There are basically two types of Christians in this world.
First, there are the loud, demonstrative, sanctimonious and pretentious Christians. Every time the church doors are open, they are present. Every time they do a good deed, you know it. They speak very openly about their faith, even to total strangers. They never miss an opportunity to teach a Sunday School class or chair a church committee; lead a prayer, sing a solo or read scripture in worship. They are all over social media, posting and tweeting all sorts of religiosity. And if they are not careful, they can come across to others as arrogant, superior, holier-than-thou, and even fake.
That’s the first type.
Then, there is Earl: quiet, unassuming, inconspicuous, real, not a pretentious bone in his body. He modestly served his Lord reticently, yet compassionately and generously. Earl served his Lord, not so much in the church, as in the community.
Earl enlisted in the US Army at age 17. He was promoted to staff sergeant, while he served for ten years through both the war in Korea and the war in Vietnam.
But how many of his friends and clients knew this? How many of his neighbors knew this? For Earl never bragged about his generous service to his country. He never boasted about any of his military accomplishments.
Earl was also a generous supporter of scouting for most of his life. I am certain that one thing that he really appreciated about his church is our sponsorship of Cub Pack 25. But how many of his friends and clients knew this about Earl? How many of his neighbors knew of his compassionate contributions to the youth in this community?
Donna said that she remembers first witnessing this quiet, yet compassionate faithfulness when they learned that Danielle Nelson, a nine-year old girl from Bethel, was diagnosed with cancer. She lived only one more year. Donna says she will never forget the sincere empathy that Earl possessed for that little girl and her family and the quiet, yet generous compassion that he shared with them.
Donna remembers many times watching Earl quietly being moved to tears, after they learned someone, especially a small child, was diagnosed with cancer or another dreadful disease. And she said that his compassion almost always led him to give generously.
But how many of his friends or clients knew this? How many of his neighbors or church members knew this?
I believe Earl possessed something that more Christians need to possess in this world, and that is: the quiet empathy of Christ.
Over and over, the gospels speak of Jesus being “moved with compassion.” And the Greek word translated “moved” is a deep, inward, visceral word. It is a special reaction that takes place deep within someone’s soul. And usually, only someone who is very close to one who has this reaction notices it.
When Jesus encountered the hungry Matthew says, “he was moved with compassion.”
When Jesus encountered the helpless who were: “like sheep without a shepherd;” he was moved with compassion.”
When Jesus encountered someone who stricken with the dreadful disease of leprosy, Mark says, “he was moved with compassion.”
Jesus was moved with a deep, visceral, real compassion.
This was type of Christian that Earl was.
Earl lived his life with a quiet faithfulness and dedication. He loved and took care of his family, his children and grandchildren, unassumingly, yet compassionately and generously. He never bragged about being a good father or grandfather. He never flaunted his love. For his love was deep. His love was visceral. His love was real.
Earl took care of his clients with the same quiet, faithful dedication. He worked hard until the job was finished, yet he never sought any accolades or special recognition. Because his dedication was deep. His dedication was visceral. His dedication was real.
Earl gave generously to this community whenever he learned of a need. But he always gave quietly, almost always in cash, not expecting anything in return, not even a tax deduction. And he was a CPA! Because his generosity was deep. His generosity was visceral. His generosity was real.
Donna said that Earl loved the scriptures; however, he preferred the scriptures that were the direct words of God, as opposed to, for example, the Apostle Paul’s interpretation of those words. Some might call Earl a “Red-letter Christian,” in that the words in the Bible written in red letters, the direct words of Jesus, meant something a little more to Earl.
For those of us who really knew Earl, this should not surprise us. For in his first recorded sermon, Jesus spoke the following words:
Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:1-3).
Earl would quietly attend our Wednesday night suppers at church with Donna. As soon as they walked through the door, they would be greeted by Kim, our church administrative assistant who takes up money for each plate which costs $6.00.
Kim says that every time before Earl would pay for him and Donna, he would say the same thing. He said: “Look, I will make a deal with you. I don’t have any money on me today. But Donna will wash all of the dishes.” Then, he would whip out a hundred dollar bill, put it in the basket, and say, “Keep the change.”
The only reason that I know this is that Kim tells me this every Thursday morning after this happens. She says: “And he never says what all of the extra money is for! When he first did it, I thought he was pre-paying for him and Donna for an entire year of suppers. But, every week, he keeps doing it.”
Knowing Earl, I believe when he walked into our fellowship hall, he immediately saw a table full of children who come to our church without their parents. And looking at them, he knew could not afford the $6. Thus, I believe that when he saw them, he was moved with compassion. He had a deep, visceral, real reaction which led to his quiet, yet passionate; secret, yet generous donation.
Every Thursday, Kim would ask: “Why does Earl keep doing this?”
I would respond today: “That was just the type of Christian that Earl was.”
The good news is that now as Earl has given generously to us, compassionately, yet quietly, and secretly; his heavenly father who sees in secret has rewarded him.
For when Earl’s heart stopped on Thursday evening, I believe God was moved. Knowing the pain that would be experienced by Maurey and Brent, by their children, and by Donna, I believe God was moved with the quiet empathy of Christ.
And then I believe God came. God came to Earl. God came quietly, and God came compassionately. God came quickly, and God came generously. And the generosity of God is deep. The generosity of God is visceral. The generosity of God is real. And the good news is: the generosity of God is eternal.
And as God came and gave God’s self to Earl compassionately, generously and eternally, God promises to come to you Donna, to you Brent and Maurey, to all of Earl’s family and friends. For God knows your pain. And God is deeply moved by it.
God will come to you with the same empathy of Christ we have been blessed to know through Earl.
Because that is just the type of God our God is.