Sermon of Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton VA
July 14, 2019
Pastor Robert McCarty
Preaching Texts: Luke 10: 25-37
Please join me in a prayer of gratefulness and thankfulness for Pastor C-- Tr--, who supplied for me last week and Pastor Ch-- R-- who will fill in for me next Sunday. I am truly blessed, we are truly blessed to have a couple of friends who worship with you and know you well to step into this pulpit when I am away on vacation. We thank God for their faithful presence.
For those of you reading Ezekiel with me this month or trying to read Ezekiel, it gets better this week. The first 24 chapters of Ezekiel give us an eye opening experience about the depth of grief that God experiences. The grief of a father who has been woefully betrayed by a favorite child. But this week, the prophet begins to warn Israel’s neighbors that God has also seen their failings and that His chosen people will return to prominence. All of our reading this week sets up the Valley of the Dry Bones a week from Tuesday. I encourage you to stay with it and persevere.
Now, to our gospel lesson for today, we return to this most familiar of Gospel lessons: the story of the good Samaritan. As soon as I say "good Samaritan," as soon as you hear this gospel lesson, your mind probably rushes to a situation you have found yourself in where you either passed by on the other side or where you stopped and gave aid. Maybe you thought of both moments, most of us have in recent memory a time when we stopped and helped a stranger as well as a moment where we passed by on the other side. Jesus’ story of the good Samaritan is one of those stories where everyone who hears it can feel singled out.
Perhaps that sounds amusing, everyone feels singled out. Actually, the purpose of this story is to unite people, even unite enemies--unite opposites might be the better term. A Samaritan helps a stranger; a Jewish rabbi praises a Samaritan over and above a priest and a levite. Jesus’ listeners would expect the priest and the levite to be the heroes of the story. Perhaps even offended that they are not the heroes of the story. Then comes a Samaritan?
To understand Samaritan, I suggest that you think of your least favorite person that you see all the time. The individual that makes you think, “not you again.” We have to understand who the Samaritan is to the people of Jesus’ audience. The pimple on your face is annoying, but the Samaritan is the pimple bloated on your face on the day of your family photograph. Or if you watch FOX news, the Samaritan is your least favorite person on CNN. The same is true vice versa, if you watch CNN, the Samaritan is your least favorite person on Fox News. You can’t stand them. Get the idea of what Samaritan means.
The priest and the levite is the pillar of your community, the soldier, the sailor, the police officer, or teacher, nurse, doctor, firefighter, pastor, but the Samaritan is the person who does the right thing in Jesus story. The Samaritan shows mercy; the Samaritan shows compassion that goes beyond what is normally expected. “Here are two denarii, I will return and cover the balance.” Jesus describes a community where Samaritans are not just your neighbors, but are neighbors worthy of emulation and praise. Jesus erases the borders that has Jewish people and Samaritans living in two separate neighborhoods. Jesus speaks about unity that is beyond anything his Jewish followers could have imagined.
This gospel passage is about borders and foreigners, so perhaps you read in the newspaper a couple of weeks ago an opinion column written by Tracy Pyles who made reference to this gospel lesson in an article about immigration.
Tracy Pyles served on Augusta County’s Board of Supervisors, and for a while served as their chairman—a conservative, Republican. He lifted up the story of the Good Samaritan in response to the heartbreaking news photograph of Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his 23 month old daughter Valeria lying dead on the bank of the Rio Grande river (that tragic photograph you may have seen in the news).
I will just quote three paragraphs. He wrote on June 30th in the News Virginian: “This week’s haunting picture of a young father, failing to keep himself and his 23 month old daughter safe when seeking a better life for her, will live with me forever. And be a constant reminder of how Christians can be split on an issue that should unite all believers."
Pyles continues, “Jesus’ parable [the Good Samaritan] message was clear, 'love your neighbor' without qualification and without delay. And His instruction to the lawyer is just as unambiguous, 'go and do likewise.'
His third paragraph: “Another question generated from recent events is this: Do “conservative” Christians inhibit or give cover to politicians who reject what I believe is a consistent part of the Gospel message: compassion without borders.” (end quote.) Not all Republicans support what is happening at the Mexican border: detainment and antagonism. Likewise not all Democrats are unwaveringly pro-choice.
I agree with Mr. Pyles, but I am not so naive as to believe that all Christians agree with us. When you recognize that disconnect, then you truly understand just how challenging this Good Samaritan parable is. We struggle with how to do and say the right thing, when conventions suggest silence. How to talk about issues of justice in ways that do not divide us. As I read over the parable, I cannot help but wonder about the priest and the levite, in praising the Samaritan, does Jesus rebuke the priest and the levite. Or do we read the rebuke into the story because we no longer hold the priest and levi up as role models.
We struggle with this. I have seen members walk away, leave when I have talked or we have talked about gun violence, and same gender marriages, health care. We think about these topics as political issues, but they are also justice issues about life and freedom. And the lawyer's question that starts off this whole story is a question about life: “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds with a question, “What do you find in the law, what is written there?”
“You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.”
Love your neighbor as yourself. That you may recognize as a variation of the golden rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Every major religion has some variation of the golden rule. I have a page in the back of the church with some of the variations you can find. None of those variations say treat all "believers" as you yourself wish to be treated. None of the variations place the limit on "brothers" and "sisters of faith" or "citizens." Always in the broadest of meanings neighbor and other: “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”
This is the key to life and there is no work around. The key to life lies not so much in seeking to preserve your own life, but in seeking to preserve the life of those people who live by you, whoever they may be. Life is precious to God and worth both cherishing and preserving.