Sunday, July 10, 2016

July 10 Sermon

O Gracious Lord, Open my eyes that I may see the needs of others; Open my ears that I may hear their cries; Open my heart so that they need not be without relief; Let me not be afraid to defend the weak or the poor because of the anger of the strong or the rich. Show me where love and hope and faith are needed, and use me to bring them to these places. And so open my eyes and my ears that I may this day be able to do some work for you, of peace and compassion like the Good Samaritan. Amen. (adapted from Alan Paton)

Today we welcome Scarlett into the Body of Christ. She will be baptized and we will receive her into the household of God. We will invite her to join us and the whole Church in confessing the faith of Christ crucified, proclaiming his resurrection, and sharing in his eternal priesthood.

She is being baptized at a time when there is great anxiety in our land. Violence and fear seem to lurk everywhere, talk of walls and separation. We are challenged in these days when it seems that all we see & hear about is evil and death, we are challenged to lead those gracious loving lives that God expects of us. In St. Paul’s words from Colossians, we are “to lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to God, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.”

At a time of great racial division when we have seemed to lost our way, Jesus challenges us to lead those worthy lives with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, a parable of mercy, of love, and a challenge to the existing way things are seen in society.

When asked by a lawyer, someone grounded in the Holy Scriptures, what must be done to inherit eternal life, Jesus asks him to answer his own question – “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." And Jesus said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live." But then he asks, “who is my neighbor?”

And in a parable, Jesus talks about the one who fell among thieves, who needs help, the priest and Levite look upon this man and walk away, he is dead or soon will be, they will not be defiled by the dead man but the Samaritan, the least likely, the foreigner, the one who does not worship right, is the one who has compassion on the victim. A shocking answer for the lawyer!

It was and is a radical parable by Jesus. A Samaritan, hated by the Jews in those days because of his race & religion, is the one who was moved with pity and embodied the compassion of God, who had mercy on the victim.

Jesus said, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" The lawyer said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

The lawyer couldn’t say Samaritan, but the point that Jesus made was clear; no racial or religious difference can stop our love for those whom God has made.

We are called to love God, to love our neighbors as ourselves and to show mercy. Jesus through his parable enlarges our vision of compassion beyond the boundaries (both religious & racial) that we want to set, and challenges our divisions with love and hope.

It reminds me of a modern version I recently read of this parable…

Susan Sparks – The Parable of the Black Police Chief & the White Supremacist
(pastor at Madison Ave. Baptist Church in NYC)

Her parable is based on a true story – from the Huffington Post a year ago:
At a Ku Klux Klan rally held at the South Carolina Statehouse on Saturday, there were many images of hate: men and women shouting slogans of bigotry and division, their clothing emblazoned with symbols of intolerance. But the most memorable image of the day wasn’t one of hatred at all. It was quite the opposite — a photograph of a black police officer giving a white supremacist a helping hand.

The powerful photo, captured by Twitter user Rob Godfrey, shows police officer Leroy Smith helping the unidentified KKK supporter out of the sun. The older man, pictured wearing a National Socialist Movement t-shirt, is said to have been struggling in the scorching Columbia heat when Smith went to his aid.

The photo has gone viral as people praise the officer’s extraordinary show of professionalism and grace under such trying circumstances.

As Soren Kierkegaard tells us in Works of Love, the person nearest us, no matter who he or she is, is our neighbor. The neighbor is someone who acts on love, without always thinking it through, without always asking or knowing why.

How shall I inherit eternal life? asks the lawyer, and I think of some words of 44 years ago that speak to the answer that Jesus gives…

“Jesus' answer to the lawyer means simply, 'You don't need any great speculation over the meaning of life; you just need to do the ordinary, everyday things; you need only be there when your fellow man (or woman) is in difficulty, then you are already in accord with that meaning. Then you are not merely seeking that meaning; you are in the process of fulfilling it. For you will meet God in the imprisoned, the hungry, and the naked; when you are close to all of those, then you also dwell close to God, and you are in contact with the basic meaning and goal of your life.” (Helmut Thielicke, How to Believe Again, Fortress, 1972).

The Good News of Jesus Christ is with the Good Samaritan who showed mercy, of Officer Leroy Smith who gave love to his neighbor, the one in need, both of whom refused to let religion or race dictate their compassionate response.

We are to be that loving neighbor, and to help teach that to Scarlett and all of our little ones (and each other!), for we are called by Jesus to go and do likewise. Amen.

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