When Jesus was moved with compassion he wasn’t merely sympathetic for people, he was gutted. Really gutted.
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
The Greek word they used meaning ‘moved with compassion’ is esplanchnisthē, to be moved in the splanxna, the inward parts.
Saw this thread of tweets from Phil Whittall, a chap I follow on Twitter. It struck a chord so I’ve reproduced it below, with permission.
Question: Why don’t I think having friends over for a meal and showing biblical hospitality are the same thing?
First, I don’t think these meals are worthless at all. Time with friends, deepening relationship, building community, sharing stories is a deeply human thing. Very worthwhile and important. This is called friendship and investing in it is vital everywhere. I think this is a good thing.
When Mao began his purge of religion from Chinese society there were 2 million Christians. He banished missionaries, nationalised all church property, killed or imprisoned its leaders, banned public meetings and began to torture Christians. When missionaries were let back into China just 30 years later in the 80s, they found 60 million Christians.
In every generation of Christians, there have been those who have thrown away their inherited ideas about what it means to be a Christian and what the Church should look like. They have thrown away their preconceptions and simply opened the Bible and sought to put into practice what they read there.
It is this heart-attitude of simple honesty that is powerful, radical and carries the honour of God. We would like to be like this too. As we enter a new phase of our life together, with more freedom and time to express the kingdom of God within us, Lord help us to get right down to the roots of what it means to follow you and to be your hands and feet on this earth. As well as the New Testament scriptures that describe the Church that operates in the power of the spirit, there are many historical writings from the early Christians that describe how they lived, worshipped and served Jesus Christ. An excellent source for these is a book called The Early Christians in Their Own Words by Eberhard Arnold (founder of the Bruderhof communities). This book describes the worldview of the first Christians, their creeds and confessions, their meetings, worship and church practices, and the prophetic spirit they had. The following texts are quotes taken from the book that describe the agape or love meal that the first believers shared. As far as we are able, we would like to begin to put these things into practice.
The gathering of the church community in the presence of the Holy Spirit had great importance among the first Christians. From descriptions of how they gathered, ate, prayed, and sang together, we learn more about them, perhaps, than we do from any other sources. In early congregations, meetings were neither restrictively “religious” nor agenda-driven, as are so many of today’s scheduled “services.” To them, the gathering of the Body was sustenance, life, and identity. At meetings demons were expelled, confessions made, forgiveness requested and granted, gifts exercised, leadership recognised and affirmed, goods shared, and individual and corporate needs met. Most importantly, the name “which is above all names” was exalted and glorified.
“The nature of our Meal and its purpose are explained by its very name. It is called Agape, as the Greeks call love in its purest sense. However much it may cost, it is always a gain to be extravagant in the name of fellowship with what is God’s, since the food brought is used for the benefit of all who are in need. To respect the lowly is all-important with God. If then the motive for our Meal is honourable, consider the discipline ruling during the Meal in that light. That which is rooted in religious commitment does not tolerate vileness and licentiousness. The participants do not go to the table unless they have first tasted of prayer to God. As much is eaten as is necessary to satisfy the hungry; as much is drunk as is good for those who live a disciplined life. When satisfying themselves they are aware that even during the night they should worship God. They converse as those who are aware that God is listening. After the hands are washed and the lights are lit, all are asked to stand forth and to praise God as well as each is able, be it from the holy Scriptures or from his own heart. From this it will be recognised “how he drank.” In like manner the Meal is closed with a prayer.”
“Then bread and a cup containing water mixed with wine are brought to the overseer of the brothers. He takes both and gives praise and glory to the father of the universe through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He offers copious thanks that by him we have been deemed worthy to receive these gifts. At the end of the prayer and the thanksgiving all the people assembled give their assent, saying, “Amen.” The word “Amen” in Hebrew means “So be it!” When the overseer has given thanks and all the people have assented, those we call table stewards [deacons] give each one present some of the bread and wine with water that was accepted with thanksgiving and take some of it to the homes of those who are absent. This meal we call Thanksgiving [Eucharist]. No one is allowed to take part in it except he who believes that the things we teach are true, who has received the bath for the forgiveness of sins and for the new birth, and who lives according to the teachings handed down by Christ. For we do not partake of this meal as if it were ordinary food or ordinary drink. Rather, through the Logos of God, our healing Saviour Jesus Christ became flesh and accepted flesh and blood for the sake of our salvation. Hence, as we have been taught, the food taken with thanksgiving in the words of prayer he handed down to us is the flesh and blood of that Christ who became flesh. Our flesh and blood are strengthened by this eating and drinking for our transformation. The apostles in their own memoirs, which are called Gospels, handed down as they were commanded: Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, and said, “Do this in remembrance of me. This is my body.” In the same way he took the cup, gave thanks, and said, “This is my blood.” And he gave it to them alone.”
In trembling awe the church experiences her Lord and sovereign as a guest: “Now he has appeared among us!” Some see him sitting in person at the table to share their meal.
Celebrating the Lord’s Supper is indeed a foretaste of the future wedding feast.
In their certainty of victory, Christians gathered for the Lord’s Supper perceived the alarmed question of Satan and death, “Who is he that robs us of our power?” They answered, exultantly, “Here is Christ, the crucified!” When Christ’s death is proclaimed at this meal it means that his resurrection is given substance and life is transformed. His victorious power is consummated in his suffering and dying, in his rising from death and ascent to the throne, and in his second coming.
The Love meal was originally linked with the Lord’s Supper of bread and wine.
Along with prayers from surrendered hearts, the bread and wine was a solemn crowning. During the meal the believers partook of all foods, thanking and praising God for all they ate.
This “Meal of Thanksgiving” or “Meal of Offerings,” where the gifts were immediately used to feed the poor and the prophets and apostles, has no parallel in any other religion.
Those compelling, befuddling, counterintuitive bombshells. Nine bullet points spoken by Jesus, now respected by millions in every nation and religion the world over.
It seems impossible to properly get a handle on them, but they themselves have gripped so many people. It seems impossible to understand them abstracted from lived experience, but as we start to read and live them those few words provide a comfort that’s not pat, a wisdom that confounds and a pattern for a new kind of society. Those few words have fomented many movements that are doing their bit to redeem the trajectory of humanity.
Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.
“A community cannot remain static. It is not an end in itself. It is like a fire which must spread even at the risk of burning out.
A moment comes when a community can only grow through separation, sacrifice and gift. The more it finds unity, the more it must be prepared in some sense to lose it, through the free gift of some of its members who will create other networks of love and communities of peace.
That is the meaning of life. Life reproduces itself. Growth means the appearance of flowers and fruits, which carry the seeds of new life. A community which jealously keeps its members to itself and doesn’t take chances in this extraordinary work of procreation is running a far greater risk: the risk of withering away. If the corner isn’t turned, if the evolution of a community towards greater giving is not encouraged, its members will become infantile, close to regression. They will become sterile and life will not flow through them. Like dead branches, they will be good only for the fire.
So many communities are dead because the people who carry responsibility in them have not known how to encourage their young members to give life in the procreation of new communities. The time of love has passed and they have come to a stage of sterility and frustration. It will then be hard to refind the forces of love and life.”
Michael Frost told a story of one megachurch that padded out a team with millions of dollars and sent them to a slum in India. The team flew over and swept in triumphantly, gathering the residents to tell them the glad tidings of their arrival and what they were planning to do.
Once upon a time waaaay back in the late 60s the Holy Spirit turned up at a normal Baptist chapel in the sleepy English countryside. Things started kicking off big-time. Soon many of the hairy hippy freaks from round about came by the bike/car/busload to see what the fuss was all about. This caught the attention of some straight-laced Christians looking for something more than their stuffy straight-lacedness.