Series: The Heartbeat of Us
Title: A Heart for Caring
Date: Preached 9th May, 2021.
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 1:1-11
We are continuing our sermon series in the lead up to Pentecost, looking at some of the characteristics of who we are as a church. I know that doing a fortnightly sermon series means that it becomes a little disjointed – but if you remember, 4 weeks ago in the first of our sermon series I quoted Rabbi Ed Friedman who suggested that if we as a church want to be influential in making a better society – to be a light that shines in the darkness – then we first need have a good understanding of who we are, what our core values are – what makes our hearts beat – and let those things shape us and drive us forward.
So far, we have looked at two of characteristics or values that we believe are so much part of our church it is like they are written in our DNA. Four weeks ago, we said we have a heart for worship – that at the core of our church is our relationship with Jesus and our desire to worship God in all we do. Two weeks ago, on ANZAC day we explored how we also have a heart for Serving – that we are a community of volunteers who give and serve others as part of our discipleship.
This week I wish to look at another core value or characteristic that is at the heart of who we are- that we are a community who cares, that we have a heart for caring and compassion.
Paul in our Bible reading for today gives a great succinct answer to why it is important for followers of Jesus – and I would also add communities of faith and churches – to have a heart of caring and compassion. The Bible reading is the very first part 2 Corinthians. The Church in Corinth was special to Paul. He planted the church during his second missionary journey, and came back for numerous visits.
He loved the church and wanted the best for them … and starts this second letter with these encouraging words about care and compassion… (2 Cor 1:3-4) Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
In the same way as John says that “we love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19), Paul is saying that as followers of Jesus, we care for each other because God first showed us care; we can share compassion with the same compassion that God first shared with us.
In the same way that Jesus set an example of serving for us to follow (as we talked about 2 weeks ago), Jesus also gave us an example of care and compassion for us to follow too. So it makes sense that we are a community of Jesus followers, then a core value of who we are should be care and compassion. Having a heart for caring and compassion should be a value that shapes all that we say and do as a church.
Now I could use this teaching time to give you bible verse after bible verse of why compassion is important, and why we are called as a church to be caring and compassionate to both people within our church and to all we encounter – but I don’t think you need convincing … do you? I think we would all agree and support the value of having a heart for caring.
So instead, for the next 7 or 8 minutes, I just wish to turn this around and look at this idea of “a heart for caring” from a three different perspectives or thoughts about caring and compassion and see what God might say to us, or more importantly, see what God might challenge us to do or change.
1. Feeling cared and loved changes your view on everything
Some of you may have heard me speak on this before, but there has been some research done which has shown that a person see the quality of what a church does through the eyes of how loved and cared for they feel.
For example let’s say that church A over here can do an amazingly creative, passionate worship service which if we gave it a score would be a 9 out of 10. The research showed that if a person attended who didn’t feel loved and cared for they only think it was a 5 or 6 out of 10. Whereas church B over here only does an average run of the mill worship service worth 5 out of 10, but if the same person attended and felt loved and cared for they would say it was a great worship worth 8 out of 10. Pretty striking, isn’t it?
But it is not only with worship. Say a youth group could be a 10 out of 10 superbly planned and full of new ideas and energy but if a kid doesn’t feel like they belong and people don’t notice them then they score a 4 out of 10. Or a biblestudy can be full of great teaching but it won’t impact if a person doesn’t feel welcome.
Yes, good planning, creativity, passion … they are all important, but without love and care it’s just doesn’t impact on people. I confess that I fall into this trap. I will put extra effort into a worship service or youthgroup night thinking it will make it better when it would probably be more impacting if I put extra effort into connecting with people, or thinking how I can show those who are there that they are loved and cared for.
2. In the same place / experience, why do some people feel loved and supported and some people feel unloved and alone?
In my last church I had some people saying it was the most friendly, welcoming, loving and caring community they had ever experienced – that people were there for them in times of crisis or just when they needed them. Yet at the same time I had some people saying they felt alone in a crowd, that they had been through times of need and it was as if no-one even noticed, let lone offered care or support. How is it that in the same place, same people, same programs you can have two very different experiences?
This is a complex question with not an easy answer. It would be easy to say it just people’s perspectives but I think it is more than that. And I don’t think it is a matter of just saying we need to do more, care more, run more programs … because I think here at TUC we already have an amazing pastoral care team and we have a many, many individuals that reach out to others. As I said, it is a complex question.
One interesting approach to this issue is best summed up in this little puzzle (which I have shown here before but not for a while). Have a look at the sentence on the screen and tell me how many F’s are in the sentence?
Who thinks it is one F, 2 F’s, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, more than 7?
Let’s see. (three obvious ones). (3 not so obvious ones).
Why does our brain sometimes skips over some of the F’s and just don’t see them? We don’t know … and in the same way, sometimes I think caring for each other is a bit like this F trick. Sometimes we clearly see the needs and offer care and support, and sometimes the needs are there and real, we just … miss them.
Now I could come up with excuses why we miss them … we are all busy, we never were told, or I was told on Sunday after church while rushing to the next service and totally forgot by Sunday afternoon, or … but excuses don’t work when it comes to caring and compassion. If we want to be a church where a key core value is caring and compassion … then we want everyone to be wrapped up in our arms of love. As I said, this is a complex question with no easy answer … but I am going to Segway to my 3rd thought about caring and compassion … which I think partially helps address this complex question.
3. Constantly Nurturing a Caring Culture across our Church Community.
In my last Church, I was told about this conversation that two members of my church had. One was disappointed that “the church” had not visited her or helped her during her recent illness. The lady she was talking to replied, “But I visited you, and so did Win and didn’t Dawn bring around a casserole?”
“Oh yes” the first lady replied, “But you are my friends … I am talking about the church”
I just want to make it clear … there is not a separate group of people with red t-shirts that say “The church” running around serving all of us. WE ALL ARE THE CHURCH. And while people like me as your pastor or the pastoral care team might have a calling to “care for the flock”, Jesus command to all of us is to love one another. The best caring communities are the ones where we all are encouraged and nurtured to be carers to one other.
Eugene Peterson, in his book called “Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work” starts by saying that we sometimes have a too narrow a definition of what it mean to be caring and compassionate. Often when we talk about being a carer the images that often come to mind is people sitting beside a dying hospital patient, or having a cuppa with someone who is going through a crisis … but it is much more than that.
Peterson in his book acknowledged that people feel cared for when they are encouraged, included, connected, valued and affirmed. Does that make sense? Caring occurs when people are encouraged, included, connected, valued and affirmed.
I was in a small group studying this and we tried to think about how these five points could be played out in a community of faith and we came up with five broad areas where we can show care and compassion … would you like to know what these five areas are?
1) Encouraging Prayer – An obvious way for Christians to care for people is to pray for people. This is what makes us different from secular help agencies … we can help a person find comfort and healing through prayer. This can include praying for people and praying with people. (Can you see the difference). Lets look for opportunities to pray with people.
2) Connecting Our Stories – Everybody has a story, a reason why they became who they are. A way to show people we care for them is to take the time to get to know their stories, to share our stories and see how our stories connect with each other and with the gospel story. Can you see how a person would feel encouraged, included, connected, valued and affirmed just by having people want to know their story? Maybe a simple way to Nurturing caring within our community is to invite some people around for a meal and ask, “tell us your story”.
3) Pain-Sharing – Pain Sharing is responding with empathy to people’s pain, giving immediate support and comfort and if possible, helping them to a point of healing or peace or resolution. This aspect of caring can be a hard road but it is the commitment to walk the journey with those in pain. Sometimes we don’t feel we have the training or gifts to do this, but what is most important is that you are there. It is the being there that counts more than the doing.
4) Community-building. Part of making people feel encouraged, included, connected, valued and affirmed is to help everyone realise that we belong together in this community of faith. There are people who are really good at organising activities within the life of the church designed to help build this sense of community. These might not sound like caring activities but they can make a huge difference in people’s sense of belonging. If people feel included and connected they feel loved and cared for.
5) Spirit-Lifting. Sometimes we need to remember that everyone needs to be cared for, not just the people in need. One way we can care for all people is to spreading the joy of Jesus through encouraging words and acts of random kindness. It doesn’t matter if you are in the depth of despair or if everything is going great for you … everybody responds well to an encouraging word or act of kindness. It is a way in which we can remind people that they are valued and loved.
There they are, 5 ways how we can encourage a culture of care and compassion here at TUC.
So, did God speak to you through these thoughts? Did the Holy Spirit stir an idea within you of something that you can do to show care and compassion to others? If caring and compassion is a core value here at TUC, let’s work together to make sure that everyone connected to our church and everyone who crosses our path will feel encouraged, included, connected, valued and affirmed.
Now that is worth striving for. Amen