July 21, 2013 Sermon

Sermon

“Go and Do Likewise”

The Reverend Christine M. Delmar

July 21, 2013

 

Col. 1:1-14

1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

 

Luke 10:25-37

25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

 

Let’s Pray:

 

God of infinite love and compassion, may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen.

 

I have shared with some of you that my youngest child, Anne, recently moved to Seattle, where my oldest, Greg, already lives.  Before Anne left, I joined in the bittersweet task of sorting twenty-two years of her accumulated “stuff.”  Enough to reach from Wilton to Seattle, if laid out side by side!  While sorting, I came across a book that she had given me several years ago when I was a chaplain at Yale New Haven Hospital.  As you may know, Yale New Haven is a Major I Trauma Center.  So at that time I was ministering to patients and families literally knocked about on the highway of life, by roadway traumas and other life threatening conditions.  And when I shared with Anne some of the tragic things I was witnessing, she felt that I needed to lighten up.  A lot, apparently.  Because that book she gave me was the Big Book of Church Jokes.  On its back cover it says: “The Eleventh Commandment: Thou Shalt Laugh Every Now and Then!”

I thought it positively providential that I came across this book at this time, as my heart has been a bit heavy with Anne’s leaving and so many pastoral needs at the church since summer began.  I have been reading a few jokes each day, as I can stand them.  For some are quite silly.  Case in point: “Never let your worries get the best of you.  Remember:  Moses started out as a basket case!”  There is one other that I would like to share in light of our reading today from God’s Big Book about the Good Samaritan and loving our neighbors: “The Bible tells us that we should love our neighbors and our enemies….probably because they are usually the same people!”   It made me laugh, but it also got me thinking again as to why loving our neighbors can be such a challenge.  Some days I have trouble loving all the members of my extended family, let alone my neighbors, especially those I do not particularly like!  And I confess that there been times when I too have not stopped to help someone in dire need.

When I get off I-95 at exit 14 in Norwalk to shop at Home Depot and Costco, I often encounter a grungy homeless man, soliciting for money.  The kind of person my daughter would call “sketchy.”  This guy is very sketchy.  If I am the only one waiting for the light to change, I avert my eyes and I do not lower my window, because I am afraid.  Whether realistic or not, I think, “What if he tries to hurt me?  What would happen to those I love without me?”   And to be honest, sometimes I just do not  want to be bothered with another person needing attention or care, and I want to get to my shopping.  Unlike the Priest and the Levite in Jesus’ parable, I do not actually pass by to the other side, but I feel like I am passing this needy man by when I do not open my window, my wallet, or my heart.   Does this mean I’m a bad person, a “bad Samaritan,” so to speak?

Like the lawyer who questions Jesus, I would like to know more about loving our neighbor.  Not so much because I worry about inheriting eternal life, or because I want to “justify” myself by being right as the lawyer did, but because both commandments—Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself—are central to our identities as Christians and, as Paul says to the Colossians, for living lives worthy of our Lord.  That is why these two commandments are paired together.  We are called to love God with all our being, and one way that we show love of God is through our love towards others in God’s Kingdom that we are already part of, here and now.  Yet, though Jesus explicitly says “do this and you shall live” and “go and do likewise,” I still have a lot of questions about how to do so.  Don’t you?

Is everyone we encounter a neighbor, including those who seem more like enemies?   How exactly do we go and do likewise?   Must we always go to the extent the Samaritan did?  Is it okay to selfishly consider our own care and safety over those of our neighbor?  What does Jesus want from us really, especially if we are facing our own challenges, or maybe need a break from caring, or maybe we even need a helping hand ourselves, if we are struggling financially or otherwise?

When the lawyer debated with Jesus, loving your neighbor as yourself was an established concept in Jewish law and life.  It meant having a similar kind of respect and concern for your neighbor as you would have for yourself.  But—and this is an important but—that concern was limited to members of the Jewish community, and resident aliens living among them as guests. At the time, some, like our earnest lawyer, did wonder whether all non-Jewish residents were included by the commandment.  Thus his question, “Who is my neighbor?” and Jesus’ story about a neighborly Samaritan.  We have to realize what a shock it would have been for Jesus’ fellow Jews to hear that a Samaritan acted as he describes.   Because they saw Samaritans as religious enemies, with their own temple and version of God’s laws.   Many folks then and since have imagined that the injured man was in fact a Jew, the Samaritan’s enemy.  But Jesus just says that “a man” was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.   We don’t know anything about his identity or his character.  And this is Jesus’ point.  The man on the side of the road was simply a hurting, broken person.  Jesus is inviting us to see that anyone can be a neighbor.

We also do not know why the Priest and the Levite, the cream of religious leadership, do not stop for someone badly wounded, who could be one of their own, their neighbor, as they understood what neighbor meant.  Jesus doesn’t tell us and he does not say that they were “bad” people for not stopping.  They may have had good reasons for passing by.   Scholars have speculated that they were obeying purity rules forbidding them to touch dead bodies, and the man did look like he might be dead.  Perhaps they wanted to get home before dark, or had other pressing concerns.  Perhaps they were simply tired after long days of serving in the temple, and taking care of their own.  Or, perhaps they were simply afraid.  The Jerusalem to Jericho road was notoriously dangerous.  Robbers were known to place faking human decoys along the way.  Perhaps the Priest and Levite too were thinking, “I just can’t stop now to take care of one more person, and besides, I don’t even know who he is.   And he looks pretty sketchy.  So, if I do go over to him, what if I get hurt?   What would happen to those I love without me?”

But the Samaritan does stop.  Why?  Because when he comes to the injured traveler, he actually sees him—not as someone different and threatening, or not a neighbor by the limiting conventions of the day—but as a fellow human being desperately needing care.  As deserving of the Samaritan’s concern as the Samaritan would be concerned for himself.  And what he sees moves him so much, in his heart, that he interrupts his own journey, to bandage the man’s wounds, take him to an inn, staying overnight to care for him, and promising to return to pay more if needed.  An incredible level of love and concern for a complete stranger and possible enemy!

Does this mean we too must respond as extravagantly to suffering folks God puts in our path?  Setting aside all legitimate self-concerns, including physical safety and rest?  I do not think that is what Jesus is saying.  This is a parable, and he often used such extreme and metaphorical examples to shake people out of accepted comfort zones.  The Samaritan’s over-the-top response is to get the original Gospel audience and us to understand what really matters in God’s kingdom here on earth:  Love demonstrated in mercy and compassion for those who need it.  We can see this from the Samaritan’s compassionate response and from the lawyer’s answer to Jesus’ final question, who “was a neighbor to the man?”—“The one who showed him mercy.”

We hear about mercy and compassion a lot in Luke’s Gospel, when Jesus describes God and how God calls us to live into God’s vision for the world.  Near the end of his great sermon on the plain, Jesus sums up his earlier teachings with, “Be merciful as God is merciful,” which has also been translated: “Be compassionate as God is compassionate.”  As God openly and extravagantly loves us, continually seeking our good, we are called to extend a similar kind of compassionate love towards others, to further their good.  Whether friends, neighbors, or enemies.

This is what Jesus really wants from us.  Open and compassionate hearts.  Hearts that, like God’s and the Samaritan’s, are moved towards, not away from others, in their brokenness.  Theologian Marcus Borg writes, “the purpose of the Christian life is to become more and more compassionate beings.”[1]   Indeed, this is a goal of many of the great religions. According to Jesus, the more we show compassion for others, the more deeply we show our love for God, who deeply loves us.  This is how we live lives worthy of our Lord.  And this is how we truly live in Christ.

And, ultimately, we don’t need all the answers about who to love or how much do we have to do to “go and do likewise.”  The writer C. S. Lewis once famously said “The rule for all of us is perfectly simple.  Do not waste your time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did!”[2]   The compassionate example of the Samaritan challenges us to see beyond assumptions and fears that close our hearts and keep us from acting neighborly.  Sometimes our fear may indeed be valid concern for our safety, or we simply do need to rest.  But sometimes we are afraid of getting close to someone because they are different from us, or because we do not want to get too close to people and their hurts.  Or, we just don’t like them.  But Jesus wants us to get closer to those who are hurting, including those we might not normally think of as our neighbors.  People we dislike, or people who are not comfortably like us.  After a major winter storm a couple of years ago, when we were asking folks who still had power to open their homes, and assuring them that we would only offer their homes to other members of the church, Tanya Bickley called me up and said that was un-neighborly and un-Christ like for the church to just help our own.  She was right!   And I was grateful to her for speaking that “truth in love.”

Jesus also wants us to see that there are no set formulas as to how to go and do likewise.  Or how much or what we must give.  That is between you and God.   However, the kind of love and compassion that Jesus has in mind does involve some cost, as it did for the Samaritan, because it requires us to give something of ourselves.  Whether our attention, our time, or perhaps some of our other resources.  Sometimes, though, just being fully, compassionately present to someone who is hurting, so that they know they are seen and heard, may be all the compassion that is needed at that moment to love a neighbor, as yourself.

Loving our neighbors as ourselves, however, does not mean ignoring all our own concerns, as we seek to discern who and how God wants us to love.  Jesus was absolutely concerned with human wholeness, and he modeled that in his healings and in his own self-care by taking time for rest and prayer, and by ensuring the disciples were cared for while they cared for others.  And notice, the Samaritan does consider himself, and he never really was in any physical danger.  After he attends to the injured man, he leaves to continue on his way, presumably to attend to his own life as well.  As Christians, we are called to love God, and our neighbor, as ourselves—not instead of ourselves.  But we are also being invited to see ourselves in our neighbors, whoever they might be, and to extend to them the kind of compassionate concern we would want to be extended to us, if we were the ones lying on the side of the road.

Sisters and brothers, we live in an ongoing and challenging tension of these loves, and it is not easy to live into these commandments.  As Paul counsels the Colossians, we need God’s continuous power and grace to even try to know and do God’s will, including loving neighbors God is calling us to love.  We need God to keep our hearts open and caring, because the pleasures and challenges of this world can cause us to turn sharply inward to just our own concerns.  And to thinking that the Gospel is just about our personal wholeness and prosperity, and just about our transformation and life abundant, rather than the wholeness, transformation and life abundant of all.  Personal transformation is not the whole Gospel.  We also need God to help us get past whatever might stop us from helping someone, when we can indeed safely do so.

As we seek to live into these commandments, let’s pray for God’s help to go and do likewise.  So that we can be open, compassionate hearts to whomever God puts in our path.  For we show our love of God when we love others, our neighbors, as ourselves.  And it is through that kind of love that we too find life.  Amen.



[1] Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), p. 162-63.

[2] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: McMillan, 1996), p. 116

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