My free ticket for the Odeon was about to expire, so I had to go to the cinema, I just had to. So on Thursday evening I went to see “How to Train Your Dragon 2”, which is a cartoon for children. It’s a bit like World War 1 meets Long Lost Family. The story goes a bit like this:
The story starts in a Viking village on the edge of a cliff. The Vikings have become dragon-friendly and have learned to fly their dragons. The hero, Hiccup, is the son of the chief, Stoick. He comes across a group of pirates, led by Eret, who are capturing dragons in order to sell them out to the Big Evil Baddie, Drago, who is trying to control the dragons in order to become Master of the Universe. Hiccup warns the village to prepare for battle. He goes to try and negotiate with the baddies, but gets captured by a mysterious Dragon Rider, who turns out to be an Eco Warrior who is gathering up the dragons in order to protect them. She turns out to be Hiccup’s long lost mother, Valka. There is a dragon battle in which Chief Stoick gets killed trying to protect Hiccup. After the Viking funeral, Hiccup accepts his destiny and returns to the village and has to lead them to prepare for the final battle with Drago. And of course, it all comes good in the end.
A lot of films are about using violence to solve problems and bring peace and resolution. This film is unusual in being about be-friending your dragons in order to live well. Evil has to be resisted, but you try to negotiate first, and moral power beats evil intent in the end. It is a film about finding and making peace.
Be-friending dragons is the way of compassion. In the film, the dragons were fantastical creatures flying through the air. We have dragons too, but our dragons are inside. They are the fears that keep us small, the desires that tempt us to go too far, the shadows of ourselves that we wish would go away. These are our dragons. Mostly we try to ignore them or hide from them or bury them deep. But its only when we can face our fears and acknowledge our shadows that we can find a way of working with them constructively. And that enables us to be compassionate with ourselves. That brings us peace. And knowing ourselves compassionately, we can be compassionate with others.
Compassion means to suffer with. It’s about bringing a loving, caring attitude alongside someone’s suffering. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus has compassion. He had just heard about the death of John the Baptist and is very disturbed by the news. Luke tells us that Jesus and John were cousins. Certainly there was a spiritual link between them, and John baptised Jesus. So Jesus gets away to a quiet place to pray. He just wants to be left alone to his grief and his memories and working out the implications. If they killed John, how long will it be before they come for him? He needs to ponder it all with his heavenly father.
But the peace and quiet doesn’t last long. The crowds come looking for him. They have brought their sick friends and relatives, they have brought their own ailments and anxieties. They are hungry for that sense of peace they get when they are close to him. And Jesus looks at them all, and he has compassion on them. So he spends all day healing them and talking to them. One after another, there is no end to it.
At the end of the day, Jesus is exhausted. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why Jesus’ disciples tell him to tell the people to go away to get some food. Maybe they were just trying to clear a little space for Jesus, a bit of peace. And once again, we see Jesus’ compassion: “You give them some food”, he says. But they tell him they haven’t got any food, except for 5 loaves and 2 fish, which was hardly going to make a meal for Jesus and the disciples, never mind all of the people who had come along.
And then Jesus’ compassion kicks in again, big time, because he takes the 5 bread buns and the 2 fish and he blesses them and they share it and there’s enough for everyone, with plenty plenty left over. Because God never does things by halves; God is always super-generous and provides so much more than we need. God goes on being super-generous; Christ goes on caring for us when we are in bother and when we are in pain. Jesus cares for us too, just as he cared for the crowd.
And then he calls on us to be compassionate like that, to get alongside other people and help them bear the pain, to pray for them, to help in their healing, to give them generous hospitality.
So, as a church, we reach out to the Foodbank and support their work. People in Gateshead have been so generous, that they have enough food to give out till the end of this year, so you don’t need to bring any more food in for the time being. However, they could do with donations to help towards the running costs. As a church also, we have the Alive Lunch Club here on a Thursday – though we do need more volunteers. And St Chad’s Community Project is also a work of compassion, because of the way they get alongside families in need and help them. Members of the church are involved in the work of the Project, and they too are also looking for volunteers.
So the church does engage in the work of compassion, which is great.
And for yourselves personally – how are you compassionate towards yourself, towards your inner dragons? What are the ways in which you show compassion towards those around you?
Tomorrow, we are having a service to commemorate the First World War, and there are lots of stories being told at the moment, on the television or in the newspapers, or people telling stories of their grandfathers, stories that move you to compassion. And there are so many terrible things happening on the news about conflict in our own time – especially in Gaza. Don’t they stir up pity in you? Don’t they make you care? Where is your compassion in the present climate? And how can you make that count?