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O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that [we] may know and understand what things [we] ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Like most people I know this week – I watched in horror as the days progressed –
And the news got worse and worse.
The shooting of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The shooting of 5 officers – while other officers and civilians were injured. And then there was more in the last 48 hours – another man killed. More arrested and injured at protests. It seems like this violence – rooted in hatred – this escalation – is everywhere – and is somehow inescapable. The problem feels so big. And like many others this week, I struggled to find the words that would express how I feel. I struggled to find the right words – words that wouldn’t just be words. Words that would do something. Because it seems to me that we’ve already talked about this. We’ve already used our words.
We have been talking about the evils of racism – and particularly racism toward our African American brothers and sisters – with the rise of the #blacklivesmatter movement – with the rise of ISIS and the larger conflict about immigration – and in all of our conversations about gun violence. Because of the shootings at Newtown, and at Mother Bethel in Charleston – and recently in Orlando – and in many other places. We have used lots of words to condemn the senseless violence. We have spoken out. We have prayed good prayers. We have held hands and lit candles.
And yet. Here we are. The cycle of violence continues.
Because the words aren’t enough.
That’s a very strange thing for me to say. I love words. And language. And as Christians, we are people of the Word. We live by words. Words in scripture. Words Jesus spoke. Words that we pray together that we believe have real effects – words that create peace – and transform bread and wine – words that transform us. Words that help to knit us into the Body of Christ. And Christ, of course, is the great incarnate Word – the Word in flesh – who teaches us how to live.
So it’s not that the words aren’t important. They are. It’s that the words aren’t enough.
In today’s Gospel – there’s a lawyer – an expert in words and what they do – who stands up and asks about scripture – about the words – about what the law says he must do to inherit eternal life. And Jesus tells him this parable, a parable that might feel a little dull to some of us because we’ve heard it so many times. It’s the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
The backdrop of the story is the hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans. Samaritans were excluded – and feared – and treated badly because they were different.
These two groups – even though they share common history, common heritage – they worship in different ways. They have different accents. They live different lives.
Because they had married and had children with outsiders – which was very much a taboo thing in this tight knit tribal culture – the Samaritans also looked different. Their skin was a different color, their faces had changed a bit. They were visibly different than the Jews.
And this hate – this privileging of Jews over Samaritans – of one group over another- had by Jesus’ time been growing – unchecked for 1,000 years. So when Jesus tells this parable – people’s ears would have perked up. The priest – and the Levite – two well-respected people in Jewish culture – walk by their brother – the religious – walk by their brother – a Jew – beaten on the road, left to die – and they pass by on the other side.
They probably avert their eyes. They have somewhere else to be. And can’t be inconvenienced – or held up – by someone else’s suffering. And so we can sort of imagine them scurrying by – hoping to be undetected – unseen – looking over their shoulder to see if anyone had noticed. I didn’t create this mess…I’ll just sneak by…
And even though they would have taught the law to others – encouraging others to show mercy – and offer compassion – their words are clearly empty. And Jesus shows us their hypocrisy.
Instead, it is the Samaritan who sees the man suffering – and puts him on his own animal – and takes him to the inn. He gets involved. He bandages and cleans his wounds. He spends money to have him fed and taken care of. He spends time transporting him – and says he’ll come back to check on him/pay the bill.
Surely the Samaritan was on that road because he was going somewhere, too? Surely he had somewhere else to be? Something else to spend money on? Someone else to take care of? And yet. He gets involved. Really involved. And gives up meaningful resources. Time. Money. Energy.
He had to invest himself in order to be a neighbor. In order to have an effect on the situation. In order to accomplish anything – he had to give himself to what was happening. And his action wasn’t without risk – it was entirely possible someone might have accused him of beating this man – or treated him badly because of what he was doing. He takes a risk – and makes a sacrifice – to get involved.
He doesn’t cross the street – and say to the man, “Gee, I’m so sorry this has worked out this way for you. I do hope it gets better.” He doesn’t offer his best wishes – or even offer to pray. He steps in. And helps the beaten man.
At the end of the parable – there’s this great exchange between Jesus and the lawyer – about who was a neighbor to the beaten man. And of course – it was the one who showed mercy. That word in Greek – translates to mercy – or compassion – and time and again when we find it in scripture it is because Jesus is calling us to go and do something. It’s showing compassion. Being moved to compassion. And it’s accompanied by an action.
We’re not being asked to feel something. Not to send good wishes from the other side of the street – as we rush by – trying not to see – not to get involved - not to think something or say something – but to go and do something.
Go and do likewise. Go and do. It is a command. And the answer to the lawyer’s question about inheriting eternal life.
Our neighbors are on the other side of the road. Beaten. And broken. How often have we walked by? How often have we averted our eyes? And insisted that we didn’t create this problem? Or excused ourselves – to hurry off to whatever it is we think is more pressing? We cannot continue to walk by. Thinking – like the priest and the Levite – that this is not our problem to fix.
But you might ask – what does this have to do with me? And what can I do?
And I would say to you that in your baptism – you said yes to this work. You said yes to being part of the Body of Christ – part of the whole people of God. And when one of us hurts – we all hurt. You said yes to a new view of life – not as an individual, not as a citizen of a particular country or part of a particular group – you said yes to seeing yourself as God’s child – and to seeing all the rest of your neighbors in the same way.
You said yes in your baptism to the struggle for peace and justice – which isn’t political at all. This isn’t about being republican – or democrat – liberal or conservative - this is about respecting the dignity of every human being – something else we promise to do every time we renew our baptismal covenant. This isn’t about choosing sides, either. This is about our humanity. All of us.
I've heard it suggested a lot lately that as Christians, we're called to stand in the middle. To create space for conversation. To help build communities. And in some ways, I think that's true, too.
But we are never not called to stand with those who are hurt. And we cannot, for the sake of conversation, abandon our responsibility to be friends and neighbors to those who are oppressed. To lift up those who haven’t been heard – or can’t be heard – over the noise of the battle. To bandage the wounded. To choose peace over war. Love over hate. Life over death. And to not only speak this choice – but to follow Jesus down the road to living this choice.
What if the Samaritan had only crossed to the middle of the road?
When we said yes to God – we said yes to the search for peace – peace for all God’s children. Because God isn’t on one side or the other. God isn’t for one cause and against the other. God is for – and in – all of us.
And when we said yes to God – we said yes to this work – which really is the promise that we will try to live our lives following after Jesus – who’s words were accompanied by deep, meaningful action. A Savior who didn’t just say, “I love you,” but who showed us this love – over and over again. In small ways – in stories, in conversations – but also in action. Feeding the hungry. Touching the lepers. Breaking the bonds of oppression. And finally dying for us on the cross.
So our yes to God – is a yes to a life that looks like this. It’s a yes to love that isn’t just verbalized – but is lived out. Also in small ways – in the ways we talk to one another – and in the ways we treat one another. But also in much bigger more active ways – things like how we vote. And how we spend our time, money, and energy. And what sacrifices we’re willing to make for the people we love – for our neighbors.
None of us are exempt from this work – from the holy calling of building a place where all of God’s people are safe. Where each one of our neighbors is treated with dignity and respect.
And for those of us who have the “choice” – to pass by on the other side of the street – who have the choice about whether this directly affects us or not: our faith claims us. It makes demands of us. The journey of a Christian is this life lived faithfully – it is not a label, or a gold or silver symbol tied around our necks. It is a word – with action.
A word which requires action. So let it call to you.
Let it be a verb – rather than an adjective or a noun. Let it be the call to you to take your body over to the other side of the road. To see the broken and beaten among us – and to stand with them. To refuse to settle for this violence. And for the evil of racism and prejudice.
Let us not just be people of the Word – people who speak. And pray. Let us go and do. Let us be people of the living Word – of the Word in action. Of the Word that seeks life for all people. Let this Word so form us that we cannot help but move.
Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran pastor who has become rather famous for some work she does with populations that aren’t typically “churched”. Folks who might not find a home in a more traditional church setting. She’s written quite a lot at this point – and she’s quoted somewhere as saying that anytime we draw a line between us – and someone else – Jesus is over there. On the other side of the line. With whoever it is we just moved away from.
And so I think it’s perfect that we hear this parable this morning – a parable of our neighbor – on the other side of the road. A parable about how to be a neighbor. In fact – I’d like it if it was no longer the parable of the Good Samaritan. I think we ought to rename it The Parable of the Neighbor. Or the Parable of Love. Or the Parable of Mercy.
Because it is the parable that Jesus uses to teach us about what mercy looks like. It is the parable that Jesus uses to teach us to get involved – about what it means to be a neighbor. To cross the road. To be so moved that we don’t just name the problem – but that we do something about it. The parable that reminds us to move out of our places of privilege in order to build up new life for our brothers and sisters who have been abused and oppressed.
Because it is there – on the other side of the road where Christ sits and weeps. It is there – with the broken and beaten that we will always find Christ. It is there – with the murdered and wounded, with those who have been persecuted, where Christ waits for us. Longing for us who would hurry by to get involved. It is there – from the other side of the road – where Jesus waits for us. And looks at us. And longs to tell us, “Go and do likewise.” Amen.