Who is your neighbor?
A Sermon on the Good Samaritan story (Luke 10:25-37)
I'm just back from vacation, and I want to thank all of you who support All Saints' so faithfully and make it possible for me and my staff to HAVE a vacation! There are many people without work, folks who have been unemployed or underemployed, for a long time. There are many – including some in this parish – who have no paid time off to rest and relax. And so, I thank God for all y'all do for me. I did come home just in time for the record-breaking heat! I apologize if it feels like I brought that heat home to Frederick with me.
It's hot in this story, too, this all-too-familiar tale of the Good Samaritan. It's hot for the lawyer, who is confronted by Jesus. And it's hot for any of us who are paying attention. But it's hard to pay attention to a story that is SO familiar. Did you find your mind wandering? Maybe you were thinking how nice it would be to spend some time far, far, away, in a cooler place.
We who call ourselves Christian are in the hot seat more than we realize. We are more like the lawyer than we want to admit. We WANT to be, we think we are more like the Samaritan. Yet the road to hell is paved, it is said, with good intentions. So we say to ourselves, I want to follow Jesus! I want to "go and do likewise," like he said, I want to help people in need, but…I'm tired and hot. And I'm burned out. And I've been burned, too many times. I need someone to help ME, right now. Or THIS is what we might be thinking, but we don't want to say too loudly – I don't think she needs my help. She needs to get her life together. She brought those problems on herself. She's just lazy. The Lord helps those who help themselves.
Back in the 60s a man from Georgia named Clarence Jordan wrote his own version of some of the stories of Jesus, called The Cotton Patch Gospel. Clarence helped create Habitat for Humanity. He put people of his day in the hot seat by suggesting that the priest and the rabbi in this story were white men, and the Good Samaritan was a black preacher. And he found himself in the hot seat for suggesting such a thing. But he got people's attention. While I was praying over the Good Samaritan story this week, Clarence came to mind.
Here's what he says about the hot seat and Jesus: "Jesus found himself in trouble because he took the idea of mercy seriously. . . . Mercy is . . . a roll-up-your-sleeves endeavor . . . (Cotton Patch Parables of Liberation, pp. 130-131). Well, some of us have rolled up our sleeves this morning to bring you a NEW version of this familiar story. It's called "The Good Muslim."
Once upon a New Testament Bible time, Jesus was teaching an Old Testament Bible study class. Another teacher got up to challenge Jesus. "Excuse me, Professor Jesus, but tell me: What does someone have to do to be saved and receive eternal life?" Jesus replied, "Well, good teacher, what does the Bible say? How do you interpret it?"
The teacher answered, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your physical strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.' That's Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18!" Jesus answered, "That's correct, good teacher. Do that every day. Make a habit of it. Then, you'll be saved. Then you'll live - not just now, but forever."
But the Sunday School teacher, trying to impress Jesus with how good he thought he was, asked Jesus, "Well, then, tell me – just who IS my neighbor?"
Jesus knew the Sunday School teacher was just being a . . . oh, what's the word? Oh, yes: smarty-pants. He knew it was easy to be a good teacher or a good preacher, but that's just not good enough. So he told the teacher and the whole class a story. He used a story, because there isn't anyone you couldn't love, if you knew their story.
Let me tell you a story. It's not a story from our own time. It's a story of a time many years in the future, more than 2,000 years from now.
Once upon a future Bible time, a woman named Maria moves from her native land to a new one, a place we'll call America. She's looking for a job. Maria has been looking all over the nation's capital, Washington, D.C., for several weeks now, with no luck. She is an immigrant, and she does not have what they call a green card. So Maria takes a break from her job hunting and goes to a city called Frederick, in the state of Maryland, where she has some friends and can spend the night. It's Friday, her friends aren't home yet, so she decides to take a walk.
There are lots of things going on in downtown Frederick on a Friday night. Maria is walking along, looking at all the people, places and things on Market Street, before she goes back to her friends' house. Suddenly, out of an alley, some gangsters jump out and rob her. They pull her into the alley. They take her money, her purse and her brand-new coat. Then they beat her up, really bad, and leave her unconscious, lying on the street.
Now, it just so happens that a priest is walking down that same alley a few minutes later, going home after a late dinner. He's really tired, and he's ready to call it a day. Several people from his church have died recently, and he has been caring for people all week long. "I wish I could go on vacation again, he thinks. I've just got to go home and rest. Maybe I'll even sleep late in the morning."
Then the priest sees Maria, lying on the street. He also sees his friend, the local Jewish rabbi, coming down the street toward him. And he thinks, "I'm going to let the good rabbi take this one!" and he ducks in the door of a restaurant. The rabbi approaches Maria, sees her lying there and says to himself, "I can't stop right now. Tomorrow's the Sabbath. I have a sermon to finish." And he looks and walks away.
Now, I need to tell you that, in the year 2010, there are many different religions. There are Jews, of course, but there are also Christians – people who follow me, Jesus. And there are Muslims, people who follow another prophet named Mohammed. Even though they know God wants them all to get along with and love each other, those Jews and Christians and Muslims are not doing a very good job of it. It's kind of like the Jews and the Samaritans in our own time.
Anyway, at that time, in the year 2010, the Christian priest and the Jewish rabbi both avoid helping Maria. They get away from her as fast as they can. And then, a Muslim imam comes down the street. An imam is like a priest or a rabbi. When the imam sees Maria, he stops. He is so sad, he is so moved, deep down in his gut, that he cries. He kneels down, and he uses his coat to try to stop her bleeding. The imam takes some water from his water bottle to clean her face and then calls out to people on the street to help him carry her to his car, so he can drive her to the local hospital. When the imam brings Maria into the Emergency Room, he tells the nurse, "Please take good care of this good woman. I found her downtown. Here's the all the money I have. If you will keep track of all her medical expenses, I will come back as often as you need me to and bring a check each time to cover all her costs. You see, the people at our mosque are very generous."
And Jesus said, "Now, good Sunday School teacher, if you were Maria, out of these three people – the priest, the rabbi or the imam – which would you call your neighbor?" The Sunday School teacher was quiet for awhile. Then he said, "I guess it would be…that Moslem…uh, mom?
"That's I-mam," Jesus said, rolling his eyes. "Oh, yeah," said the teacher. "The Imam, I guess. The one who showed her some mercy." And Jesus said to the Sunday School teacher, "What are you waiting for? Go, start living like that."
Yesterday we celebrated the life of two saints here at All Saints'. Sis Brown and Bob Zentner were buried from this church. And today we celebrate the life of a brand, new saint: Erin Nicole. Sis and Bob showed us, in so many ways, how to be Good Samaritans. My prayer for Erin is that she will show us, in ways that we could never imagine, how to be good, how to be merciful. She may fuss and cry today, and if she does, she will remind us of those last two questions I'll ask all of you when we renew our own Baptismal Covenant: "Will you seek and serve Christ in ALL persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among ALL people, and respect the dignity of every human being?" ALL people? Even crying babies? Even angry adults?
My sisters and brothers in Christ, how serious are you willing to be today about mercy? Who is YOUR neighbor? How is God calling YOU and me to be neighbor to others? What will we do, since we have, in Jesus Christ, inherited eternal life? How will you and I give thanks to God for all God has done for us? How will we follow Jesus and "go, and do likewise"?