Archive for Stephens Ministry

Agenda Interrupted

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , on July 22, 2018 by timtrue


Mark 6:30-34, 53-56


Today we find Jesus and his disciples on their way to a well-deserved retreat.

They’ve been traveling together around the region of Galilee, teaching, preaching, healing, and casting out demons.

Jesus recently returned to his home town, where his reception was less than favorable.

Soon after that he sent the disciples out—apostles, he called them: “sent out ones”—to expand his mission. The apostles carried with them the power to heal people and cast out demons.

We infer from some of Jesus’ statements, however, that they did not meet with one-hundred-percent success. In fact, it may have been rather more difficult than not. They may have gone without a meal for a day or more. They may have met with hostile responses. They may even have had to shake the dust off their feet a time or two.

And while they were off expanding Jesus’ mission, we learn that John the Baptist was murdered for his ministry and mission!

The implication, now that they’ve come back together, is that Gospel work isn’t easy! Jesus and his disciples are tired. They’ve been selflessly giving of their time, talents, and treasure for the betterment of others. Their schedule has been so busy that they haven’t even had time to sit down for a leisurely meal!

Can you relate?

So, it’s time to get away, Jesus decides. He says to them, “The boat’s packed. Grab your pillows, toothbrushes, water bottles, and a snack. I’ve made reservations for us at a retreat center, so we can rest a while and center ourselves.”

Doesn’t that sound nice?

Perhaps you’ve experienced a break in your life’s frenetic routine at just the right time. If so, you know just how refreshing—and timely—a retreat like this can be: how restorative; how much of a spiritual boost; how centering it can be for the soul.

But, as they arrive at the other side of the lake it is not the deserted place Jesus imagined. He and the disciples are most definitely not by themselves!

Now, at this point, Jesus has a few options. He can try to escape with his disciples—though it’s very likely the crowd will see where they are headed and beat them there. He can tell the crowd to go away—which it may or may not do. Or, he can minister to the needy crowd now and postpone his agenda.

What does he decide? The Gospel says it this way: “As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”

Jesus decides compassion!


Pathos is the Greek word here. Jesus had pathos for the crowd, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.

From pathos we get our English words pathetic, sympathetic, sympathy, empathy, pathological—to name but a few.

There’s something of pity and compassion in each word. Either of these is an acceptable translation into English: pity or compassion.

But their meanings are quite different, aren’t they? “Jesus had pity on the crowd” means something quite distinct from “Jesus had compassion on the crowd.”

The translators of our version of the Bible, the NRSV, went with compassion. And I’m glad they did, for I think compassion captures the reality of Jesus here much better than pity.

The chief difference in my thinking is this: pity is removed; whereas compassion is involved.

Pity suggests a sort of distance. I feel a type of sorrow for my neighbor because my neighbor’s plight is so pitiable. So, out of the goodness of my heart I decide to do something about it—I buy her a pair of shoes; I offer him a ride; I throw some money her way. And I go on with my life.

Pity has left me feeling sorry for my neighbor, maybe even sorry enough to do something about it. But at the end of the day I’m still over here dealing with my life and she’s still over there dealing with hers: a distance still remains between us.

But compassion is up close and personal, involved.

The word itself means, literally, suffering with, or suffering alongside. There’s no “us vs. them” here. Compassion comes alongside the neighbor and, like the Samaritan who helped the man in the ditch, gets wrapped up in the dirty details.

And today compassion, not pity, wins out.

Jesus cancels the retreat forthwith. He sets aside his agenda and instead comes alongside the desperate, noisy, dirty, smelly, needy crowd; and suffers with them.

It’s exactly what he did on a much larger scale: In the Incarnation, the Christ emptied himself of the Godhead; and took on humanity. He came alongside the whole world—the cosmos—and took on its suffering.

And it’s exactly what he calls us to do: to be moved by the hurting, desperate, needy people of our day; and not merely to have pity on them, but compassion—to come alongside and suffer with them.

We are called to live out the Incarnation. We are called to compassion.


The key word here is we.

Compassion is not something only for Jesus; or only for the priest.

I don’t know why—maybe the terminology has something to do with it—but whenever someone in the congregation gets sick or is experiencing grief or desires wise counsel, why, the thinking often goes, it’s the pastor’s job. After all, we call it pastoral care.

But this is not the model Jesus left for us.

Jesus has compassion on the crowds. And the first thing he does is cancel his planned retreat with the disciples!

He doesn’t pull Peter aside and say, “Okay, look. This crowd of people needs pastoral care. So why don’t you take the disciples and go on to the retreat center without me? Here’s the address. When you get there, look up the program director and tell her I won’t be coming and that you’re the main point of contact. Be well; and enjoy this time of renewal with the others! I’ll meet you at the Starbucks in Capernaum in three days.”

No! He cancels the retreat—forthwith!—and the disciples stay with him, helping him minister to all who are sick.

Pastoral care is not a solo act, but a team effort.

So, now, for kicks, let’s just think through logically this concept of pastoral care. And, for the record, I’m not whining here—just trying to give you a window into what priests do.

There are about 375 names on our rolls here at St. Thomas; and one priest.

This priest, me, has more than 50 emails and a handful of phone calls to deal with every day; and two sermons to write each week, which must include several hours of study and preparation in order to make them worthwhile; and preparations to make for the adult forum or confirmation class or whatever other program might be going on.

Then there’s the monthly finance meeting, the Bishop’s Committee meeting (to plan and lead), and any number of diocesan meetings and reports to navigate.

And we mustn’t leave out the occasional weddings, funerals, and baptisms to plan and officiate; and participation in diocesan ministries, like serving as Chaplain at Camp Stevens.

Then there are the myriad other meetings and community gatherings to attend, happening seemingly all the time; and staff to oversee, preschool appearances to make, and newsletter articles to write.

And somehow in the midst of it all—I am supposedly a spiritual leader, after all—I’ve got to maintain some semblance of a prayer life, keep up with church leadership trends, stay current in my studies, and find time to be a dad and husband.

Sound frenetic enough? And I haven’t even mentioned pastoral care yet!

Even Jesus could heal only one person at a time!

Here’s the thing: it wasn’t just Jesus doing the work, but Jesus and the disciples. It’s not just the pastor who is called to do pastoral care, but all of us: the priest and the parishioners.

Look around for just a moment. You are a part of a community. Some of you know each other very well; some of you have known each other for years and years.

You are in a unique and privileged place, able to show compassion to each other, able to be Jesus to each other!

And, frankly, some of you are way better at pastoral care than I am; and much more available to offer it than I am.

Jesus calls us to compassion.


That said, I want to end today’s message with a plug. Two ministries in particular here at St. Thomas are all about compassion: LEVs and Stephen Ministries.

LEVs stands for Lay Eucharistic Visitors. These are, as the name indicates, laypersons who take the Eucharist out to those who for whatever reason are unable to attend church.

It’s a very important and vital ministry, allowing those who are shut in the opportunity to commune with Christ and his church—the opportunity to be included in the community.

And right now we have only two active LEVs!

Would you like to show compassion as Jesus showed compassion? Here is a ready-made way. Join the LEV team. If interested, please let me know!

And, second, Stephen Ministries provides the opportunity to cultivate ongoing relationships with those in need, showing compassion through prayer and fellowship.

The training for Stephen Ministers is quite extensive, requiring some fifty hours before being sent out. But, for those who’ve done it, the opportunities to show compassion and the sense of reward are immense.

By the way, several people in our church will complete this required training in the next month. Soon after, we will have our very own commissioning ceremony for the St. Thomas Stephen Ministries team. Stay tuned!

And, again, if you’d like to learn more, please let me know.


Anyway, I hope you can see, opportunities to show the compassion Jesus calls us to are all around us. Today I focused really only on congregational needs; we didn’t even touch on outreach. But don’t worry: outreach opportunities will be the focus of future sermons, I promise.

In the meantime, as you witness these pastoral care efforts in our midst, consider ways in which you might show more compassion to those in your life, ways in which your agenda might need to be interrupted, just as Jesus showed compassion to the crowd, just as Jesus shows compassion to us.