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Sermon for March 5, 2017

Orienteering 100: Collaborative Compassion

No one has ever seen God; if we love one another,
God abides in us and God’s love is perfected in us.
1 John 4:12

The pavement swarmed with onlookers, cordoned off by soldiers and police. Thousands of Russians gathered to witness a procession of some 20,000 German war prisoners through Moscow’s streets. The crowd was mostly Russian women with hands roughened by hard work and with thin hunched shoulders which had borne half of the burden of the war. Every one of them must have had a father or a husband, a brother or a son killed by the Germans. They gazed with disgust at the generals who marched in front, massive chins stuck out, lips folded disdainfully, their whole demeanor meant to show superiority over their enemies. “They smell of perfume,” someone in the crowd said with hatred. The women were clenching their fists. The soldiers and police had all they could do to hold them back. But then something happened to the crowd. They saw German soldiers, heads down, thin and unshaven, wearing dirty, blood-stained bandages, hobbling on crutches or leaning on the shoulders of companions. The street became silent. The only sound was the shuffling of boots and the thumping of crutches. Then an elderly woman in broken-down boots pushed herself forward and touched a policeman’s shoulder saying, “Let me through.” There must have been something about her that made him step aside. She went up to the prisoners and took a crust of black bread from inside her coat. She pushed it awkwardly into the pocket of a soldier, so exhausted that he was tottering on his feet. Then, from every side, women ran toward the soldiers, pushing into their hands bread, cigarettes, whatever they had. The soldiers were no longer enemies. They were people. And that’s how revolutions of compassion are born.

We live in revolutionary times. All over the globe, people are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression. People are coming to understand that the purpose of government is not to gain capital through the wholesale disenfranchisement of peoples. They are coming to understand that the role of religion is not to exclude, dominate or threaten those who go against systems of oppressive purity. Just this past week, we’ve seen people in our own community coming together in compassion. Facing hate mail and bomb threats, Jews and Muslims now have each other’s backs. Following the desecration of hundreds of graves at Jewish cemeteries and wave after wave of hoax bomb threats against Jewish community centers and day schools around the nation, Muslim veterans are offering to protect these sacred places. One of the Muslim veterans said, "If you truly want to establish peace in the world, you have to learn to look at the world through the realities of the oppressed. If we want to establish peace and live in a country of values and principles of the constitution, we have to engage in dialogue and efforts to hear out one another."

We call it compassion.

We live in revolutionary times. If we've learned anything from world events over the past year it’s that strong and loud public protest helps protect those who are most vulnerable. And churches like CCC are in a great place to lead the struggle. Forces are flowing together and breaking apart life as we have come to know it. We will not be pulled under by suspicion. We can be good to all as we protect our deepest values. At CCC, we have the opportunity to lead others in the days ahead, but we must be careful. I don’t think we are fully understood yet by the community at large. Yes, many people see us as good, as involved, as caring and concerned. Others mistrust us. Some are holding off on their rave reviews. They are waiting to find out if we at CCC are ego-tripping. Are we full of pretentious talk? Will confusion and insecurity hold us back from risking true compassion? Are we going to just talk about how to repair the world, or are we going to join the oppressed and reclaim healing as a form of public protest? These are revolutionary times, which call for dedication. These are alarming times, which require dedication. These are radical times, which demand we lead by example. We will be known by our deeds.

All of this takes great teamwork. I’d go as far as to say no one can be an individual without collaboration. No one stands alone. When people draw energy from each other, we do everything better. Compassion is not just an individual activity. For compassion to be revolutionary, it must be done in community, with humility.

I believe our most important work is to live the values in community with others. CCC is a place where we can imagine what it means to live in an interdependent web with all of existence. Here we learn how to protect human rights. Here we use the democratic process to respect each other’s dignity as much as to advance our own goals.  Here we learn about cherishing the whole lives of all people, and offering that experience back to a world which needs to learn how to live as an undivided human family.

That powers and principalities of this present age do not want us to live as a united family. They want to play with us, to tease and entice us, to entertain us.  If we are caught up all the excitement produced to sidetrack us, then we won’t show up together to resist hatred. They want to absorb us with the glaring lights of fun and fantasy, and distract us with a stage show that turns our attention away from atrocity.

That powers and principalities of this present age want us to be envious, so we will fight and kill. They create enemies and then parade them to the middle-of-the-road, hoping we will unite in our feelings of common anger and victimhood. But we have a secret operation going on; a counter-insurgency of compassion.  In the middle of the parade, someone breaks ranks and shares her bread with one who is supposed to be the enemy. Then, one by one, we all join the parade of the oppressed. At CCC we provide healing for the brokenhearted, rest for the weary of spirit, comfort for the suffering, courage for the fearful, and wisdom for the struggling. Here we remember and celebrate that life has beauty and joy, meaning and purpose. We do not ever face the task alone. We know that we are stronger together, better together.


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