Sermon Archives

Sunday, July 10, 2016
The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10, Year C)
The Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate
Go and Do Likewise

"Lord, surely this commandment that you have commanded us is not too hard for us, for you promise that the word is very near to us; it is in our mouth and in our heart" Amen

The great 20th Cty theologian Karl Barth is often quoted that one should preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.  Turns out, he never said that exactly, but he did say something close[1] …and what he meant was, read both, but interpret newspapers from the Bible.'"[2] Interpret newspapers from the Bible.

And so, today, we’ll start with the news and interpret it from the Bible. The news, well, you all know. It has been awful. More black men[3] killed by police officers. More police officers killed by civilians. I am heart broken, feeling woefully inadequate to describe the news, let alone interpret it. Yet, I rest in the promise that the word is very near us, in our mouth and in our heart.  Karl Barth encourages me as today’s gospel collides with our context.

Today’s scripture offers a passage so familiar it is almost dangerous.  After the lawyer sought to test Jesus by asking him to clarify who the “neighbor” is, Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side."

My sisters and brothers: We, here, the priesthood of all believers, we cannot pass by those black men – Alton Sterling and Philando Castile – And what they represent for our society. These are just two of the 136 black people killed by police this year.[4] That is the question to ponder: what this represents.

Like you, I sometimes feel trapped in anger and fear, and paralyzed by an inability to know what to do next, wondering if this situation has become more than a parable for our church.  Today’s gospel: The familiar Parable of the Good & Compassionate Samaritan. We might think we know the moral already: Love your enemies and help the one in need. And there is more: Jesus calls us to go further within our context. Who is our neighbor? Who do we see as our neighbor?

I wonder if our sight is part of the problem. Who is our neighbor that we don’t see, or don’t want to see because it is inconvenient? Can we relate to the priest in the parable, reacting to the one in need by withdrawing to the opposite side of the road, so as to preserve religious purity? Can we relate to the Levite in the parable, reacting to the one in need by seeing them but still passing by, so as to avoid someone who might tarnish?

Last week, three times, I found myself passing by a motorist whose car had broken down in an intersection. Did I stop to help? No, I kept driving.  I had some place “important” to be.  It was “inconvenient” for me to stop.  Inconvenient for me to see the one in need; they were invisible.

In 1952, Ralph Ellison wrote a book called Invisible Man. It tells about the social and intellectual issues facing African-Americans early in the 20th cty.  The narrator begins by saying that he is an "invisible man, not because of his physical condition—he is not literally invisible—but “…because of the refusal of others to see him.”[5]  This perspective begs the question: who do we see as our neighbor and whom do we overlook?

Perhaps, like the priest and the Levite, we overlook and avoid those who are in need because of our intolerance for “inconvenience.”

But when we allow our hearts to be “moved with pity,” we know that we have no choice.  “We move from ‘what will happen to me if I help’ to ‘what will happen to the person if I don’t help’”[6] We realize, it’s not inconvenient.  Can we relate to the Samaritan in the parable, reacting to the one in need by seeing them, by being moved with pity, by doing compassion?

For that is where we find God. And that is where God finds us. God shows up when people act like the Samaritan.  This is what it means to accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ: that we do “down to earth compassion”[7] for anyone in need, even an enemy or even one whom we have been taught is “not” our neighbor. “For Jesus, compassion was a badge of discipleship and not merely a religious amenity.”[8]

Biblical Scholar A.T.Robertson once remarked, “This parable of the Good Samaritan has built the world’s hospitals, and if properly understood and practiced would remove race prejudice, national hatred and war.”[9] The Samaritan offers us clues for our life, for our community bound together by our shared need and for our own vulnerability. 

For here is what we believe:  God is Love, and God serves as our Samaritan, our only salvation in this midst of this news and our conviction in the face of these scriptures. 

Jewish theologian Elie Wiesel taught, "The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference." Indifference because of inconvenience is the opposite of love.  Indifference to a pattern of societal racism is the opposite of love. Indifference to our neighbors Alton Sterling and Philando Castile is the opposite of love. 

God continues to work through so many Samaritan-like people who have cared for us until now. God wants still to meet our needs through others (and sometimes through those we would least expect or want to help us.)[10] And, with God’s grace, we will not be indifferent to the societal sin of racism.  <see what the Catechism says at BCP 848 on Sin and Redemption>

We must look directly at it and begin the conversation, for the words are very near us. With conversations grounded in “I” statements, we can touch that place in our own lives sharing our personal experiences of racism.  With these conversations, we can examine our lives and confessionally express our need for each other.  And we can touch God’s presence in the intimacy of our vulnerability. 

God’s mercy, which lasts forever, inspires us to do compassion.

God’s compassion, which endures all things, saves us from indifference. 

God’s Love, the source of all that is yes, calls us into discipleship. 

Compassion: God’s original response to humanity.

Go and do likewise.

Amen


[1] Close to it, such as "Der Pfarrer und die Gläubigen sollten sich nicht einbilden, dass sie eine religiöse Gesellschaft sind, die sich um bestimmte Themen herum dreht, sondern sie leben in der Welt. Wir brauchen doch - nach meiner alten Formulierung - die Bibel und die Zeitung." ["The Pastor and the Faithful should not deceive themselves into thinking that they are a religious society, which has to do with certain themes; they live in the world. We still need - according to my old formulation - the Bible and the Newspaper."] Cited on Princeton Seminary’s blog at http://www.praytellblog.com/index.php/2015/05/09/ars-praedicandi-preachi... on July 9, 2016

[2]Cited on Princeton Seminary’s blog at http://www.ptsem.edu/Library/index.aspx?menu1_id=6907&menu2_id=6904&id=8450 on July 9, 2016

[3] According to The Counted, a project of The Guardian, 136 African Americans have been killed by police so far this year. Alton Sterling was number 135. Philando Castile was number 136. The Police officers were Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith and Lorne Ahrens.

[4] Cited at The Counted: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2015/jun/01/the-counte... on July 9, 2016

[5] Cited at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Man on July 9, 2016

[6] Portions excerpted from Martin Luther King’s Good Samaritan Sermon cited on July 9, 2016 at https://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2012/04/why-didnt-they-stop-martin-lut...

[7] Peter Rhea Jones, The love command in parable: Luke 10:25-37 from “Perspectives in Religious Studies,” 6 no. 3 Fall 1979, p. 224-242 on ATLA0000779569

[8] Ibid, p. 240

[9] A.T. Robinson, Word Pictures in The New Testament, cited at http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/robertsons-word-pictures/luk... on July 9, 2016

[10] Inspired by David Lose, “Who is my Neighbor” from July 8, 2016.