Standing in the midst of the assembly this morning and reading the story Jesus tells of the man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho who ends up lying half-dead in a ditch (Lk. 10:25-37), watching as the good religious people – the priest and the Levite – pass by without offering assistance, I can’t help but remember what Cynthia said to us at the anniversary luncheon last month. She said, “I looked around at a lot of churches when I moved back to Chicago, but here at St. Luke’s I felt a spirit of genuine caring. I had the feeling that if I were to fall down in the aisle, someone would pick me up.”
That calls to mind our sister, Kay Deacon, who fell while helping out at the Boulevard Bash on Friday and broke her elbow. I remember that as I sat on the street with her, waiting for the ambulance to arrive, I thought about Cynthia’s words and I thought to myself, “Kay – that wasn’t a personal challenge to you!”
But it’s true, what Cynthia says about us, we are a community that cares. It feels a little bit immodest to just say that from the pulpit. When you read the story of the good Samaritan in church, the implicit warning is that good church people too often walk on by those who are wounded. That we who go to church can be so preoccupied with our piety that we forget about the lives and realities of the people Christ calls us to live among and to serve. Because Jesus tells this story in response to a lawyer who wants to know what he must do in order to obtain eternal life, and because we so often hear the words of Jesus as addressing us in our own contexts, we might immediately make the leap to hearing this story as if we were the by-the-book lawyer, or the callous churchgoers. But I want to ask us to consider what it might mean to imagine ourselves as the good Samaritan.
I don’t know if you remember this, but the Samaritans showed up in the gospel just two weeks ago in a very unflattering light. As Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem, he and his disciples entered a Samaritan village where they weren’t well received. James and John are offended by the Samaritans’ rejection, and they ask, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But Jesus rebukes them and they go on about their way.
Samaritans weren’t well loved in Israel. They were the opposite of the by-the-book lawyer. They offered their sacrifices in the wrong places. They worshipped in the wrong way. They mingled too closely with Gentiles and their bloodlines weren’t pure. They were the kind of people it was okay to tell jokes about. The kind it was alright to hurt. We know these people, they live near us as well. You know what kind of people we tell jokes about, what kinds of people we allow to be hurt.
The Samaritans reject Jesus’ ministry as he moves closer and closer to Jerusalem, and the cross. But then again, don’t we all reject Jesus’ ministry as he calls us closer to the cross? It doesn’t come naturally to die to ourselves and live for the world. It doesn’t come easily to give up by-the-book ways of living, and the practices of piety that keep us separated from one another.
So Jesus tells his followers a story about the kind of person they’d been raised to hate in which that person is the one they are called to emulate, not the priests or the Levites, but the Samaritan.
And again, I want to tell you this morning what good Samaritans you are.
In our own history as a congregation, haven’t we felt as though our offerings weren’t large enough? Haven’t we been made to feel as though our worship wasn’t good enough? Haven’t we been talked about because of who we mingle with, who we welcome? Weren’t we the ones that folks told jokes about? Hadn’t we been hurting for such a long time?
But then look at yourselves again. Who feeds the hungry, hurting people of this neighborhood – the ones lying in a ditch? Who spends what little money they have to expand their ministries in the community, rather than conserve so they can simply take care of themselves? Who shows up to move neighbors in and out of apartments? Who takes up offerings for friends in need?
You are such good Samaritans.
“in our prayers for you we always thank God… 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.” (Col. 1:3-6)
That’s how I feel when I think about you, St. Luke’s. I thank God for you, for your faithful commitment to a journey that is taking us ever closer, step by step, to giving ourselves away for the sake of the world. And this is our hope, that as we give ourselves away we gain the harvest planted in hope. We find a new prosperity that is not measured in bodies or dollars, but in relationships and love. I know that love for you has been growing in me for some time, and one of the most precious parts of my ministry with you – especially over this last month of celebrations – has been that I can see that this love is growing in all of you. Do you sense it too? We are acting like a family, all of us, newcomers and old-timers, life-long Lutherans and curious converts.
Coming near the end of the book of Deuteronomy, as the nation of Israel prepares to enter the promised land, Moses delivers a farewell address in which he calls for the people to remember who they are, to claim their freedom by observing a higher law. Not the law that motivates the lawyer’s question to Jesus, who wanted to justify himself; but instead the law that described God’s covenant with Israel, and with all of us, to make us one people, together, more numerous than all the stars in the heavens. When we are operating out of that law, that covenant, that loving relationship, then Moses says, “the Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil.” (Deut. 30:9-14)Perhaps we will add, in the fruit of your summer music festival…
“Surely this commandment is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away… no, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.”
Your huge hearts,
you good Samaritans.