Ralph Connor Memorial United Church

The Little White Church on Main Street, Canmore, Alberta

Sermon: November 4, 2018 – Luke 10: 25-37

Sermon: November 4, 2018 – Luke 10: 25-37
Ralph Connor Memorial Untied Church – Rev. Greg Wooley

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What a great scripture reading today.  Jesus, pushed to pick one of the 613 commandments of the Hebrew Scriptures to stand above all others, snags two and links them together: “love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind” (Deuteronomy 6: 4-5), and “love your neighbour as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).  When his questioner asked Jesus a follow-up question, with the purpose of putting up a fence around the neighbourhood of love in order to determine who is and is not within the fenceline of love,, Jesus chooses instead to tell a story with a most unexpected hero – to emphasize that the neighbourhood of love includes everyone, most especially those who are despised, and have been despised for generations.

There is much that could be said about the Samaritans – and yes, there are still people who identify as Samaritans, fewer than a thousand, but still recognized as a distinct ethnic and religious grouping.   Without getting into all the details, the Samaritans in Jesus’ day were viewed as opportunists who were religiously mistaken, ethnically impure, and just plain “lesser than.”  How much animosity there was from the Samaritans toward the Jews is hard to tell, but I suspect that there was a pretty energetic dislike coming from that side as well.

What I want to focus on, though, more than reasons to explain or justify the deep dislike, is the emotional weight of this broken relationship. Animosity is described as “violent hatred leading to active opposition; active enmity; energetic dislike” and that pretty much sums up how deeply disliked the Samaritans were.  It went so deep, that it even impacted travel routes in the region.  While there are hills and valleys and water sources to be taken into account, have a look at this map. If you were in Nazareth, for example, travelling to Jerusalem, how might you go?  The straightest, most direct route, due south, one might think, but no, that wasn’t the preferred route.  In order to avoid the lands of those wretched Samaritans, you’d go over to the Jordan, down to Jericho and over to Jerusalem from there. {see https://goo.gl/images/aZWKgK }

Oh, that was probably a nicer route, one might think, but, um, no.  Walking along the Jordan, yes, but Jericho to Jerusalem. is a dry, desolate, dangerous road.  The disadvantages of this road are self-evident… but at least you didn’t have to share it with the Samaritans.  That’s how much animosity there was between these groups.  I hope there is nobody in your heart that you hate that much – a person or group of people you actively want to see harmed , or that views you in that way– but try to imagine that simmering, bubbling, activated hatred.   That’s the dark place in the human soul that Jesus reaches in this story.

With that animosity simmering and scorching and eventually boiling over on the back burner, let us hear Jesus tell a story as if it were the first time we were hearing it.   A man was walking from Jerusalem, down to Jericho (wayyyy down below sea level). On a road filled with hiding places he, predictably, gets beaten up and robbed. Along the road comes a priest who we figure will help but surprise! – walks right by. Another devout and highly regarded person, this time from the religious tribe of Levi, also dodges the bruised, broken and bloodied man and walks on by without offering assistance.

So where might Jesus go next with this story?  What’s the point going to be?  Will the man pray to God and be rescued from above?  Will we learn that this person had in some way brought this attack on himself?  No, there’s one more visitor along the road: a SA-MAR-I-TAN.

Remember – people took this forbidding Jerusalem-Jericho road with the express purpose of avoiding Samaritans, and now, in these perilous circumstances, the wounded man needs one of them to save him. And the Samaritan, expressing the very love of God, cared for him on the road, took him to an inn and continued his watch overnight, left money with the innkeeper for the injured one’s care – and pledges to return later in case further funds were needed.

That person – that group – that we hate with all our might – just did this.  Not just help on the spot, but pay for treatment, and pledge to return.  In this story, Jesus says that THIS is what it means to love one’s neighbour, this is the very love that Christ will show: to give well beyond what would reasonably expected to ensure the well-being of friend and foe. Jesus explicitly says that the circle of people we are told to care for, includes and perhaps even begins with our enemies, the ones we despise and fear, the people we love to hate.  We are to love and care for those whom me may have previously hated “with all our heart, soul, strength and mind”.

We hear these words today in a world where divisions are celebrated, where the seething power of animosity becomes a babbling rage that led to the murder of eleven worshipping Jews at a Pittsburgh synagogue eight days ago, an unfettered fury that ended the lives of ten pedestrians on a Toronto sidewalk six months ago because of the van driver’s hatred toward women.  The destructive power of hatred is, unfortunately, both age-old and brand-new each time we hear this parable.

Last Sunday, I spoke of the final day of General Council 43, where our denomination was taken to task by people living with disabilities.  Well, they weren’t the only ones who were trying to get us to get the blinders away from our eyes and our fingers out of our ears.  People of colour also had their say, about the daily discrimination they face, not only out on the street but within the Church.  While we may have this fantasy about Canada being a kind and gentle place, and the United Church of Canada being a progressive, inclusive institution, that’s a lot easier to say for those of us are in the driver’s seat of privilege than it would be for indigenous persons and dark-skinned people. While this is THE issue for people who are regularly targeted, it just doesn’t seem that big a deal to others.

Black Liberation Theologian James Cone, of Union Theological Seminary in NYC, wrote this scathing indictment of his white counterparts: “By not engaging [the] unspeakable crimes against black people, white theologians are treating the nation’s violent racist past as if it were dead. But, as William Faulkner said, ‘the past is never dead; it is not even past.’ …There can be no justice without memory — without remembering the horrible crimes committed against humanity and the great human struggles for justice. But oppressors always try to erase the history of their crimes and often portray themselves as the innocent ones. Through their control of the media and religious, political, and academic discourse, ‘they’re able,’ as Malcolm put it, ‘to make the victim look like the criminal and the criminal to look like the victim.’”

In case this quote sounds opportunistic or even like “fake news”, I should mention that James Cone, who died in April of this year, wrote these words nearly two decades ago, in the year 2000.  In the tradition of Jesus, who pushed his own people to stop treating Samaritans as sub-human, these words of James Cone – and the blunt words of racialized people in our own denomination – push us to identify the groups we actively exclude, the hurtful words and attitudes we carry around with us, and to align ourselves with the liberating power of Jesus Christ.  The same cries come from the Jewish community, wondering aloud why anti-Semitism is so rarely challenged these days, how someone can make post after post on social media about their hatred of Jews without raising any alarm, not that many generations after the holocaust.  The same cries come from the Palestinians as their lives are made a misery by the state of Israel, and from the Rohingya people in Myanmar, and from dozens of first nations in Canada with never-ending boil water advisories and hundreds of missing and murdered daughters. The words of Jesus need to be heard, and followers of Jesus need to be motivated by courage and compassion and justice, every bit as much today as when he first spoke them.

This is one savvy story, simultaneously lifting up the downtrodden and judging the self-righteous, forcing the listener to both be a better, more helpful person and also to examine her or his heart for signs of judgmentalism or racism or other forms of seemingly-justified animosity toward another person or another group of people.  These words were not spoken from a safe distance; they were spoken in the midst of the fray: spoken  by Christ Jesus, who would ultimately lose his life to declare the ultimate victory of the power of love over the power of hate.

And on this day, the one who spoke these words, calls us to table.  From all nations, from all backgrounds, of all languages, from every place on the theological spectrum from traditional to progressive, we are called to embody the divine force of life as we share a symbolic meal.  We set aside our agendas, we leave our prejudices and grievances behind (preferably for good), and we are reminded of the parallel paths of love we are called to travel: loving the God of love and life with everything we can muster, and applying that transformative love, to a world that needs love to conquer fear and division.   We come as one to celebrate a God whose love knows no subdivision, who loves her Hindu children and her Muslim children as much as her Christian children and even the children who wonder if she exists. We come as one, to be renewed in love.  Thanks be to God, the source of love, peace and hope.  Amen.

References cited:

Cone, James. https://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/2000/03/the-religious-cancer-of-racism.aspx?p=2#hW5UZdVvQD7HDLYR.99

https://www.israelite-samaritans.com/history/

Small, Jared. “The Good Samaritan” (artwork) at https://memphismagazine.com/eye-of-the-beholder/

WikiDiff. “Hatred vs Animosity”. https://wikidiff.com/hatred/animosity

© 2018 Rev Greg Wooley, Ralph Connor Memorial United Church