Monday, July 26, 2010

Sermon for 11 July 2010, Proper 10C

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.

St. Luke 10: 25-37/Psalm 25

Your Neighbor

Proper 10 (Seventh Sunday after Pentecost)

11 July 2010

Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

For a lay reader

You’ll have to bear with me. I don’t remember all of the details due to the beating. Things are disjointed, fuzzy, but I do have some clarity now. I was a lone Jewish man walking down the seventeen mile stretch of Roman road from Jerusalem to Jericho. It’s a dangerous way—always has been. I fell among robbers, and they fell upon me, beat me, laid blows upon me—they pummeled me. And that wasn’t enough—they stripped me, too, and went away leaving me half dead.

I was barely conscious at best, partially aware, usually out, subconsciously remembering, praying a psalm, you’d call it Psalm 25. Next to death. Unable to speak, signal, move. Stripped. No one could tell I was Jewish. Usually you could tell by the way I talked or what I wore—not today. I was barely alive, couldn’t speak, and was naked. The robbers did their job well. They came, they did, they went.

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. 2O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. 3Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

When I was next aware of my surroundings, by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw me, he passed by on the other side.

He was riding, not walking, like most priests, of the upper class. Only the poor walk. He must have saw me from a distance, and veered away. Who knew what he was thinking, just having finished his two weeks of temple service. Priests don’t go anywhere near dead bodies. Four cubits—that’s six feet for you—is too close. Being too close would defile the priest. If he were to be defiled, he could not collect, distribute, or eat the tithes, his share of the offerings, and his family and servants would suffer the consequences.

At four cubits, 6 feet away—he couldn’t tell if I were dead or alive. He couldn’t even tell if I was a Jew or a gentile. Dead Jew or filthy gentile—it was all the same to the oral tradition. Defilement for sure either way. He was trying to keep holy according to the Pharisee’s law, but missed the point of caring for others. Legalism thwarted the Spirit. He came, he did (nothing), he went.

4Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. 5Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. 6Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. 7Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!

In disappointment, I faded out again, silently praying my psalm, praying for help—from anybody. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw me, passed by on the other side.

He came closer than the priest. Must have thought about it and decided against helping. Besides, he knew that the priest had already gone by. The same laws applied to the Levite that applied to the priest, but he only had to be ritually clean around the ritual activities. There was nothing really preventing him from checking me out—even if I were dead or a gentile. If he would have stopped to help, that action would have been a criticism of the priest’s interpretation of the law! Legalism strikes again! He was not a professional theologian like the priest. Who was he to criticize the priest?

Practical reasons might have made his mind up as well. How much could he help, not riding, but walking as I was? What resources did he really have on him to take care of me? He came, he did (basically nothing), he went.

8Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. 9He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. 10All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. 11For your name's sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great. 12 Who is the man who fears the LORD? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose. 13His soul shall abide in well-being, and his offspring shall inherit the land. 14The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. 15My eyes are ever toward the LORD, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.

Somebody else had to be coming. Someone had to pluck my feet out of this net of suffering. I was expecting a layman to come along next. Wouldn’t you? A priest, a Levite, and a layman walk into a Synagogue… well, that’s a story for another day. Someone else came. It was not an Israelite.

But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon me; and when he saw me, he felt compassion, and came to me and bandaged up my wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put me on his own beast, and brought me to an inn and took care of me.

The robbers beat me. The priest just went along the road. The Levite at least came to a place closer to me. Only a Samaritan, of all people, came to me.

Samaritans and Jews weren’t friends. “Enemies” is a better term. How we hated them! They had gone after false idols, intermarried with non-Jews and made sacrifices other places than the only true Temple. They were considered dogs. In fact, this Samaritan put himself at risk by helping me out. If I had died, my family could have attacked him in revenge for the attack upon me. I know, it doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t to me, now.

How can I explain the relationship between Jews and Samaritans? Well, think of your worst nightmare. The person who rescued me was the last person I thought would. For a WW2 vet it might be as if a Nazi storm trooper stooped down to help. Or, at the height of the Cold War, a Soviet KGB agent. Today, with your nation’s involvement in what you call the Middle East, imagine a terrorist helping you in your hour of need. Anyway, a Samaritan helping a Jew—it was unthinkable, impossible—just not done!

The Samaritan knew a lot more about what was going on that I did—that’s for sure. I never did learn which direction he was traveling. He could have been distantly following the priest and the Levite, or he would have passed both of them. He would have figured out that neither did anything much to help me. The road was still dangerous, even for him.

The oil he used softened and cleaned my wounds. The wine disinfected them. He not only carried me away from the scene with a beast of burden, but used his own mount, not a lowly pack animal, as my ambulance. This is sacrificial action. Oil and wine like that used in the Jewish temple. And such generous sacrifice! The Samaritan gave me his seat of honor on his mount.

On the next day, he took out two denarii. The denarius was equivalent to a day's wages and gave them to the innkeeper and said, Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.'

The robbers beat and robbed me. The Samaritan paid for me. The robbers left me dying. The Samaritan left me taken care of. The robbers abandoned me to the vultures. The Samaritan promised to return.

He came, He did, and did, and did, and did, and went, but promised to return.

16Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. 17 The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses. 18Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins. 19Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me. 20Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me! Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. 21May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.

I waited for the Lord, and He rescued me. Jesus often met people in need of rescue. Consider the case of a young lawyer, an expert in the law of Moses.

On one occasion, an expert in the Mosaic Law stood up showing respect for Jesus. He even called Him Rabbi, Teacher, showing that he considered Jesus at least an equal. His deceitful heart wished to put Him to the test, saying, (Luke 10:25–37) “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27And 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.” 28And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

22Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles. This young man is in trouble. He is up to his neck stuck in the law. Can you find it in your heart to redeem, to rescue, even him?

Jesus answered this new question with my story and a question of his own. 36Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

Again, the expert in the law just wanted it all laid out for him. Give me a list, Jesus. Tell me who is my neighbor. Be sure to tell me who isn’t my neighbor, too. I don’t want to waste my time on the unworthy.

This lawyer, this student of the law was asking the wrong questions. We all know you can’t get proper answers if your questions are flawed. The question is not, “Who is my neighbor?” But rather, “To whom must you become a neighbor?” He is pressed to understand that he must become a neighbor to anyone in need. To fulfill the law, he must reach out in costly compassion to all people, even to his enemies. The standard set forth by the law of love remains, even though he, or you or I can never fully achieve it. You and I cannot justify ourselves or earn eternal life.

You may never hurt someone like me by violence. Instead, think about who we may have already hurt or may yet hurt due to neglect, like the priest and Levite did. You have the message that can bring the dead to life. The message of Good News that Jesus brought and that Jesus accomplished can give life to your neighbors. That’s not just the people who live next to you, though that isn’t a bad place to start. This is a message for all who are in need. Who doesn’t have need for life, healing, forgiveness, grace, a new fresh start?

The last place I expected to look for help was a Samaritan, an outsider who was to be rejected. No Jew had ever heard of a Good Samaritan. The last place one would look for salvation is a man dead on the cross. No Jew would ordinarily think of this as a good thing. But this is no ordinary man. This is the Son of God. He chose not to save Himself so that He could save others. By his wounds we are healed.

As human beings, you were just like I was, barely conscious, dreaming, deluded, wounded, basically dead—only spiritually. Salvation came to you, you who were spiritually fatally wounded, in the form of a costly demonstration of unexpected love. Jesus, the rejected outsider, has bound up your wounds and has healed you by his wounds. He has given you costly gifts, a washing of regeneration in Baptism and the medicine of immortality and antidote to death of His precious Body and Blood. He came. He did and did and did and did and did. He died, rose, and went, i.e. ascended into Heaven. And He promises to return.

You, too, have been healed by the Good Samaritan, your Neighbor, Jesus. Go and do likewise. Go and take the healing medicine of the Good News to your neighbors, to anyone who is in need of what Jesus has already given you. Amen.