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Sermon illustrations

Compassion

Caring Christians

Even if people reject the gospel, we still must love them. A good example of this was reported by Ralph Neighbour, pastor of Houston’s West Memorial Baptist Church (in Death And The Caring Community, by Larry Richards and Paul Johnson):

Jack had been president of a large corporation, and when he got cancer, they ruthlessly dumped him. He went through his insurance, used his life savings, and had practically nothing left.

I visited him with one of my deacons, who said, “Jack, you speak so openly about the brief life you have left. I wonder if you’ve prepared for your life after death?”

Jack stood up, livid with rage. “You *** Christians. All you ever think about is what’s going to happen to me after I die. If your God is so great, why doesn’t He do something about the real problems of life?” He went on to tell us he was leaving his wife penniless and his daughter without money for college. Then he ordered us out.

Later my deacon insisted we go back. We did.

“Jack, I know I offended you,” he said. “I humbly apologize. But I want you to know I’ve been working since then. Your first problem is where your family will live after you die. A realtor in our church has agreed to sell your house and give your wife his commission.

“I guarantee you that, if you’ll permit us, some other men and I will make the house payments until it’s sold.

“Then, I’ve contacted the owner of an apartment house down the street. He’s offered your wife a three-bedroom apartment plus free utilities and an $850-a-month salary in return for her collecting rents and supervising plumbing and electrical repairs. The income from your house should pay for your daughter’s college. I just want you to know your family will be cared for.”

Jack cried like a baby.

He died shortly thereafter, so wracked in pain he never accepted Christ. But he experienced God’s love even while rejecting Him. And his widow, touched by the caring Christians, responded to the gospel message.

Van Campbell

Christian Maturity and Gentleness

Compassion is expressed in gentleness. When I think of persons I know who model for me the depths of spiritual life, I am struck by their gentleness. Their eyes communicate the residue of solitary battles with angels, the costs of caring for others, the deaths of ambition and ego, and the peace that comes from having very little left to lose in this life.

They are gentle because they have honestly faced the struggles given to them and have learned the hard way that personal survival is not the point. Their care is gentle because their self-aggrandizement is no longer at stake. There is nothing in it for them. Their vulnerability has been stretched to clear-eyed sensitivity to others and truly selfless love.

John E. Biersdorf, Healing of Purpose: God’s Call to Discipleship, Abingdon Press, 1985.

Compassion for a Bully

I love the following story because it illustrates both our natural defensiveness when we are attacked and the potential for transformation. As the illustration demonstrates, this is only possible when we take into consideration the story of brokenness of the one who has attacked us.

Chuck DeGroat, pastor, counselor, and professor of pastoral care at Western Seminary shares the following story from early on in his training as a counselor:

I had hit a rut in my pastoral life, fatigued by the complicated people I was trying to help. Most disheartening to me was the narcissistic executive who would “power up” in our pastoral counseling sessions, firing accusations at his wife like a lawyer nailing a case, and even intimidating me whenever he saw a chink in my pastoral armor. “Chuck, you’re young,” he once said with a condescending smile. “You’ve only been married a short time.

You probably don’t understand what it’s like to endure a woman’s crazy mood swings.” He was a master intimidator, and I wasn’t sure how to handle the situation. Part of me just wanted out. In a meeting with fellow counseling interns, I told my sad tale, looking both for sympathy and for a way out of this pastoral-care mess. And then my friend said something life-changing — something so truthful and profound that I felt as if she’d broken into the darkness of my cave of perception.

“You know, he has a story too.” My first thought was, Umm, what about me? I’m the victim here. How about some pity for the poor therapist of this jerk? But I swallowed those immediate feelings and asked what she meant. “He has a story,” she said. “Aren’t you just a bit curious about it?” With one question, she rehumanized the man.

Compassion welled up in my soul as I began to wonder about his life’s story. Had he been bullied at some point? Had he, perhaps, been a victim of abuse? And how powerless must he feel inside to so aggressively overpower the people he loved the most?

Our default mode when we deal with difficult people is to demand repentance or to devise fix-it strategies or to offer insights to straighten people out. But working with people requires a special kind of vision. It requires us to see the bigger picture. Whether we’re working with one difficult individual or with an entire congregation or company, our challenge is to keep that larger perspective in mind.

Chuck DeGroat, Toughest People to Love, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

The Man on the Subway

Best-Selling leadership author Stephen Covey tells the following story about an incident he experienced in the New York subway system, an experience that would radically alter his perception of what is often happening behind the scenes of our lives:

I remember a mini-paradigm shift I experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in New York. People were sitting quietly – some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene. Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.

The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing. It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt like was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”

The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”

Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, and because I saw differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man’s pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. “Your wife just died? Oh I’m so sorry! Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?” Everything changed in an instant.

Steven Covey, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Schuster.

The Obnoxious College Professor 

A college professor met his new class on the first day of school. He stood before the students and gave a nice introduction to the class and about himself.

Upon completion of his monologue, he looked around the room and asked his students, “If any of you think you are stupid, stand up.” As he looked around he saw that none of his students stood up.

He proceeded to ask the same question again, “If anyone thinks he or she is stupid to please stand up.”

The college professor looked around and to his surprise one student in the back of the room stood up. The professor asked, “So, you think you are stupid?”

The first-year student replied, “No, I just didn’t want you to feel alone.”

Source Unknown

A Profound Conversion

It takes a profound conversion to accept that God is relentlessly tender and compassionate toward us just as we are—not in spite of our sins and faults (that would not be total acceptance), but with them. Though God does not condone or sanction evil, He does not withhold His love because there is evil in us.

Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging, The Navigators.

Turning from Judgment to Compassion

Even for those of us who follow Jesus on a daily basis, the reality is, our sinful nature has infiltrated our minds, and we often find ourselves, either consciously or unconsciously, judging those around us. While we are often blinded by our own weaknesses and limitations, we judge others instantly. We deem this person overweight, that person selfish, another lazy. This is, I would argue, the status quo, and in order to break through our default to judgment, we must make an intentional decision to do so.

Gregory Boyd, in his book, Repenting of Religion: Turning from Judgment to the Love of God attempts to do just that. While sitting in a mall he found himself judging others, instantly seeing their faults. Thankfully, as he says, he noticed how he was noticing others, and his judgments about those around him were not flattering. After remembering Jesus’ pronouncement to first bless people (Luke 10:5), Boyd began a thought experiment: what if, instead of judging people he began to bless them instead:

As I replaced judgmental thoughts with loving thoughts and prayers of blessing, something extraordinary began to happen. I began to see the worth I was ascribing to people, and I began to feel the love I was giving to them. As I ascribed worth to people, not allowing any other thought, opinion, or feeling to enter my mind, my heart began to expand. In fact, at certain moments I felt as though I would explode with love.

I was waking up to the immeasurable value and beauty of each person in the mall that afternoon. Sitting in the sipping a Coke, enjoying God’s creations, I was experiencing the heart of God. It felt like finding home after having been lost for a long while. It was like waking up from a coma. It was like finding undiluted truth when all you’d known up to that point was the watered-down kind. I felt as though I was remembering something I had long since forgotten or unveiling something I had been covering my whole life.

The love, joy, and peace I was experiencing as I dwelt in this place-and it did seem like a mental and spiritual “place”-was beyond description. Yet I also was filled with a profound sense of compassion for people. In waking up I saw not only the God-given illimitable worth of people but also the many ways this worth is suppressed in our lives.

Gregory A. Boyd. Repenting of Religion: Turning from Judgment to the Love of God, Baker Publishing.

An Unexpected Friendship

Sometimes moments of forgiveness and friendship come from unexpected places. In 2018, the comedian Pete Davidson appeared on the “Weekend Update” segment of Saturday Night Live (SNL). Davidson made a crude joke about a former Navy Seal turned Congressman-elect Dan Crenshaw.

Crenshaw had lost an eye in the line of duty, which became the butt of Davidson’s vulgar joke. The combination of mocking a person’s disability (especially a disability that came from serving his country in war) alongside a clear disapproval of Crenshaw’s political beliefs led to a burst of public outrage. While Davidson was making the joke, it became clear many found it in poor taste, and the vitriol aimed at the young comedian would ultimately lead him down a spiral of depression and self-loathing.

Davidson then took his anguish public, posting on the social media platform Instagram:

“I really don’t want to be on this earth anymore. I’m doing my best to stay here for you but I actually don’t know how much longer I can last. All I’ve ever tried to do was help people. Just remember I told you so.”

When Crenshaw heard about Davidson’s condition, he didn’t do what many do when embroiled in a public tiff: tell the offender the public scorn served him right, or make some other cutting comment at Davidson’s expense.

Instead, Crenshaw decided to extend an olive branch, befriending the comedian, and even offering words of life to a person who clearly felt lost amidst being stuck in the cross-hairs of the American public. Davidson recounts that Crenshaw reached out and comforted him: “God put you here for a reason. It’s your job to find that purpose. And you should live that way.”

Humor, it has often been said, is a coping mechanism to deal with the pain that life throws at us. But in the midst of the deep, unsettling pain of being publicly shamed, what Davidson needed was not a good joke, but forgiveness, and perhaps, even a friend who could share the good news of the gospel with him. In some ways it is ironic that a man trained to kill and destroy his enemies could be so moved by compassion that he reached out to someone who publicly mocked him and his deeply held political beliefs. But that is the beauty of the gospel, it enables us to look beyond our own reputation, our own pride, to care for others.

Stuart Strachan Jr. Source Material from Dino-Ray Ramos, “Texas Congressman-Elect Dan Crenshaw Reaches Out to SNL’s Pete Davidson After Troubling Instagram Post,” Deadline, December 18, 2018.

What A Return to God’s Mercy Really Meant

Rembrandt painted the picture of the prodigal son between 1665 and 1667, at the end of his life. As a young painter, he was popular in Amsterdam and successful with commissions to do portraits of all the important people of his day. He was known as arrogant and argumentative, but he participated in the circles of the very rich in society. Gradually, however, his life began to deteriorate:

First he lost a son,

then he lost his first daughter,

then he lost his second daughter,

then he lost his wife.

Then the woman he lived with ended up in a mental hospital,

then he married a second woman who died.

It was a man who experienced immense loneliness in his life that painted this picture. As he lived his overwhelming losses and died many personal deaths, Rembrandt could have become a most bitter, angry, resentful person. Instead he became the one who was finally able to paint one of the most intimate paintings of all time—The Return of the Prodigal Son. This is not the painting he was able to paint when he was young and successful.

No, he was only able to paint the mercy of a blind father when he had lost everything; all of his children but one, two of his wives, all his money, and his good name and popularity. Only after that was he able to paint the mercy of a blind father when he had lost everything: all of his children but one, two of his wives, all his money, and his good name and popularity.

Only after that was he able to paint this picture, and he painted it from a place in himself that knew what God’s mercy was. Somehow his loss and suffering emptied him out to receive fully and deeply the mercy of God. When Vincent van Gogh saw this painting he said, “You can only paint this painting when you have died many deaths.” Rembrandt could do it only because he had died so many deaths that he finally knew what the return to God’s mercy really meant.

Henri J.M. Nouwen, Home Tonight: Further Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Doubleday, 2009.

Who Means the Most to Us

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.

The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.

Henri Nouwen, Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life, Ave Maria Press

See also Illustrations on EmpathyLove 

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on Compassion. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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