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Compassion in Action
by Jennifer Hart
Not For Sale
Author requests article critique


This is the first sermon I ever gave. It was well received in my congregation, but I'd like some input on how to make future sermons better.

Compassion is one of those words thatís hard to define. I looked it up in several dictionaries, and the definition I like best is ďthe humane quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something about it.Ē It's not just caring about someone, but also putting that feeling to action. Sure, it's easy to say, "I'll pray for you" when you hear about someone who's going through a difficult time. But it's a lot harder to say, "how can I help?"

When I began preparing what I would say today, I wasnít really sure how to start. So, I turned to the Bible for inspiration. After all, what better reference do we have? I looked for instances where God showed compassion to others. He showed compassion for Abraham by giving him a son and making him the father of a nation. He watched over the Israelites and brought them out of captivity in Egypt. As Jesus, He showed compassion to the hungry by providing food for them. He showed compassion to the sick by healing them. He showed compassion for the people who were searching for truth by teaching them. Every miracle he performed showed his compassion for the people he created. Each of these examples are the same: Jesus saw a situation, he was moved by compassion when he saw the need, then he moved to meet that need. And this is the model we should use in our own life.

In todayís world, we donít usually witness such dramatic examples of compassion. Rarely do we get a chance to observe a physical healing that happens instantly, or the resurrection of someone from the dead. In our society, compassion in action is modeled in less dramatic ways that are, in their own way, just as life-changing as those miraculous healings were to the early followers.

I've witnessed compassion in some of the most unlikely of places. Probably the most unlikely is through the cars I've driven. I've had the misfortune of having more than my share of breakdowns, usually at very inopportune times. In the past, my dad has been my mechanic, but since it's not convenient for him to drive two hours just to check out my car, I've had to rely on a friend to bail me out. This past December, my car chose to break down in the middle of a snowstorm. Because I'm his "sister", he naturally came to my rescue. He and his partner drove from their job in Bartlesville in the middle of the storm, then spent more than an hour trying to get it to run. When he couldn't get it running, he made arrangements with a friend to have the friend work on it, then waited for the tow truck to come so they could take me home. Instead of telling me to call a tow truck, or complaining that the weather was awful & the roads were bad, they were willing to go out of their way to help "poor Jen."

I've also learned what true compassion is from the internet. I'm a member of a webboard that is made up of youth ministers around the world. We've shared the ups & downs that go with ministering to kids; the trials & tribulations of having to deal with teenagers; the joys, sorrows, painful moments and moments of pure bliss. We've also shared the personal struggles and achievements that make up life. At Christmas, a friend shared that, because of their own car troubles, Santa wouldn't be bringing presents to her children this year. Naturally, we all immediately began praying that God would bless her financially, but another person went a step further. She organized what became known as Operation Christmas Cheer. The mother created a wish list on Amazon of items her girls were wanting. Within a few days, everything on the list had been purchased by fellow forum members & thanks to the compassion of others, some who had never met in person, both the kids and the parents had plenty of goodies to open on Christmas morning. On Christmas Day, we learned that another memberís house had burned down. Thankfully they werenít home, but they lost everything. Between the insurance & the compassion of their home church, they were able to move into a temporary home & most of the major items were replaced. However, insurance doesnít cover everything, & the rest of us wanted to do something to help out. Our response was to ďadoptĒ their kitchen. Again thanks to the compassion of the members, this family now has a kitchen complete with practically every gadget imaginable. Another forum member organized what was called the Random Acts of Kindness, a group of people who would send cards & small gifts to forum members for no reason. It isnít the value of the gift, or even the gift itself that matters. What matters most is the friendship and caring behind it, and knowing that someone is praying for me, even if we've never met. Another family has opened their home to several members needing sanctuary, some place to go to rest & recover from whatever burdens theyíre facing.

Another place where I've learned compassion is through Junior High Camp. As a teen, I always helped at junior camp, but I refused to help with junior high. In my opinion, they were way too close to teenagers. But several years ago, Allison was directing junior high camp and was short on staff. As a favor to her, I agreed to help out, & five years later Iím still there.

If you've never helped at youth camp, you're missing out on a huge blessing. Teenagers are stereotypically loud, obnoxious, uncaring about anyone outside of their small sphere, & in general a pain to be around. Because of my experiences at camp, I've gotten to see a side to these kids that most of you will never get to see. I've seen kids befriend a young man who suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome. He was different from them, slower, & "kinda weird" as one kid put it, but during that week he was one of them, accepted despite his differences. I've seen teenagers offer to help with cleanup. I've had kids give me a hug because they thought I looked tired. I've had kids tell me, "I know we've given you trouble, but we love you Jen!"

A few years ago, we began having a healing service one night during campfire. This is where we encourage the kids to come forward for administration. We tell them that administration is for more than just physical healing; that the spiritual & emotional healing are sometimes more important. Some years, this service has lasted an hour or so, some years it has gone for three hours or even longer. Because of these services, I've been blessed to learn some of the horrors that they face. Abuse, neglect, drugs, self-injury, thoughts of suicide, families torn apart because of death or divorce; these are a few of the things our kids are dealing with. And yet, because of this service, they have found healing. What's moving for me is watching how they minister to each other. When someone goes up for administration, all of their friends go up to support them. More than a few times, I've seen every kid at camp go up to be with the one being administered to. And later, Iíve heard them give the most beautiful & heartfelt prayers, asking God to help their friend face whatever challenge is in their life.

So what is true compassion? True compassion is being able to joke with a friend about how to explain that her cancer is on the back of her lap (I'll let you figure out the exact location). True compassion is playing Santa to someone you've never met, just because you want to. True compassion is receiving a letter in the mail just when youíre going through a low period. True compassion is anonymously donating money so a child can attend youth camp. True compassion is giving your friend a hard time because this is the sixth time in a year that she's called with car troubles, but still going out of your way to help her out. In short, true compassion is action.

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