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Pentecost 5C Sermon
Luke 10: 25-37
July
14, 2019

 

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Luke 10:25-37

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He 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 neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ 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. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 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. 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.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

Last Wednesday the women of our church hosted a very enjoyable evening of fellowship and food at our annual Summer Salad Buffet. The speaker for this year’s event was Columbus Police Officer Ted Stacy, the liaison officer for our area. Officer Stacy does a lot with his position in enforcing and deterring crime. He is also the lead person in our area encouraging block watches and neighborhood email groups to build relationships and be aware of suspicious behavior in our neighborhood.

The first item Officer Stacy spoke about was panhandlers; he was adamant in his encouragement that no one ever give money to panhandlers, especially ones that stand at intersections and freeway off-ramps. Those people that we know merely by the corner they stand at he knows by name, because he often has to deal with them when they are drunk or after they overdose. It is a huge burden on our legal and medical response systems. Also, there is now a large fine associated with handing money to someone while sitting in a car at a freeway offramp. The main reason is that this activity carries with it the possibility of getting rear-ended by cars coming off the highway who don’t realize you are stopped. Opening windows for panhandlers opens us up to having purses or other valuables taken off passenger seats. He, rightly so, encouraged people to direct them to the CRC or to a church – we have the information on a sheet of paper called, “The Street Card” with resources for mental health and substance abuse, healthcare, veterans assistance, meals, clothing and other things. Unfortunately, this is not what folks asking for money or change want, and they will usually resist.

And now I find myself listening to the story of the Good Samaritan. Ironic that this all happens in the same few days! Of course, many people believe that this parable is only about helping people along the roadside. That may be part of it, but it certainly isn’t the entire point of the story. Jesus tells this parable to a lawyer who has asked him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Inheritance laws really haven’t changed in their basic sense over the centuries … if you are born into a family then chances are, you inherit something from your parents when they die, if (of course) they have something to leave you. There is nothing a person can do to inherit anything; there may be things people can do to LOSE their inheritance if their parents are not particularly pleased with their lifestyle, but you cannot do anything to achieve an inheritance. You are born into it. As Christians we believe we are born into our inheritance of eternal life through our baptisms. It is ours and God’s faithfulness to us assures us that we cannot lose it … no matter our choices or lifestyles.
But there is the matter of commandments, laws that are here to guide us to a fuller life. And this lawyer knows the greatest commandment – to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Sounds easy, until you ask the question, “Who is my neighbor? The one on my right who is nice to me, or the one across the street who doesn’t cut the grass, plays loud music and seems to have a million members of the family staying there all the time? He must realize that he has treated some of his neighbors with love and respect, and not others … because they didn’t deserve it! So, in order to justify himself, he asks Jesus to define the term, “neighbor.” That is the context of this story that Jesus tells – a story of a man who is beaten up, robbed, and left for dead on a deserted road. Two people who we should expect would show compassion walk by … and one guy shows mercy. On top of that, it was a Samaritan – the bad blood between the Judeans and Samaritans made the Hatfield and the McCoy feud seem like a polite misunderstanding. There were hundreds of years of bloody disputes between these people, beginning with the time that Samaria sold out Judah to the Assyrians, who conquered them and took many into exile. Since then, the incidences of hatred continued, including the time the Judeans destroyed the Samaritan high place, their temple of worshiping Yahweh. There were regular attacks on the other peoples’ villages which left them plundered and burnt to the ground. There was no reason for this Samaritan to show such outrageous mercy to this dying Judean. But he sees beyond the labels and notices him only as a suffering human being. He shows mercy. He is a neighbor because he recognizes the dying man as a neighbor to him.

There has been a lot written about why the priest and Levite pass by on the other side – they were on their way to official religious business and as such could not touch blood or a corpse. To do so would have meant weeks of ritualistic cleansing and they just didn’t have time. But Jesus doesn’t give them that excuse. There is no excuse. Jesus desires mercy … our neighbor is the one who needs our mercy, and they cannot justify themselves as followers of the commandment to love the neighbor in any way.
Jesus does not write into this story any excuses for these religious leaders, and neither is there any excuses for us when we fail to show mercy to anyone who is in need, recognizing that all such people are our neighbors, according to Jesus. But what about what officer Stacy told us? If we are not to stop our cars, roll down our windows and hand out cash … knowing that by doing these things we could be doing more damage than good … then how are we to show mercy to those in need?

I must admit, I am caught in the middle of using Officer Stacy’s words to justify my actions of not helping in this way and the call to love God and neighbor with my whole being. And not just the neighbors who I like, but the ones who are different from me but are suffering nonetheless … even if it is because of their own choices and the consequences of them. That is no excuse either. This week we saw a story in the news about a 28 year-old woman who was found in a shallow grave in a park in Delaware County. I watched the story as her family and friends talked about her – her kindness and warm personality. They did not deny that she made a lot of mistakes … she had been deep in the throes of drug addiction and prostitution … but she was loved by these people as her family and neighbors, and by God as well.

One family member put it this way: If you have two dollar bills – one that is crisp, clean and brand new and another that has been crumpled up, dirty, a couple of tears in it and well worn – they are both worth a dollar. It is the same with people. What are we to do when we come across a neighbor who is in need? I truly believe that it begins with seeing their worth despite their condition. I tend to avoid eye contact when I am approaching someone I think will ask me for something. If we take the time to notice our neighbors who are hurting, maybe we can in some way be the love that Jesus wants them to experience. This Samaritan dedicated time to this man, something that most of us guard as closely as our money. Can we offer something that is not cash – buying a sandwich … taking them to get gas in their car … a smile and a prayer. I have heard of people who keep MacDonald’s gift cards in their car to give instead of cash. I truly think that if by hearing Officer Stacy’s instructions, we dismiss panhandlers totally out of mind then we are making excuses. But if we talk with each other and encourage one another to love God and our neighbors in ways that will help them, then we allow the love of Christ to flow through us into our neighborhoods and families.

I wish it were easy, but it is not. Loving our neighbors will mean sacrifice, especially of our time … and a bit of risk. Neighbors show mercy. May the mercy of Christ our Lord be shown through us to all who are hurting, so that they can experience the love that has been shown to us through Christ our lord. Amen.