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Monday, July 12, 2010

Sermon from July 11, 2010

“The Journey”
Luke 10:25-37

"Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" The question sounds simple and innocent enough. However Jesus was not fooled by this lawyer, and he turns the question back at him, "What is written in the law/in the scriptures?" Jesus asks, "What does it say there?" The lawyer replies with a well rehearsed and polished declaration, "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." "Good answer," Jesus said, "do this and you shall live."

Suddenly there was a burning in the man's heart, a burning that something that was not right. This Jewish Lawyer spent his lifetime separating himself from the Gentiles, he believed that his neighbors were only fellow Jews, but what stirred him was the thought that this Jesus might consider the Gentile a neighbor. The Lawyer had to find out where Jesus stood on this matter (and maybe proving that he was doing the right thing by excluding Gentiles), so he asks Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

Jesus replies with a story. "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho...." (pause)

The road to Jericho was a notoriously dangerous road. It was a 20 mile journey that descended 3,600 feet, so one literally went "down" to Jericho. It was a road of narrow and rocky passage ways, a road of sudden turnings that made it the happy hunting-ground of roving robbers and bandits. Bandits and robbers would hide behind rocks and cliffs to jump out upon many unsuspecting travelers. Many people would travel in groups or caravans to lessen their chance of attack. However, for some reason, the man in Jesus' story was traveling alone. Maybe it was out of stupidity, maybe it was out of necessity, we do not know. So with the scene in place, this lone traveler fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.

Unable to move the man laid there awhile. Then mustering as much strength as he could, he tried to move. He groaned. He was only able to lift his head enough to see a figure coming on the road, but just then his strength gave out and he collapsed into a pool of his own blood. Now, by chance, this approaching person was a priest, who could certainly be a trust worthy person. Yet when he saw the heap of flesh and blood, he thought the man to be dead, so he passed by on the other side of the road. If he would touch the body of a dead person he would be considered unclean for 7 days and he would not be able to perform his duties in the temple, nor could he be out in public. The priest just did not want to take the risk. Likewise with the Levite who passed by, the cleanliness code applied to him and he didn't want to take the risk. Both the priest and the levite were considered representatives of God, by virtue of their office, but both of these men considered their office more highly than the man on the road.

But a Samaritan, while traveling, came near the man who lay on the side of the road in a pool of his own blood. To the Jews a Samaritan was worse than a Gentile because a Samaritan was part Jew and part Gentile - the mixed blood brought about strong feelings of disgust and distrust. A Samaritan was considered an outcast by the Jews. Yet when this Samaritan saw the man, he was moved with pity. This outcast was moved with pity for a man who was more than likely a Jew. The Samaritan went to him and finding him not dead, poured oil and wine on his wounds bandaged them. Then the Samaritan put the wounded man on his own beast of burden, brought him to an inn and took care of him that night, bathing him and giving him new clothes. The next day he took out enough money to cover 24 days in the inn, and gave them to the inn keeper. The Samaritan not only helped once the man, but he was spending some of his money to continue to care for the man. He was also investing some time to come back to check and see how the man was doing.

Then Jesus closes his story with a question to the lawyer. "Which one of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" The answer was obvious, it was the Samaritan, but the lawyer could not bring himself to say the name, so he says, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus says to him, "Go and do likewise." (pause)

This is a well known story. We have heard it in many ways and in different times. Where do we dins ourselves in this story? We can be anyone of these characters, the traveler, the robber, the priest, the Levite, the Samaritan, the innkeeper. But for now let us consider ourselves as the traveler from Jerusalem to Jericho. Let us consider our journey not as a journey of a few miles but as a life time journey.

Our journey starts joyous with birth, high in Jerusalem, and ends sorrowful with death, down low in Jericho. We are the traveler who makes the notoriously dangerous journey of life to death, a journey down to the grave. This road on which we travel is not smooth, there is dangerous terrain with robbers and bandits, ready to steal away the joy of life. We descend into the depths of human life - heading toward death and the grave. But on the way to the grave we are attacked by the robbers and bandits of this world, who want to steal our very life blood away from us. We are stripped of our good name, by gossip or slander. We are beaten by illness, disease and injury. Or we are beaten by the government, our job, our friends. We are hurt by our loved ones, parents, children, spouse, partner. These robbers and bandits beat us and leave us for dead along side of the road. Then we are attacked by vultures, who, disguised as friends or neighbors, seek to destroy our sense of self so that nothing is left of us. Unable to move we lie. We lie part way to the grave, wishing that we were dead instead of this living death we are now experiencing.

But, mustering as much strength as we can, we try to move. Groaning, we are only able to lift our head enough to see a figure coming on the road, we try to callfor help, but just then our strength gives out and we collapsed into a pool of our own blood. Now by chance this approaching person belongs to the priesthood of all believers, an active member in the institutional church, who could certainly be a trustworthy person. Surely this priest will do something, but alas this one passes by on the other side. Perhaps you have been passed by when you were hurting, passed by, by a friend or a member of your own congregation. Someone who probably wanted to help but was not able to respond to your needs, someone who didn't know what to do, so left you in your pool of blood and pain. This happens. This is our life journey.

Likewise the pastor of our church, a leader of the institutional church, looks at us and passes by on the other side. If we were conscious enough to recognize this person, we would most certainly be angry, why did our pastor pass us by and not help us. Maybe this is your life experience. I or another pastor was not able to respond to your needs, maybe due to lack of knowledge or due to of lack of ability. Yet, perhaps if you could see, you would see your pastor hang her/his head low, knowing that this is outside her/his abilities.

But along comes a Samaritan, who is of mixed blood human and divine, Jesus Christ, himself. He is able to respond to our needs and he has the resources available to him for he is God's only son - sent to this world for this purpose: to bind up our broken hearts and to restore to God people who are beat down by this life journey. Jesus comes to all of us who are traveling to the grave. He comes to give us a future and a hope. He gives us a future of a life beyond the grave. He gives us hope to believe in that promise while we are still on this journey. And in the promise, he also gives us strength for our journey now.

Christ, the true Samaritan, takes us to himself as his own. Christ comes to us and does not require us, who are helpless, to come to him; for here is not merit, but pure grace and mercy; and he binds up our wounds and cares for us. Christ Jesus pours oil and wine on our wounds, to cleanse them, taking away infection than may fester and kill. Jesus cleanses the wounds so that even though a scar may remain the wound is completely healed. Then the Samaritan lifts our limp and wounded body on his beast of burden. This beast is also Christ the Lord himself, and he carries us, while we lay upon his shoulders, neck and body. He bares us again as he did bare the sins of the entire world on the cross. Then He takes us to an inn where he bathes us in the waters of baptism - giving us a new life - removing the dirt and filth from the rest of our body, you see he is concerned for our whole self. And he dresses us in the new garment of his promise - we are clothed with forgiveness, humility, and new life. But he does not stop there, Jesus continues to care for us, and look after us. Jesus is a neighbor to us - showing mercy to we who need mercy.

But then what happens? What happens when we have been picked up, cleaned and clothed by Christ? What happens when our wounds heal? What happens when we are strong enough to leave the inn? We leave the inn. We go back out to engage in the journey of this world. But now we go with the new life that we have been given in Jesus. By remembering our experience of being taken and clothed by Christ, we engage the world. We engage the world by helping those who need help. We engage the world by helping our neighbor. We do not do this because we are so good, but we do this because of what Christ Jesus has done for us. Because of what Jesus has done for us we are now able to help our neighbor, those who need help, those who need mercy.

We were not saved from certain death just to hide out in the inn and keep the gifts of God to ourselves. Jesus has saved us to share his message of grace and mercy, love and acceptance. We are now workers for the kingdom of God. We are to go and proclaim. What do we proclaim? We proclaim what Jesus Christ has done for us. What do we do? "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 are we to proclaim, we are to go and do.

Dear friends in Christ, You have been shown mercy, now go, go and do likewise.

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