Sermon 2nd August 2020 – 9th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Matthew 14:13-21 – God’s compassion
Our bible reading from Paul today shows just how much sacrifice love is prepared to make. Paul, known as Saul before his conversion, was a leading Pharisee before he met Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus to arrest Christians. He stood in approval at the killing of Stephen, considered to be the first Christian martyr.
And yet, despite this opposition to Jesus, God sends Jesus to him to convert him.
Loved by God, Paul was even given a glimpse of heaven as, perhaps, a reward and encouragement because of all the suffering he underwent for the Christian faith. In fact Paul said that all the glory and honour that he had as a leading Pharisee he considers as rubbish compared to knowing Christ Jesus his Lord. Paul’s love for Christ was immense from that first moment Jesus revealed himself to him. But he never lost his love for his fellow Jews and today he shows just how much he loves them that he is prepared to sacrifice his own eternal salvation for the sake of his fellow Jews if it could guarantee their own salvation. It is a similar love that would see a parent take the suffering of a child if it meant the child’s suffering would end. It is that love that saw Paul never give up even though his fellow Jews persecuted him – even when he was whipped, stoned, faced hunger and shipwrecks and imprisonment. But Paul never gave up his faith – and even more importantly, he never gave up trying to find a way to have his persecutors come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and receive eternal life in Heaven. That’s true love – a love Paul spoke about in 1 Corinthians when he said - 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.
This is no ordinary love that Paul speaks about. This is no ordinary love that Paul has for his fellow people.
This love is called – Agape Love. A love that sacrifices for the sake of the one being loved. This is not the love one has for “things”. No, this is the love that we see in God where in John 3:16 it says – for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but receive eternal life.
So what makes this love different? What drives this love that it doesn’t give up in times of difficulty but seems to go the extra mile instead of giving up? Our Gospel reading gives us the answer of where that love derives.
It says: When Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them. That word, compassion, is a fascinating word.
Normally when we think of emotions like compassion we clutch our hearts – my heart goes out to them.
But this word, compassion, in its original meaning from the Greek is not an emotion that comes from the heart. It is an emotion that comes from the bowels. Have you ever looked at the world and the condition of the world and you have felt sick in the stomach? That’s the emotion Jesus is showi ng in our gospel reading at the people following him. This is not the first time Jesus has had this compassion. In an almost identical situation in Matthew Chapter 9 it says; 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.
When you see those images on TV of children dying from starvation. When you hear reports of children being exploited and abused. When you see those images of children in detention centres You begin to understand the difference between compassion that comes from the heart and compassion that comes from deep in the bowels. We even use terms of injustice like “it’s a kick in the guts” or “I feel sick to the stomach”. So this compassion that Jesus and Paul display is not an emotion. This compassion that God reveals in his love in John 3:16 is not an emotion. This is a compassion that would make you do anything to stop the injustice – even giving up your own salvation – even giving up your own Son to die for unworthy sinners.
This is what needs to be at the heart of our mission, otherwise we will be like the disciples who saw 5,000 men, not counting women and children – so maybe over 10,000 people. And they saw 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish and their response to Jesus – send them away. But, as Paul said in 1 Corinthians about agape love - It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
So let’s apply this to what we are going through at present. As we look at the Pandemic that is before us today – 16,000,000 infections worldwide– 650,000 deaths worldwide – and in Australia, particularly Melbourne where I live – we fear turning on the news at 11am to hear the latest figures – fearing whether further lockdowns will happen – we fear the numbers – like the disciples feared the numbers today.
But let us not allow our fear to take control. But just as the numbers before Jesus today didn’t let fear take control he takes control. He asks for the bread and fish and looks up to Heaven. He doesn’t look at the food or the massive crowd – he looks to heaven. And that’s where we look too – why? Because, as we heard in our Psalm today – The Lord is gracious and full of compassion The Lord is loving to everyone and his compassion is over all his works. The Lord upholds all those who fall; he lifts up those who are bowed down. The Lord is near to those who call upon him, to all who call upon him faithfully.
In this time of pandemic – let us not be fearful of the numbers but faithful in our trust in God’s compassion.
The numbers are real – the pandemic is real – but God’s love and compassion for his beloved children will not abandon us. Will God who gave up his one and only Son for us out of his love and compassion for us not continue to show is love and compassion to us in this time of need? Jesus wasn’t worried about the numbers today – he looked to his heavenly Father’s compassion. God also wasn’t worried about the numbers when he looked and saw that he only had one Son. He was prepared to give him up for us all because of his compassion and unfailing love.
So let us too look up to heaven at this time and call upon God’s love and compassion. And let us remember what Psalm 121 says - I lift up my eyes -- where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. And let us again be reminded of where Paul was able to gain his strength in times of his own personal struggles: For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. And that saying continues to hold true for us today. Nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.