The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A collect and lesson at just the right time...




The Good Samaritan - Modersohn-Becker Paula

** I haven't posted on here in a long time.  But it's important to name names here.  It's important not to let this moment go unnoticed.

Proper 10C, Pentecost 8 

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they 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.


I couldn’t think of better words for us to hear today, after yet another week of violence, than this collect appointed for today.  Sometimes, the cycle of readings and prayers really comes through for us.  And today, we need to pray again and again for the direction of God toward those things that we ought to do.


But the good timing isn’t just in the prayer.  We find an equally appropriately timed story in the Gospel lesson today.  The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the more defining stories of our faith.

Sometimes I feel like a broken record in my telling you that the gospel of Christ is about bridging differences and breaking barriers and uniting under the one light of truth in the service of moving ever deeper into relationship with the God of Love.


But I didn’t make it up.  It’s right there - in the parable of the so-called “Good Samaritan”.


I say “so-called” because there’s a subtle injustice in how we hear that name - the one we call “the Good Samaritan”.  Have you ever noticed?


We don’t call him “a” Good Samaritan.  It’s not “the parable of a good Samaritan”.


We call him “the” Good Samaritan.  The one.


Quietly, lurking in the background of what we’ve all been taught, is that lesson.  There are some people we expect to be up to no good.  There are whole segments of people from whom goodness should come as a shock.


This Samaritan - this foreigner - this outsider - should be expected to be up to no good.  His default position - from the perspective of us on the inside - is no good.


So it’s remarkable that we found the one good one.


But that’s exactly why this is such a defining story for our faith.  It instills in us, again, that our presuppositions and our prejudices, our biases and our expectations, our races, divisions, and classes - they all fall apart in the economy of Christ.  They cease to have the importance and the weight that we have been trained to put on them.


Of course the priest and the Levite should have been the ones to help the beaten man.  They’re supposed to be the ones closest to God.  But they didn’t.  And not only did they not help, but they actually avoided the situation.  They passed by on the other side.  They saw the awkwardness, and the inconvenience, and the mess, and they looked away.


The Samaritan is the one Jesus’ listeners would have expected to be up to no good.  But as it turns out, he was as good as anybody else.  Even better than some.


Therein lies the danger of following society’s norms and expectations and prejudices: too often they’re wrong.  Too often they lie in opposition to the teachings of Christ.


When I’ve preached on the story of the Good Samaritan before, I’ve talked about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman.  The last time it came up when I was here in this church, I also talked about Eric Garner.  This week, we have new names to add to the study of the Samaritan: Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.  Along with them were the five officers who were killed in Dallas at the protest of their killings: Lorne Aherns, Michael Smith, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa, and Brent Thompson, along with the man accused of killing them, Michah Johnson.  Like many of you, I’m sure, the violence and unrest in our culture is making me numb when I sit with it for too long.


As I said to you a few weeks ago following the nightclub shooting in Orlando, we need to pray, certainly, but we can’t just pray.  The culture of violence that we’re living in and still cultivating is too dangerous.  We need more than prayer.  We need faith AND works.  As a friend of mine said earlier this week, “It’s time to pray with our sleeves rolled up.”


If we learn anything from this parable of a good Samaritan, I hope it is that we can’t rely on our fear of the “other” when meeting our neighbors.  I hope it causes us to examine what “others” we’ve set apart in our own lives.  I hope it makes us think about and engage with the people we meet each day that cause us to “pass by on the other side” of the road - the people we’d rather not help, and rather not know.


We can’t keep looking away.  We can’t keep righteously passing by on the other side of the street.  On Tuesday it will have been one month since the shooting in Orlando that left us all stunned.  Only one month.  And in that time there have been 42 mass shootings in the United States.  An average of more than one a day.


If we learn anything from Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, from the 50 who died in Orlando, from Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, from Lorne Aherns, Michael Smith, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa, and Brent Thompson, from Micah Johnson, and from the untold others whose blood pools in our streets, I hope it’s not to keep living in fear.  I hope it’s not to keep distrusting one another.  I hope, instead, that we’ll ask ourselves who our “other” is.  I pray that we’ll examine our lives and our relationships and identify all of the ones that we know and fear and avoid and attack.  And most of all I pray that we’ll see the ways that we are the other.  We are those who are attacked and we are the ones who attack.


In this social game of divide and conquer we are all the victim and we are all the accused.


We all lose.


The only way we win is when we love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind, and when we love our neighbor as ourselves.


And who is our neighbor?


Trayvon.


George.


Eric.


Philando.


Michael.


Patrick.


Michael.


Brent.


Alton.


Lorne.


Micah.


And all the others.


The ones who are foreign to us, and the ones we fear.


The awkward, and the messy, and the inconvenient.


That’s who we’re called to love. 


O Lord, 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 that we may have the grace and power to accomplish them.  Amen.