Responding with Courage and Compassion

While there are certainly wise precautions to take when dealing with a widespread health crisis, as followers of Jesus we are not called to self-preservation but to self-sacrifice. Ultimately the spiritual truth is that whoever who holds onto their life selfishly, loses it. But whoever gives their life, losing it for Christ’s sake, finds it. 

I don’t think Jesus was talking so much about physically losing your life, although most of his disciples were martyred. Jesus was talking about a spiritual principle. Putting it another way, Jesus posed the question; ‘What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”

Throughout history Christians have been at the forefront of responding to crises often putting their own lives at risk. Care for those with leprosy, sanitariums for those with tuberculosis, hospitals around the world, homes for orphans, and compassionate treatment for victims of AIDS. These are just a few examples of the legacy of the Christian faith down through the centuries. 

Christians have always faced the tragedies of life with courage and compassion. Let me give you just two examples.

In AD 251 a plague swept through the Roman Empire decimating the population. In his Easter letter around AD 260, Dionysius wrote a tribute to the believers whose heroic efforts cost many of them their lives during the plague.

Pagans tended to flee the cities during plagues, but Christians were more likely to stay and minister to the suffering. According to Dionysius: “Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy.”

Those who work in our hospitals today, many of them Christians, do just that every day.

During the Fall of 1793, yellow fever gripped the city of Philadelphia. Historian Richard Newman writes that, “from the moment it began, the yellow fever epidemic was a public-health crisis. Thousands of citizens fled, hospitals became overwhelmed, and dead bodies rotted in homes.”

Within this crisis, it was the emerging black church under the leadership of Richard Allen which entered into the suffering. Some assumed that persons of African descent were immune to Yellow Fever, and the free black community was approached to provide help. Spurned by other churches and slandered by others, Allen and his church served the sick when others isolated themselves for fear of catching the disease.

Despite the overt racism he faced, Allen modeled an empathetic approach to loving his neighbors. Allen and his fellow volunteers were heartbroken over the suffering of the sick. They resonated with those patients who had been cast out. Allen never lost sight of the truth: Those around him were lost and needed Jesus. 

We are reminded today that the gospel calls us to live sacrificially in the face of crisis. That although fear can threaten to flood our hearts and tempts us to isolate and hoard, Scripture anchors our hope in a God who is greater than the pain we endure in this life.

Let’s not lose our calling to compassionate love and service to others.

The Coronavirus will pass. Let it be said of us whose faith is in God; They responded with courage and compassion to others.

There is someone who needs you today.
Former Pastor Paul Erny