Friday, November 20, 2020

Compassion & Gratitude - Sermon for Week ending November 20, 2020


Mark 5: 25-34 (The Message translation)

A woman who had suffered a condition of hemorrhaging for twelve years—a long succession of physicians had treated her, and treated her badly, taking all her money and leaving her worse off than before—had heard about Jesus. She came up from behind him in a crowd and touched his robe. She was thinking to herself, “If I can put a finger on his robe, I can get well.” The moment she did it, the flow of blood dried up. She could feel the change and knew her plague was over and done with.  At the same moment, he turned around to the crowd and asked, “Who touched my robe?”  His disciples said, “What are you talking about? With this crowd pushing and jostling you, you’re asking, ‘Who touched me?’ Dozens have touched you!” But he went on asking, looking around to see who had done it. The woman, knowing what had happened, knowing she was the one, stepped up in fear and trembling, knelt before him, and gave him the whole story. Jesus said to her, “Daughter, you took a risk of faith, and now you’re healed and whole. Live well, live blessed! Be healed of your plague.”


Since Thanksgiving is almost here, this week, I’m continuing the theme of gratitude and adding her partner, compassion. Thanksgiving this year will most likely be different than it has been before. We won’t be traveling to our family home to gather at a table of abundance for food and fellowship and fun. It might be lonely, but by not gathering this year, our families are giving us the gifts of health and life. And that’s something to be thankful for. We actually have much to be thankful for. We might just have to try a little harder to find it. This year has been filled with so many disappointments, that it would be easy to sink into bitterness and cynicism, and some folks have. But we know from experience that negative mindsets are bad for us, psychologically and even physically. Gratitude though, gives us a positive mindset. Whenever we can find authentic reasons to give thanks, for something that is going right in our personal lives or our world, and put our attention there, scientific studies show us that we are healthier, happier, and more fulfilled. Knowing what we appreciate reminds us what matters most to us, what makes our days worthwhile. One thing I am very thankful for during this pandemic is the Nassau County Health Department, which does free drive-through Covid testing every Thursday and Saturday, making it possible for Cathy and I to occasionally expand our quarantine bubble to include our children and grandchildren, because they are what matter most to us. There was study conducted with adults who have neuromuscular disorders, like parkinsons. One group was instructed to jot down what they were thankful for each night, and the other group wasn’t.  The participants in gratitude group reported more hours of sleep, feeling more refreshed when they awakened, more satisfaction with their lives as a whole, and feeling more connected with others than those in the control group did. It made me think of my nightly prayers as a child, where I thanked God for everyone in my family by name. That might be a practice to get back to. Gratitude changes our perspective. Being grateful for what we have empowers compassion in us. It makes us feel less lonely and isolated, and more connected to and concerned for our neighbor. There’s a song that we will hear in a bit, “Thankful,” by Josh Groban performed by Jane, Clint Weinberg, and Natalie, Pegge, and Earnie Elam, which expresses the  interaction of gratitude and compassion. Here are some of the lyrics: “Sometimes, we forget to look around us. Some days we can’t see the joy that surrounds us So caught up inside ourselves, We take when we should give, So tonight we pray for what we know can be. It’s up to us to be the change. Even with our differences, there’s a place we are all connected. Each of us can find each other’s light. Even though the world needs so much more, there’s so much to be thankful for.” Compassionate acts, science tell us, make us healthier, more alive and alert, more joyful and optimistic. Of course, there is no one with a more grateful and compassionate heart than Jesus was. He healed people’s physical ailments, and he restored them to their rightful place in the community. He gave them their life back. The woman with the hemorrhage that Debbie read about lived at the very margins of society. Her physical and ritual uncleanness made her an untouchable. She risked her life to touch Jesus. She was that desperate. And she was healed and made whole through his compassion. There are so many stories of compassion during the pandemic. Just reading them is an exercise in gratitude. One of my favorites is about nurse practitioner Chandra Matteson, who tends to the homeless in Chicago. Every night since the pandemic began, She dons an N95 mask, safety goggles, and gloves, and travels the city in a medical outreach bus, stopping for an hour or two at a time. She hands out food, checks for coughs and fever, and cleans cuts and scrapes. She said, “These are my patients, and I will take care of them. I didn’t sign up to be part of a pandemic, but I did sign up to help people.” My other favorite is about Ellie Schoader, a traveling nurse from Lexington, who spent 5 weeks at a hospital in Toledo, treating Covid patients. One of them was Bob Green, age 95, who contracted Covid in his assisted living facility. Since contact with family was not allowed, his son David didn’t think he would ever see or speak to his father again. On what turned out to be Bob’s final night, Ellie noticed that he was awake and alert. So she called Bob and asked if he would like to Facetime with him. After they had talked, David asked Ellie if she could set up a Facetime call with his brothers, one in Minnesota, and one in Seattle. And although she was busy with other patients, she did. They all got to see and talk to their father before he died. David called Ellie an angel posing as an ICU nurse, saying, “We didn’t have any kind of agreement with her to call us. She just felt it was a good time to do so.” Gratitude and compassion are the remedy for all the negativity in our lives right now. Being truly grateful for all that we have naturally leads us to want to help, support, and alleviate the suffering of our neighbors. In these dark times, may our light be a light for others. May we do all we can to help change the world for the better. And may we realize that we have so much to be thankful for.


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