The Competency of Compassion

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Proper 13/Year A ● August 2, 2020
Gospel: Matthew 14:13-21

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church's 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass (August 2, 2020)

Celebrant and Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes Sermon: "The Competency of Compassion" (Matthew 14: 13-21).Crucifer/Candles: Mr. LeGrand Jones Gospel Book/Bells: Dr. Jeanette Rollins Readers: Mr. LeGrand Jones (First Lesson), Ms. Ester Marion (Epistle) Intercessor: Dr. Jeanette Rollins Altar Guild/Flowers: Ms. Christine O’Donnell Visibility: Mrs. Sharon Soto (video) Music: Ms. Gina Spano (Keyboard); Choir: Ms. Katherine Knippel Greeters/Ushers: Ms. Karen Bauer, Ms. Christine O’Donnell Counters: Ms. Christine O’Donnell, Ms. Karen Bauer Join us for worship at the church by reserving your seat at www.wcepiscopalchurch.org (reservation closes Saturdays at 5:00 p.m.) or at 10:30 a.m. live right here on Facebook!

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, August 2, 2020

The Competency of Compassion

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The term, “human resource,” was first coined by American institutional economist, John Commons in 1893. Most companies, regardless of size, have an human resources department, or a team set aside to do the work of managing complex relationships and nurturing talent within the workplace for those who are the hands, feet, mouth and heart of the organization. Through the specialized tools of human resource management, employees are intentionally formed and shaped through training and development, and mentoring partnerships. The goal is to strengthen the company’s ability to optimally serve its intended clients.

As we enter our gospel passage today, we find Jesus in a boat on the way to a deserted place where he could be alone. But a large crowd awaited him as he went ashore. His reaction was not one of disappointment or inconvenience; he responded with compassion and cured the sick among them. That once-deserted place became Jesus’ workplace.

As the day grew late the disciples advised Jesus to hang up the proverbial “closed” sign so that the people could get food in the heavily-populated Jewish shops nearby. From a human resources perspective, Jesus’ workplace set the stage for the training and development of his disciples through participation in the supernatural feeding. “They need not go away,” said Jesus, “You give them something to eat” (v. 16).  Jesus’ miraculous power invited the disciples to be actively involved in the miracle; not as spectators taking notes, but as living instruments of God’s grace. As Jesus modeled compassion with the crowd and healed their sick, he was actively modeling and developing, within his disciples, the indispensable core competency of compassion.

In my hospital chaplain residency, the other chaplain residents and I had expected to shadow the seasoned staff chaplains for a long time before we thought we would be ready to take off the training wheels. We quickly found ourselves drop-kicked onto our patient floors to fly solo. We had to be trained to integrate our pastoral skillset in order to do the work of a chaplain, and we had to develop our core pastoral competencies in how to be a chaplain.

For example, it might be a natural response for someone to observe a crying person and offer them a tissue. For another observer, the crying person might be noticed, but offering the small comfort of a tissue to dry their eyes and nose, may never register. Still, for another person, the crying person in distress, may not even be noticed. The first scenario meets the human need of the crying person—by witnessing their pain, and by responding with care. While it may seem to be a small comfort, such attending skills must be embedded in the chaplains’ being as a pastoral caregiver.

Other examples include closing the blinds when the sun’s glare prohibits a bedridden patient from enjoying their favorite TV show; or opening the blinds to let the sun shine in for those who can’t get up out of the bed to do it for themselves; bringing a chair into a room, that has no seating, for the weary spouse to rest; providing crayons and scrap paper for drawing for restless children; and perhaps, the most aligned with the feeding miracle in our gospel today, is bringing food from the cafeteria for those who, in their distress, forgot to eat, or coffee for those who must remain alert while sleep deprived.  All are ways by which the indispensable core competency of compassion, which Jesus was forming within his disciples, is developed within the human person who functions as a chaplain.

Amidst the chaotic and controlled choreography of the doctors, nurses, intake teams, EMS and police officers, of the ER trauma room, there were family members—family members who gathered, sometimes as a great crowd, to the shore of the ER seeking information about life and death situation of their loved one, and seeking someone—the chaplain—who could be present to journey with them through their visible needs and anticipate needs that they didn’t know they had.

Chaplains jump into action by first being present, as Jesus was present to the people on the beach; and by actively serving the needs of the patients, families and hospital staff powered by the unspoken directive, “You do it,” as Jesus’ disciples were empowered by his spoken directive, “You give them something to eat.” Embedded in Jesus’ directive, was the authority for the disciples to move from being spectators of a miracle to being active participants in the miracle.

Recall, that the disciples responded with a statement of fact—they only had five loaves and two fish, to which Jesus responded, “Okay, bring me what you have.” When they did, they became participants in a miraculous event in which God provided bread enough for 5,000 men and the unnamed women and children, with 12 baskets pieces left over. One commentary suggests that the crowd was upwards of 20,000 if all of the married men, their wives and children had been counted.

This miracle story is the only miracle story found in all four gospels, which indicates its great importance for readers of scripture.  Through this miracle we witness God’s divine providence providing sustenance for the human body as he did with the manna that fell from heaven for the wandering Israelites. Through this miracle we see the humanity of Jesus, actively used, to develop his disciples—his human resources in the workplace of the earthly kingdom—who were being formed to succeed him in the care of God’s people, with competence, confidence and compassion.

Like the disciples, we are always being shaped as instruments of God’s grace in this earthly kingdom workplace—We are human resources of the divine Source. As such, we need regular training and practice in responding, with compassion, to human need by loving service, modeled by faith leaders and faith communities, in order to reclaim that part of our humanity that truly reflects the perfected humanity of Jesus.

The challenges of the pandemic over these many months are myriad. But just as the disciples were thrust into an opportunity to gain essential, on-the-ground training, amongst real people, to meet real human need through feeding, so too have the 21st century disciples been challenged to show up to bring Jesus what you have—no matter how great or how small—in order to give God’s people something to eat—feeding the hungry by providing food for the physical needs of the body, and by sharing the living bread of Jesus for the starving spirit.

Let us witness the pain of our brothers and sisters, in this shared human journey of suffering, and respond with care. And, claim our authority, as Christ’s disciples, to move from spectators of God’s everyday miracles to active participants with competence, courage and the deep, unwavering compassion of Christ.

Amen.