The blog of a lutheran pastor, writer, and political animal.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Sermon on Justice


          As we reach this, the third and final question from the pews, the end of this summer sermon series, we reach a question heavy with history and packed with political import even today.
          The question is: “What is God’s justice? Is God concerned with Justice? How should we act to be in accord with God’s justice?”
          The short answer is, God’s justice is about making all things right. God is deeply concerned with Justice, in fact, it is mentioned explicitly in scripture 173 times and words related to it are mentioned nearly 2,000 times! Finally, we ought to act with justice.
          In order to get a sense of what justice might mean to God, and to us, it is worth looking at the broad scope of scripture and how justice is expressed therein. So, take a peek at what Justice looks like in the Torah, Prophets, and Writings of the Old Testament and how Justice is found in Jesus. Then we’ll think for a moment what that means for God, and for human beings.

          In the first five books of the Old Testament, the Torah, we find God’s people newly freed from slavery
—one of the ultimate acts of injustice,
and shaping their society with an eye toward justice. Making right that which is wrong.
But what does that look like?
1. Impartiality,
2. fair distribution of land and forgiveness of debt,
3. and all of this is done in an expansive way.

          Justice looked like impartiality on the part of those in power. Courts and kings and everyone else was to govern fairly, treating everyone equally,
especially those who had the least power,
widows, orphans, and the like.
Now, you could rightly say, “hold up there Pastor” Equally and especially, don’t go together
—either you treat everyone the same, or not… ...but as we read in our first lesson today, the author of Exodus was well aware that
the least of these are least likely to get a fair shake,
most likely to loose a lawsuit because the deck is stacked against them,
most likely to bear the brunt of bribery and corruption.
So, justice involves the rules of society to be fair for all, but especially for the least of us.

          One of the most radical aspects of Israelite society, one that some scholars think was so impractical that it was never actually practiced, was the idea of a Jubilee year. A year when everything, especially land, reverted back to its original owner…
          This is a strange proposition when you think of it, simultaneously leftist and reactionary!
The idea is every 49 years everyone returns to the land that their tribe received from God as laid out in the Torah and the book of Joshua.
          Think of it!
You’re from the tribe of Dan in the north, but you’ve lived down south in Judah your whole life and prospered well, you’ve accrued a bunch of land and wealth, and then year 49 hits. All of a sudden you’ve got to take your family and move north to Dan, and live on a tiny plot of land there, giving up all you own to the members of the tribe of Judah who have ancestral right to it.
          Think if this was the case today, where did your family originally settle? Imagine having to leave everything you have and trek back there with your family and start over again.
          The Jubilee year recognized that over time power and wealth accrue to some families more than to others,
and if you’re one of the others,
dug into a hole,
digging out becomes harder the longer you are down there…
and so, every 49 years there was a reset button—like the one for the router of your wireless, you poke a pen tip into it and boom,
debts forgiven,
slaves freed,
land restored.

          Finally, we see in the Torah that the promise of justice is not solely for citizens of the Land, but also for those passing through the land or immigrating to the land.
Justice, for sojourners and immigrants,
resident aliens and even enemies!
Justice, for all!
          In the Torah the community that came out of slavery in Egypt is encouraged to be just by being fair, especially to the least of these,
by resetting social standing every generation,
and expanding out this sense of justice beyond those within its immediate borders.
          This understanding of Justice swells in the books of the Prophets.
Prophets look around at their society and recognize that so often the ideals of the Exodus have been abandoned,
that Justice is for just us,
that debts have been accrued so much that the poor go without footwear and coats on cold nights,
that simple ideas of equal treatment aren’t practiced anywhere.
If all that wasn’t bad enough, the people try to cover up all of their societal sins with religious ritual
look, I made a burnt offering, I even did it in a big way
our country is so very religious!
          To which the prophets of every age reply, “do justice! Love kindness! Walk humbly with your God!”
          As for the Writings, the focus is on how a Just society creates individual good, they explored how Justice created what Philosophers might call the good life.
If you act unjustly it is unwise and leads to death.
If you act Justly you also act wisely, in a life giving way.

          As for the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, listen to Jesus’ mission statement:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
          Jesus embodies God’s justice. His presence among us is good news, especially for the poor, captive, blind, oppressed, he is proclaiming a Jubilee year for them all
—a new start for them,
for all of us!
          Yes, God showing up in Jesus is an example of justice
—that same type of Justice God has been about since the exodus.
Justice for all, but especially for the least of these.
A leveling—think of Mary’s Song in which thrones are thrown down and the lowly are lifted up.
An expansion of those who fall under the Reign of God—the citizenship among the saints is expanded, most noticeably in Paul’s mission to the Gentiles.

          So, what does this all mean for God and for us humans?
          Judging from the descriptions of God’s concerns found in scripture, we can be assured God is concerned about Justice and that part of God making all things right involves the 3-fold pattern of justices I’ve described.
          How should we act…there is the rub, right?
          We cling to the Just and Merciful acts of God, and then act as if we don’t just believe them in our head and heart, but with our hands and our whole self as well.
Working in our own selves to make it true, and among our whole society to make it so.
          It is a right and Christian thing to call for fairness and focus on those who bear the brunt of injustice.
          There was a Christian movement back in the year 2000 to make it a Jubilee year in which the richest countries in the world forgave the debts of the poorest countries in the world—you might remember the musician Bono of U2 heading it up this effort—this was faithful to the original intent of the Jubilee year.
          Christianity ought to always be peeking through the cracks that our culture creates so that we might see those left out, and invite them in and act in such a way that their full dignity might be upheld.


Sunday, August 07, 2016

Why is sin so easy and being a Christian so hard?

Today’s question, the 2nd one in our 3 week sermon series “Questions from the Pews” is this: “Why sin is so easy and being a Christian so hard?”
          There is a lot packed into this singular question.
What is sin? For example, are we talking little s—foibles and folly, or big S, a controlling power?
What does it mean to be a human being? Are we inclined to evil, made that way, corrupted, or what?
What does it mean, as well, to be a Christian? Are we talking about being polite—“That was a right Christian thing you did today.” Or about community values, or about a relationship with Christ?
          But, before I venture too far off into the weeds with all this, I’ll give a simple answer to the question “Why is sin so easy and being a Christian so hard?”
Sin is easy because we’re mortals / infected by Sin.
Being Christian is both impossible and easy.

Sin is easy because we’re mortals
 infected by Sin.
          We’re mortal.
          This has two very practical implications. 1. We’re afraid of death. 2. We have a limited understanding of the world around us.

          We’re afraid of death—not always obviously, but so much of what we do is a denial of this firm reality. Everything from…
societal obsession with youth culture
to the way we talk euphemistically about funerals
to the general disregard we show for those generations who will live after we ourselves are dead.
          The shadow of death that looms over our lives clouds our judgment, and makes us more closed fisted than we ought to be, more concerned about self and self-preservation than is sane for a species such as our own.

          Death, also, is the ultimate blinder.
Our limited nature
—that we can only experience and know so much
—makes all of our choices unsteady and ambiguous.
Our viewpoint, both as individuals and as a species, is so limited that when the Unlimited One showed up,
when Jesus showed up,
we crucified him.
We were unable to recognize the one who recognized us from before we were born, from before creation was created!
 It is as Jesus says from the cross, “They know not what they do.”

We’re infected by sin.
          Sin isn’t simply individual accidents,
or bad habits,
or even sins plural,
instead it is a force, a power that controls us
with a capital S.
          As Paul writes in Romans, Sin has captured us, and not only us, but the Law itself. The Law of God, a good thing, is used to a bad end.
So too we, good and beautiful creatures created in the image of God, are used to a bad end.
Think of it:
Cowardice overshoots courage and becomes rashness.
Selfishness overshoots love and becomes enabling.

          Paul describes this situation we’re in as being captured,
being sold into slavery,
so we can’t do the very thing we wish to do, because our vile master, Sin, has control over us.
          Or, thinking of a more up-to-date description
—Sin is an addiction we can not break.
          Or as I like to think of it, Sin is an infection
—a disease that has overcome us all,
a cancer that has transformed good cells into destructive ones
—using the best as the worst.
Our individual sinful actions are simply symptoms of the wider disease,
a contagion raging through the whole world to such an extent that we don’t even notice we’re all infected.
A parasite plugged into each one of us that will not let go.
          Why can’t I quit sin, because it’s inside of me
… just as an infected person can’t simply stop infecting, because it is inside of them. More than that, it has infected the whole earth and holds it in its sway.

          Yes, Sin is easy because we’re mortals, blinded and made stingy by death.
          Yes, Sin is easy because we’re infected by Sin, captured and surrounded by its power.

          Being Christian is both impossible and easy.
          If being Christian is about being good,
about healing ourselves from the infection of sin,
of freeing ourselves from the slaver sin,
or becoming a dry drunk by not acting on our addictions and at the same time not dealing with the underlying problems
—treating symptoms but not diseases
—then Christianity is impossible.
          If being a Christian is an action, a disposition, something we do and we are…
synonymous with nice,
or clean,
or some other virtue,
some symptom of church attendance or something
—the little c christian to balance out the little s-plural sins,
then it is impossible,
for we can neither will ourselves to be Christ-like,
 nor push past sin,
nor barrel-roll away from death.

          But, if being Christian is about God acting for us, then it is not impossible, nor even hard, it is easy.
Think of Samson who we encountered last week—a schmuck among schmucks, yet God was faithful, being a person of faith was easy because God stuck with him.
          Or look at Paul in Romans… he reaches a breaking point—the impossibility of this life of sin we live:
 “I delight in the Law of God—but I make war against myself!
          “I battle sin on the outside, but am already captured by sin on the inside!
          “Who will save a wretch like me?
          “Who can rescue one such as me? I, in whom death dwells?”
          To which he responds with this glorious affirmation, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
          He throws his hands up in despair at the impossibility of it all, but then flips his palms up in a posture of praise!
It was that simple,
that easy
—Christ Jesus did it for him.
          In the face of death,
the curdling of our generosity,
Christ opens his hands to all from the cross.
          In the face of death and the way it blinds us,
Christ intercedes with his father, “They don’t know what they’re doing, forgive them!”
          Enslaved by Sin,
Christ pays our debt and frees us.
          Addicted to Sin,
Christ walks with us and digs deep, dealing with symptom and disease.
          Infected by Sin,
Christ destroys that parasite and frees us to be who we are.


Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sermon: Why is Samson in the bible in the book of “Hebrews” as a man of faith?

Why is Samson in the bible in the book of “Hebrews” as a man of faith?

         So, let me tell you about a guy! A real emblem of faith…
         The Philistines had conquered the Israelites, and they needed someone to protect them from this new threat…
so God sent an angel to Samson’s barren parents,
who promised them a child,
and made them swear an oath,
that Samson would never cut his hair, or be ritually impure, or drink strong drink.
         This man, Samson, starts his ministry by marrying a…
you know, the people he was supposed to protect the Israelites from…
         And he’s wandering to his bachelor party, and along the way he has a run in with a lion and rips it in half.
         Once at the bachelor party, he picks a fight with his future brother-in-laws, and kills a bunch of them.
         His would-be father-in-law thinks this means the marriage is off,
and marries Samson’s bride-to-be to the best man…
 and then we come to today’s story about the flaming foxes.
         By this point, Samson’s own people have decided he’s a little funny, and a danger to himself and others…
so they turn him over to the Philistine authorities….
Once arrested he kills, and kills, and kills, and kills, until the Philistine forces are all gone and God offers him a cool drink of water.
         Thirst satiated, he finds himself a prostitute in the city, and when his love shack is surrounded by an angry mob he hides out until midnight and then beats a hasty retreat,
carrying the city gates themselves off with him, for the fun of it.
         Then he falls in love with Delilah, another Philistine, who he famously lies to about the source of his strength a couple of times, before he tells the truth,
which gets him shorn and captured and blinded and bound.
         Then, in the final act, he’s put between pillars of a house where sacrifices to the Philistine god Dagon were taking place
—all the leaders of the Philistines are giving thanks to Dagon for allowing them to capture Samson,
and Samson goes from weakness to strength and strains and pushes those pillars down
—killing everyone, including himself
—3,000 in all.
         And that gets me to the first question in our 3-week sermon series “Questions from the Pews.”
Today’s question is:
“Why is Samson in the bible in the book of “Hebrews” as a man of faith?”
         Let us pray
         “Why is Samson in the bible in the book of “Hebrews” as a man of faith?”
         Now, to begin with, we have to come to grips with the fact that the Bible is a collection of books
the bible is a library of books we believe point to the God we know in Jesus Christ.
         Stating the obvious,
not all books say the same thing,
they have different focuses and different points.
And today, at least to some extent, we’re looking at two books of the Bible that are working at cross-purposes.
         One of the main point of the book of Judges is that the system for ruling God’s people after the death of Moses and Joshua, was ineffective—it worked very poorly.
Essentially, you had 12 tribes living side-by-side, but separate, other than when bad things happened,
at which point they would cry to God and a Judge
—a charismatic ruler
—would arise and unite the tribes and stop whatever bad thing had befallen them.
         The problem was, with the exception of Deborah and a few barely mentioned Judges, most of these judges were deeply, and I mean DEEPLY, flawed individuals
Jephthah sacrificed his own daughter because he made a dumb oath,
Barak was a coward,
Gideon and Micah made idols,
AbiMelek slaughtered his own brothers,
tribes warred against one another, culminating in the near genocide of the tribe of Benjamin…
and as we see today, we also have hyped-up, sexed-up, erratic, frat-boy Samson.
         The point the book of Judges is making, is that the system is messed up; a Davidic king is needed…
         This is, however, not the point of Hebrews.
Hebrews is a sermon focused on giving hope to early Christians facing persecution;
preaching to a Christian community where there are people falling away,
because being Christian involves sacrifice
—the preacher is telling us that, in the face of persecution, we need to trust in the unseen things of God, just like the faithful who came before did. Though it doesn’t always seem like it…
God is in relationship with us,
God has made a promise to us,
and we ought to trust in that promise,
just as God was in relationship with folk throughout the bible.
         So, on one hand the book of Judges goes out of its way to show that many of the Judges are flawed,
on the other, Hebrews points to their faithfulness.
         And that’s where the preacher is going—he is giving concrete examples of people living out their faith in times of trouble, so that his listeners can do the same.
         He mentions Samson in this list of people—and it is a little unclear why.
Is it because he his parents “obtained promises” from God through his birth?
Is it because he “shuts the mouth of lions” by tearing one to shreds?
Is it because he “won strength out of weakness” there at the end of his story?
         Or, maybe, the list the preacher gives, is of people both succeeding and failing,
sinners and saints
—faithful in so far as God has been faithful to them.
Yes, enduring as best they can, but ultimately relying on God, relying on the ongoing relationship God has with them.
         Relying on the reality that even an Idol maker like Gideon,
a Coward like Barak,
a Shmuck like Samson,
a fool like Jephthah,
and ALL the rest
—relying on the reality that even THEY found a gracious God,
a faithful God,
a God who kept faith with them even at their ugliest.

         So, “why is Samson in the bible in the book of “Hebrews” as a man of faith?”
Because God is faithful.
God walked with him of all people
God walks with us even on our darkest and dumbest day.
         We can’t always see that, like the early Christians the Preacher of Hebrews is preaching to,
we can be so put down by the things we can see,
that we sacrifice our hope in the invisible Grace of God,
and we can fall away.
         So, let me remind you, if God can be faithful to Samson,
gracious to Samson,
in relationship with Samson
—he surely is with you all of your days,
faithfully. A+A


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sermon: The peace of Christ’s presence, the love of serving, and the joy of both

Now, what exactly is going on here at Jesus’ visit to Martha and Mary?
         It can feel like we’re supposed to take sides, right?
I’m for Listening-Mary against Overactive-Martha.
Or I’m for Hospitable-Martha against Couch Potato-Mary.
         Soon enough, we could start to hear Martha crashing around in the kitchen colanders and pots and pans flying everywhere, brisket burning, emotionally on the edge of meltdown.
         Soon enough, we could transform Mary into a figure popping Pringles on a grody beanbag chair while Jesus philosophizes for her.
         After all, Jesus does make the statement, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
         There is, clearly, a side being taken, and so, a shallow reading of today’s gospel could leave us in lethargy, listening, not doing.
         But, I think, if we consider all that leads up to Jesus’ time with Mary and Martha, we can, and should, embrace both of their examples of being disciples of Jesus.
         Let us pray:
         Lord, May we know the peace of Christ’s presence,
         have a love of service
         and find joy in both. Amen.

          It should be unsurprising that Mary is praised for listening to Jesus.
After all, from Jesus’ transfiguration
—that wild story about Jesus taking James and John and Peter up a high mountain and revealing his glory to them
—from that mountain to this humble visit to Mary and Martha, we’re constantly being reminded of how special it is to be in the presence of Jesus, to see, hear, and listen to him.
         On that mountain the three are commanded, “This is my Son, my Chosen; Listen to him.” Listen to him, just like Mary.
         Then people are called to account by Christ’s presence
—his being-with-them becomes the only thing.
         He affirms that the presence of just his name is enough to make someone for him, and not against him.
         His presence causes people to follow him and to head out telling everyone that he’s coming—that his presence will soon be felt!
         The disciples are reminded that knowing him is the same as knowing the Father.
         They’re reminded that seeing him and hearing him… listening to him… is a privilege that Prophets and potentates miss out on.
         For that matter, people who respond to his presence with other concerns are condemned. “I have to bury my father”—tough. “I have to say farewell to my family first”—too bad. Being in his presence is the only thing.
         Yes, by the time we get to Mary and Martha’s house, we realize how important the presence of Christ is,
sitting at his feet as disciples,
listening to his words and letting them soothe us and shape us.
         But that’s not all. Service, hospitality, welcome, the core of what Martha is about, is also lifted up on the way to the sisters’ home.
         The moment Jesus steps off that mountain, he welcomes a child to be healed, and then tells his disciples that greatness is found in being hospitable to a child.
         He tells his disciples to go out and rely on the hospitality of others as they prepare a way for him.
         He caps this off with last week’s story of the Samaritan who serves a man of a race and religion different than his own, condemning the unwelcoming Levite and unwelcoming Priest in the process.
         In a strange reversal of this story Jesus himself runs into an Inhospitable Samaritan village and leaves those Samaritans behind.
         On top of all that, he declares that those who do not welcome are a deeply evil people.
         By the time the disciples reach Martha and Mary’s—they’ve heard and seen Jesus assess service, and welcome, and hospitality as central to the proclamation of the Kingdom of God.
         So, I would imagine, Jesus’ words were surprising to them, just as they ought to be to us.

         Because of this surprise it is worth looking closer and noticing that they are spoken in a defensive way.
Jesus doesn’t want to get caught up in a family argument
—strangely a common theme in Luke’s Gospel
—but more importantly, he wants to make sure there is space for listening,
for sitting at the feet of the Lord,
space to allow Mary to experience the presence of the Kingdom of God.

         I wonder… if Mary had attacked Martha for serving and asked Jesus to side with her, as Martha did to Mary, would a similar skewering would have occurred?
Would Jesus have lifted up service in a similar way?

         Make no mistake. Both service and listening,
presence and hospitality,
welcome and sitting at the feet of the Lord,
are part of the Kingdom of God, part of being a disciple,
part of this whole Jesus thing.

         Perhaps you feel like a Martha, always inviting, and encouraging fellowship and feeding and collecting, and quilting and preparing care packages.
I pray you also find rest, filled with the Joy of Jesus’ presence, find yourself more closely knowing the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

         Or, perhaps, you feel like a Mary, always in Bible Study and personal prayer and reflection, finding Jesus in worship and sacraments and sacred conversation.
I pray you also come to know the joy of serving your sisters and brothers, becoming a welcoming presence and being hospitable as Christ was hospitable.

         And so, I pray that neither of these are threatened.
I pray also that all of us might regularly get to experience both.
         I pray, in short:
         Lord, May we know the peace of Christ’s presence,
         have a love of service
         and find joy in both. Amen.


Monday, July 11, 2016

Sermon video: How not Who


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Sermon: Loving neighbor is a how question, not a who question

Loving neighbor is a how question, not a who question

         Three years ago, the last time the parable of the “Good” Samaritan came up, was the week of the shooting of Trayvon Martin.
         And I remember how quickly people picked the kid to pieces.
They blamed him for his death because he’d smoked marijuana, he’d been tardy, and he’d scratched WTF into a door at school. Who he was shaped whether he was worthy for life or death!

         And that reminds me of what they’ve been saying about the shooting in Dallas.
“Why did it happen there?” they ask.
It was the model of best practices in policing.
It shouldn’t have happened there, after all before the shooting the police and the protestors were mingling, snapping selfies with one another like teenagers in love.
         Who they were as a police department should have protected them against injury and death. Their character and their person, who they were, should have shielded them from the sniper.
         Then there is the case of Alton Sterling, killed in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile killed outside Minneapolis. People are saying strange things like:
“It’s a shame Philando died, but so what about Alton.”
Philando Castile was the beloved cafeteria guy,
Alton couldn’t keep a regular job and instead sold CD’s in the open air, he’d been to jail and had to hustle to make ends meet.
         Imagine that,
do any of you have relatives or friends that work odd jobs?
or have seen the inside of a cell? Imagine if society decided that meant it was okay to kill them! Who they are allows for execution.

         Likewise, both the Black Lives Matter folk, and the police, are similarly feeling targeted for who they are.

         With all that weighing on our shoulders and our speech, we come up against Jesus’ command to love God and neighbor.
In the face of today’s readings and our current reality, I would suggest we must ask how questions, not who questions. When confronted with this command to love our neighbor, we must ask how questions,
not who questions.
Let us pray:

         Today, Jesus is asked the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
         Jesus, responds with his own question, “What does it say in scripture? How do you read our tradition?”
         The Lawyer’s response is not unusual, he thinks back to the second verse of the Jewish morning and evening prayer known as the Shema:
         “Hear O Israel the Lord our God, the Lord, is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”
         To which he adds from Leviticus, of all places, “You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
         And that could have ended the discussion right there. Jesus answers, “Yup. So go on and love God with your whole self and love your neighbor as yourself.”

         But, the Lawyer insists upon asking the who question.
“Who,” he asks, “is my neighbor?”
“Who,” he asks, “must I love as myself?”
“Who,” he asks, “must I love to gain eternal life?”
         But Jesus takes this question about eternal life
—this who question
—and takes it out of the abstract
—he solidifies,
“love your neighbor as yourself,” in story.
After all, “Once upon a time,” is a more effective instructor than, “thou shalt not,” or even, “thou shalt.”
         He takes this lofty concept and lowers it onto a road
—the Road from Jerusalem to Jericho.
         This road winds and twists, gets narrow, and is an easy place from which to ambush someone.
         This road, was a dangerous road and a deadly place to ponder earning eternal life.

         For that matter, Jesus answers the “who question” very clearly and very concretely.
         -Who? The bloody carcass of a man mangled on a dangerous road—he is your neighbor.
         -Who? A man stripped naked, so you can’t tell if he’s your kin or not—he is your neighbor.
         -Who? A man without any means to repay you—he is your neighbor.

         Confronted with the ways in which our country devalues the lives of black men:
         -Who? Alton Sterling, the father of five selling CD’s, surprised and shot.
         -Who? Philando Castile, the man pulled over for a torn tail light, caught in his car and confessing to the cop that he had a concealed carry permit and a gun, before he was killed in front of his girlfriend and her 4 year old daughter.
--They are your neighbor.

         Confronted, as well, by the ambush in Dallas:
         -Who? The 5 officers slain there in the street and all the injured that night.—They are your neighbor.

         In the face of these tragedies…
         -Who? The families of all the fallen.—They are your neighbor.

         Acting merciful in the midst of death and danger—that’s how Jesus answers the eternal life question and the who question.
         When you can’t even tell who it is you’re helping and you help them anyway
—that’s when you know you’re loving your neighbor.

         But he doesn’t stop there.
He then turns to those who ask the who question,
and shows how the who question leaves men stranded and dying on deadly roads.
         The Priest asked the who question,
“Who is that there, is he dead?
Who is he?
Is he Israelite?
Who will ambush me if I try to help him?”
He then decides that he’ll go to the other side, to be on the “safe side.”
         The Levite asks the same questions—the who questions. And he too decides to go to the other side, in order to be on the “safe side.”
         Then—to add insult to injury—the man who helps the injured man—the man who doesn’t ask the who question—is a Samaritan!

         Now, that might not strike us as odd… after all we know this story as “The Parable of the Good Samaritan.” But at that time, and at that place, there was no such thing as a “good” Samaritan.
         I could tell you all the historical reasons for Samaritans being considered bad news to 1st century Jews—but I think the startling nature of Jesus’ story can be made in another way—by placing him into our present crisis
—by sticking him here and now.

         The way some people are framing our life together in this country…
Jesus would tell the police the story of “The Good Black Lives Matter Activist.”
and tell the Black Lives Matter Folk the story of “The Good Policeman.”

         The hero of Jesus’ story—the one that doesn’t ask who—is a Samaritan.
And this Samaritan asks a different question, he asks how.
How am I going to help this man?”
         And his actions answer this question loudly. He becomes personally involved.
He personally binds up wounds, he gives of his oil and his wine, he puts the wounded man on “his own beast” and gives of his own monies.
         When confronted by someone broken by the conflicts and snares of this world
—by banditry and by pain
—he did not ask who is that?
Is that person worth helping?
Is he someone of my religion?
From my nation?
My race?
My social standing?
         He asked, “How can I help him?
What resources do I have, or do I know of, that can help that person!”
         And once Jesus finished up his parable, he asked another question of the Lawyer. Because you see the Lawyer was busy asking who is my neighbor?
So Jesus asked a different question—“Which of these three was neighborly to the man who fell among the robbers? Which one was neighborly to his neighbor?”
         Sheepishly the Lawyer must admit, “The one showing mercy on him.”
That is, the one who is moved in the gut, so that they are forced to move with hands and feet, moved to minister and give aid!
         Jesus isn’t concerned with who the neighbor is
—he’s concerned with how we treat the neighbor.
He is concerned with showing mercy in the midst of death and danger!

         As we light these seven candles for the five officers killed in Dallas and the two men killed in Minnesota and Louisiana, let us honor their lives,
who they were,
but let us also consider in our hearts the how.
How we can love as Jesus calls us to love.
I, for one, will reach out to our local police today, just to let them know our prayers as with them in their time of mourning,
and check-in with my colleagues of color,
and I guess, just try to listen, right?
To ask God for the courage to connect with people whose experience of life is not like my own,
so that I can continue to ask that how question.
How will you love your neighbor as yourself?

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