This is the second sermon in our series that is using the book of James to help us build our bodies in a way that reflect the image of God and the love of Christ within us. Today, we seek to have Broken Hearts.
SCRIPTURE – James 2:1-8 – My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? 8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Body by Jesus – Broken Hearts
March 1, 2015
Do you remember your first love? I do. First grade. Chenoweth Elementary School in Louisville, Ky. Her name was Phoebe and she sat in front of me in class. She had long blond hair that I thought looked like spaghetti. I loved spaghetti, so I would just stare at her hair and imagine adding marinara sauce and parmesan cheese. This was true love. One time, I went to the pencil sharpener, and she came up at the SAME TIME! I just knew that she was the one for me. Until one day, at recess, she said the two words that I would hear repeated by women over and over again for the rest of my life: “You’re weird!” Pheobe and I were just never the same after that. She stopped sharing her glue during craft time. We drifted apart.
My heart was first broken by Pheobe with the spaghetti hair. I wish that were the last time, but like each one of you, I’ve had my heart broken time and time again. And the pain doesn’t get any easier, does it? It hurts. It’s no fun. To give your heart away to someone, and then to have it given back to you in pieces, is a level of suffering that none of us wants to feel. Life would easier if we could avoid that. But would it be better? We continue our “Body by Jesus” sermon series today as we seek to build our body in a way that reflects the love of Christ within us. Last week be talked about having big ears; today we’ll explore the risks and rewards of broken hearts.
James writes, “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right.” The Greek word for “neighbor” here is all-encompassing, it shows no favoritism, as James demonstrates earlier in the passage. If you are willing to let yourself love someone as you would want to be loved, you are living the life God has called you to live. But to do so comes with a risk. Any time we choose to truly love, like I loved Phoebe with the spaghetti hair, we know that our hearts may come out the other side in pieces.
Pet owners understand this very well. When I was in elementary school, my mom got me a dog for my birthday. His name was Rusty and he was a Weimaraner. I loved that dog…for all three days that we had him. What my mom didn’t know was that Weimaraners are very hyper dogs, and when we left Rusty alone for the first time, he tore up our living room. So Mom said Rusty had to go back to the animal shelter. As I walked Rusty back to his cage at the pound, I was devastated. My heart was broken.
Losing a pet can be hard enough, but the pain we feel when we share in another person’s suffering is even greater. Giving our hearts to someone means entering into their lives to such a point that we feel the pain that they feel. Another word for that is compassion, which literally means “to suffer with.” In the training for Stephen Ministry, we spend a lot of time talking about the importance of compassion. We can only be helpful to someone if we do our best to understand what they are going through. And we know the importance of doing that because we all know the pain of having our hearts broken.
Which is a great reason for us NOT to treat others with compassion, for us NOT to enter into their pain. We’ve had our share of broken hearts; why in the world would we want to take on someone else’s pain? We’ve done the hard work of mending and healing and gluing back together our own hearts. Why then would we want to open ourselves up to that same hurt on behalf of someone else? We’ve already been there; let them deal with it themselves.
This is part of what I believe James is addressing in today’s passage. On one level, he’s talking about the dangers of favoritism, only treating with respect those who have something to give us in return. But at a deeper level, he’s talking about not coming eye-to-eye with those who we know are suffering. He warns against giving the rich person a good seat but putting the poor person down – literally – by having them sit on the floor. But it’s safer for me if they are down there, because then I don’t have to look them in them in the eye, I don’t have to treat them as an equal, I don’t have to acknowledge they are a real human being. And if we dehumanize someone, then there’s no need to have compassion for them.
I wonder who in our lives we keep “down there?” I’ll guarantee it’s not the people who are most like us. Those are the ones we want to connect with because it’s safer. It’s much more dangerous to connect with those who don’t think like us or look like us or believe like us, people who are easy to judge or stereotype. And yet, their pain is as real as ours, and their need for compassion is as strong as ours, regardless of where they live or to whom they pray.
If you dare to connect with someone, to keep them on your level, then you open yourself up to sharing in their joy and their pain. In his book The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen says, “It seems necessary to re-establish the basic principle that no one can help anyone without becoming involved, without entering with his whole person into the painful situation, without taking the risk of becoming wounded in the process.” The apostle Paul says it even more clearly in Romans 12: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” In other words, love others as you would want to be loved, treat others as you would want to be treated, take the risk to fully enter into their pain with them.
We can see what this looks like by watching Jesus. He wasn’t afraid to eat with tax collectors and sinners, he didn’t shy away from touching lepers and healing the sick. We see God’s heart through Jesus’ actions in our reading from John’s Gospel. Jesus has heard about the death of his friend Lazarus, and goes to Bethany to visit the tomb. Jesus knows this story is going to have a happy ending, but when he is confronted with the raw pain of Mary and Martha, he his moved to tears. Jesus cries, not so much out of his own pain, but out of the pain he sees in those with whom he is connected. Jesus keeps everyone at eye level.
Jesus loved out of compassion, not out of pity. That’s an important distinction. Connecting with someone out of pity implies looking down on them from where we are. Connecting with someone from our hearts means regarding them as brothers and sisters and helping them out of the compassion, the empathy, we feel for them. Instead of maintaining that buffer zone between us and someone we know is hurting in order to keep our own hearts safe, we open our hearts to the grief of others as though it were our own. The Tibetans call this quality “the inability to bear the sight of another’s sorrow.”
We certainly had the opportunity to put our compassion into action with Robyn and Jordan and Milly. That experience was flooded with so many emotions from the very start, and more than once our hearts broke for the Bles family as they faced their challenges. You know, it would have been a whole lot easier not to have gotten involved. It would have been so much safer for us to say, “You’re on your own.” Why in the world would we get involved? Why would be open ourselves up to the excruciating pain of letting our hearts be broken? Because we were given the capacity to love, and we were called to put that love to real use with others. We let our hearts we broken because that’s who we are created to be, and that’s how God deeply loves us.
Our hearts are still breaking. Our hearts will continue to break. With each goodbye we say, a piece of our heart leaves us and goes with them. But the amazing thing about our heart is that when we give a piece of it away, it grows larger, not smaller. For each person we love, for each time we offer compassion to someone, the capacity of our heart grows and our ability to connect expands, not contracts. We are afraid to show compassion because of what we’ll lose, but we never think about what we’ll gain.
It’s so easy to look at a painful situation and say, “You know, I’m not going to get involved. I’m not going to put myself through that.” But here’s the thing. God’s not standing over here with us, safe from the pain. God is with them, right in the midst of it. God is in the hospital room, God is in the divorce court, God is in the rehab center, God is with our lonely neighbor or our troubled relative or our misbehaving student. God is there.
What makes your heart break? I’m afraid the answer for many of us may be, “Not much.” In our world that is overflowing with heartbreaking stories, it’s easy to grow numb to the need around us for compassion. There are plenty of moving videos online of homeless people getting help, but there are also plenty of people right here in Lexington that need the same kind of compassion. If they walked into church today, would we show to them to a good seat or ignore them and hope they go away?
The challenge for us is to model Jesus’ radical willingness to connect with those whom others had cast out. Our hearts broke for Milly. They should also break when we read about children who’ve been abused, or unarmed people being mistreated by police, or people using violence to solve problems. Any time God’s peace is broken, any time one of God’s children is mistreated, any time a person suffers because they don’t have the basic necessities to survive, we should be unable to bear the sight of their sorrow. Our hearts should break and our compassion should spur us to respond.
Mother Teresa said it this way: “When we ultimately go home to God, we are going to be judged on what we were to each other, what we did for each other, and, especially, how much love we put into that. It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into doing it.” May we be blessed with the inability to bear the sight of another’s sorrow, and may our hearts be broken again and again and again.