In reading and researching for this devotion today, I came across this quote from St. Francis Assisi. Throughout the history of the movement of the Church, there are examples of people who show extreme kindness and compassion for those in their spheres of influence. One such person that lived this out is St. Francis Assisi (1194-1253). People like Assisi practiced the great compassion of Jesus in the communities they found themselves. They led, not from above, and not even from below, but mostly from within, by walking with their brothers and sisters, or “smelling like the sheep.” I love this way of articulating the version of Kindness and Compassion that we are called to live out. What does that phrase mean to you and how does it tie to what we heard about kindness throughout this week?
Over and over again, people were compared to sheep in the Bible and God or Jesus was referred to as the Great Shepherd. While it isn’t always a flattering comparison of us (sheep being stupid and all), the point is clear, we can only “smell like the sheep” when we get to the place by being WITH the people. We are doing life with them enough so much so that we start to smell like them. Jesus called us to do life with others in less than comfortable or glamorous places and to reach people where there is need, not where our preferences are met. This takes on many forms. Some are intense and extreme and only happen a few times in our lives, like the story that Pastor David shared about Julio Diaz, the social worker from the Bronx who showed kindness to the young man who tried to rob him at knifepoint. But then there are other less extreme examples of “smelling like the sheep” when we stop in the busyness of our day to jump someone’s car battery, or use our umbrella to walk a mom with two kids on her hip to her car in the pouring rain or pay for the person’ coffee behind us in the Starbucks line. The more we live with people, especially people in need, the more we start to “smell” like them.
As I was driving home last night, I heard this powerful story on NPR about how young Polish adults are responding to the Ukrainian refugee crisis and how their kindness and compassion has left them changed, or “smelling like the sheep.” Since the war in Ukraine began, almost 3 million Ukrainian refugees have come to Poland for safety. Polish people have given their time, talent and even space in their homes to help fellow brothers and sisters. One of the reporters interviewed three Polish young adults living in Warsaw and asked them how their work with Ukrainian refugees was changing them and those in their generation. One of the Polish young adults shared how on the day the war started, she couldn’t stop crying, so instead of wallowing or simply hoping things would improve, she and her roommates decided to do something about it. They opened their apartment to not one, but 8 Ukrainian refugees and are currently sharing a small space with lots of people for almost 3 months now. Her deep sadness over the war and her interactions with the refugees made her reevaluate everything she did in her life. What a powerful statement that gets to the heart of the Kingdom. The more we are with the people and smell like the sheep, we begin to reevaluate our life, our priorities, our prejudices, our wants and needs and then slowly, little by little Kingdom seeds are planted and cultivated.
What I found most interesting about the interview is that this wasn’t always the case. When the Syrian refugee crisis broke out 5 years ago, there wasn’t nearly the same response. Poland’s borders were closed and they were not welcoming to refugees. And I believe a lot of lessons were learned through that. No country is perfect, no group of people has it all figured out, but in this story, I see how grace gives second chances and we will never run out of opportunities to be kind and compassionate. If we ignore or shrug off one, more will come our way because that is the way God’s refining fire works. We could speed past an opportunity to be kind at the beginning of the day, but then see it with fresh eyes at the end of the day. We will never run out of opportunities to share God’s love and grace with others. And if we are willing to be people that serve and love and have compassion on the people we are doing life with, we will end up smelling like the sheep and never be the same again.
That is my prayer for me, for you and for all followers of Jesus. May God add God’s blessing to the reading and digesting of this thought.
The first church I served under appointment in Florida was in Gainesville and I love the four years I spent there. It was the first church I served after seminary and together Ryan and I worked as Associate Pastor and College Pastor where we learned a lot, honed our skills, grew in our faith journey and learned how to be first-time parents. Before Emmaline was born, we had a chance to attend a Parenting Conference led by Dr. Tim and Darcy Kimmel from the ministry Grace-based Families out of Arizona. We were not yet parents, so of course we already had it “all figured out” but we attended the conference and bought the book and learned a lot that weekend.
Fast forward to today. Before I was a mom, I knew very little about being a mom. Before I was a mom of two, I knew very little about being a mom of two. But I am learning… everyday. I share this because in many ways, Sunday’s sermon topic on Bearing with One Another ties me back to how little I knew and how much I still have to learn when it comes to being the mom God created me to be. I have been wrestling with this in my spirit for almost a year now and feel excited about how God might use my past experience to inform my present.
In a month, I will be facilitating a Parenting Class on Sunday mornings for any parent that is looking for a community with which they can bear with one another. This will be a place of no judgment, authentic talk and lots of grace. We will use the book and the teaching videos of Dr. Tim Kimmel and let the Holy Spirit be our Guide. We will begin this group on Sunday, June 19th at 10:00am and follow through with it until the end of July. We will read together the book, Grace-Based Parenting: Setting your Family Free and share and pray and encourage one another on this journey of parenting. There is no age-limit or requirements, other than being a parent and actually reading the book, but I invite you to join me. Not because I am the “expert,” not because I have it all figured out, not even because I am a pastor, but because we all need a safe place to bear with one another on this journey of parenthood and grow more and more into the moms and dads God calls us to be.
You will see more info on our social media and in the church announcements over the next few weeks about this class. You can also sign up on the Events Page of our church website at the end of May. In case your summer is swamped or you are traveling a lot but interested in just reading the book, I encourage you to purchase it online. If you can commit to being in the class and come on a regular basis, I would love for you to join me starting next month, on Sunday, June 19th at 10am at church.
Remember we aren’t raising kids, we are raising adults and hopefully grace-filled ones that will change the world. I hope you will come and bear with me and with one another on this crazy and joy-filled journey!
~ Pastor Rachel DeLaune
You can purchase the book on Amazon in either Kindle or Paper at the link below.
We invite you to meet one of our counselors, Jessica Popov, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor at 4 Pillars. Jessica has a broad background in the education field, from Associate Course Director of Psychology and course development at a college, to SAFE Coordinator in public schools. She has had extensive experience working with students in emotional distress in schools and developing appropriate academic support. Jessica has been in private practice for 6 years and works with individuals 11 years old through adult. In addition, she works with adults struggling with mental health difficulties, as well as helping families through the death and mourning process.
You may reach Jessica at 407-637-6348 or via email: [email protected]
Last night Ryan, the kids and I were settling down to eat our dinner of a Taco feast and I asked who wanted to pray. Emmaline was the first to volunteer and as always, she gives the most beautiful prayers with deep love and adoration for God and thankfulness for her food and everyone, I mean everyone listed out in her family. Then Charlie offered up his prayer: “Peanut Butter, Jelly Sandwich.
When it’s time to pray, we bow our heads and say, Thank you God for EVRYTHING this Happy, Happy Day! AMEN
“Beautiful Prayer Charlie,” I respond and then I add, “Would you like to say a prayer all of your own?” (Trying to teach our kids to speak from the heart)
To which he responded, with a long, exasperated sigh, “Ahhhh, no thanks, that just takes too much energy!”
Well, okay, not what we were planning to hear, but point taken kid, point taken.
Ryan and I looked at each other and laughed but in that moment, I was reminded of the importance of authenticity and rest. You see, in his 4-year old heart, his Peanut Butter Jelly Sandwich prayer was plenty good for Jesus and he just wanted to get on with eating his taco…thank you very much. But I was the one pushing for the performance of faith; he was the one actually living it out. I was the one trying to teach deep theology and perfected prayer language to my 4-year old and he was just being himself before his Creator.
His honest and truthful response reminded me of our need to just be ourselves before the one that loves us more than we could ever know. Charlie’s exasperated sigh also taught me that the practice of faith shouldn’t be exhausting but it should be exhilarating. Charlie’s facial expression reminded me that sometimes the world expects too much of us and God is inviting us instead just to rest in God’s presence.
As I thought on this experience more today and then wove it through my experience of the lesson of Forgiveness on Sunday, I wonder how many of my brothers and sisters struggle to forgive others because they have not forgiven themselves. I grew up in a very healthy church without a lot of toxicity and drama. As a young Christian, I was encouraged to ask questions, be my true self and that grace is offered even in my failures. But how many of us have grown up in a church, or family or denomination that sought to “prove one’s holiness?” How many of those people that we love are carrying spiritual trauma done to them by a faith leader or spiritual leader or one’s own interpretation of the Scriptures? I don’t know all of your stories, but my heart breaks for those that have so much shame piled on them because they felt like being a Christian was more about the perfect performance rather than a friendship with the perfect Savior.
My prayer for you is to embrace your imperfections and questions and doubts and incomplete prayers and inability to forgive yourself, and let Jesus turn it into something beautiful. To let beautiful things come from ashes. I hope you never hear me say that your Peanut Butter Jelly Sandwich prayer isn’t “good enough” and I hope you never fall into the trap of thinking that worshipping and following Jesus “takes too much energy.” Truthfully, when done the right way, following Jesus and being who you truly are leads to abundant life; a life that is free and unshackled and isn’t out to prove anything. Maybe we struggle with forgiveness because we have forgotten that. Maybe you are too far removed from our honest, child-like selves that call things out for what they really are. Know that you can always come to Jesus as you are, bringing what is your best and letting God fill in the gaps. And so I encourage you this week to be honest about what is life-giving in your spiritual practices and what wears you out. Pursue that which brings you abundance of life because at the end of the day, it isn’t about our perfection, but about our God’s perfect love.