“Ubuntu” July 22, 2018

Posted by on Jul 22, 2018 in Sermon Archives


2 Samuel 7:1-14a

Ephesians 2:11-22

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56


A western Buddhist woman was in India, studying with her teacher. She was riding with another woman friend in a rickshaw-like carriage when they were attacked by a man on the street. In the end, the attacker only succeeded in frightening the women, but the Buddhist woman was quite upset by the event and told her teacher so. She asked him what she should have done – what would have been the appropriate, Buddhist response. The teacher said very simply, “You should have very mindfully and with great compassion whacked the attacker over the head with your umbrella.”

          Our gospel text for today threw me for a loop, at first. As I have said before, I try to follow what is called the Revised Common Lectionary. In a nutshell, the lectionary is a collection of scripture suggestions for each Sunday, as well as special holy days, that encompasses a 3-year cycle. Scholars and clergy from over 20 denominations gathered together in the 80’s to come up with what was called the Common Lectionary, which was revised in 1993. So you see, I don’t pick out scripture at random for the themes of our worship together. I try to stick to the lectionary. Sometimes I have to scratch my head wondering what the creators of the lectionary were thinking, and at other times the wisdom of their choices is quite obvious. Take today’s selection from the gospel of Mark for example. At verse 30, the disciples are returning from a major evangelical mission. They were tired and excited at the same time, and Jesus seems pleased with them. (vs. 31) And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest awhile.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. So you get the idea: everyone is dog-tired and Jesus suggests that they sneak off to some out of the way place to rest. And so they hopped in a boat to go to this out of the way place, but the crowds wouldn’t have it. They raced along the shoreline and were waiting for them when they pulled up on the shore. (vs 34)  When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. So much for getting some rest; but the key phrase here – the one that I believe we are meant to take home from this lectionary text is “and he had compassion on them.”

At this point we skip to verse 53. What happens in this space that we skip over? A lot. Jesus preaches to the crowd, heals the sick and the lame, it gets late, the disciples want to send folks away to get supper, and Jesus tells them, “You feed them.” You know the rest of that story. That evening, they hop in a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee, the seas get really rough and you know the rest of that story as well. Fast forward to vs. 53. They land on the shores of Gennesaret, only to be mobbed by another crowd. (vs 54)

And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him 55 and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. /// “He had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.” So yes, over 5000 people were fed with a couple of fish and some old dried up loaves of bread. And yes, Jesus saw his disciples in trouble and walked on the water to help them out by stopping the storm. But that’s not our main topic on this day. Let’s not be distracted by the miracle stories. Instead, on this day let’s get totally sidetracked by the miracle of compassion. Because when it’s all said and done, this is what Jesus was all about. This is what Jesus wants us to be all about.

Last Thursday would have been the 100th birthday of Nelson Mandela, a man whose persistent life of compassion led to the end of apartheid in South Africa. Madiba, as he was called, was somehow able to undo the suppression of the South African people when all other forms of protest and rebellion had failed. When President De Klerk released him from 27 years of captivity, it was not to pardon him, it was not an act of forgiveness. No, De Klerk understood that the only way he was to stop a civil war was to bring this gentle man back into the lives of the people that loved him. And it worked; it was a miracle of compassion. So what was his secret? Was Mandela some kind of master strategist or marketing expert? Maybe a bit of both, but that’s not it. What intrigues me about folks like Mandela is that he had learned the one lesson that Christ taught us over and over: love your neighbor as yourself. And in South Africa this belief in the humanity of others has a name. It’s called Ubuntu. Ubuntu is the belief that “I am what I am because of who we all are,” or simply put, “I am because of you.” In a world where our individual worth is given the highest priority this can be a challenge, but we who call ourselves Christians should pay attention. After all, what define us from the rest of the world- our political power, our economic might? No, it is our belief that our brothers are imprisoned, then we are imprisoned. It is our belief that if our sisters are hungry or oppressed, then so are we. Ubuntu is nothing more than the belief that we are defined by our compassion and kindness toward others. That’s it, plain and simple. I am continually amazed at the patience of Christ as over and over, he was pushed to his limits by desperate and often ungrateful people yet every time, “he had compassion on them.” I mean, think about it: how do you define the ministry of Christ on this earth? Was it to offer  salvation to the children of God? Yes, that would be true. Was it to encourage us to repent and turn our lives around? Yes, again. I could go on and on, but the real question for today is “what truly defines the heart of Christ?” and I’ll go a step further because the church is the body of Christ: “What truly defines the heart of the Church?” That is the question the world seems to be asking lately. “Who are you people? What are you all about?”

We don’t need to perform miracles, we don’t need to grandstand to show the world what defines us. We only need to become the Christ in this world. That will define us. Ubuntu – the belief that we are defined by our compassion and kindness toward others. The world wants to see that in the church; the world waits to see that in the church. It’s a tall order, I know and I struggle with it every day. But as the body of Christ, this is what we are called to do; what we are called to be. It’s a tall order but in the words of Nelson Mandela, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”


Amen & Shalom

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