Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Good Samaritan

And the teacher of the law answered, "The one who was kind to him." And Jesus replied, "You go then, you do the same." Or as other versions say, "The one who showed mercy." 

Today we are continuing with our landmark series of spiritual landmarks, personal landmarks for me in my spiritual journey. We have been departing from the lectionary to do this this summer, but today this is also the lectionary reading.

It converges also with the day when the new orders have gone out to round up immigrants across the United States. There seems to be a little bit of a contrast there. The picture that I have here is of the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill. It's right there next to the Supreme Court building. It houses our United Methodist Board of Church and Society, the Council of Bishops, United Methodist Women Headquarters and has offices for a few other denominations that have similar social views as we do on social justice. And the sign out there on the front says, "For the love of God, protect immigrants."

Transcript of the [audio for this sermon] preached extemporaneously
at Briensburg UMC on July 17, 2019.

This landmark represents a way that we can speak as one voice across our denomination, speak truth to power. We don't mean this to be political, I don't, and people I know don't. But there are people who do make these things political, and it makes it difficult sometimes and awkward, especially in places where there's a smaller group like ours, that is trying to stand for some issues of justice in a community where there is a lot of religious interest in making religion more about politics than about social justice and the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Yet, that's the time when it's most important that we stand together. And we don't stand alone on this as we don't on other issues. We just might stand a little off to the side in our community, we might not be the same as everybody else, but there are a lot of other people across the country who do stand for the mercy that Jesus is talking about in this parable. It's important that we find our voice, that we step into the directions the Lord leads us, even if we don't really know how or what to do or what to say. But take it a step at a time and do what we can to move in the direction that the Lord invites us and leads us and sends us.

This is one of those cases. We have a responsibility to preach on the Good Samaritan, to preach on mercy, when mercy is being withheld so blatantly. God is merciful. Psalm 136 is a psalm that is like a responsive reading and that Jesus certainly had used and we have it in our hymnal as well as in the Bible as a responsive reading. It has these 26 verses and they have an attribute of God and they celebrate his creation and then they celebrate his deliverance of the children of Israel from the bondage of slavery and then they challenge us to continue to express the mercies of God in our relationships with each other. And the first verse says, "Oh give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, for his mercy endureth forever." And then each one of those verses has another attribute like that, and says, "For His mercy endures forever," and everybody repeats that.

And that's what God is, God is merciful. God is merciful. And this is affirmed by our religion and by other religions. The mercy of God is forever. And it knows no bounds. We should be thankful for that, because it's His mercy that provides for us. It's His mercy that enabled us to be here together today. It's by His mercy that we can accomplish anything with our lives. It's by His mercy that He sent Jesus to be our Savior. He loves us and that mercy is a tremendously important part of that love. And that's why the Good Samaritan story is tied together as an explanation in this passage in Luke of what a neighbor is when God says, "Love your neighbor."
That's what he means. He means to have mercy, like the Samaritan had mercy on the one who was suffering, the traveler who was suffering. 

One of the attributes of mercy is clemency. "For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment." That's from the letter St. James wrote. God invites us to join him in extending clemency to the people around us. That idea of the judgment, of merciful judgment, that's what we all hope to find in God. That's what we have found in God. Has He not forgiven us for our sins? Do we not praise Him because He doesn't hold everything against us so rigidly, that He could? Aren't we just glad and thankful that He cuts us a little slack and gives us a little latitude in what we do and what we say and how we treat the people around us? Or even more how we fail to treat the people around us in the things we say or do, in thought, word and deed. God is merciful and gives us clemency and that, that's part of what He says when Jesus said, "You go and do the same." This is our religious duty. This is our faith speaking, this is our God speaking to us, telling us to have mercy on people. Telling us to extend that mercy to everyone. And through this parable of the Good Samaritan, to extend that mercy to those who are running for their lives, from all kinds of other oppression.

Kindness. "Be therefore merciful as your Father is merciful." That comes from Luke 6:36. Jesus said that when He was talking about being generous and kind -- just as the way God is generous and kind. When we have a need, we go to the Lord and we pray for God to help us with that, and God does. He tells us to do the same thing. To be kind to people around us. To be kind and generous. And we may not know how. And we may not have the resources. But we can pray about it and then we can find our way, we can offer words of encouragement and support if nothing else. And a lot of times, as we do that, we discover that actually we do have resources we can plug into. Actually there is a little more that we can do. We don't want to just send good thoughts and prayers, but we do want to send good thoughts and prayers. We don't just want to. But out of that, we want to also send our good works and our good deeds that support those good thoughts and prayers, that flow from that.

When we pray for our kindness for those around us, for travelers, for immigrants, we pray that God will show us something else that we might be able to do to help support that. It might be just something small. Really for most of us it probably will be something small. But we pray that God will put that on our hearts and then we pray that we'll know our hearts and follow our hearts and do what God leads us to do. And be kind as our Heavenly Father is kind. 

Compassionate. "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." It's from Hebrews, chapter four. The Bible is inviting us and encouraging us that we can take anything to the Lord and find His compassion to help, whatever our need may be. It's a little bit like what we said about kindness and praying for people and then finding what we can do to help them. This is us bringing our need and our concern and our issues to the Lord and praying on the other side of that coin that the Lord will show us what to do, will help us, will answer our prayers. This is the mercy seat. This is bringing things to the place of mercy. It's the throne of God.

As Charles Wesley wrote in his hymn, "Bold I approach the eternal throne." We have that invitation to boldly approach the throne of God, to lift up the concerns that we have, to pour our hearts out before Him, to receive the grace that we need for ourselves and that others need as well, and to ask God for that and to continue walking in that way. So today as we think about the events that are heavy on our hearts, heavy on the hearts of all whose religion stands opposed to the suffering of the children that is occurring at the border and whose religion, like ours, stands against many of these policies, let's think about this Good Samaritan and ask some of those tough questions of ourselves.

Who's suffering? Who's passing by on the other side? Can we pass by on the other side maybe because we have some policy that we want to support? Can we pass by on the other side because we have a politician that we want to support? Or does God invite us and challenge us to be like the Good Samaritan, who regardless of any differences that we may have with the persons that are suffering, we lend our resources, we lend our hand, to do what we can. And then we plug into other resources of those that can take it a little further than we were able to.

And then we come back by and we visit to make sure if there's anything else that we can do. That's all the Good Samaritan did. That's all God expects of us. Psalm 136 ends with a verse similar to that with which it began. "Oh give thanks unto the God of Heaven for His mercy endureth forever." Amen.

Photo by Lara Andrews, Feb. 5, 2018, Grace UMC: United Methodist Building on Capital Hill next to the Supreme Court Building. Sign reads, "For the love of God, protect immigrants."

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