A Sermon for 14 July 2019 – 5th Sunday after Pentecost
A reading from the gospel of Luke 10:25-37. It’s claimed that this is one of the most familiar stories told by Jesus. Listen for God’s word to us.
“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 The lawyer answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And Jesus said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 The lawyer said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.’”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
A prayer entitled Common Prayer goes like this – perhaps you’ve heard it before. “There are only two feelings. Love and fear. There are only two languages. Love and fear. There are only two activities. Love and fear. There are only two motives, two procedures, two frameworks, two results. Love and fear. Love and fear.” (by Leunig, quoted in books and speeches by Alan Jones).
Love and fear. We know what they look like, right?
Fear looks like eyes down on the sidewalk in front of us. Hugging in as we pick up the pace just a little bit. No matter what’s up over there. Don’t make eye contact as we just keep on walking by on the other side of the road.
Fear looks like accusations from a pulpit – or podium. Speech dripping in disdain. Hateful words spit into a microphone or spewed online that only insight further dis-trust. Anger. Violence.
Fear looks like keeping ourselves separated. Safely hunkered down among our own kind. And don’t anyone dare challenge our current way of thinking by coming up close with their true personhood. The story of their own struggles, pains, hopes. We prefer our worldview just the way it already is, thank you very much!
Fear looks like worry. Hands wringing about whatever situation has arisen. Pacing the floor. Anxiety rising because what if this one mistake. This one incident. This one episode brings it all tumbling down?
Fear looks like giving up. Not trying something new because we’re too set in our own ways. Too preoccupied by other things. Too tired to even try again.
A 2018 Christian pop rock song puts it this way: “Fear is a liar.” Listen to these beautiful lyrics: “When he told you you’re not good enough. When he told you you’re not right. When he told you you’re not strong enough to put up a good fight. When he told you you’re not worthy. When he told you you’re not loved. When he told you you’re not beautiful. That you’ll never be enough. . . . When he told you were troubled. You’ll forever be alone. When he told you you should run away. You’ll never find a home. When he told you you were dirty and you should be ashamed. When he told you you could be the one that grace could never change. Fear, he is a liar. He will take your breath. Stop you in your steps. Fear he is a liar. He will rob your rest. Steal your happiness. Cast your fear in the fire. ‘Cause fear he is a liar” (“Fear is a Liar,” from Chain Breaker; written by Jason Ingram, Zach Williams, Jonathan Lindley Smith. © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Essential Music Publishing).
And love? Love looks like a story I read this week – a story much like the one once told by Jesus that the gospel of Luke alone records. A parable of Jesus, which tells us that whether or not Jesus actually ever saw such a story take place, it is true. Parables are deeply true so that we should recognize the characters. The circumstances. The twists and turns of the plot from the days and nights of our own lives. Like three different men each having an opportunity to stop. To help another left as good as dead on the side of a dangerous, desert road.
In Caravan of No Despair: A Memoir of Loss and Transformation, Mirabai Starr writes of the time her father called her up to see if she wanted to head over the boarder with her hippie, free-loving momma and her mother’s new boyfriend. Teenage Mirabai was getting over her first heart-break so she agreed. Her father dropped her off at the Mexican border just a few miles from the commune where her parents had moved Mirabai and her two siblings after the death of the oldest, then-nine year old son, Matty. Away Mirabai, her mother, and Ramón raced to the find the isolated beach on which the family lived for six months after Matty’s death. Life along Mexican beaches had changed by then, so a campsite would suffice. The story’s a little racy, because Mirabai writes that “mom and her lover proceeded to explore their relationship” (p. 40) while Mirabai sat on the beach reading and writing love poems to the boy who just had broken her heart. Topless, her mother and Ramón sat smoking a joint on the beach. Before the night was over, Mirabai would have to negotiate their way out of arrest by the Mexican police patrolling the beach who did not at all approve of what they found going on at the campsite. The next day, after some big fight between her mother and Ramón; Mirabai’s mother ended up – let’s just say, in a drug-induced state that left her racing down the beach until she suddenly disappeared. When Mirabai finally caught up to where she last had seen her mother, she saw a high bluff off of which her mother had fallen only to be laying in excruciating pain down below. Mirabai was only fourteen when suddenly the fate of her mother lay in her own hands. Somehow she got herself down the embankment, then back up it with her mother — only to find her mother unable to walk. Something was drastically wrong.
Earlier in the week, Mirabai had found a cantina far down the beach. It was late in the night when at last Mirabai managed to get her mother there. Mirabai explained to the elderly Mexican gentleman standing in the cantina that her mother had fallen down a bluff – her foot was growing larger and more purple by the second. We can see why Mirabai helped – even if she was pushing all the boundaries of acceptable mother behavior, the woman who had fallen over the bluff was her mother. As I read the story, I couldn’t help but wonder if the man in the cantina noticed her mother’s blood-shot, stoned eyes. Suddenly this free-loving American was being dragged to him – their only shot at hope in the middle of the night on that vacant Mexican beach. Almost as quickly as Mirabai had gotten to work to rescue her whimpering mother, the man at the cantina got under her mother’s arm and led them to a small table. He ensured her legs got propped – and took a closer look at the balloon expanding where once a foot had been. Mirabai insisted they needed a doctor – unfortunately, they no longer had any money or their car because those were negotiated away the day before in order to keep the three from being put in jail when the police came up upon their illegal activity on the beach. The man explained there would be no getting a doctor in the middle of the night. Then, almost like he’d known these two strangers his whole life long; he helped them out back to his little beach hut. Getting Mirabai’s mother settled in his own, only bed; he said he’d sleep the night in the hammock between the trees. If they needed anything, Mirabai was to come get him – which she did when the pain got so bad. It was then the man offered a bottle of tequila to at least get the woman to sleep. When morning at last broke, Mirabai was able to find Ramón whose friend drove them back to the cantina. The friend tried to pay the elderly gentleman for tending the two through the night, but the man of the cantina refused to take any payment. Instead, Mirabai reports, “he helped us load Mom into the car, kissed the top of her head, and asked God to bless us all” (pp. 40-46).
Love looks like strangers in need being treated as kin – so they make it through the darkest night.
Love looks like holding what we have freely so that we’re willing and ready to share.
Love looks like carrying one who has fallen until they can walk on their own again.
Love looks like waiting with another in pain – even if there’s nothing we can do to make that pain stop.
Love even looks like offering another the blessing of God when they’ve messed up and don’t deserve it at all.
Once, a lawyer wanted to test Jesus – we hear from the gospel of Luke. He wanted to know how to have Life – eternal Life, which is Life in full here and now and forever yet to be. He knew the rules – love God and neighbor as yourself. But he didn’t quite understand that Life’s not at all a bunch of rules we’re supposed to follow. Life is putting love in action in order to experience God. For, as one source reminds: when we let go of fear, we are touched by God” (paraphrase of EnneaThought for the Day, The Enneagram Institute, 8 July 2019). When we Love, we know God. We Live!
May those with ears to hear, understand. May we choose love and Live.
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)