Sermon for Proper 10 C: Parable of Neighborly Solidarity

Sermon for Proper 10 C / Lectionary 15 C
July 10, 2016
Michael Coffey

I have to admit,
            I’m tired of trying to remember everyone
            we have to pray for, or light a candle for,
            or set aside a special time of grief and remembering for.
Don’t get me wrong,
            we have to do these things,
            we can’t ignore the problems and struggles
                        and suffering of the world we live in.
            But, I’m tired of having to do these things
                        because it seems like we have to do them so often,
                        and it seems at times like nothing ever changes.
Now it’s Dallas. And St. Paul. and Baton Rouge.
Now it’s African American men and police officers.
Now it’s Alton. Philando. Michael. Patrick. Lorne. Brent. Michael.
It is tempting to try to offer up an easy target to blame,
            or a quick answer to the deep problems,
            or to simply lash out in anger or frustration or despair,
                        like so many are doing on social media and elsewhere.

But, as a preacher of Gospel,
            as a gathered community in worship,
            I think we are called to something else.
And that something else is sitting right here in the text in front of us.
            Let’s go there, instead of everywhere else we tend to go,
                        and hear some word of hope and direction and guidance
                        for this difficult moment and for our wearied souls.

A bible scholar asked Jesus:
            What should I do to inherit eternal life?
            What should I do to live life fully in the mystery of God now and always?
Jesus asked him: What does the Scripture say?
            The scholar says back: Love God and love your neighbor.
            And Jesus said: Yes! You got it right! Go and do that.

But, the bible scholar found that answer too open ended,
            beautiful but too unclear.
            He wanted to kill it and pin it down like a butterfly.
“But who is my neighbor?”
            Oh, no! No, no, no.
            You just want to stop this guy: Noooooooo!
            If you ask Jesus another question,
                        he’s going to tell a story and the story
                        will mess you up and mix you up
                        and leave you wishing you had never asked!
But it’s too late.
            He asked Jesus: Who is my neighbor that I should love?
                        As if there were categories and classes of neighbors
                                    one could leave out,
                                    as if love could discriminate,
                                    as if Jesus would make it all so clean and easy.
The story we know well,
            we call it the good Samaritan.
            And since a Samaritan was an outsider or other to Jews, then,
                        this story challenges the question of who.
The story we know well,
but the answer, I’m not sure we know that well.
            I’m going to say that the answer Jesus gave is this:
                        Who is my neighbor I should love?
                        If you have to ask, you’re doing it wrong.

                        If you have to ask who you’re supposed to love,
                                    you’re doing love wrong.

We have been doing love wrong for a long time.
            We keep asking who,
                        as if we can leave out some because there are too many,
                        or because we genuinely don’t like, trust, or feel good about many.
            The question the bible scholar should have asked Jesus
                        is not who? but how?
            How should I love my neighbor?
Did you notice that Jesus’ story,
            while telling the scholar that if you have to ask who
                        you’re doing it wrong,
                        also goes on to answer the question: how?
            How do I love my neighbor?
            It’s strange for a parable,
                        Jesus goes into very specific details.
                        Jesus tells important loving details,
                                    like bandaging the victim’s wounds,
pouring oil and wine on them
in an act of healing compassion,
                                    placing him on his animal and walking beside him,
                                    taking him to a place where he could get better care
                                                than he himself could give,
                                    paying for his care,
                                                and seeing that he is cared for even after he is gone.

Jesus blows away the question of who as being inappropriate
            and he goes on to answer the question how:
And the answer he shows is:
love your neighbor with deep compassion,
                        in generosity and with great mercy.
                        in neighborly solidarity with one who suffers.
We are living in a time of division and unneighborliness.
            I don’t think it’s any worse than in the past,
                        and in some ways it’s actually better,
                        but it has become much more obvious and undeniable
                                    due to technology and social media
                                    and the voices of many who simply won’t be quiet anymore.
We continue to live out America’s original sin of racism,
            and its original idolatry of violence.

If we are still asking ourselves
            who should we love, implying that we are also asking
                        who should we be allowed not to love,
            then Jesus has a harsh word for us:
                        you’re doing it wrong.
            Love is not about who, but how.
If we are open to the love of God revealed in Christ Jesus,
            then we are open to ask not who but how.
And the how is a powerful word of neighborly solidarity.
            Solidarity with our neighbor who is suffering from illness.
            Solidarity with our neighbor who is suffering from crime.
            Solidarity with our neighbor who is suffering from injustice.
            Solidarity with our neighbor who is suffering from rejection.
Love as neighborly solidarity
            means loving someone else by taking on their suffering
                        through costly acts of caring, and healing, and nursing,
                        and tending to, and disrupting our own lives
                                    with the demands of another.

Who is our neighbor in need of love expressed as solidarity?
            Certainly our African American neighbors,
                        weary and fearful and angry and bloodied
                        by endless, daily experiences of cruelty and violence
                                    and rejection and hatred.
            What does solidarity with our African American neighbors look like?
                        Taking on their suffering as our own
                                    through costly acts of care and seeking change.

Who is our neighbor in need of love expressed as solidarity?
            Certainly today our police officers,
                        weary and fearful and angry and bloodied
                                    both by acts of violence toward them
                        and by their own few officers who tarnish their badges
                                    by committing acts of violence toward African Americans
                                    and others because they haven’t dealt with their own
                                                anti-neighborly feelings and attitudes.

It has been tempting lately
            to pick which neighbor is hurting the most
            and blame the other neighbor who is causing the pain
                        as if we could divide up our neighbors
                                    and love one and not the other.
I’m not being simplistic here.
            Addressing persistent and pervasive racism in our society
                        which gets expressed at times through police violence
                        is essential and urgent.
            Saying Black Lives Matter in a culture that devalues black lives
                        on a daily basis should not be controversial.
            But neither should it be seen as anti anybody else,
                        certainly not anti-police
                        or anti-white people, because it isn’t.
            As I saw someone post on Facebook yesterday:
                        If I have a broken bone and go to the doctor,
                        and the doctor tells me: All bones matter,
                                    you have to say: Yes, but this one
                                    needs to be cared for right now.

I want to claim that the church has a powerful role to play
            in our society’s current and seemingly unending problems
                        of racism and violence and blame and division.
We gather and trust and claim and sing and shout and praise
            that we know a God who is so merciful as to claim us as God’s own.
We gather and trust and claim and sing and shout and praise
            that we know God as the one who comes to us in Christ Jesus
                        not as a dividing line between us and others
                        but as a uniting power bringing us into neighborly solidarity
                                    with all people without ever asking who.
We gather and trust and claim and sing and shout and praise
            that we know God as the one who in Christ
                        comes to us and the world in neighborly solidarity
                        taking on the suffering of the world
                                    tending its wounds, healing its pain,
                                    carrying it when it cannot carry itself,
                                    and seeing to it that we will all be cared for
                                    until we finally have what the bible scholar wanted along:
                                                eternal life, life lived in and with God now and always,
                                                life as the experience of the mystery of God
                                                            known in mercy and neighborly love.
God comes to us in Christ,
            the crucified and risen Lord of life,
            as neighborly solidarity:
            the cross is our sure sign of God’s neighborly solidarity,
                        sharing in our suffering, dying our deaths,
                        and raising us up to new life now and always.

How do I inherit eternal life? he asked.
Love God and neighbor.
Who is my neighbor?
Jesus doesn’t answer the question.
He leaves it open, because that’s the point:
If you have to ask who your neighbor is,
you’re doing it wrong.
We are called to be open to the needs of the other
without asking whether they are our neighbor,
because they are,
we share the same planet and the same God.
And the God we know and share in Jesus’ name
            is deep, abiding, endless, neighborly solidarity
            with our problems, with our struggles and pain,
            with African Americans crying for true liberation,
            with police and all who seek to serve their communities faithfully,
with Dallas. And St. Paul. and Baton Rouge.
            with Alton. Philando. Lorne. Michael. Patrick. Brent. Michael.
In the face of such love as known in Christ Jesus,
            we can only pray:
                        Merciful God,
show us, not who, but how we should love.
                        Give us strength and courage
                                    to be your neighborly solidarity
with someone in need today.


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