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Be Tender – Br. James Koester

Leviticus 19: 1-2, 15-18; Psalm 1; 1 Thessalonians 2: 1-8; Matthew 22: 34-46

Tender is not a word that easily comes to mind when I think of Saint Paul or Leviticus. Usually Paul seems sharp or at times condescending and sometimes downright confusing. Leviticus, so concerned with purity laws is downright off putting, because I often feel that I could never make the grade, even if I wanted to. But this morning tender is the very word that springs to mind when I read them both. Listen again to Paul:

But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring
for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we
are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God
but also our own selves, because you have become very dear
to us.1

I don’t need to tell you this, but life can be hard. Things don’t always work out the way we want them to, think we need them to or hope they will. Jobs are lost, relationships fail, people we love become frail or sick and, as Kevin is fond of saying, none of us, none of us will get out of this life alive. Sooner or later all of us must face our fear of dying whether that comes when someone we love faces a health crisis or when we ourselves face the inevitable. Who here hasn’t at one time or another, or perhaps even today thought even for a moment, “god, life is hard, if only I can make it though this week, or this day, or this hour.” I know I have.

And that is why I find Paul so tender today. He seems to get it. He seems to get what it is like being me. He seems to get what I need, not out of life, but out of love: “so deeply do we care for you that we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.” This is not the great theologian speaking here, although what he says is deeply theological. This is not the great missionary speaking here, although what he says is deeply evangelical. This is Paul the lover, the friend, the compassionate one speaking heart to heart.  “So deeply do we care for you that we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.”

When life is hard, what I need most is not always what I want. What I want is for life to be easy. What I want is for someone or something to come along and make it all go away. But what I need is tenderness. What I need is to be loved. What I need is a companion for the journey.

Usually those times when I feel life is most difficult are the very times when I feel most alone, most lonely. And those are the very times that I most need to know that I am loved. Those are the times when I most need another, not to lecture or hector me, not to tell me to get over it but simply to love me. And that is what I hear Paul saying to me today.

We hear echoes of this in Leviticus, which we need to remember is not a book primarily about rules and regulations, does and don’t, morals and immorality, but it is a book of holiness: “be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”2 The overarching concern of the authors of the book of Leviticus is that God’s people be like God, holy, and so they listed at great length the ways in which God’s people could become holy, become like God and many of these prescriptions have to do with love:

You shall not render an unjust judgment
You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great
With justice you shall judge your neighbor
You shall not go around as a slanderer
You shall not hate in your heart
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge
You shall love your neighbour as yourself.3

Tender is perhaps not a word that springs to mind when we read Leviticus but that in fact is the direction in which it points. The authors of Leviticus want us to be tender toward one another, especially in those moments when life is so hard.

And that is the gospel word that Jesus proclaims, not simply in his teaching, but in his very being. He comes proclaiming tenderness, not in a wimpy, mushy, sentimental way; not in a “zap, and I’ll make it all go away, way” but in the words of Paul: “so deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves”. For in Jesus, God shares with us his own self. For in Jesus, God becomes our companion for the journey and walks with us in those moments when life is most difficult.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find life pretty overwhelming. I find life pretty difficult. Sure life is wonderful, but it is also pretty hard and as much as I need a companion when life is good, I really need one when life is hard. Sure life is terrific, but it is also pretty complicated, and as much as I need a companion when things are going great, I really need one when the complexities of life are overwhelming. Sure there are times when life couldn’t be better, but there are also times when life is confusing and I just feel defeated by it all, and as much as I need a companion when I am on top of the world, I really need one when I am in the depths of despair.

So where are you today? Do you need a companion for the journey? Or can you be a companion for another? Do you need some tenderness in your life? Or is there someone in your life to whom you can be tender? Do you need to be loved today by another? Or is there someone you know who needs to know that they are loved by you and by God.

Paul, in reminding the Thessalonians, reminds us that to love another is to share our very selves with them. The authors of Leviticus remind us that to be holy as God is holy is to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. Jesus, in the mystery of bread and wine reminds us that there is no greater love then to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

So think for a moment. Think for a moment. In the past week, how did you lay down your life? Who laid down their life for you? When did you encounter the holiness of God in another and how did you manifest God’s holiness to another? With whom did you share your life, and who shared their life with you? To whom were you tender, and how was tenderness shown to you?

Sometime this week, someone will need you to lay down your life for them, and you will need another to lay down their life for you; when that happens you will be in the presence of love. You will be in the presence of God.

Sometime this week you will encounter holiness in another, and you will manifest to another that same holiness; when that happens you will be in the presence of love. You will be in the presence of God.

Sometime this week you will find yourself sharing your life with another, or someone will share their life with you; when that happens you will be in the presence of love. You will be in the presence of God.

Sometime this week, you will be in need of tenderness, and tenderness will be elicited from you; when that happens you will be in the presence of love. You will be in the presence of God.

Tender is not a word comes to mind when I think of Paul or Leviticus. But it is the gospel word which they both proclaim to us today. So be tender to someone today; and you will be the face of God. Perhaps someone will be tender to you, and you will see in them the face of God.

 

1 I Thessalonians 2: 7b-8

 

2 Leviticus 19:2

 

3 Leviticus 19: 15-18

 

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25 Comments

  1. fred adams on March 31, 2016 at 02:00

    Br. James. My comments and needs are not nearly as those who are facing or faced the death of another, though my siblings are facing death in the face at this moment, but what struck me was this, though it is more selfish and minor compared to the passing my sibs are facing. I am a fairly private person and have agonized about sharing my spiritual autobiography (a la EfM) this coming Sunday for several weeks. Only now, with the help of your words, can I put forth what I have written with certainly that this is the right thing, and “you will find yourself sharing . . . you will be in the presence of love . . . presence of God.” Thank you so much, as I lift up the brothers this evening, I give special thanks for your words.

  2. Stan on March 26, 2016 at 11:48

    I am right with you, Br. James. I found the love and tenderness I’d been longing for for so long when I found the woman who soon became my wife. Yes, when I look into her loving eyes, I truly see the loving eyes of God smiling back at me. And yes, knowing such an unconditional love has allowed me to reciprocate. Not only reciprocation to her, but also to others.

  3. Polly Chatfield on March 25, 2016 at 15:25

    Thank you, dear James, for the deep tenderness of your sermon itself. The voices of those you have touched and healed and comforted with your words are in themselves healers and comforters. The love keeps flowing from one to the next.

  4. Fr. Richard B. Lampert on March 25, 2016 at 11:33

    Cuando somos muy conectados con Dios y nuestros prójimos, encontramos de sorpresa que somos los au-ténticos ganadores en el medio de La Cruz, mano en mano con Jesús y Su Espíritu Santo. When we find our- selves well connected with God and our neighbors, we discover by surprise, that it is in fact we who become the real winners in the center of The Cross, hand in hand with Jesus and His Holy Spirit.

  5. Kathryn on March 25, 2016 at 10:01

    Br. James,
    Your word and the words of those who replied have touched me deeply this morning. Medical tests done yesterday will probably not bring good news. I hope that I am up to receiving the tenderness and also hope I have the strength to give it in the coming days and weeks. Prayers for those who are in these “replies” trying to deal with life’s challenges. We are never alone when we feel God’s embrace. My family is so very dear to me. I think I’ll make a point to visit that nursery to see all those babies. What a joyful thing to do! With thanks Br. James and to all.

  6. Kate Achelpohl on March 25, 2016 at 10:00

    As I read this, I’m nearly five months unemployed. It’s Good Friday, and at Maundy Thursday service last night, I participated in foot washing for the first time. Somehow, it ties right in. Thank you.

  7. Michael on March 25, 2016 at 09:03

    To see so many so deeply touched is testament to God’s tenderness. Thank you all for sharing so kindly

  8. Christopher Engle Barnhart on March 25, 2016 at 08:41

    Today is Hope Van, a medical, dental and mental health clinic on wheels, which serves the poor and homeless in our community. It is also the day that 6 churches provides hot meals to the poor and the homeless adjacent and in conjunction with the Hope Van. This service has been going on for 5 years and came out of a vision that several people had during a Cursillo.
    It is an honor to be a part of this and to provide a tender moment for those less fortunate than ourselves.

    • gwedhen nicholas on March 25, 2016 at 19:19

      That is just wonderful!

  9. Muriel Akam on March 25, 2016 at 02:54

    Thank you for these words of comfort and encouragement. To care with tenderness when one is sometimes at the point of giving up , to know that God is with us when we feel alone in our troubles .

  10. Christina on August 26, 2015 at 08:08

    Dear Brother James:
    Thank you so much for these words. It will be six years tomorrow (August 27th) since my husband died, after ten months in hospital.
    We were blessed while he was there and received good, compassionate treatment, and compassionate visits from one of our young female priests. Thanks be to God for all their caring.
    I have often wondered how people who have no faith, no God, no Jesus, in their lives cope with what their lives bring to them. God carried me through: I prayed that I be granted patience, compassion, and love for my beloved who had been my husband for fifty years.
    This morning, as the anniversary comes around again, I remember all those good souls who cared and loved him – and me.
    Thanks be to God.
    Christina

    • Christina on March 25, 2016 at 08:56

      I remember them all again today – Good Friday. ‘Good’ Well this past week, I have pondered how those days must have been for Jesus. He knew in his heart what was coming, and he probably knew that those dearest to him would abandon him. He even felt as he hung on the Cross that his Father had abandoned him. Excruciatingly painful.
      I have been so blessed by those with whom I have lived and whose paths have crossed with mine. Thanks be to God. Blessings. Christina

  11. Janice on August 26, 2015 at 07:44

    This touched me deeply today as I spent the weekend with my sister in law of 38 years who is in the later stages of metastasizing brain cancer. I wanted to do so much for her, as she had done for me all these years . We have been through so many past traumas together. I pray I was loving enough.

  12. John David Spangler on August 26, 2015 at 07:05

    Thank you Br. James and all the brothers for being “tender companions” always. I find that I most need a “tender companion” when: life is wonderful; life is good; life is terrific; things are going great; life couldn’t be better. In those moments, I think that life is: pretty overwhelming; pretty difficult; really hard; pretty complicated. It is then that the complexities of life are overwhelming. It is then when I really nee a “tender companion”, for it is then that I can forget God Sure there are times when we may think ourselves overwhelmed by difficulties, but it is then that, in Jesus, God becomes our companion for the journey and walks with us in those moments. In fact, He is our companion even before we know it, or even if we do not know it. He is truly with us when we know it not. Regarding Blessed St. Paul, I must add that, even in the passage quoted, I find him condescending. He is often downright confusing. As Archbishop William Temple put it, “St. Paul is the exciting, and also rather bewildering, adventure. with St. John I am at home.”.

  13. gwedhn nicholas on August 1, 2014 at 13:28

    Wow, wow, wow Br James. Did you write this sermon for me?
    I tend to think of things in the future tense; tenderness being something that I will do in the future, to some unspecified person. But God wants me to be tender right now, in this moment. I can only be tender in the future, if I am tender now.
    I long for a companion to be tender to, but maybe that isn’t Gods’ desire for me. Maybe His desire is for me to be tender to Him, and to receive that tenderness back. Whatever, I right now, am going lay down my desires, hopes, and agendas’ and lay down my will, and listen carefully for Gods’, and do it with tenderness.
    Thank you
    Gwedhen

  14. MaryB on July 31, 2014 at 09:31

    The only companion that can deliver on our needs is Jesus. What a friend we have…

  15. Margaret Dungan on July 30, 2014 at 20:25

    Thank you for this, truly words to live by. To be reminded of how much others have given to us in our time of need and that we must in turn be ready so to give and to be reminded also that all these gifts are gifts from God.
    Margaret.
    Margaret

  16. Angela Breeher on July 30, 2014 at 13:54

    Today is my son’s 26th birthday. It was also the morning I took my mom, who has lung cancer, for an MRI. When we arrived at the hospital I was busy caring for mom (who was semi-sedated.) After I was alone in the waiting room, it dawned on me that this was the very same hospital where my son was born on this day 26 years ago, and at just about the exact same moment I was realizing this fact! So I went upstairs to look at the new babies born this morning and give thanks for my own wonderful, 26-year old baby boy. It seemed like a very tender God moment dropped into the midst of my otherwise sour morning – like a drop of honey.

  17. Ruth West on July 30, 2014 at 13:21

    Thank you for this good message. How often I have longed to tell those friends and family members, especially those who live far away, “You have become very dear to me.” I love those words of St. Paul in Thessalonians. When someone is dear, we want to show tenderness.

  18. Connie Holmes on July 30, 2014 at 10:04

    Thank you, Br. James, for this reminder and for your use of the beautiful word: tenderness.

  19. Katherine Gallant on July 30, 2014 at 08:59

    Just beautiful…..thank you. I will return to this writing over and over.

  20. Pam on February 2, 2014 at 04:48

    I came home in despair tonight, really messed up, and as I was about to shut down the computer for the night I decided to open the email, thinking “Maybe someone has sent me something to touch my soul. I really need someone right now”. I just clicked on something at random and ‘Companion’ came up, and led me to this sermon. Thanks be to God. I am not completely enveloped in darkness, and I think I will make it through the night.

    • gwedhn nicholas on August 1, 2014 at 13:38

      My heart goes out to you, and I pray for you that God has brought you through many nights, and that He will continue to do so. I pray also that your life has been sorted out and you know tenderness both from God and from others, so that in turn you may give.
      With love in Him
      Gwedhen

  21. Michele on January 31, 2014 at 10:05

    This sermon is so timely for me and my family right now, especially this portion of it,
    “When life is hard, what I need most is not always what I want. What I want is for life to be easy. What I want is for someone or something to come along and make it all go away. But what I need is tenderness. What I need is to be loved. What I need is a companion for the journey.”

    My sister, Christine, has been suffering from Breast Cancer, which spread to her brain. She will be entering a Hospice Home today. I ask for your prayers that she will peacefully enter her Father’s heavenly home, and I pray that my husband and I have the strength to continue to see her through this part of her life’s journey.

  22. Lu Ann on October 31, 2011 at 16:50

    Oh my gosh: what a perfectly brilliant and inspiring sermon. My mother died of brain cancer in late September, and my father has been depending on your sermons *constantly*, as have I (and we live in southern California….). God bless you.

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