I suppose this is less “cutting room floor” and more “commentary on the sermon process.”
If you boil down every significant religious leader to one descriptive word, it shows how radically different they really are. So many people today lazily suggest that all religions basically believe the same thing or all religions lead to the same path. I say “lazily” because you’d be hard pressed to find a devout muslim or devout Jew who would agree with that, nor of course a Christian or Hindu. I propose that the one word to describe Jesus is ‘compassion.’
This past week I was intrigued to try an experiment. If Jesus really is the embodiment of compassion, could I just grab some random chapters of a gospel and see how he embodies compassion in each chapter? One of my favorite stories of compassion is John 8, so I started there and went 5 chapters ahead and 5 behind. No problem, either way would work. The same trick works if you start at Matthew 10 (Good Samaritan) or Luke 15 (Prodigal Son.) I chose to start at John 3 because I enjoyed being confronted by a painful reality: Jesus is much more compassionate to a wider range of people than I am. Ouch.
As an aside, if your preacher isn’t being affected by the study he or she is doing, beware.
The sermon was fun to preach. They aren’t all fun, to be honest, but anytime I get to simply share the stories of Jesus, I have a good time. I think it is because Jesus is the reason I became a preacher in the first place. Also because I am a grateful recipient of the compassion of Jesus. Mostly though, it is because no matter how many times I study the life of Jesus, I am always scandalized and confronted. As I studied, I renewed my vow to God: more light, less heat. More listening to understand rather than listening to defend. (Thanks to my wife Lisa for that fantastic dichotomy.) More openness to a wider range of people. I have a long way to go.
Throughout the message I occasionally paused and asked a question that God had been nudging me with: What would be different if the church were at least as compassionate as our leader? We are not, as a collective whole, known as a people of compassion. It is never too late to repent and try a different path.
Also, I’m in debt to Andy Gullahorn who wrote a wonderful song “If You Want to Love Someone.” It helped me discover the wonderful quote by Keith Miller, “The way you love someone is to lightly run your finger over that person’s soul until you find a crack, and then gently pour love in.”
It also gave occasion for me to ask Jimmy to sing the song. It is one of my favorite things to do: ask Jimmy to sing a particular song for our service. He is always very generous to agree. I doubt many people know how much work is involved in performing a 3 or 4 minute song in such a way as to embody it, but it is his particular gift. He was joined by Lisa on Thursday and Alex on Sunday, both of whom enhanced the song with talent and heart.
Several ideas didn’t make it into the message, this particular one below:
I am listening to Terri Gross interview Nadia Bolz Weber on Fresh Air. She is commenting on a funeral she preached for a suicide. Her comment was that love is not enough to save somebody. I have found myself in this situation, thinking, “if only they knew how much they are loved.” I think Nadia is saying that we can’t love enough to protect somebody from life’s battles. I think that is why we pray. Sometimes all we have is a prayer, begging God that he would show somebody his love. So as I wrap up this blog, I invite you to pray for somebody who needs to know. There may be many telling him or her, but it isn’t getting through.
It made me think that sometimes prayer is asking God to bridge the gap between our love and someone’s perception of it.