On Friday night St. Paul’s hosted a large gathering of Lights for Liberty – an event defined by solidarity and community during which people prayed, protested, cried, raged, sang, shared stories, called for change, and mostly, formed a community of love and respect that came from a deep solidarity with fellow human beings who were being treated so cruelly. A community came together to fight against our country’s abusive, deadly, and most importantly for us here, UN-CHRISTIAN policies regarding our neighbors – who in this case are the immigrants and refugees who have been detained, incarcerated, abused, or brutally sent back to the dangerous places they were escaping from in the first place. Michael Ramos, Executive Director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, said that our neighbors are “all who form the great mosaic that is this country.”
And with this in mind it would be very easy to preach that very familiar sermon on the Good Samaritan – the one where we’re told to be like him. “Go and do likewise,” Jesus tells us. He doesn’t often give direct behavioral commands so when he does, probably a good idea for us to listen.
I can hear this conversation in my head: Me: But Jesus, why do I have to be spend my precious time and money to help this guy I barely know? And what I do know is that his father was really mean to my father. And then Jesus looks at me with that exasperated look I know he gets and whispers, “Because I said so!”
It’s true… and an easy sermon to preach…
AND, in some ways, an easy sermon to hear for many of us. We identify with the Good Samaritan – we’re helpers, we’ve learned to put others’ needs before our own, to spend our time and our money for people on the margins… people who are not quite as together as we are. We’re good at that. And that’s a good thing. We need to keep doing that.
BUT… What if we looked at this story from a different perspective; what if we were to identify with the beat-up guy on the side of the road – with those refugees and kids in cages – instead of with the Good Samaritan…
Last week we heard the story of Jesus sending out the 70 and his long missionary discourse on travelling from a place of vulnerability rather than domination. Remember - He sent them out as sheep among wolves with no bag, no purse, and no sandals. This made me curious about what else Jesus might be saying to us about vulnerability? About feeling broken and half-dead? About the connection between our vulnerability and our humanity?
What is it about the encounter between our vulnerability and someone else’s mercy… that… because this is a parable, after all, is a revelation of the Kingdom of God?
From the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, God has been calling the church into community – an alternative community with God, rather than Empire, at the center. And in that community, like the one Luke describes in Acts, the Body of Christ comes together, sharing all things in common, breaking bread and praying together, and taking care of one another so that nobody is left to fend for themselves and nobody is sent away. This is a community empowered by the Holy Spirit; and that power, flowing from God to the people of God, makes it possible for them to form and sustain a sacramental, life-giving community that reflects the Kingdom of God.
These communities – like ours right here – are always about relationship – about forming and sustaining the Body of Christ. Patterned after the Trinity – one of vulnerability, sharing, and love. It’s what humans were created for.
And these communities are created and maintained through the sacraments, particularly Baptism, where we are born again into the Body of Christ, and Eucharist, which sustains us to carry out the work God has given us to do.
Let’s take a look at the Samaritan actually did for the man on in the road…
He poured oil – like the healing oil of Holy Unction - given by a laying on of hands, given for healing in body, mind, and spirit.
He poured wine – like the wine that is the Blood of the New Covenant – of new relationship with God.
And, because as a converted Jew I can assure you that we never eat a meal without bread, let’s go ahead and assume that the Samaritan fed him later that night at the Inn – so bread – like the Bread of Life, given for us so that we might have eternal life.
But there’s more to the sacraments than the individual acts of Eucharist or Unction
The great mystic Evelyn Underhill wrote: “God is always coming to you in the Sacrament of the present moment. Meet and receive Him there with gratitude in that sacrament.”
The sacrament of the present moment. When we see the world sacramentally, we see God in every experience and every person; and through them, we allow ourselves to receive God’s grace.
In this story, Jesus makes it clear that it’s not just anyone who stops for the injured man, but a Samaritan!!! I’m not sure you and I can really understand how shocking and horribly offensive this must have been for those listening to Jesus. The level of hate by the Jews towards the Samaritans was intense, and multilayered. And to be fair, the feeling was returned by the Samaritans toward the Jews.
Luke makes sure we know that. As Mother Sara preached last week, Jesus and the disciples were turned away from a Samaritan village. Luke says they refused Jesus specifically because “his face was set toward Jerusalem.” It was a religious and ethnic hatred. Sounds familiar….
But in that moment on the road, the Samaritan no longer sees the hated Jew but a vulnerable human being in need. And even more importantly for purposes of this sermon, the beaten man accepts his help. The usual or expected response to the Samaritan’s willingness to help was probably “Get away from me! Expletive, expletive, expletive!!!!
But that’s not what happens.
And because of that, the Samaritan becomes an UNLIKELY MINISTER – an unlikely bearer of Christ – someone who came in that moment to be the face of God and the truth of the Incarnation.
***The man’s vulnerability plus the mercy of the Samaritan creates the sacrament of the present moment.
I wonder if any of you have experienced that – healing from a most unlikely source… I have and I’d like to share a story with you.
There are two things you need to know about me first:
(1) I’m a recovering alcoholic, sober for 31 years in Alcoholics Anonymous: and
(2) I’m an incest survivor
After my daughter Hannah was born, almost 22 years ago now, it was pointed out to me a couple of days after I brought her home that I wasn’t cleaning her properly. I wasn’t taking good care of her. I heard those words and was flooded with shame. I didn’t know what to do… But because I was in AA, I ran to a meeting to share this with my community. I shared in that circle that I was afraid to touch her because I felt like I was molesting her….
In AA meetings, it’s not allowed for someone to directly responds to a share but suddenly a man stood up from the back of the room… He wasn’t part of the inner circle. He was homeless, usually drunk, usually reeking of alcohol. He was part of and not part of. I had never spoken to him…
But he stood up and he growled at me, saying: Your daughter is not you. Go home and take care of her!” (Deep sigh) And in that moment the spell was broken. I went home and cleaned my daughter and never had another problem with it. That most unlikely of ministers – the person I would have least expected help from in that room – saved me… and saved my daughter as well. Although I didn’t have the words for it then, he was Christ for me in that moment.
And because of that sacramental encounter, a relationship was formed. The next time I saw him I sat next to him. We ate cookies together. I found out that his name was John.
In that unlikely moment with that unlikely minister I experienced the sacrament of the present moment.
Christ is revealed in so many ways:
1) Priest revealing Christ in Eucharist;
2) married/partnered sharing lives & bodies
4) Innkeeper creating community
5) when we get together in solidarity, when people show up at the camps, when people offer their churches as sanctuary.
In all, relationship is formed through the vulnerability that proclaims our common humanity.
So what does this mean for us, for the church, and for our nation?
Vulnerability gives God the opening to pour Her grace into our hearts through the Church’s sacraments. And the sacraments themselves challenge us to live in a world that is different from the culture around us. They challenge us to live in the kind of community Luke portrays in Acts– a community of equals in the Body of Christ. Whether we like it or not, we are in relationship with everyone with whom we share those sacraments. They do more than that, though. They call us to see the Divine Presence all around us; perhaps chance meetings between people are not accidents, but divinely arranged encounters with the promise of grace. Perhaps they can help us to see that our neighbor may be the one we’re tempted to, or have been taught to, hate.
So I can’t help but ask….
What if the man on the side of the road had resisted help because of his reflexive hatred for the Samaritan? Or because of pride? Or fear? He would have missed out on the opportunity to enter into relationship. And he might have died. He would have cut himself off from the life-giving sacraments offered to him by the Samaritan acting as Christ. He would have missed the oil like Holy Unction and the wine like the Blood of the New Covenant, of relationship with God. He would have missed the Sacrament of the Present Moment, the holy and life-giving gift of mercy. God is the one sending people down the road, God as Holy Spirit is working through the Samaritan, and the Innkeeper… And for centuries, God been working through the immigrants who He has sent down the road to help us.
To refuse them is to refuse God.
Because of Christ’s incarnation, every person, thing, and event is a potential sacrament leading us straight to God and participation in the life of the Trinity.
So I wonder…. Are we willing to risk being human in order to become divine?