Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on July 10, 2022

Posted by on Sun, Jul 10, 2022 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

July 10, 2022

In the name of the loving, liberating, and life-giving God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. (Prayer of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry from his opening sermon to our Episcopal General Convention, July 8, 2022)

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The lawyer’s question is phrased by Luke in a way that indicates he wants to know what a feat will let him check that box off of his list. He is not asking about how he is to change his behavior. Jesus shifts his query from the incidental to how one lives in the present, what ethic underlies and guides him. The man then asks, ‘who is my neighbor?’ Here he’s asking for a boundary showing who is on the inside for me to consider a neighbor, and who may I rule out—who is not my neighbor? Boundaries were a fact of life then as they are now; the rules change when I leave this area, a visitor or immigrant has different rights than a citizen. Having already answered Jesus’ question, that one is to live by loving God with your whole being and loving your neighbor as yourself, it is a question beyond boundaries of who is inside or outside, rather it is now a question about being called to love, for which there is no insider or outsider. 

Jesus moves to the more crucial question of who practices compassion, by telling a parable. Oddly, if we call it  ‘the Good Samaritan’ we are doing the very thing Jesus is telling him not to do, because a ‘good Samaritan’ presupposes that Samaritans are not typically ‘good.’ If we say someone is a ‘good Christian’, aren’t we implying distinction from all those not-good ones? The other problem is that such a title predisposes us to hear the parable only one way; we don’t want to be like first two passers by who should have helped and didn’t, we should be like the Good Samaritan who helps unexpectedly. Parables are never ever that simple. (Someone said if you read a parable and know just what Jesus meant — you need to go read it again.) 

Instead of from that perspective, do we ever see ourselves as the one who was robbed, beaten, stripped naked and left to die? What did that man think, fear, hope, pray for? Have you ever come to a point where you cannot even hope to fix the situation, where your only hope is help from another, and your only prayer is for God to hear and have mercy? Sometimes I’m amazed at how hard it is to admit need and accept help. I’ll bet most of us have offered to help someone up who fell, or is sick, recovering from surgery, feels alone, lost, scared, only to hear them say, “No, no, I’m fine, really.” When you feel beaten up, stripped bare, vulnerable, (and we all do some time) who comes to help? Has it ever been someone unlikely? Someone you didn’t want help from? Has receiving help ever not been in some way soul-stirring?

It comes as no surprise that Jesus’ command to love includes enemies, outsiders, anyone in need, and the most difficult people we know, but it is much harder to see them be more quick to show compassion and love than those we consider insiders or the usual definition of ‘neighbors.’ Coauthors Levine and Witherington write, “Not only might the outsider, the enemy, show compassion, but we must realize that only when we can except this possibility will we ourselves be able to live.” (Amy-Jill Levine and Ben Witherington III, The Gospel of Luke, Cambridge University Press, 2018).

God participates in our lives, giving usagency to both choose how we live, to choose to give and receive Christ’s love;. God sets us in one another’s path, and calls on us to show mercy and to receive it, allowing another to give, and we get to learn from times we fail to do either. At 7:45 am, two Sundays ago, I received this text from Elizabeth:

I’ll be there by 9, definitely ready for the 10 service. I’m helping a lady get gas after her car died on the road. Almost done, but won’t make it for 8 am service. See you later! 🙂 

Elizabeth didn’t know the woman who was of advanced wisdom years, and who was quite worried. She needed help and along it came. It made me wonder how many other people were on their way to church and passed her by before Elizabeth—did not pass by? (I’ll admit I’m awfully glad it wasn’t last Sunday when she was preaching!) 

What are opportunities to give help or to receive it, that we pass by, and why? We may have to be creative if safety is at issue, or help from a bigger picture perspective. Helping someone can be messy, they might become clingy or unpredictable, they may not have the same views or boundaries I do. In Jesus’ parable the man from Samaria treated and bandaged the naked half-dead man’s wounds, placed him on his own animal, paid for his care, and promised to follow up on him. It was messy. It cost him. Aa the lawyer heard Jesus’ parable, I wonder what he thought about becoming a person who did such things himself.

Valarie Kaur is a Sikh activist, a civil rights attorney and author, she writes,

“Love is more than a feeling. Love is a form of sweet labor: fierce, bloody, imperfect, and life-giving—a choice we make over and over again. If love is sweet labor, love can be taught, modeled, and practiced. This labor engages all our emotions. Joy is the gift of love. Grief is the price of love. Anger protects that which is loved. And when we think we have reached our limit, wonder is the act that returns us to love…It is not a formal code or prescription but an orientation to life…” (Valarie Kaur as quoted in Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation: Revolutionary Love, Nov 12, 2020.)

Not a formal code or prescription but an orientation to life. That is what we see in Jesus’ life and love and teaching, in his crucifixion, death, and resurrection. We often acknowledge his sacrifice for us in our creeds, our prayers, and scriptures, and try to wrap our minds around being called to give by his way of love. In brief, sacrificing something means to make it holy, simply, extravagantly, by giving it away for love. (My paraphrase of Fredrick Beuchner’s words).

This reading began by a man attempting to test Jesus by asking what he must do to gain eternal life. Whether his question was genuine or not, Jesus’ parable deftly transforms the conversation, making it about hope for salvation. The hope of a vulnerable, half-dead man, and perhaps also the lawyer, both of whom desperately needed someone to save them. Amen.

© 2022 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.