Sunday, July 10, 2016

Sermon; 8 Pentecost, Proper 10C; Luke 10:25-37

We make it so difficult for ourselves.  Last week we heard the story of Naaman, the Aramean army commander who suffered from leprosy, initially refusing to wash in the Jordan bcause it was too simple.  Today we hear of a lawyer who wanted a detailed example, or a legal definition of the word “neighbor.”

Go and wash.  Love your neighbor.  It can't be that simple, can it?  Well, on the one hand, yes, it can.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.  But simple doesn't necessarily mean easy, and that might be why both we and the lawyer look for ways to tighten the definition.

The question, “Who is my neighbor” gets asked a lot, and usually with the intention of eliminating some people for consideration.  Notice that the lawyer asked this question in order “to justify himself.”  We, too, ask that question in order to justify ourselves as well – we want a reason to be justified for treating certain people with dignity, respect, friendship, and love.  We want a reason to be justified for treating other people with rudeness, disdain, neglect, and hatred.

In response Jesus tells this story.  There once was a trucker from Mississippi whose truck was hijacked.  He had come upon an accident and stopped to see if he could help; but it turned out to be a trap as four men appeared with guns.  The hijackers attacked him, beat him, and shot him; and leaving him for dead in the ditch, drove off with their cars and his rig.  The next morning a priest driving by saw what looked like a body lying in the ditch; but already late for his meeting with the bishop, he drove on by assuring himself that some other person not so pressed for time would stop and help.  A doctor also drove by and saw the body in the ditch, but knowing that this road was famous for staged accidents and robberies, he also drove on by assuring himself that he would most likely see the person in the ER where he was on call.  But then a Syrian refugee, on his way to Friday prayers at the mosque, saw the body.  Using his first aid kit in his car he cleaned and bandaged the trucker as best he could and took him to the local hospital.  While there he gave the registration desk his own personal information and told them that he would cover the cost of treatment.  Now, of these three, who was a neighbor to the trucker from Mississippi?

The answer given is that the man who showed mercy was the neighbor.  That, of course, would be the right answer.  And within that answer there are two things to notice.

The first, and most obvious, is that we are to treat everyone we encounter with kindness and mercy.  Everyone is our neighbor.  We need to constantly ask, “If I were him/her in that position, how would I want others to treat me?”  Love your neighbor as yourself – treat others as you want to be treated.  This law is to be applied equally across the board without distinction.  For us Episcopalians it means we are to strive for justice and peace, and respect the dignity of EVERY human being.  Oh snap.

EVERY human being includes the refugee and the Muslim.  The migrant worker and the illegal alien.  It includes lesbians, gays, bisexual, and the transgendered.  It includes people of color.  It includes the homeless and mentally challenged.  It includes ALL and EVERY.

In that respect we are to emulate the actions of the Samaritan and the refugee and show mercy to all, because all are our neighbors.

The second thing to notice is that there is a strong christological aspect to this story.

Due to a few places in scripture, Christians have traditionally portrayed Jesus as one who represents the least of these.  Psalm 22: “I am a worm and no man; scorned by others and despised by the people.”  Isaiah 53:  “He was despised and rejected by others; he was despised and we held him of no account.”

Jesus used the Samaritan because that was a person who was despised and scorned by the good Jewish people to whom he was speaking.  In my retelling of this parable, the Syrian refugee is seen in the same way by “good Americans” – despised and scorned.

Ambrose equated the Samaritan with Jesus because it was he who offered mercy to one who was dying.  We, too, dying in our sins, are offered the saving grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.  He also pointed out that the Samaritan, like Jesus in so many instances, was not afraid to touch the unclean and impure, but that it was through his touch that they were healed.

Augustine said that, as the Samaritan poured out wine and oil on the injured man, bringing him to the inn to be healed, Christ has done the same for us.  Christ has offered us bread and wine, the sacrament of body and blood, poured out for many for the forgiveness of our sins, and he has brought us to this inn, the Church, to be healed.

There is a whole plethora of churches and spiritual practices that have as their foundation, “Seeing Christ in others.”  But how serious are we about putting that into practice?  How serious are we about living into that goal?  From the homeless to the alien, from the Muslim to the atheist, from Syrian refugees to people of other sexual orientations and identities, up to and including the drug dealers next door, there are many people we would rather not treat neighborly, let alone attempt to envision Christ in them.  But they are our neighbors, and Christ is in them.

On this day when the nation is reeling from yet another shooting of two black men by white police officers, and from the tragic and hateful retaliatory shooting of five white Dallas police officers, we need to pay more attention to this gospel.  Love God.  Love your neighbor.  We are doing neither of those when we choose to walk down the easy path of hating those who differ from us in any way.  Not only do we need to learn to love our neighbor as ourselves, but we need to learn to see the face of Christ in others.

Love God.  Love your neighbor as yourself.

It sounds so simple, but, as recent events have proven, it's damn hard to do.



spookyrach | 3:42 PM, July 11, 2016  

Thanks for the reminder to work harder with my neighbors.

Reverend Ref + | 4:01 PM, July 11, 2016  

I have a feeling you're doing okay.

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