7-10-16-Proper 10 C

  Readings for Proper 10 C

 

We need different ways of hearing the story of the Good Samaritan—it is one of those stories that is so familiar we don’t hear it.  The story of the Good Samaritan is so deeply embedded in Western culture that the first dictionary definition of the word “Samaritan” in English is not “a person from Samaria” but “a helpful or compassionate person.”

 

Not so in Biblical times—to the Jews, Samaritans were neighbors, as their territory bordered the Jewish lands, they were even distant cousins—but they were enemies, ethnic rivals.  So much so that a few weeks ago we heard the story of a Samaritan community which would not receive Jesus’ messengers because he was a Jew bound for Jerusalem.  James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven on them—maybe not an atypical response!

 

So for Jesus to make the “good person” in this parable, the one who acts like a neighbor, a Samaritan, is surprising for his Jewish hearers, if not shocking.  It is the one who is different, the one who is despised, the one whom you’d least expect, who acts as a neighbor, which to Jesus seems to mean, who acts with compassion.  That is the turning point in the story, when the Samaritan really sees the man in the ditch, and instead of thinking about himself, and his own life, and what’s convenient for him, he sees the other person’s humanity.  Com-passion literally means to “feel with.”  Moved with compassion, by feeling something of what the man in the ditch must be feeling, by identifying with that and recognizing that that man is human just as he his human, the Samaritan steps out across a barrier.  A piece of road and a ditch separated him from the man who had been robbed and beaten, but more than that—this great cultural and ethnic divide was also between them, as the victim was likely also Jewish.  And the Samaritan is able to cross that great divide because he has felt with the other, and known their common humanity.

 

A few weeks ago I had my own Samaritan moment.  I didn’t identify it as such until just yesterday, when I turned on to my road with this scripture rolling around in my mind and heart.  I think about it every day when I turn on to my road.  It was a Thursday evening around 8:45, and there was a fatality on the curve on the rural road in front of our house.  We heard the noise and ran out, and our neighbors heard it and had already called 911.  I had this momen where I had to decide what to do… I was not thinking about the Good Samaritan.  I was not thinking consciously about people I have known in the last two years who have died on roads.  But what came to me in a flash  was the humanity of the person or people who had just gone through that accident.  I was identifying, “feeling with,” with how frightened they must feel, and how alone, perhaps badly hurt or near death.  And I was thinking, “No one deserves to be alone as they die.  I can talk to them and pray with them until help comes.”  That feeling with, the experience of common humanity of another, motivated me to take the first slow step toward the crash, and then the next, and the next.  I was able to talk to and pray with the man on the road for ten minutes or so until the first responders got there.

 

This is the most basic truth we learn in Sunday school: We are all human beings, created in the image of God to love God and one another.  Truly, this does not seem like a revolutionary concept to me.   We are different, yes, and we disagree, but on the most fundamental level we are all God’s children, all beloved, and asked to love one another.

 

We have had many examples recently of people ignoring or forgetting others’ humanity.  People who take difference not as a sign of the beautiful diversity of God’s creation, but as an excuse to hate.  And forgetting that the other is human just like them, no matter their skin color, no matter their lifestyle, no matter their beliefs—that they are human, that they feel, that they bleed, that they have people who love them—forgetting this most fundamental truth, these people choose to kill.  There has been a lot of talk and debate which leads to posturing about gun control and police reform.  And we need to have these conversations.  We need to really, actually listen to each other.  And we need to take collective actions to change this American phenomenon of mass shootings.  But we also need to be Samaritans.

 

People motivated by hate driven by difference will always find ways to kill, hurt, destroy.  But what if we lived in a society where not just a few odd outliers who are labelled “Good Samaritans” stepped out in compassion and common humanity but that pretty much everyone did?  What if it wasn’t so strange to help a stranger in need that we needed a special moniker for this?  What if we lived in a community where you could count on the kindness of strangers?  Where our common humanity, that we are all children of God, was our most fundamental principal, taught to our children, in word and in deed?  What if compassion, instead of rare, was commonplace?  What if we lived by St. Paul’s vision of the Body of Christ, where if one member suffers, all suffer with it, and if one member rejoices, all rejoice with it?

 

We have opportunities every single day to be Samaritans.  I know that you do this.  You don’t think about it as such, but you do it.  You act with compassion, both in small and in extraordinary ways.  It’s ok to start with the small.  To recognize the humanity of the person checking you out at the grocery store, or the person who just cut you off.  To pay extra attention to someone who seems very different from you, and to learn about those differences with curiosity that honors them, but also to take the opportunity to remind yourself again that we are all human beings on a planet hurtling through space together.  We are all God’s children.  We all feel, we all bleed, we all love and have people who love us.

 

We celebrated “Mission Sunday” a few weeks ago, which we do quarterly as a part of our year-round stewardship program, but I’m thinking it should have been “Mission month!”  The scriptures this summer, coupled with the fact that I am in my last few weeks with you here at St. Luke’s, have brought out this question of why this congregation is here and the mission you all are called to carry on in this community, even as I am called to continue the mission somewhere else.  This is fundamental to the mission of this church—creating relationships across difference.  Accepting absolutely everyone.  Our mission statement says we are called to share Jesus’ love with “everyone in our diverse community.”  And the vision we discerned three years ago was all about building bridges across everything that divides us from God and from one another.  It is no accident that our preschool is called “Little Bridges!”  Children in the preschool are experiencing at a very young age that we are all people—no matter what we look like, no matter what language we speak, no matter where we live.  You’ll hear more about our preschool and its mission during announcements; my hope, dream, and prayer is that this congregation and all its members commit to and embrace the preschool as one way of living out our call to be “bridgers of the gap”—to be people who recognize our common humanity, people who feel with, to be Samaritans.

 

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I have said these things to you in the name of our Friend and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

Sermon C. 2016, The Rev. Amy Denney Zuniga

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