A man on his way to Jericho was left by thieves to die by the road. A priest came along and passed him by; a Levite saw the man, but left him to die. But then came the good Samaritan to help the needy man, and as the law was written, he followed God’s command: Love the Lord with all your heart, Love the Lord with all your mind, Love your neighbor as yourself, and to everyone be kind.
I have a question for you – how many of you think that when you were growing up, the world was a safer place? How many of you think it feels less safe now than it used to when you were little?
Where does that idea come from, that we are not safe? That we live in a place of danger, and in a time of danger. Because, I have to push back on that a little. In this time, in this country, we are the safest we have ever been. Violent crime is at an all time low. In the mid 1970s, you were twice as likely to be the victim of a violent crime than you are today in the United States. We are safe. Rest in that for a moment.
I know, because of the power of the internet, that yesterday, very near to this exact story of the Good Samaritan repeated itself in Poughkeepsie NY, Omaha NE, and Portland OR. And people who have medical bills set up GoFundMes everyday to ask kind souls to contribute to their care when they can’t do it on their own.
Why am I telling you this? Because nothing has changed from the time of Jesus. Yesterday, a man on his way to Jericho was left by thieves to die by the road. A priest came along and passed him by; a Levite saw the man, but left him to die. But then came the good Samaritan to help the needy man, and as the law was written, he followed God’s command: Love the Lord with all your heart, Love the Lord with all your mind, Love your neighbor as yourself, and to everyone be kind.
How do we decide where and how to help people? My best answer is through spending time with God, and spending time with God’s people, you may figure it out, for yourself, and for this community. Dr. Martin Luther King will inspire you to be active in this discovery process: “We are tied together in a single garment of destiny. We are caught in a network of mutuality, And I can never be who I ought to be until you are who you ought to be.” Religion that undermines the ways that we are divided is religion worth taking notice of and diving into.
A person I really admire talks a lot about how what we take in and value and how that contributes to what we think, and how we spend our time, and what we put out in the world. If the only time you pray, or hear the bible, or think about God in your life is on Sunday mornings, it’s very possible that NPR is responsible for your spiritual formation more than this church. What I’m trying to encourage you to consider is how you might find and build even more of a rhythm into your life that is healthy and life giving. We are shaped and changed and made whole by repeatedly paying attention to things that give us life. Those things change us and make us act and behave differently in future.
I’m not sure we talk about that enough: your formation as a Christian is important. We need to do liturgical acts – liturgy – public worship regularly because that is how liturgical acts work.
We can encourage one another in regular weekly holy habits of coming to church. it is the repetition that gives the experience greater depth and somehow unlocks things inside us.
When we do things again and again, we become part of the thing we are doing. Instead of us doing something to the thing, the thing starts to do something to us. We become the body of Christ.
We might start to love God more, and to prefer nothing whatsoever to Christ, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We become counter cultural. We center our lives on our values of welcoming the stranger, feeding the poor, and making each other feel less suffering.
I know a woman named Kathy who has been arrested more than 60 times. When the US embargoed Iraq, she and others traveled there with food and medical supplies to give to hospitals in defiance of the US government. She’s just one person, but she believes that war is wrong, and she’s shaped her whole life around that belief. She asked her employer to pay her such a low wage that she will not be taxed, so that she does not support any war efforts that happen in our country. She lives in a deliberate, faithful way that seems scary to me. Kathy is not very popular with the US government, or with the IRS. Kathy has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Sometimes when people set themselves on the path to loving God and loving their neighbor, it starts to look a lot like being insane. But God isn’t calling us to be safe, is God? God isn’t calling us to be the most efficient, the most comfortable, the one with the most money. God is calling us to be faithful. God is calling us to love. Radical love. Insane love. Love that scares us, challenges us, might get us arrested. That kind of love.
So what’s your thing? What is God calling you to love for? To live for? What’s worth dying for? The ethics that I care about, the center of my life, what it means to do the right thing is … guess what? I’m not going to tell you. I’m not going to tell you. Jesus is. Speak out for the downtrodden. Welcome the stranger. We have to be concerned about the well-being of everyone, most particularly the vulnerable. Compassion for the marginalized is an imperative for those who would identify as Christian (and fully human in my book). The gospel is a mirror held in front of each of us said Verna Dozier.
Love God and Love your neighbor – that is God’s will for your life – it’s bigger than one person’s opinion. Who is my neighbor? YOU don’t decide that. God has decided that already when he made us all, together, the body of Christ. But what you do decide, and this takes some soul searching, is – what are you going to do about it?