I’m attending the Interim Ministry Network Annual Conference this week in Las Vegas. One of our speakers shared a story about compassion.
A student asked the great anthropologist, Margaret Mead, “What is the earliest sign of civilization in any given culture?” The student expected her to say a clay pot, a grinding stone, a tool, or maybe a weapon. But that’s not how Mead answered. To the question what is the earliest sign of civilization in any given culture, Mead said, “A healed femur.”
Professor Mead explained that healed femurs are not found where the law of the jungle reigns. A healed femur shows that someone cared for the injured, did that person’s hunting and gathering, stayed with that person, offered protection and companionship, until the injury could mend. Evidence of compassion, says Mead, is the first sign of civilization.
By way of a parallel, the same thing is true within the Church. The first sign of Christian civilization/community is not preaching, music, theology, or organization. Rather, the first sign of Christian civilization/community is compassion - how well we care for those who are wounded or injured in body or spirit, how well we rally around a person in a time of need, how we offer healing, comfort, protection, and companionship until they are able to rise up and walk again.
The Scriptures of our faith are filled with descriptions of God as a God of compassion. For example:
"The LORD is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness." – Psalm 103:8
The God of compassion is fully revealed in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ:
"As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd…" - Mark 6:34
The followers of Jesus are called to be instruments of God’s compassion:
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” - Ephesians 4:32 NIV
I reflected throughout the day on compassion as a sign of civilized society in general and Christian civilization/community in particular. I saw many signs of compassion. Perhaps that was because I was looking for them.
A group of us went out to dinner and when we returned to our hotel it was 102º. This hotel is a sprawling complex of buildings and my room is about three blocks from the lobby. As I was going to my room, I noticed an elderly lady pushing her walker. The walker had a seat on it and on the seat was an ice bucket. I spoke to her and she said, “Do you know where the ice machine is? It is so hot and I need some ice water.” I took her ice bucket and told her to wait right there. I filled her bucket with ice from the machine, which was about 50 yards away, and returned it to her. She thanked me three times before I was able to continue on the walk to my room.
For her, it was a great relief. For me, getting her some ice was no big deal. It took less than two minutes. But those two minutes changed me. I felt more alive, more human, and more connected to the civilization/community of Christians. I share this with you in the hope that you will take a little more time to watch for and to perform acts of compassion. It is one way to love your neighbor as yourself. Even more, it is a way to advance civilization and change the world.
I’ll see you in Church!