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Courage and Compassion

Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
July 24, 2016

Courage and Compassion go together! We call ourselves a Micah 6:8 church. Every week, on the back of our bulletins you will see these words: “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” This is just another way to say be courageous, show compassion. And Jesus’ “Law of Love” requires both as well! “To love God with all your heart, mind and soul and your neighbor as yourself” are all about compassion and courage.

Ruth Gendler linked courage to compassion in her description of Compassion, and it is found in our Quiet Meditation this morning:
“Compassion speaks with a slight accent. She was a vulnerable child, miserable in school, cold, shy, alert to the pain in the eyes of her sturdier classmates. The other kids teased her about being too sentimental and for a long time she believed them. In ninth grade she was befriended by Courage. Courage lent Compassion bright sweaters, explained the slang, showed her how to play volleyball, taught her you can love people and not care what they think about you.”

In these crazy times, living up to our birthright as Children of God has never been more of a challenge! We have never needed Courage and Compassion more!

It is the Spirit that lives within us that makes both possible. Our Higher Self, the Christ Spirit, the Buddha nature must be discovered and cultivated within each of us. It is our birthright but it can so easily be ignored or forgotten.

Compassion isn’t a warm fuzzy feeling. Ruth Gendler brings the Quality to life and helps us to see how hard it can be to access this quality inside of us:
“Compassion wears Saturn’s rings on the fingers of her left hand. She is intimate with the life force. She understands the meaning of sacrifice. She is not afraid to die. There is nothing you cannot tell her….In many ways Compassion is still the stranger, neither wonderful, nor terrible, herself utterly, always.”
It hurts to feel the pain of others. It hurts to feel the fear of others. It hurts to feel the anger of others. Watching the world’s suffering on the evening news, experiencing the divisiveness and fear generated at the RNC, knowing the suffering in the lives of our family and friends, and our own lives, is all too much! Sometimes all I want to do is crawl under the covers and hide. I understand the epidemic of anxiety and depression in our country. Lately I’ve been praying like my life depended on it, because I have a feeling it does!

I have a friend who has struggled with anxiety for years and told me this week that in desperation she, who usually prays mostly for other people, decided to pray for help for herself. And miracle of miracles, her fear was lifted!

Prayer works! But Courage is not just “fear that has said its prayers,” although that’s definitely a good beginning. Again, Ruth Gendler brings this Quality to life:
“Courage has roots. She sleeps on a futon on the floor and lives close to the ground. Courage looks you straight in the eye. She is not impressed with power-trippers, and she knows first aid. Courage is not afraid to weep, and she is not afraid to pray, even when she is not sure who she is praying to. When Courage walks it is clear that she has made the journey from loneliness to solitude. The people who told me she is stern were not lying, they just forgot to mention that she is kind.”

I want to go over this line by line: “Courage has roots.” She learns from her ancestors. She isn’t born from our heads but from our very souls. When we pray we reach into the center of our beings where courage has always lived.

She “lives close to the ground.” She takes strength from Mother earth. She calls on that power to ground her. Never forget how important a visit to the woods or the ocean can be.

She “looks you straight in the eye.” She is not impressed with power-trippers (and boy do we have opportunities today to practice that!).

“Courage is not afraid to weep and she is not afraid to pray.” Sometimes I need to be reminded that weeping can be prayer. As Paul, the Apostle pointed out, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)

And Courage doesn’t need to define who she is praying to. She doesn’t put God in a box of her own definitions. She is open to the mystery!

“She has made the journey from loneliness to solitude.” Living alone and having many single friends, I know that this journey can be a long one, but when we make it, we discover a deep strength, courage! And you don’t need to be single to experience loneliness that needs to turn into a welcoming solitude.

She may be stern but she is also kind. When my strength becomes defensive or controlling, it is not courage, but power-tripping. I am still only beginning to learn true courage.

I attended an emergency gathering in East Palo Alto on Monday evening because the violence in that community after all the news is ready to explode. I listened to stories that reminded me of my own. I realized that because I am white and middle class I have to stand up for people of color now as never before. My work to build a better, more inclusive world was not done when I gave birth to biracial children! It is uncomfortable to speak up and act on behalf of others. I may not do it right, but I have to try.

A dear and well-meaning friend told me we should work to be sure “All Lives Matter.” I responded ever-so-passionately about how important it was to not usurp the language of “Black Lives Matter” because right now, that focus needs to be maintained even as we freely acknowledge that all lives do of course matter! If two houses are side by side, they both matter. But if one of them is on fire, that’s the house we need to call the fire department for help to put out the fire. And right now, Black lives need to be our focus. The way I expressed myself however made him feel judged and condemned and I had to apologize for coming on too strong. It is not easy to learn how to find a voice of justice here and still maintain relationships. That is the work. It is totally worth the effort!

Why did I choose the reading from Luke 11, to talk about Compassion and Courage?

Jesus tells a parable about a friend waking up another friend at midnight to borrow bread to feed another friend. In a culture where hospitality was a very high value, whatever excuse the sleeping man gave would have been suspect. But that Jesus encouraged the borrower to not give up is surprising! It clearly implies that it is good to bother God again and again with our requests.

Jesus is encouraging us to “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches find, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” But it feels just plain wrong. How many times have you prayed for something and felt you were not heard? Or that the answer was No?

But Jesus is reminding us that God is Good. We wouldn’t give a snake if our child asks for a fish, or a scorpion if they ask for an egg. God is love and love doesn’t act that way either! If we keep on praying for the guidance we need, for the justice we long for, this passage promises us not easy answers but the Spirit we need, the strength, the courage, the compassion we need to fulfill God’s purpose in our lives. God will “give the Holy spirit to those who ask!”

The arc of History bends toward Justice. The path is a spiral. Lessons come round again and again. We feel like we are at the same place. We can see painful similarities between what is happening in our world now and what we know of history. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana) But things are different.

Racism is still alive and well, but people of color can vote, and we are seeing the injustice of racial profiling in our evening news. We are beginning to mobilize for change.

Women are still oppressed throughout the world but a woman is running for president.

Gays no longer live under “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

God isn’t done with us yet! We need to continue to work for justice. We need to grow as individuals and as a world community. God wants us to ask for help, pray for change, keep on keepin’ on! “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Jesus tell us God’s Beloved Community is at hand. With Compassion and Courage we will do our part to make it so!