Wednesday, April 23, 2008

God in the interactions of compassion

The Rev. Peter M. Carey
Chapel Address
23 April 2008

Gospel of Luke, chapter 10 verses 25-37.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" He answered: " '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, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn in Jericho and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'

"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise." New International Version

Jesus answers the question, “who is my neighbor” by telling a story of an extremely unlikely neighbor helping a man who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. The unlikely neighbor was from a nationality and race that did not usually interact with Jesus’ culture, religion, and race. The unlikely neighbor was enemy, was foreigner, and was “other.” But, in the story, when the man was attacked, it was this unlikely Samaritan who offered compassion and help.

You may have heard the story before, but I want to ask something a bit different about it. Where is God in the story? Where is God’s love and compassion in the story?

I would argue that God is exhibited in the “in between” in this story. In my reading, God is in the actions of the Samaritan as he offered compassion and help. The man needed this unlikely neighbor to help him, and through this unlikely neighbor, God’s love and compassion comes through.

Sometimes, oftentimes in the Biblical narrative, God uses unlikely events and interactions to cause transformation. Here, God uses an unlikely neighbor to illustrate how tightly we are related to one another. We are related one to another in a deep deep way. We are related one to another.

We are sister,
we are daughter,
we are mother,
we are father,
we are son,
we are brother,
we are friend,
we are neighbor.

Our own selves are tied up with one another, and we need one another.

It is in the coming together in closeness with others that we are each transformed. Put another way, when we have to encounter someone who is not us, who is perhaps not very much like us, that is when we are transformed down to our heart, soul and mind. In encountering others, we begin to become who we were meant to be. Through our interactions with the “other” appreciate and respect the other without obliterating the differences. In coming here to St. Catherine’s, and then when you move on to college and beyond, the world needs you to be who you are. I would like to think that this is a place where each of us can be safe as we affirm our identity, because we need each of us to be wholly who we are.

The transformation that happens when we encounter one another is a transformation from having hearts that are small to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called, “large-heartedness.” In loving thy neighbor as thyself not only do the others experience that love but it transforms us as well.

So, we turn to the Day of Silence this Friday when we affirm that harassment will not be tolerated, and that respect for each person will be affirmed.

Around the issue of homosexuality, there are a variety of perspectives along a long spectrum. I don’t know where you fall on this spectrum. However, wherever you may be, we all can affirm respect for every person, and we can agree that harassment will not be tolerated. Jesus was adamant that we are to love our neighbors, that our neighbors might end up being those very people that have long been seen as strange, as enemy, or as the “other.” Every one of us is a child of God, and that we are to be respectful and tolerant of every one of us, but that we will not tolerate harassment or intolerance.

Jesus answers the question, “who is my neighbor” by telling a story of an extremely unlikely neighbor helping a man who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. The unlikely neighbor was from a nationality and race that did not usually interact with Jesus’ culture, religion, and race. The unlikely neighbor had been seen as “other,” but had become neighbor and friend. We should also practice this “large-heartedness” to all those in our community.

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