Sunday, July 15, 2007
Go and Do Likewise--Sermon, St. Luke's ELCA
“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher, he said what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there? 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”
The parable of the Good Samaritan is a story we all know. It is one of the most well-known stories of the New Testament. It is a story that many who aren’t even Christians know. It is a piece of the world’s literature that in just a matter of 5 verses tells us what it means to be a neighbor—what it means to love humanity enough to be considered part of God’s kingdom.
But it is the final words of this passage that has always stopped me. “Go and do likewise.” This is not merely a nice story. It is a commandment. This is not just a nice piece of literature which after read gives us more insight into human nature or what Jesus would do. It is a piece of literature that calls us to action.
The lawyer who asks the question is not asking for information from Jesus. He is challenging Jesus. He is calling him into an argument. Jesus doesn’t answer the lawyer’s question. He does like any good rabbi would do, he turns what might be a path down some theological rabbit hole, back on the questioner and gets the lawyer to answer his own question.
For us the question of “who is my neighbor” confronts us everyday. What allegiance do I owe to those I don’t know? What allegiance do I owe to those who might harm me? Jesus tells us in this story that our allegiance has to do with our being human, being a part of the human community that makes us neighbors.
This week I heard a speech on the radio by the grandson of Mahatma Ghandi. When he was young and living in South Africa as a part of the Indian community under apartheid, he was beaten up by a group of white youths for not being white enough. A few months later he was beaten up by a group of black youths for not being black enough. He said the rage that he knew was so detrimental to his living in South Africa that his parents packed him off to India to live with his famed grandfather. It was there that he learned the principles of non-violent pacifism that he now tries to teach the world in keeping with his grandfather’s legacy.
His grandfather taught him that the key to knowing peace is to address the same issue that Jesus does in this story. When we are willing to recognize that the entire world is our neighbor and that we are called by God to love even those who might wish to do us harm, we have begun to understand what it means to “go and do likewise.”
The ministry of Jesus was not about the salvation of our souls as much as it was a call to humanity to realize that we are inter-related, that we do not live on this earth in some kind of compartmentalization that allows us to ignore others. The kingdom, the inheritance which we are promised is a result of our working together for the betterment of society, the ending of conflict, the learning to live in peace with humanity and all creation, to not just love God but to love others as ourselves.
Rajmohan Ghandi learned from his grandfather that to live into what it means to be non-violent doesn’t just mean not fighting. It means a radical living of life that does not force others into warring positions. It meant first dealing and disciplining one’s own anger into life-giving living--using one’s own anger to bring about health and wholeness to the greater society rather than allowing one to fall into vengeance or the cycle of payback.
Now I have to admit that even when faced with Martin Luther King’s non-violent approach to social justice when I went to Selma back in the 1960’s, I was never really “sold” on his methods. I have felt until just recently that if your position was “righteous” then you should live by that righteousness and more or less let the chips fall where they may. But being right doesn’t always help a situation. And one person’s “righteousness” may not be another’s and then the cycle of violence continues. In order to bring change into a situation one must be willing to love beyond measure—one side must be willing to set righteous aside for love to be experienced.
The story of the Good Samaritan gives us a vision of how to live life that goes beyond righteousness. It provides us with a method by which we can address the divisions in society that says we must always go farther than what is just.
The Samaritan, like all Samaritans were discriminated against by the Jews in the first century. The Jew that was beaten and left for dead was tended to by the Samaritan above and beyond what was necessary. But it was that service that was beyond reason that confirmed the concept of eternal life. It was the Samaritan who even though he was considered unclean by the Jews and outside the chosen people, who was not a neighbor by any sense of the word in Jesus’ day; it was he who was assured eternal life.
We could just leave this story in the First Century as Jesus illustrating that salvation was not just for the people of Israel. Luke used the story of the Good Samaritan to show that Jesus meant the faith to be for all the nations of the earth. But the story is too good for that—and I believe that the reason that the Bible has meaning for all ages is that we may look at this story to address the issues of our own age.
If we are to have peace in our world, if there is going to be a way that the US is going to be able to address the growing world-wide unrest, we must be willing to understand that Jesus calls us to a kind of radical peace-loving that goes beyond national interests. Our Christianity demands facing what we do in the light of the Gospel and allowing ourselves to live a way of radical peace. We cannot demand that others live in ways that we are unwilling to live.
If we are going to demand of others to live according to democratic principles, we cannot deny those basic democratic principles in the face of terrorism or any other reason. We cannot deny the basic rights of people interned at Guantanamo or captured in Iraq if we are going to demand that Afghanistan and Iraq must have democratically developed governmental structures. We cannot demand of people who are not used to capitalistic forms of economics to develop consumer-based economies when we are going to control those economies artificially through sanctions. We cannot punish others if we are going to call others into a reformed way of life. We must be willing, like the Samaritan in the story, to go farther, without rancor, without demanding satisfaction of those who hurt us, and serve them. It is the only way we are going to understand how radical God’s love is for us. It is the only way that I think that we are going to “inherit eternal life.” It is the only way we are going to relinquish the tail of the constant spiraling of retribution.
Now, I am not talking about salvation here. That is already worked out for us. I am talking about taking responsibility for our own anger at whatever the issue is and going beyond it. The hope of the Gospel message is that God believes us capable to bring peace to our world. We are saved to do just that. God has loved us into being so that we can live together with respect and care for one another. This applies to us whether we are dealing with things here in the 4 counties of Central NY or whether we are dealing with people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur, South America or where ever.
Most of you know that I have had real problems with my bishop in the Episcopal Church. I would love to stay angry at that man who has treated me and others so unfairly. I have all the reasons in the world to stay angry at that man. But about 2 years ago I realized that that anger was eating me up. I was not being the kind of Christian that I had vowed to be at my baptism. I needed to let go of that anger. I needed to further my understanding of what it meant to be the Good Samaritan. Has this changed what the bishop has done to me? No. And given the man, I doubt if he is capable to come to any kind of reconciliation. But I have put that anger at the service of God by calling myself to be about Christ’s service in a different way. This act has changed me. It has drained the fierceness of my righteousness and allowed me to see that God has called me to another way to live out my vocation as an ordained minister of the faith by serving among you, Lutherans. By learning to do something else with my anger, I have learned that God wants a kind of peaceful approach to life in my denomination over issues that I once thought combative. I have learned that God loves my bishop just as surely as God loves me. It has been humbling yet redeeming at the same time. I still love my Church even though I have to take a bit of a vacation from it. I still care about my bishop even though he continues to hurt me and those I love. I still care about the clergy and laity of my diocese and work for their betterment in the faith. It is the only way I can “go and do likewise.”
As Barbara Crafton said yesterday in her daily message of spiritual nourishment: “There are enormous tasks ahead of us. Ahead of each of us, in our own little lives, and ahead of all of us as citizens of the world. Our approach to the environment is one: the issues are so large, the danger so immense, the numbers so great. The magnitude of it overwhelms us. And so we do nothing. We give up.” But what the story of the Good Samaritan does for us is to show us that in just what WE do in our daily lives impacts upon the whole world. What we do in our lives creates the environment in which caring for others can be done, that going beyond the “righteous” to the loving does work. That is the hope of the Gospel.
Perhaps we as a nation need to find some other way to use our anger. We must be like the Good Samaritan, even though we have been hurt by terrorists, we must find a way to love beyond the hurt so that our nation does not continue the cycle of vengeance with which we are faced. We must be willing to bind up wounds rather than continue the fight if we are going to understand the “eternal life” to which Jesus invites us in this parable.
We, each and every one of us here, have places where we must “go and do likewise”. We must be willing to look at the places of anger and figure out how we can love in spite of it. We must be willing to turn our anger into ways of caring. How can Lutherans and Episcopalians come to a place where we can set aside what has separated us in the past so that we can embrace the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ to a world that is afraid of organized religion? How can we take the terror of 9/11 and turn it into love so that we can be a people of peace rather than a people of vengeance and retribution? How can we come to the place where we need not fear anything in the name of Jesus Christ so that we can be about loving those who would ignore us, or disdain us?
I invite us all this week to look at our anger and ask where we can put it to work as love. Where can we bring the hope of the story of the Good Samaritan to people in our own lives? Where can we go the extra mile to be Christ’s own? How can we reorder our lives to live lives of non-violence --because the story of the Good Samaritan is one that symbolizes God’s extravagance of love? What is God’s call to us to “Go and do likewise?” AMEN