(A sermon. 7/10/16)
What a week.
You may be wondering: Will the church address the events in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Dallas? Will we go there? Spoiler alert: Yes.
Although I successfully resisted the urge to engage in Facebook activism, I cannot avoid last week’s events from the pulpit – we have to “go there” because at this moment in America our problems are simply outside of the realm of mere secular solutions. We have a spiritual sickness, so the church has to talk about it.
Everyone has a perspective. Here’s mine: First, I have strong admiration for the police. Police officers risk their lives every time they put on the shield. I played high school basketball with the Phoenix Chief of Police. Even as a kid he was smart, tough, level headed and fair. I have friends who work difficult beats. I have friends in vice and friends on SWAT. A friend renting our home in Phoenix starts the police academy next month. I love, respect, and appreciate every officer I know personally. And I respect and appreciate the job police officers do to protect us all every day.
And…I also did urban ministry in Phoenix’s I-17 corridor. As “the white guy” on our church staff, I know a dozen people who have been “sweat” – stopped for things like tail lights being out when they weren’t. I have friends who spent the night in jail for non-offenses that would raise your eyebrows. Our preacher, Dijuahn, in an incident eerily similar to Philando Castille’s, was shot multiple times by an officer who panicked when Dijuahn told him he was carrying a gun. Dijuahn lived, though. He did nine years in prison for the officer’s mistake. So I have experienced both sides of this tension. If there were easy answers we’d have found them already.
How do we begin to unravel this mess we are in? Luke 10:25-37 is a good place to start.
Look at how a well-meaning religious person can be part of the problem…
v25 And behold, a lawyer (an expert in the first 5 books of the Old Testament – “the law”) stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” “Eternal life” in the first century was not a ticket to heaven, but was rather viewed as a quality of life here and now that would simply never end. This lawyer starts with the right question: “How do I have the life I was meant to have? How do I have that quality of life that only comes from God?” He starts in the right place:
1) He has the right question.
v26 “Jesus says to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’ Jesus asks.” v27 The lawyer quotes the summary of the Law, “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.”
Not only does this lawyer know the right question,
2) He has the right source of authority: the scriptures-God’s revealed truth. And,
3) He has the right answer: love.
And (Jesus) said to him, v28 “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” Jesus confirms that Loving God and loving your neighbor as a result of your first love, love for God, is life-giving.
And here it gets interesting: v29 “But he…desiring to justify himself… (The human default is the desire to “justify” ourselves, to try to prove to God how lucky he is to have us on his team.) V29 he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (It is difficult to even read the question without an attitude. The man is trying to figure out how little he can do. He is trying to lower the bar on love.)
So our man has the right question, the right source of truth, and the right answer. Unfortunately, he also gets a few things wrong… He has:
1) The wrong motive (v25) “to put Jesus to the test.” And now,
2) The wrong method (v29)“to justify himself,” and,
3) The wrong attitude (v29) “Who exactly is my neighbor?”
Unfortunately, half-right in the Christian life usually leaves us with a life that is all-wrong.
And have you noticed that when we are half-wrong we are usually 100% convinced we are all-right?
Breaking through our self-deception
When someone was self-deceived in the bible, Jesus would often sneak around their internal defenses with a story. He does that in Luke 11:
v30 “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho… I have been on the road to Jericho. I was nervous. It’s a rocky downhill descending 3500 feet in elevation, an 18-mile ambush opportunity. If this were a Western movie, the road to Jericho is where the stagecoach would get held up.
“A man fell among robbers, who strip and beat him, leaving him half dead.” (all quite predictable) v31 “A priest comes along. He saw him and passed by on the other side.” v32 “Likewise a Levite,” (who assisted priests, ie. A person active at the church.) “when he came to the place and saw him, he too passed by on the other side.” That is what smart people do. The bleeding guy is probably a set up. Be safe: walk by on the other side. And now, just when you would expect a nice Jewish layperson, Jesus throws the curveball…
v33 “But a Samaritan…” A SAMARITAN! Jews and Samaritans helping one another? Simply unthinkable. Samaritans were the remnants of lower class Jews not considered important enough for the Assyrians to exile when they had conquered Israel eight centuries earlier. Then they intermarried with the invading Assyrians and Babylonians. The Samaritan/Jewish thing was a racial, cultural, tribal, religious, and class conflict beyond our experience.
Yet it is the Samaritan who… “came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. v34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine” (oil speeds healing. alcohol is antiseptic.) “he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. v35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ v36 And then Jesus asks the obvious: “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”
Don’t be the well-meaning religious person who inadvertently becomes part of the problem. Ask yourself: #whoismyneighbor? #whatisyourjerichoroad?
It is on the road to Jericho where fear, security, and realism butt up against faith, hope, and love.
It is on the road to Jericho where we confront our fears and our prejudices – where I decide if I will do what is smart and safe or what someone else needs me to do.
It is on the Road to Jericho where love is put to the test.
I wonder…at what point did the lawyer who had it half-right realize that his motives, methods, and attitude where all-wrong?
I wonder…at what point on our Jericho road you and I will confront our Samaritans?
What should we do when we, like the lawyer, begin to realize, that for all we have right in life, we still lack that quality of overwhelming, overflowing joy that Jesus spoke of?
What you should do depends on where you are. First, do you know Jesus Christ? Have you allowed him to be your justifier, or are you still looking for life on your own? If so, the hard to hear truth is this: There is only one source of eternal life, only one who justifies – Jesus. There is only one truly Good Samaritan. Only one, who, having compassion, crossed out of his way, all the way from heaven in fact, to us. One Great Samaritan, who, as unlikely as it sounds, binds up our broken hearts, who takes us, battered and bruised by life and pours the wine of his presence and the oil of his calling upon us…who takes us to his own home, at great personal cost, and keeps returning by placing his Spirit permanently within us when we place our trust in him. So, if you do not yet know Jesus Christ, come to him this morning by faith. Surrender your life to his healing, uplifting, love-giving presence. Because otherwise you will, ultimately, serve the world from pain.
Have you already experienced the touch of the master’s hand? If that is you, I implore you, courageously seek, name, and turn from your fears. Acknowledge your Jericho Road and name your “Samaritans,” the “other” in your heart. Our nation’s hope is not to be found in justice but in love. And love and fear never occupy the same space. Why is this so important? Because,
when 13% of America is convinced that it is open season on them, it is a fail for 100% of us.
Only those filled and led by love, freed from the grip fear, can hope to overcome four centuries of earned distrust. So I ask you, who are your Samaritans?
I’ve had my share of “Samaritans” – people I have feared over my life. Since my dad was the realtor for the Phoenix Suns, I grew up in a uniquely multi-ethnic environment for a middle class kid. But I had lots of other “Samaritans.” Lots of roads I avoided. Mine were communists, illegal aliens, and gang members.God has stripped those one by one as I watched people from those groups experience the mercy of God and the same life-change that I experienced. They became friends. It is amazing the way “perfect love casts out fear. (1 Jn 4:18)
This week we had Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Dallas. Not morally equivalent acts, yet acts that will always be connected in our consciousness. In the wake of the horror you may be tempted to retreat to slogans or party lines. Or, alternately, to take a silent detour through “nice,” and avoid traveling the Jericho Road altogether.
Church, refuse the easy way. Don’t allow the dangers of the Jericho Road to cause you to question, “Who is my neighbor?” What Jesus taught is simple: If they are breathing, they’re your neighbor.
Here are a few small simple neighborly things you can do: 1) Smile and say, “hi.” 2) Build friendships outside of your ethnic and social group. 3) Ask people outside of your group to tell you how their experiences. Listen (without judging or attempting to correct their impressions).
Because If they are breathing, they’re your neighbor. So, Christian, don’t lower the bar on love. Or, as Jesus told the lawyer, “You go, and do likewise.”
And as you go remember, “love” is still the right answer.
You will be tempted to go driven by the heart breaking needs you see around you. As counterintuitive as it seems, resist that urge. Because if you allow the world’s need and your desire for justice to drive you, you will end up bitter and broken. Anger is a parasite that cares not on whom it feasts.
So go. But go centered in the deep and wise love of God. Go loving God’s world with the overflow of God’s love in your life. G0 with the hope that the one whose love is redeeming you can redeem them. Go in the majesty and power of the one described by an anonymous second century disciple of John who explained the transforming love of Jesus to Marcus Aurelius’ tutor Diognetus like this….and I quote:
But when our wickedness had reached its height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us…the one love of God…took on Him the burden of our iniquities, and gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for those who are mortal.
For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! That the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!
Having therefore convinced us in the former time that our nature was unable to attain to life, and having now revealed the Savior who is able to save even those ones which it was [formerly] impossible to save, by both these facts He desires to lead us to trust in His kindness, (and) to esteem Him our Nourisher, Father, Teacher, Counsellor, Healer, our Wisdom, Light, Honour, Glory, Power, and Life.
(Chapter 9, Epistle from Mathetes to Diognetus)
(If you would like to listen to the version preached it is here: http://www.sjd.org/sermon/07-10-16-contemporary-sermon-by-the-rev-matt-marino/