Morning Worship: ‘We will need all the courage borne of faith to become compassionate’

Karen Armstrong received the TED Prize in 2008, and her wish was to develop a “Charter for Compassion.” The charter was developed online and was launched on Nov. 9, 2009. Since that time, more than 98,000 individuals and organizations have signed it.

The Rev. Joan Brown Campbell told the story of Karen Armstrong and the Charter for Compassion at her Thursday 9:30 a.m. morning worship service. Her sermon title was “Karen Armstrong’s Choice” and the Scripture text was John 10:11-16.

“As Armstrong studied the world’s religions, she found that at the heart of them all was compassion and the teaching to treat others as you wish to be treated,” Campbell said.

“Over 47 cities have signed the Charter and become compassionate cities,” she said. “A movement for compassionate schools has begun in Pakistan, and Armstrong’s book on Twelve Steps To A Compassionate Life has been translated into Urdu.”

Campbell said that when Armstrong announced her wish to establish the Charter, “I wanted to remind her that dreams can be dangerous. A dream that takes faith seriously risks life itself.

“If you think compassion is soft, you need to rethink, reimagine and revise what you believe,” Campbell continued. “Compassion took hold of Karen Armstrong in ways that she had not imagined.”

She told the congregation, “We are called to compassionate Christianity. We believe Christianity is compassionate by its very nature. Yet Christianity has not always been compassionate. We will need all the courage borne of faith to become compassionate.”

Campbell re-read the Scripture lesson. Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd and told the disciples that “I have other sheep that are not of this fold.”

“Jesus reinforces the vision of the unity of all humankind and the whole of creation,” Campbell said. “Christians believed that Jesus would lay down his life for Christians and that we would be secure among our own. But Jesus never leaves us in comfort; I have never known him not to challenge us, to not disturb us and call us to more difficult tasks.

“Jesus is not owned by Christians; he cares for all God’s children,” she continued. “There is one flock; there is no ‘other’ in the world of Jesus.”

Campbell said she was not asking people to discard the faith that has “brought us thus far on the way. If we are really rooted in our faith, we can reach out and embrace all of God’s children,” she said.

In the words of Desmond Tutu, Campbell asked, “Who would be excluded from the love of Christ and God?” To meet an ecumenical and interfaith future, Christians have to accept the challenge to become more rooted in their faith, she said.

Campbell shared a story from a pastor whose church was near the World Trade Center. The pastor lost 34 members of his congregation on 9/11. One of his members who survived was a young man who ran down 47 flights of stairs to safety.

As he left the 47th floor, the young man noticed that people were praying in languages he did not understand and in postures with which he was unfamiliar. “But they were all praying to the same God,” he said.

It was a crisis of faith for him. Who was this one God? To whose God were these people praying?

“Suddenly, the God I believed in was embarrassingly narrow,” the young man said. “I learned that it is God’s will that we all be one.”

The pastor told the young man that he had “a bright and holy future in front of him. He had lost his religion and found his religion, and the God who belongs to all people.”

Compassionate Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Christians and others are called together to build a better world, Campbell said. Karen Armstrong’s vision of compassion calls everyone to give up the idea of exclusivity of faith and to see how God embraces all faiths.

“Should we be lukewarm about our faith in an interfaith world?” Campbell asked. “No. We should be passionate believers and respect the same passion in others.”

Campbell told the congregation, “If we are going to live in this interfaith community, we need to be the best Christians we have ever been. We need to be open, loving and to internalize our own faith. I am anxious to live in a world that belongs to the one God of history.”

The Rev. J. Paul Womack presided. The Rev. Mary Lee Talbot read the Scripture. She writes the Morning Worship column for The Chautauquan Daily. The Motet Choir, under the direction of Jared Jacobsen, sang “As a Chalice Cast of Gold,” arranged by K. Lee Scott and with words by Thomas Troeger.