Posts Tagged ‘Neighbor’

What Do You Read There 7-14-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 10:25-37, I explore the exchange between Jesus and a lawyer that leads to the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan. While the parable itself reveals some timely and important truth, the exchange itself reveals something important for each of our lives of faith.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-do-you-read-there-7-14-19

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

May the grace and peace of our Triune God be yours, now and forever. Amen.

Every Christian denomination has a unique path towards ordination, or what we might call officially authorized pastoral ministry. In my opinion, here in the ELCA we’ve got one of the most intense processes…something called candidacy for ordination.  Its lengthy, typically beginning upwards of a year before the individual even begins seminary…and then it runs concurrently alongside seminary education through graduation and eventually ordination.

Now in the process, there are three separate interviews that the individual experiences…one at the beginning called Entrance…one at the end called Approval…and then one just a little past the halfway point called Endorsement, just prior to beginning their year of pastoral internship.  And of the three, I found Endorsement to be the least stressful…likely because while the first and last happen with a full committee of about a dozen people, Endorsement happens with two individuals from the candidacy committee and the students faculty advisor.

Now my Endorsement interview happened sometimes in the spring of 2011, so I don’t remember a whole lot about it…but I do recall one question…talk about how your theology has changed through your education up to this point…honestly I can’t remember much of my complete answer, but I do remember saying “Well, prior to beginning seminary I had no theology.”

Side note…theology is one of those big 50 cent seminary words…but it’s a combination of two Greek words that are squashed together that literally means “the study of God” or “the divine.” Just go ahead and tuck that in the back of your minds.

Now, regardless of whatever else I said in my answer…I remember, quite vividly my advisor laughing and saying “Scott…prior to seminary, had you ever read the Bible?” And when I said yes he said “Well then guess what, you had a theology…this process is just helping you refine it.”

I’ve thought a lot about that insight over the years…and I’ve also thought about the ways that seminary did serve to develop my theology…or my understanding of the divine and the scriptures…and while the classes and the lectures and the readings and the papers and everything else I endured through that 5 year process did do a lot…there was one other aspect that was absolutely vital…and I was reminded of that as I prepared for today’s message.

One of the last steps I do every week is reading…I read through a multitude of different commentaries written on the specific passage by a wide variety of individuals…one of which is produced online every week…and this particular week…I was excited to see the author…a professor in the Religion department of Valparaiso University in Indiana…known as the Rev. Dr. Amanda Brobst-Renaud…but who I have always known simply as Mandy.

When I made the transition from part-time distance learning to on-campus full time learning…Mandy was in several of my classes and small groups…and so she was one of the first people that I got to know pretty well from my larger class…and I can remember countless times between classes when we’d end up sitting in a lounge discussing something…a passage that we were working on for preaching class or an article assigned for lecture. And we’d just go back and forth…sharing insights…challenging interpretations…pointing out details that seemed significant. (pause) And as I think back to the entirety of my seminary education…that sense…that experience of sitting around with one or two other people probably helped shape me and my understanding of the word of God being living and active more than anything else. (pause)
Now when I say that…when I reference that bit of scripture…I think it is talking about the way that the scriptures themselves reveal widely different things to individuals based on their experience…and in the same way, the scriptures can reveal widely different things to an individual at different points in their lives…and because of this…I think its dangerous to assume that any passage, or individual book of the Bible or even the Bible as a whole has a single “correct interpretation.”

And I think we find evidence of this in today’s passage.  Now admittedly I’ve already been talking for a while without getting into today’s gospel…but as I read it…especially the opening narration about the back and forth that Jesus has with this lawyer…this expert in the Jewish Law code passed down from Moses back in the day…as I consider this exchange, I don’t envision some uppity dude looking down his nose at Jesus…thinking he’s got the education and credentials to put this upstart Galilean wanderer in his place.

I see a lively discussion, we might call it a debate…but I’m reminded of those times spent sitting on couches going back and forth over a passage…trying to get to the heart of it…trying to understand how its applicable into our lives as it is in this moment.

I don’t know what mental image you might have of this exchange…but I don’t think these two guys are butting heads…and I don’t think that either one of them are trying to set the other one straight…and we find this in a pretty simple…maybe even throw-away question from Jesus in the midst of the back and forth…see if you catch it.

Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?  What is written in the law, what do you read there?  Love God and love your neighbor.  You have answered rightly do this and live. (pause) Did you catch it?

Jesus…the literal embodiment of the divine…the Word of God made flesh…the epitome of “the authority” on this subject…Jesus asks the guy…what do you read there?  How do you read it?  What’s your take? (pause)

Admittedly, I dig this little back and forth…its present in a couple of the other gospels…but Luke is unique in the way the exchange goes down…and this is the only one when Jesus poses that important question.

Now when the lawyer answers…Jesus seems to agree…yes dude…love God, love you neighbor…that’s it man…do this and you’ll live.  It seems that the two have reached an agreement…but then the lawyer…being a lawyer…being himself…being true to who he is…well, he wants to dig a little deeper…and so he asks another question…if the law can interpreted as loving our neighbors…let’s get specific Jesus…I need to know just how far this goes…who is my neighbor?

And this question prompts one of the most familiar parables in the scriptures…commonly known as the Good Samaritan…although I really think we should change the name to the parable of the dude who got beat up because nowhere in any language does Jesus ever say the Samaritan is good…but that’s just another side note for you. (Pause)

You know the parable…guys going down the road…robbers jump him…beat him up, leave him for dead.  The two guys who REALLY should know better, chose to ignore him and leave him laying when they walk by…then the Samaritan…the foreigner…the last person who should be hero…is the hero…a fact so shocking to this Jewish lawyer that he can’t even bring himself to say “Samaritan” when Jesus asks “who was the neighbor to the man?” And his answer reveals the reversal that is often present within a parable.  “The one to offer him mercy.”

Now here’s the next thing…the parable doesn’t answer the question “who do I have to be a neighbor to?”  It flips it around to address the issue that this particular guy can’t seem to get past…who can I not even fathom the possibility might be a neighbor to me?  (pause)

I don’t want to dive to deep into this…to be perfectly honest the parable itself doesn’t interest me that much…but if it catches your attention I’ll ask the question before I move on…who is it that you can’t fathom being a neighbor to you?  What identity would make you bristle at the idea of accepting help or mercy?  What differences?  Because that seems to be at the heart of this parable.  Is it racial?  Is it cultural? Economic?  Nationality? Legal status?  Sexual Orientation?   What’s your trigger?  (pause) If the parable itself catches your attention, then ponder on that…and the possibility that maybe just maybe the kingdom of God, and the Holy Spirit inspired gift of love and mercy and compassion shown on the part of the Samaritan might just be coming your way across that boundary that today you just can’t wrap your head around…and maybe the Spirit is calling you to offer that same compassion and mercy the opposite direction. (pause)

But now that being said…I want to circle back around. And pick back up with the way that this honest back and forth encounter with Jesus and the individual seems to reveal a tripping point in his faith…and the parable is simply an illustration tool that Jesus uses to reveal it to him.

I wonder if you’ve had moments like this in your life…and in your faith…moments when an honest back and forth with another person resulted in an ah-ha…or in a feeling of conviction…or in a moment of joy…I hope so…because in my experience, that’s where the real miraculous moments of faithful revelation happen.

As much as I love standing up here preaching every week…I do sometimes wonder how effective it is…but I’ve seen moments when the lightbulb turns on…when the Spirit reveals something and it clicks…and more often than not…it happens in honest back and forth conversation among 2 or 3 people.  That’s why the relationships that we form together are so important…that’s why I think small group study is so important…and that’s why I think that family conversations around matters of faith are so vital…because that’s where faithful learning happens…as we grow together and let our shared experience shape the growth that we go through over the course of our lives lived together.

Now today…we have a new individual who is taking a first step in this whole process…as Lindy is brought forward to the font by her parents…and she’ll be washed in the waters of baptism…claimed by God as a beloved child…and as I say every time, she’s going to be watching us…but soon she’ll also be engaging with us…learning from us and with us, and God willing, she’ll be teaching us…as the Spirit empowers her and every one of us to learn and share in the faith…we might even call it a shared study of the divine…which as you recall has a name…theology.

You all have it…you don’t need someone else to tell you how your experience shapes your encounter with the divine and the scriptures…and so, just as Jesus asked the lawyer that day…I’ll leave you with this simple question…when you ponder on the action and the presence of God in the world around you…and when you crack the Bible…what do you read there? Amen

Here We Go Again 7-10-16

In this sermon based on Luke 10:25-37, I explore the parable of the Good Samaritan in light of recent violence and killing. Jesus reminds us that we are unable to “do” the law, but reminds us that we can and must be moved to compassion to come along side our neighbors.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/here-we-go-again-7-10-16

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

My grandfather was in the Navy during World War 2. He was assigned to a destroyer escort, a small ship in the fleet compared with some of the big dogs like aircraft carriers or battleships…but important none the less.

The ship that Grandpa served on was stationed in the North Atlantic, and was tasked with hunting and destroying German submarines…now Grandpa never told me just how successful his ship was at this task…but I do know that they destroyed at least one. (pause)
Now I can’t speak from experience, but I have tried to imagine the state of mind when military members find themselves in situations like this…most of them young impressionable people…practically kids…following orders, and probably scared out their minds.

But regardless of that, Grandpa’s ship destroyed the sub, which came to the surface as it was breaking up…and survivors were jumping out into the water…and with that…the duty of the men on Grandpa’s ship changed…and they went out on deck to pluck those survivors out of the water…enemies yes…but now prisoners of war…and most importantly, fellow human beings.

Grandpa was on deck, pulling men up from the water…and one individual stood out…another young man who was wounded in the chest. Grandpa pulled him out, just one of who knows how many…but the memory of that man stayed with Grandpa…and decades later…somehow, someway, those two guys…now senior citizens…managed to locate one another…Grandpa in Arizona, the other man in Germany…and thanks to a friendly neighbor down the street who was fluid in the language, Grandpa was able to exchange letters with this former enemy for several years…learning about one another and sharing stories of their respective lives…they never met again in person…but in this small way, these two former enemies became friends. (pause)

I’m guessing that you’re making the connection. The parable of the Good Samaritan…when someone offers a helping hand…this story is perhaps…one of the finest in the scriptures…or in the very least, its one of the most widely known.  So much so that the phrase “good Samaritan” has become synonymous with the idea of random acts of kindness…witnesses the need of a stranger and coming to their aid.  We have laws dubbed Good Samaritan…and these laws were even featured in the series finale of the popular sitcom Seinfeld…resulting in the 4 main characters sent to jail for failing to help someone in need.

Now all too often…when this story comes up for preaching…or even in general conversation…we hear the application of how we should think or act from a moral standpoint…see the need meet the need…and that’s not in error…after all Jesus says “Go and do likewise.”

But to be perfectly honest…I’m not even that interested in the parable itself today. Rather…I’m more interested in the exchange that goes on between Jesus and the expert in the law at the beginning of the passage.

Now here’s the thing…this isn’t a lawyer like we think of things today…but rather…he’s an expert in the law of Moses…he’s the pro…the authority…the equivalent of a tenured Seminary professor with a doctorate in the 10 Commandments as well as the rest of the laws laid out by Moses clear back in the book of Deuteronomy. He knows it cold.

And so we begin to question his motives when he steps up to “test” Jesus…while we can’t be sure…it certainly seems as if his intentions are less than ideal…likely he’s hoping to discredit Jesus’ teaching…or in the very least, since he’s wanting to justified…his intentions are simply to make himself look good…but regardless…whatever his motivations are…he asks what could be considered to be the most important question that any of us ever wrestle with…what must I do to inherit eternal life?

Now what strikes me as interesting here, is that Jesus does the typical Jesus thing…and manages to point out exactly where the problem is for the individual…and he does so here by turning the question back upon the questioner…What is written in the law? What do you read?

Jesus might as well be saying “You know this, what do I need to tell you for.” But the man responds…love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind…and then love your neighbor as yourself…and Jesus approves…you have given the right answer…do this and you will live.

But now here’s where things get tricky…and where the man trips up…because its not enough to know the right answer…as we see…he needs to go one step farther to prove…perhaps to those around but most importantly to himself…that’s he’s covered the bases…and so he poses the next question…And who is my neighbor?

Cue the parable…random dude gets jumped by bandits and is left for dead…two people who should both know better…who’s very identities dictate that they are the very ones who must stop and help him…don’t…they choose to ignore him…to act like they didn’t see him, or that his life is not important enough for them to be bothered.

But then here comes the token good guy…the proverbial good Samaritan who not only helps him…but goes WAY out of his way, at significant personal cost…to help him. (pause)
Now I could go into a whole bunch of stuff here…really unpacking this to reveal just why it would have been so shocking, not only for the lawyer in the story, but for everyone else that heard it…but the long and sort of it is that the Samaritan was the enemy…there would have been nothing but hatred and animosity between these two individuals…simply because of the cultural differences…words cannot express how utterly “at odds” these two cultures were…and yet they were quite literally neighbors.

And this guy helps…and as shocking as that must have been…Jesus tells this expert in the law that in order to love his neighbor…in order to fulfill what must be done to inherit eternal life…he needs to learn from the enemy. (pause) How well do you suppose that went over?  Do you think the lawyer really learned the lesson that Jesus was sharing? (pause) Have we?

Friday morning I was stuck asking myself “who am I in this story?” Because it has happened again…more needless killing. 2 African American men killed in confrontations with police officers…and then 5 police officers killed and 6 more wounded while doing their jobs.

Call it what you will…escalation…choosing sides…whatever…one thing led to the next thing…and I’m guessing that its going to lead to the next thing…which will lead to the next thing.

What’s it been…3 weeks…a month maybe since I stood up here and talked about pointless hate and the utter destruction of life that this hate has caused? And now, here we are again…different circumstances…difference groups of people involved…but the same result…People died…people who should have lived long joyful lives…cut short…families broken…people grieving.

How many times do we have to have this conversation? How many times do we have to hear news like this before we finally decide enough is enough? I’ve asked myself that question over and over again…but as I dwelled on these questions another one came to mind…based on our history…and the constant reminders of violence and hatred and fear that dominate our society…ARE WE ACTUALLY ABLE TO DO SOMETHING?

I don’t ask this question to imply that there’s nothing we can do so we should just shrug our shoulders and ignore it…that’s what the priest and levite did…but maybe, just maybe what we need to pay attention to is the notion that the Samaritan WAS MOVED with pity.

This is important to take note of…original language…this is passive…the Samaritan does not choose pity leading him to help the man…he was moved BY it. This was an outside force working on him, leading him to respond as he does.

This happens 3 times in Luke’s gospel…this is one…the second is within the parable of the prodigal son when the father see’s his wayward child and is moved by compassion because this son of mine that was dead has come back….and the third is Jesus when he encounters a widow who has lost her only son and is moved by compassion to help her.

The story of the good Samaritan is not just some corrective for us to take the moral road…but it points out that there are forces in this world that are directing us to be different…there are forces in this world that empower us to do something…and they ARE NOT…self-generated…because as we see in the case of the priest and the Levite…not to mention the lawyer who posed these questions in the first place…our selfish sinful nature will seek to justify ourselves…and therefore will end up placing us on the pedestal above others every single time.

And so when Jesus says “you know the law…do this and you will live.” We realize that we don’t do it…and we die…because the wages of sin is death…we don’t know when or where, but it catches all of us…and for 7 beloved children of God…fellow members of the human race bearing the divine image of God…it came too soon.

And in the aftermath far too many have taken up sides…and even if they don’t intend to, they are seeking to justify themselves…and we use these tragedies as ammunition to use against each other…but no one wins…I know African Americans who are outraged and yet afraid…and I know police officers who are outraged and afraid…and this problem is not limited to these two groups…but as we’ve seen time and time again, hate seems pretty universal….They’re different than me…they look different…or they sound different…or the believe different things…and how do we respond? Fear…we feel like we’re backed into a corner like a dog and what does a cornered dog do? Its bites.

Jesus says do this and you will live…We don’t…and so as I wrestled with this text in light of this week’s events, I struggled to find the gospel…but then I realized that Jesus wasn’t trying to give a moral lesson…he was pointing out our human inability to fulfill the law…love God and your neighbor…sorry, you can’t pull it off…none of us can.

And yet God loves us all…every single one of us…so much…that he looks upon us…trapped in this sinful reality…and just like the man in the story…we are left for dead…and God is moved to compassion…and through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, our sinful death sentence is overcome…and we are invited by God to join in proclaiming this message to the entire world.

But in doing so…we are, in fact…called into action…not only to proclaim the gospel…but to recognize our neighbor…and who is our neighbor? Its everyone…and that includes the one that we perceive to be our enemy.

The holy spirit empowers us to be different in this world…not perfect…but different…to look upon one another and see a fellow child of God…worthy of love and respect and acceptance…not as someone who is less human than I am.

No longer can we be like the priest or the Levite…those who couldn’t be bothered to step up and do something for our neighbor…those who chose to ignore the Holy Spirit moving us to compassion…we’ve done that for too long…and our society and the latent hate that is so present is evidence to that.

Are we willing to stand up? Are we willing to listen to the prompting of God who desires for this work of reconciling the entire world to himself to come to completion? Or will we chose to ignore it…and convince ourselves that it didn’t happen to us…or it didn’t happen here…because we’ve sat behind that excuse long enough.

You can apply whatever hashtag you want to this. Black lives matter…blue lives matter…poor lives matter…gay lives matter…refuge lives matter…Hispanic lives matter…yes all lives matter…and so I leave you with this question…who is your neighbor…who do you need to accept mercy from…and who do you need to offer mercy to?

I can’t answer that question for you…only you can…I’ll be over here figuring it out for myself…but may it be our prayer that the world…and yes that includes us…remember Jesus words….what does the law say?
Well, the law includes the 5th commandment…thou shall not kill. (pause) Maybe we should start there. Amen

What if Jesus Was Serious About That Whole Love Your Neighbor Thing?

As a pastor, I do quite a bit of writing; weekly sermons, notes for classes, monthly newsletter articles.  In working on my article for November, it struck me that this might be something to share with all of you out there in the world.

I write this article shortly before Reformation Sunday, the last weekend of October. In celebration of the Reformation, our scripture lessons supersede the texts regularly assigned for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost. Had we gone with that set of scripture passages, the Gospel for October 26th would have been Matthew 22:34-46. I had to chuckle when I realized that, as it is a passage that I’ve run into more than once recently.

Recently the combined Confirmation/Adult Forum class discussed the story of the Israelites wandering in the desert in the 40 years between the Exodus and entering the Promised Land. Within that discussion, we looked at Deuteronomy 6:4-5, commonly known to the Jewish faith as the Shema. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” As the class talked about this passage and its importance, we also recognized that Jesus himself passed this vital Jewish command onto us, and this happens in the passage from Matthew 22.

When challenged by the religious elite to pick out the most important law, Jesus responded back with this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is the command of our Lord, to first love Him, and then to love everyone else as well. But perhaps this is easier said than done.

We live in a trying time, and perhaps in those moments when we pick up a newspaper or visit a news website or turn on the nightly news report, we see too much negativity in the world to even begin to think about love. We are dealing with fear and paranoia over Ebola, videos and reports of ISIS beheading Christians and threating to attack the United States, and the ever present tension/conflict between Israel and Palestine. And that doesn’t even begin to take into account the constant barrage of attack ads on TV and the radio as we creep up on Election Day on the 4th.

With all of this staring us in the face day after day, perhaps we find ourselves feeling a little cynical about that whole “loving our neighbor” thing, and rather than loving God, we throw exasperated questions in the heavenly direction, “Where are you on all this stuff?”

But it is precisely these times that we must cling to those two commandments…love the Lord with all you’ve got, recognizing that maybe today “all you’ve got” isn’t as strong as it was last week, nor is it as strong as it will be a year from now. And at the same time loving our neighbors…all of them, and I don’t just mean the people that live around the corner from you.

In times like this, I find it helpful to return to John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…” And funny enough…that means all of it. The world includes all of the people in constant conflict with one another. It includes the politicians cutting each other down to try and grab one more vote. And the world includes you and me, even in those times when the negativity present in life gets the better of us.

Interestingly enough, when we think about all that conflict going on “out there,” the fighting and the battling, and the terrorism and the atrocities happening all over the world, we begin to realize that despite our differences, we’re fighting a simple family squabble. Jesus’ commands remind us of our connection with the Jewish faith which traces all the way back to Abraham. And if we look back at the story, we realize that he was also the father of Ishmael, considered to be the patriarch of the Arab nation, what we would call Islam today.

And so, if all the conflict and tension in the world really can be sifted down into a family squabble, then maybe it’s time we all start taking Jesus’ command to love our neighbors seriously…because everyone out there is our brother or sister. What might happen if everyone started believing that, and seeing one another as God see each and every one of us; as beloved children of God.

In Christ
Pastor Scott