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Please: Practice of Compassion and Intercession

Sermon Series on Brian McClaren’s book Naked Spirituality
 Preached:  March 3, 2013

I would guess you pray more often than you realize.  I would guess that you utter a simple prayer multiple times a week without even being aware of it.  It’s a prayer of compassion; it’s also a prayer of our own helplessness; it’s a prayer on behalf of others… “Please God…Help…”

Acr the world, this request of Please is being spoken in the hearts of millions.
Please God, help my baby.
Please, God, give the leaders of this nation the  wisdom to listen and guide this country.
Please, God, give us enough food for today.
Please, God, protect my family.
Please, God, guide and direct the leaders of this nation.
Please, God, heal my friend from cancer.
Please, God,  give my beloved comfort and strength.

These phrases sound familiar don’t they? Through the next week, I invite you to track this one phrase in your life with God.   I believe this kind of prayer arises out of compassion for others.  It has a theological name as spiritual practice – it is called intercessory prayer. Usually a spontaneous prayer, especially in times of trouble, we utter words, “Please, God…”

Please is the 6th word in this sermon series of A life with God in Twelve Simple Words, using Brian McLaren’s book entitled Naked Spirituality.

In looking at morality and ethics, philosopher Immanuel Kant saw compassion as a weak and misguided sentiment: “Such benevolence is called soft-heartedness and should not occur at all among human beings”.  He felt that humanity ought to to do things because it is the right thing to do, not out of pity or compassion.

And yet, I see compassion as the common denominator for all people of faith.  How many times in the gospels do we read the words, Jesus was moved to compassion?  When we lift up a prayer interceding on behalf of others we offer ourselves as a bridge between our compassion for the needs of others and the love and comfort of God.

McLaren suggests that there are various responses to pain in the world:
Avoidance – avoid pain and choose ignorance about suffering of others

  1.  Become overwhelmed by suffering in the world – slip into depression, cynicism, paralysis, and despair
  2.  Become overwhelmed by suffering in the world – slip into depression, cynicism, paralysis, and despair
  3. Become so accustomed to tragedies/atrocities that they no longer affect or bother you.
  4. Blame someone for the suffering which gives us a sense of entitlement to our anger and self-righteousness.
  5. Focus our rage at God

McLaren writes that we can choose to become more calloused, uncaring, bitter, and overwhelmed; OR we can choose to strengthen the sacred connection with God by feeling compassion and desiring relief for those in pain.  He entitles this chapter of Please with “Bearing the stretcher”, using the story of the paralyzed man where four people literally carried their paralyzed friend.  When they could not get into the crowded house where Jesus was teaching, they had a crazy idea: “The roof”.  These friends were determined and inventive.  They climbed to the  top of the roof and proceed to dig their way break through mud, clay, twigs in order to lower their friend to the feet of Jesus.

They literally let the weight of his condition become their burden to bear.  When we practice compassionate intercession, we become the stretcher bearers for others in need.  Through this spiritual practice of compassionate intercession we see carrying others not as a burden, but as our calling.

McLaren goes on to ask the question most of us ask at one time or another:  “When we pray, will God intervene and work miracles? Will our prayers do the trick, get the job done, flip the switch, close the deal, guarantee results, be effective? Will prayer change things?  He goes on to say that at this point in his life, he doesn’t worry about such questions any more. “The important thing,” he says, “is to keep praying, whatever answers come or don’t come, whatever opinions you hold about how prayer works.  Because however much or little prayer changes things, prayer certainly changes you, and you need to be changed.”

What do you think about that?  That response certainly offers no solutions, and it has made people become cynical and turn away from faith altogether.  People ask, Where is God? Does God care? Did I not pray hard enough, long enough?

Ultimately, I believe, we practice compassion because we don’t have satisfying answers to explain suffering.  It’s about

McLaren further explains that instead of continuing the bankrupt economy of an eye for an eye, we can invest in grace economy, one that returns kindness for cruelty and blessing for curse; words of prayer, not revenge, words of compassion, not retaliation.  We have a choice:  We choose connection over disconnection, compassion over apathy.

It’s the choice of believing that every act of compassion strengthens the sacred connection and every act of hatred weakens it in some way.

Through compassion and the spiritual practice of intercession we offer ourselves as a vessel of God’s love and grace to others.  I will grasp the hand of God with one hand and grasp the hand of my neighbor in pain with the other. I will join God in willing comfort, blessing, peace, and grace for my sister or brother in need.

So we continue to pray, “Please, God…” and we light a candle for peace, and for those in distress, and your prayer mysteriously offers comfort and strength.

What kind of friend are you, will you be?  To what lengths will you go for one in need?  Through what obstacles will you crash through, what chaos will you create, as you hammer your way with compassion to help a friend with love and determination and commitment to overcome all obstacles to bring those you have compassion for to the transforming, healing, forgiving power of Jesus.

Christ has no body but ours,
No hands, no feet on earth but ours,
Ours are the eyes with which he looks Compassion on this world,
Ours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Ours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Ours are the hands, ours are the feet, Ours are the eyes.
Christ has no body now but ours. May we be about the healing of this world. Amen.
~from Teresa of Avila