Take another Little Piece of His Heart
The sermon title might sound familiar to you. It's a paraphrase from a song first recorded by Erma Franklin (Aretha's older sister) in 1967. The song really gained a following when Janis Joplin recorded it in 1968. You, however, might know it from the Faith Hill version of 1993 or by the 2005 version of Melissa Etheridge or the 2006 recording by Beverly Knight.
What does a line from "Piece of My Heart" have to do with our text? The energy, the passion, and the guttural emotion heard in that song are found in this text. You should hear, feel, experience, see, know that when our text says Jesus had compassion it comes with all the force, depth, and emotion conveyed by that song. And even if you don't know that song, you can still know what I mean when I say, "Take another little piece of His heart."
We need to take just a little piece of Jesus' heart to bring us to see how wretched, fallen, and sinful we are when we dare to act like He doesn't care. When we do that, we're out of touch with the Lord Scripture calls on us to cast our cares on "because He cares for you." We've got to be out of step with the Lord Scripture says leads us through the valley of the shadow of death when we are convinced we're alone and stuck there. We've got to be out of tune with the Lord Scripture hymns as having "delivered my soul from the depths of the grave" when we feel and fear we're at the mercy of merciless death.
Look at our text. See Jesus having compassion on His overworked apostles. It's worth thinking about that this is the only time Mark calls the 12 apostles.' The Holy Spirit wants that noted. They've just returned from their first mission apart from Jesus, and like kids home from camp they're bursting with stories. They "reported to Jesus all they had done and taught." They told of casting out that demon, healing that sick person. How they taught here and taught that. Remember they had gone out two by two, so they were sharing with each other these things for the first time too.
Evidently news of what they had been doing followed them back to Jesus and people were coming and going, so much so that our text reports, "They did not even have a chance to eat." They "were running on empty;" they were in hurry to get things done; they rushed and rushed till life was no fun. You've been there; you've done that. And when what you're doing is for someone else, when you know it is in service to the Lord, you don't feel right about calling stop. So Jesus did it for the apostles. "Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest."
Jesus had compassion for the physical needs of the apostles. This is the only place in the Gospels where the idea of physical rest occurs. The fact that the need to rest from work shows up just this once tells you it's not nearly as big of a theme as our world makes it. The fact that Jesus suggests it shows you that He has compassion when we're physically stressed. Take another little piece of such a heart.
But what's this? The physically stressed disciples go away with Jesus only to find the crowds waiting from them at the retreat center. Mark doesn't tell you but John does "many followed because they saw the signs which Jesus did on those who were diseased." They're miracle mongers! They seek Jesus for physical relief! And yet what does the text say, "He had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd."
There's a lesson here. Jesus does care for your physical needs but He cares more for your spiritual. Yes, He came into this world to bear your griefs and carry your sorrows, but first and foremost He came to keep the Law that can only and always accuse you and He came to pay for your sins against that Law. He didn't enter your flesh and blood, so that your flesh and blood would never suffer. If He did, He was a failure, wasn't He? God the Son took on your flesh and blood to redeem you from all sin, from Death, and from the power of the Devil. As great as His is compassion for physical afflictions, He has exponentially more compassion for spiritual afflictions.
Take another big piece of His heart this time because this is going to hurt. First let's look at the word compassion.' In English it's rather a sweet word. In Greek, it's not. I've told you many times it means to be moved in the nobler organs. The spleen is the noun form of this verb. In the Gospels it's only used of Jesus or of a character in a parable representing Him. It is a blunt, forceful word. It's Janis Joplin offering up another piece of her heart. It's Dusty Springfield insisting to "come on take it." Here's what the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says about the word, "This rather rough term seems none too well adapted to express Christian virtue or the divine dealings" (VII, 549).
Compassion isn't a syrupy term but a stout one. Add to this that spiritual needs trump physical ones, and you have the compassionate all loving Lord, piercing His own mother with a sword; Job, the apple of God's eye, treated like a rotted core; Joseph for whose sake the Lord favored so many others languishing in prison for more than a decade. And we have you. Health problems, family troubles, job difficulties, life unraveled. But the Lord does nothing. You pray like Mary did at the foot of cross, like Job on his ash heap, like Joseph in prison. You pray for this thorn of Satan to be taken out of your flesh, but not only isn't it removed: it festers, gets infected, and hurts all the more.
Behold the compassion of your Lord! Behold the compassion of the Lord who endured the hellish Passion for the sake of sinners. I think 17th century protestant pastor John Donne misses this mystery. He asks in wonder, "Was not Thy Passion enough, but Thou must have compassion" (Sermon CXV"? He's right; the Scriptures clearly say the One who suffered for us and our salvation is the same one who has compassion. But in the depths of physical suffering don't you think, "If Thou was willing to take on my Passion where is Thy compassion now?" I do.
Remember, Jesus' compassion is rough, forceful and focused on eternal spiritual things not fleeting earthly. If our Lord dealt with us a cruel torturer, we could plead and beg and might get Him to relent or remove our physical suffering. But we're in the hands of divine surgeon who has only good intentions in mind. The kinder and more faithful a human surgeon is the more he will go on cutting no matter how much physical pain this will lead to. If a surgeon gives in to our pleadings before the operation is completed, all the pain up to that point would be useless and all the pain that is to follow would be pointless (Grief Observed, 50).
So take another little piece of His heart; bite down on it the way they do in Westerns when a bullet is being removed. Bite down on your Baptism where earthly water gives you eternal blessings. Bite down on your Absolution where in the words spoken by a man on earth you hear the God of heaven forgive you. Bite down on the Body and Blood of Jesus given and shed for you on earth to give you heavenly life. Repent and return to the cross where you see earthly suffering has eternal benefits. Repent of acting like your Good Shepherd doesn't care, and repent of acting like a shepherdless sheep.
Sheep without a shepherd are scattered by wolves, storms, physical afflictions. You're not a shepherdless sheep. Every single Sunday the Good Shepherd calls you to hear and feed on His Words and Sacraments. Every Sunday He calls you to this sheepfold. When you stay away, when you sleep in, when you have better things to do, you're acting like a shepherdless sheep. And beware, be warned, you can easily get use to that. The worst thing is that shepherdless sheep almost always feel that they're still sheep. Even though they're don't hear the voice of the Good Shepherd as Jesus says all His sheep do, they still think they're sheep. But it doesn't matter what they think or what I think; it matters what the Good Shepherd thinks.
Jesus thinks you need teaching. Don't act like a sheep without a shepherd and shun the teaching of the Good Shepherd. When Jesus sees the crowd that we know is looking for physical things, He says their real problem is they are like sheep without a shepherd and then how does He remedy that problem? Heal them? Feed them? No "He began teaching them many things." He had Bible class for them.
Take another little piece of His heart and see that Jesus has so much compassion for you that He refuses to leave you like sheep without a shepherd and so sends an under-shepherd to teach you. Teach me what? The Holy Spirit just says "many things." What's that? Go to the Epistles; go to those whom Jesus opened their minds to teach them all things about Himself. Go to Holy Scripture which is God's lamp and light to you. The many things Jesus taught them were things like you heard in the Epistle: He abolished in His flesh the Law with its commandments and regulations. He has made peace between you and God through His cross.
You are not shepherdless sheep: you are called, gathered, and enlightened here each and every Sunday by God's Words and His Sacraments. And you're not afflicted. Jesus saying they were like shepherdless sheep didn't come out of thin air. Several times in the Old Testament this idea comes up. One place is Zechariah 10:2. It says, "The people wander like sheep; they are afflicted because there is no shepherd." Well you have a Shepherd in Jesus Christ; therefore, you aren't afflicted.
How's that? Of course I am afflicted; I've got this, that, and this going on and it hurts. But compared to the heavenly weight of glory Paul says such afflictions are only light and momentary. And with even just a little piece of Jesus' heart the one that for you was overwhelmed unto death, pierced by a spear, and filled the font with water and the chalice with Blood it's not affliction at all; it's surgery. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (20120729); Mark 6: 30-34