointment, and now more anxiety of ever having to go to hospital again.
I know this is a bit of a rant, but is a smile, and a little patience especially with people clearly in distress too much to ask?
The world has a sad history of treating certain individuals as “untouchable.” Whether these “outcasts” are ones bearing disease, or whether they are considered morally or spiritually inferior, they have borne the burden of exclusion.
At what cost are people excluded? Mother Theresa of Calcutta remarked “Being unwanted is the worst disease any human being can experience.” She set out to serve the “poorest of the poor,” those with disease, and hardship that others shunned, but who she saw as “Christ in disguise (a reference to the parable of the sheep and goats).”
She was not alone in this compassion shown to the unwanted. The Hindu caste system had long held that the lowest social grouping were “untouchables.” These people who carried out the most menial and dirty tasks in society were beneath contempt. Mahatma Gandhi called for an end of such a status, and said that rather than being seen as “untouchable,” that they should be instead be seen as “children of God (Harijans).”
While Theresa and Gandhi’s views are admirable, they fall short of the marvelous example of Jesus when dealing with outcasts. First Century Jewish culture was replete with those who were at the margins of society, whether as literal lepers (unclean owing to disease) or those who conduct or life circumstances made them “unclean.”
Let me first look at the attitude of many of the religious elite of Jesus’ day. In Luke 10: 25-37 Jesus presented a parable we call “The Good Samaritan.” Verses 30 to 32 are telling,
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.”
Both the priest and the Levite avoid the injured man, and it is postulated that they were doing so in order not to come in contact with “the dead” and thus become ritually unclean.
Yet, we see a very different attitude from Jesus, Himself. Luke 7 gives us an insight again into Jesus’ heart in contrast to that of a Pharisee.
“When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner (vs 36 -39).”
Jesus’ response to the situation, is not to be repulsed, or to reprimand her for her actions, but to praise her (presumably to the shock of His host).
“Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet,but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head,but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven (vs 44 – 48).”
This encounter with “a sinner” is interesting as He shows an acceptance of her, and does not seem concerned at “being tarred with the same brush.” But this event prefigures and encounter with another outcast, who again touches Him. On this occasion, however, the ceremonial uncleanliness is manifest. Yet, the response the same.
In Luke 8 we find the account of the woman with the issue of blood.
And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.” Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace (vs 43 -48).”
Leviticus 15 makes it clear that women’s discharge of blood is “unclean,” and those encountering are made unclean as well.
“When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them (vs 1 – 4).”
Leprosy is a terrible nerve and flesh disease. It is highly contagious, and in ancient times those with it were excluded from living within society. Scripturely Lepers were not only social, but religious outcasts as well. But, Jesus heals the man. But the order of events is absolutely powerful. The man asks for healing, and acknowledges Jesus’ ability to do it. But while the man was yet “unclean,” Jesus touches him, and says “I am willing.” Only then does He cure him. He touched “the untouchable.” He showed human compassion, beyond that of the priest, Levite, or Pharisee. He touched first, and healed later. Think about Mother Theresa’s words, that being wanted and loved, are as important as food or shelter.
This compassion, and disregard of “uncleanliness” was also shown at Nain.
“Soon afterwards he [Jesus] went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother (Luke 7: 11 – 15).”
Jesus touched the bier. He was not like the those who passed by on the other side, as had happened on the road to Jericho. He was in no doubt as to the man’s state (unlike the priest and Levite), but nonetheless, “touched.”
In God’s love their are none that are “untouchable.” None are so diseased, sinful, or unlovable that the hand of God is unavailable to them. Nor should our touch be withheld.
What are the limits of our moral responsibility? Are there limits to our moral responsibility? An interesting news piece a week or so ago was that the city of Salzburg had installed airbags on lampposts to protect people who are texting from harming themselves. The council had seen it as a moral responsibility to prevent people from harming themselves, even when carrying out, shall we say, less wise acts such as texting while walking.
We can increase this moral scenario to a hypothetical situation (which may or may not be truly defensible in light of the abilities of the “disabled.”) What is our responsibility if the “stereotypical” blind man (dark glasses and white stick) is heading towards the open manhole? Should we shout out? Do we watch? Do we ignore?
Unlike the first scenario, there is no fault on the part of the one endangered in our second case (John 9: 1-3)? But, even in the first, should we allow people to fall victim of their own folly? The answer would seem to me, to be no. We have a moral responsibility to “love our neighbour as ourselves (Mark 12:31).”
But what about spiritual danger? Do we have the same moral imperative to shout warning to those who sin? It is easy to take the approach that, “it is not my place to judge.” Fair enough, don’t be judgmental. It is up to God to judge. We are all sinners. But is that the end of the matter? Or do we still have a responsibility?
Here is a simple enough approach to address this, without entering into finger pointing [or any PC or non-PC agenda]. We are all sinners. We need not be judgmental in calling that fact to others’ attention. We need not focus on any single act, or sin; but on sinfulness itself. The positive approach is to call attention to the “manhole cover” that will make the situation safe. We need to teach about the cleansing blood of Him crucified, and of the grace which offers this “fix.” Herein lies our moral duty to “love.”
John Wesley put excellently when he said,”[W]ere I to let any soul drop into the pit whom I might have saved from everlasting burnings, I am not satisfied that God would accept my plea ‘Lord, he was not of my parish’.”
It is something to think about.