“Sing out Empathy – June 4, 2017

“Sing out Empathy – Sing out Compassion!”

Pentecost – Year A – June 4, 2017

What more wonderful way could we celebrate Pentecost Sunday than by hearing this fabulous gospel choir!   Marcus, Darlene and Bill have transformed this beautiful sanctuary into an old fashioned gospel hall where you can feel the Holy Spirit fill every nook and cranny.  In the midst of the melodic sound, dreams and visions become real!  The words of prophets and followers of Jesus ring out with clarity and conviction.  It makes us all want to stand up and join the chorus!

In the midst of beautiful music we heard the prophet Micah uttering a challenging directive.  Do justice – love kindness – walk humbly with your God.  One of these alone would be a test, but all three is surely a directive of enormous proportions. However, I am convinced that if each one of us show empathy and compassion towards those we encounter, we have taken a big step towards justice, kindness and humility.

What does the prophet mean by justice?  It is healthy, life-giving relationship between members of the community.  It is also the equitable distribution of goods, benefits and burdens.  Let me explain:  A friend approached John and told him that his neighbour, Mr. Smith was stealing wood from him.  John said, “Thank you for telling me.”  Then John went to his neighbour and said, “Mr. Smith, it has been a very cold winter.  If you run short of wood, just help yourself from my woodpile.  Then John went back to his friend and said, “I just cured Mr. Smith from stealing.” 

What is kindness, we ask?  It involves both affection and ethical love of neighbour.  As we hear of the thousands of drug overdoses and deaths by fentanyl in our country and in this community, there is no doubt that kindness is sorely lacking.  We have let down our high school students, our college students, our street people, our children and grandchildren when we fail to talk openly about the drug scene here in Penticton.  We fail to show kindness when we leave the problem to the health officials, police, and the schools.  We have failed to be good neighbours when we fail to act in solidarity with MADD, Grandmothers for Africa, 12 step recovery groups, and many other justice and kindness seeking groups. 

Paul Tillich, one of the 20th century’s greatest theologians, said in an interview that “Justice is the backbone of love.” We cannot say we love someone unless we act in justice and kindness towards them. This is often very challenging, especially if you are a passionate kind of person. Relationships are not easy.  They call for humbleness.

Humbleness involves reverence and openness, integrity and honesty.  That is a tall order, isn’t it?  A Minister was asked by his personnel committee to evaluate his ministry in comparison to the ministry of Jesus.  His response included:  Jesus walks on water, I slip on ice.  Jesus changes water into wine, I change water into coffee.  Jesus welcomes the children, I have the children’s conversation during worship, often off topic.  Jesus raises the dead, I wake the street people.  And Jesus cleanses lepers, I change dirty diapers.

            My friends, God asks us to “do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”  I can’t imagine anything more challenging, nor more important.   This week 90 people were killed in a bombing in Kabul and another 400 people were wounded.  This 16 year long war has hit the Afghan heart.  Our brother and sister Afghani neighbours are crying out to be loved.  Can we do anything less?  God needs you to sing out empathy!  Sing out compassion!
             This takes us straight to the first letter of John in chapter 4, where 14 verses explain that God is love.  How do we know this to be true?  Just look around!  Earlier this spring one of our high school student’s senselessly died.  He was given a substance that he was allergic to and help came too late.  In the midst of this tragedy the teen’s friends, their parents and teachers, and community supports have pulled together and are living out God’s love.  With incredible empathy and compassion there is a very clear sense that God is reaching out and embracing this community of grieving people.

On this Pentecost Sunday we expect the wind of mystery and awe to blow through this place and reveal to us the transformative power of love.  Just as we heard the announcement that the Green Party and the NDP will team up and form a minority government – might we see the supporters for a new National Park and The Fraser Institute form a new coalition based on principals of love and compassion?  Because God is love, will we see tongues of fire dance but not consume?  We see our 2 Syrian Refugee families that we are supporting continue to learn English, enjoy driving, and become more and more integrated into our community.  Being with the families, you see God’s love radiating from each person.  And a new Canadian child is due to be born any day now.  God truly is love.

The dove of peace is a beloved symbol of Pentecost.  If ever our world need peace, it is now.  We cannot afford to lose one more precious person.  We are all God’s beloved.  Whether we be Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, or no faith tradition – God loves you!  And equally as important – God needs you to sing out empathy!  Sing out compassion!

We have been blessed this weekend with experiencing some fabulous Gospel Music.  Marcus and The Sojourners have taken us on a powerful journey filled with justice, kindness, humility, and love.   They challenge us to hear the message of the music.  They invite us to listen for God’s voice.  Perhaps most of all, won’t you sing out empathy!  Sing out compassion!  Amen.

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