“Faith Has One Adjective:  Compassionate”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – September 3, 2017

Centenary United Methodist Church

Luke 7:1-10; Matthew 15:21-28

    This morning we are going to focus our attention on what our experience of accelerated change has done to the storyline that governs our faith.  Today, there is little or no pressure coming from religious institutions that historically controlled people's lives quite literally. We are free, as the Apostle Paul wrote, to work out our own spiritual destiny with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12)

    When our orientation toward life works for us, we know it every day. Our lives are filled with enthusiasm and a commitment to values that produce a sense of fulfillment. No institutional religion can give these qualities to anyone. They can only point to them through their teachings.

    This new awareness of having control over our own spiritual destiny is one of the lesser discussed issues for why church attendance continues to decline.  God created us to be self-sufficient.  Everything we need to create and cope with life's twists and turns is packed within us since birth.  More of us are getting better at the art of living even though church attendance may not be among the priorities of the once faithful members.    

    Jesus actually taught this understanding throughout his ministry even though few religious leaders and scholars have picked up on this thread during the centuries following the birth of Christianity. Jesus never once encouraged people to attend their synagogues or their temple.

    Jesus clearly understood from his own life-experiences that each person has the potential to graduate from their animal instincts to become loving, kind and compassionate people.  (Luke 17:21) When we analyze what Jesus was celebrating during his ministry, it was not the success of Judaism. He was celebrating the presence of the massive treasure trove of talents and abilities that lie within each of us. (Luke 17:21)       

    Life did not come with a set of instructions.  Our quality-attitudes do not show up until our choices allow them to surface.  They surface as we teach ourselves how to cope with frustration, personal failures, the loss of loved ones and the nagging awareness of how impossible it is for us to make sense out of what is happening all around us in people's lives.  Jesus provided the necessary guidance for everyone to self-govern the development and evolution of their human spirit.  

     John came to Jesus one day and said, "We found someone who was healing in your name and we stopped him because he was not part of our group." (Luke 9:49) Jesus told John and the other disciples never to stop anyone who is showing compassion to people. Kindness and compassion come from people that have discovered the joy from choosing to reach out to others and not because they belonged to a particular group of believers.

    Living with compassion is an orientation toward life that has no exclusive labels, titles or boundaries.  This is why Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan.  (Luke 10:25f) Everyone has the potential for being compassionate.

    In our lessons this morning, we have two unlikely candidates that demonstrated a level of compassion that surprised even Jesus. One was a Roman Centurion who came to Jesus with a request to heal his servant whom he loved very much.  Who was this Centurion? 

    Jews would have looked upon this man as a pagan, an infidel and an enemy of the Jewish people. After all, he was a leader among the Roman military occupation. His spirit, however, was compassionate toward the Jews and they knew it. With his own financial resources, he paid for the building of a synagogue for the Jews in his community. 

    Who knows where this man developed his loving compassion for his servant and the Jews.  He knew enough to seek help for something his wealth and desire could not accomplish. What we learn from this episode is that after Jesus spoke to this Centurion he said, "Throughout all of my travels in Israel, I have never found anyone with faith like this man."  (Luke 7:9)

    Our second Gospel lesson contrasts Jesus' spirit with that of his disciples when the group encountered another pagan.  A Canaanite woman came to Jesus to request healing for her daughter.  Like the Roman Centurion, she knew where to go to receive help. The disciples said to Jesus, "Send her away!  She has been following us for some time and now she is making a nuisance of herself."  (Matthew 15:23)

    Possibly to make his disciples feel more comfortable with what he was about to do, Jesus challenged the woman with a series of comments.   One of them was quite racist and insulting. Jesus said, "It is not right for me to take the food that is reserved for my own people and throw it to the dogs." (Matthew 15:26) The woman understood the spirit of Jesus' words and responded with a smile on her face, "You are correct, sir, but even the dogs eat the leftovers that the master has thrown on the floor." 

    Jesus connected with this woman immediately and he said, "You are a woman of great understanding! While we have been talking together, your daughter is recovering."  (Matthew 15:28)   If this Canaanite woman had any spiritual awareness, it would have come from worshipping a goddess named Astarta.  Her faith in a goddess would not have bothered Jesus in the least.   

    What did Jesus experience that allowed him to help two individuals that were considered by the Jews to be heathens?  Jesus connected with their spirit of compassion toward a servant and a daughter, both of whom were healed from their illnesses.  Jesus was not concerned about the name or the gender of God that each may have been honoring with how they lived.  Compassionate spirits always connect with each other.

    We are all aware of the tragedy that continues to unfold in Houston, Texas, the fourth largest city in the United States, due to hurricane Harvey depositing record levels of rain in the city in four days.   During numerous television interviews with citizens, the viewing audience heard over and over again, "We Texans always take care of each other." 

    In spite of these words, a greater reality was well underway.  Everyone is singing the praises of the volume of volunteers that were showing up to help from all over the United States.  Compassion appeared to be coming from everywhere, e.g., a professional football player's desire to raise $200,000 which has soared to over 18-million, children's lemonade stands, and social media fund raisers for the American Red Cross.

    Major crises not only bring people together but they also bring out their best attitudes.  We all have this storyline within us that inspires our true identity to show up.  It is this spirit that motivates us to roll up our sleeves to help. 

    Lois and I were in Maryland for several weeks in October of 2014. We watched the Weather Channel's coverage as the hurricanes of Faye and Gonzalo made bulls-eye hits on Bermuda within a week of each other. The Royal Gazette's on-line coverage provided rolling footage of the damage and destruction.  Bermuda had not been attacked by a category three hurricane since 1987 when Emily struck the island.

    Only a few people knew that we were in Maryland for a family reunion. My email became clogged with inquires about our safety, our home and the condition of Bermuda.  While we were safe, what a comfort it was to know that a number of emails came from people whom we had not heard from in years.

    When we returned to Bermuda, it looked as though the two hurricanes had completely missed the island.  We saw little debris and downed trees; For the most part, the trees were already cut up and out of the way.  The roads were clear. It was business as usual.  

    We later learned that the Spirit of many Bermudians, of the island's regiment and of numerous International friends from other islands, worked as a single unit to make the massive clean up happen almost overnight.  Compassion for others awakens within most people.  We know this quality of spirit is within us. 

    The goal of the world's great religions is the same.  Also, people who have no religious orientation can come to the same awareness when their compassion surfaces in their lives.  Each of us comes equipped with this quality but we have to activate it with our choices.

    We collectively have this consciousness because every religion in the world has some version of the Golden Rule that guides believers to treat others in the same spirit that they would like others to treat them.  However, it does not take long for us to drift back into the routines that often are not as generous and gracious once a crisis has passed.

    Today, many people have discovered that they are free from the Thou Shalts that come from institutional religion.   Now, the desire to be compassionate has replaced the discipline that was once required by religious authorities in order to please God. 

    There is only one Creator throughout human history. However, through the ages, this mysterious source of creative energy has been understood by humanity with many different names and many different personalities.  God has also enjoyed the designations by various cultures of being both masculine and feminine.

    What connects people to this mysterious source of energy is not a specific label, not by belonging to an exclusive group of believers and not by being obedient to a prescribed set of rules and rituals.  What connects us to the flow of creative energy is when we choose to become united to that flow through our compassionate attitudes. (John 15:5) 

    We experience meaningful and purposeful living when we feel enthusiastically alive because of what is happening through us to mold and shape the lives of those around us. We live a fulfilling life when we sow seeds that might bloom in order to make our world a more wholesome place for men and women to live because we were here to light the way.



Thank you, God, for your kind and gentle spirit.  You know each of us thoroughly and you understand how easily we become distracted.  We know that your love surrounds us, but we tend to trust the aspects of life that we have trusted in our past. We trust our relationships with friends.  We trust our material assets that prevent us from living in poverty.  We know we are loved by you even when we know that we are far from perfect.  Thank you for creating us with hearts that heal, with spirits that remain resilient and with faces that can smile.  The beauty of your love and your world encourages us to grow and feel alive.  Amen.



Loving God, we are thankful that when we find ourselves reaching out toward you, we often find you reaching back toward us.  Maybe it is a current need that allows us to notice you with more clarity.   Your presence may come from a particular hymn that we sing, a hymn that triggers a memory that takes us into the presence of a loved one who transitioned from our lives.  Perhaps you come to us in the words of a prayer, a sermon, or thoughts that enter our minds from a source that remains mysterious.   The many forms of your loving presence often go beyond the horizons of what we can recognize.

Jesus gave us the imagery of the vine and the branches.  He told us that the branches only remained nourished when they remain connected to the vine.  Even though we may find numerous reasons to go about life seemingly without that connection, it is our blindness and not your lack of presence that kindles our feelings that we are alone.

Enable us this week, O God, to consider one task that will lighten someone’s load. This week, help us to remove the sting from someone’s hostile judgment of us. This week, enable us to surrender into your care the hurt from that judgment that has been molding and shaping our attitudes ever since it happened.  This week, may we express compassion to those who have not learned how to care, how to communicate well, or how to enjoy what they have. This week, help us to learn to give greater depth to what it means to be a friend.  And at the end of this week, may we quietly vow to live this way for another week so that what we have found becomes a life filled with routine compassionate responses.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .