Sunday, June 12, 2016

4 Pentecost

Dedication of the Good Samaritan Window

 June 12, 2016

 Luke 10.25-37

+ Today begins with a confession. According to our Lectionary—those prescribed readings that we hear each Sunday morning, the scriptures we heard this  Sunday aren’t  scheduled to be read until July 10.  But it seems unusual to me that we celebrate this Sunday—the Sunday on which we dedicate our Good Samaritan window—without those scriptures, but then do it again in a few weeks. So, I made an executive decision—hoping that God will forgive—and switched that Sunday’s with today’s.

Even if we weren’t dedicating this window, our Gospel reading this morning is an important reading.  No, I’m not being emphatic enough. It’s not just an important reading. It is, in my opinion, the single most important reading for us as Christians. Am I being clear on this? It’s THE most important reading we have as Christians.  I’m not going to sugarcoat it.

And, for those of you who have known for me for any period, you know how I feel about what is being said in today’s Gospel. For me, this is IT. This is the heart of our Christian faith. This is where the “rubber meets the road.”

When anyone has asked me, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” it is this reading I direct them to. When anyone asks me, must I do this or that to be “saved,” I direct them to this reading. This is what it is all about.

So, why do I feel this way? Well, let’s take a look this all-important reading.  We have two things going on. First, we have this young lawyer. He comes, in all earnestness, to seek from Jesus THE answer.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

What must I do to be saved? And, guess what? He gets an answer. But, as always, Jesus flips it all around and gives it all a spin.  Jesus answers a question with a question. He asks the lawyer,

“what does the law say?”

This law—the answer—is called The Shema. The Shema is heart of Jewish faith. It is so important that it is prayed twice a day, once in the morning, once at night.  It is important, because it is the heart of all faith in God.

So, what is the answer? The answer is,

“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 then, Jesus says this:

“Do this, and you will live.”

I will repeat it.

Do this—Love God, love your neighbor—and you will live.

This is what we must do to be saved.  Now that sounds easy. But Jesus complicates it all with a parable. Which is the second part of our reading.

And it’s a great story.  Everyone likes this story of the Good Samaritan.  After all, what isn’t there to like in this story?

Well…actually…in Jesus’ day, there were people who would not have liked this story.   In Jesus’s day, this story would have been RADICAL. The part of this story that most of us miss is the fact that when Jesus told this parable to his audience, he did so with a particular scheme in mind.  

The term “Good Samaritan” would have been an oxymoron for those Jews listening to Jesus that day. Samaritans were, in fact,  quite hated.  They were viewed as heretics, as defilers, as unclean.  They were seen as betrayers of the Jewish faith. So, when Jesus tells this tale of a Good Samaritan, it no doubt rankled a few nerves in the midst of that company.

With this in mind, we do need to ask ourselves some very hard questions. Hard questions we did not think we would be asked on this Good Samaritan Sunday, as we dedicate this beautiful window.   You, of course, know where I am going with this. So, here goes:
Who are the Samaritans in our understanding of this story?

For us, the story only really hits home when we replace that term “Samaritan” with the name of someone we don’t like at all. Maybe it is “Fundamentalist,” or “Tea Party Republican” Maybe it is “progressive” or “Social Democrat” or “bleeding heart liberal.” Maybe it is “Muslim” or “Foreigner” or “Panhandler.”  Maybe it is “Redneck” or “Racist” or “Misogynist” or “Homophobe.” Or maybe it is Donald Trump.
It’s not hard to find the names. But it is maybe hard for some of us to put that word “good” in front of some of those names. It’s hard for a good many of us to find anything “good” in any of these people. For us, to face the fact that the Good Fundamentalist, or the Good Tea Party Republican or  the Good Socialist Democrat or the Good Redneck could stop and help us out might not sit so comfortably with us.

We—good socially-conscious Christians that we are—are also guilty sometimes of being complacent.  We too find ourselves sometimes feeling quite smug about our “advanced” or “educated” ways of thinking about society and God and the Church.  And we too demonize those we don’t agree with sometimes.
It is easy for me to imagine Christ living in me personally, despite all the shortcomings and negative things I know about myself.  I know that, sometimes, I am a despicable person and yet, I know that Christ is alive in me.  So, why is it so hard for me to see that Christ is present even in those whom I dislike, despite those things that make them so dislikeable to me?

For me, this is the hard part.  Not only recognizing that Christ may live in and work through others, but actually seeing Christ alive in those people I have personally demonized is really one of the hardest things for me to do as a Christian.

The Gospel story today—and this window—shows us that we must love and serve and see Christ alive in even those whom we demonize—even if those same people demonize us as well.  Being a follower of Jesus means loving even those we, under any other circumstance, simply can’t stand.  And this story is all about being jarred out of our complacent way of seeing things.

It’s also easy for some of us to immediately identify ourselves with the Good Samaritan.  We, of course, would help someone stranded on the road, even when it means making ourselves vulnerable to the robbers who might be lurking nearby.  

But I can tell you that as I hear and read this parable, I—quite uncomfortably—find myself sometimes identifying with the priest and the Levite.  I am the one, as much as I hate to admit it, who could very easily, out of fear or because of the social structure in which I live, find myself crossing over to the other side of the road.  And I hate the fact that my thoughts even go there.

But… Something changes this whole story. Something disrupts this story completely.

Love changes this whole story.

When we truly live out that commandment of Jesus to us that we must love God and love our neighbor as ourselves, we know full-well that those social and political and personal boundaries fall to the ground. Love always defeats our dislike of someone.  Love always defeats the political boundaries that divide us.  Love always softens our hearts and our stubborn wills and allows us see the goodness and love that exists in others, even when doing so is uncomfortable and painful for us.

Now I say that hoping I don’t come across as naïve.  I know that my love of the racist will not necessarily change the racist. I know that loving the homophobe will not necessarily change the homophobe.  Trust me, I know that loving Donald Trump (and even saying those words aloud is difficult for me)  is not going to change Donald Trump!

But you know what?  It does change me.   It does cause me to look—as much as I hate to do so—into the eyes of that person and see something more.   It does cause me to look at the person and realize that God does love this person despite their failings and their faults—just as God loves me despite my failings and my faults.

These are the boundaries Jesus came to break down in us.   And these are the boundaries Jesus commands us to break down within ourselves.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” the lawyer asks Jesus.  And what’s the answer?

Love is the answer.  We must love—fully and completely.

“Do this,” Jesus says, “and you will live.”

It not just about our personal relationship with Jesus.  It not about accepting Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior. Yes, you should have a personal relationship with Christ. But, that’s not ultimately what saves us.  He nowhere says that is what will save us. What will save us?  Love will save us.  Love of God. Love of one another.  Loving ourselves. Loving what God loves.  Love will save us.  Love will liberate us.  Love will free us.  Jesus doesn’t get much clearer than that.

Because let’s face it. We are the Samaritan in this story. We are—each of us—probably despised by someone in our lives. We, to someone, represent everything they hate.

The fact is, God is not expecting us to be perfect. God worked through the Samaritan—the person who represented so much of what everyone who was hearing that story represents as wrong. If God can work through him, let me tell God can work through you and me.

I think it’s very appropriate on this Sunday in which we dedicate this beautiful window for me to close with an analogy I deeply love and have used on multiple occasions, but probably never more appropriately than on this Sunday. Probably my favorite poet, as most of you know, is the Anglican priest and poet, George Herbert. Herbert only wrote one book of poetry, called The Temple. In it, he wrote poems about different aspects of the church building. Of course, we also wrote about the Windows.  I’ve preached many times on this poem before.

This “The Windows” by George Herbert

Lord, how can man preach thy eternall word?
He is a brittle crazie glasse:
Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford
This glorious and transcendent place,
To be a window, through thy grace.

But when thou dost anneal in glasse thy storie,
Making thy life to shine within
The holy Preachers; then the light and glorie
More rev’rend grows, & more doth win:
Which else shows watrish, bleak, & thin.

Doctrine and life, colours and light, in one
When they combine and mingle, bring
A strong regard and aw: but speech alone
Doth vanish like a flaring thing,
And in the eare, not conscience ring.

We, “brittle crazie glass,” can still be a window through which God’s grace shines. We do not have to be perfect. We can be a cracked window. We can be a dirty window. But even despite this, despite whatever in us might be “waterish, bleak and thin,” “colors and light” combining and mingling, can show through us. 

Let us be what this window is. As it takes and reflects the light upon us, let us take and reflect God’s light and goodness and love on others.  Let us love, as this windows tells us. Let us love fully and radically and completely. Let us love God.   Let us love each other. Let us love ourselves.  Let us love all that God loves.  Let us love our neighbor.

Who is our neighbor?   Our neighbor is not just the one who is easy to love.  Our neighbor is also the one who hardest to love. Love them—God, our neighbor—and yes, even ourselves.  And you and I--we too will live, as Jesus says.  And we will live a life full of the light we, like this window, have reflected in our own lives.   And that light that will never be taken from us. 

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