Sermon:  “Go and Do”

11 July 2010

The Rev. Bryn Smallwood-Garcia
Congregational Church of Brookfield (UCC)

July 11, 2010

Luke 10:25-37

“Go and Do”

Prayer:   “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts and minds here together be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.”

Legend has it that when the great Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi was asked what he thought about Western Civilization, he replied, “I think it would be a very good idea.”  Like Jesus, Gandhi had little tolerance for either cultural or religious hypocrisy.  “I like your Christ,” Gandhi said, “I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”  Like Gandhi, Jesus had no problem with religion – as long as it was actually practiced.  And he didn’t see the religion of his people practiced nearly often enough.  That’s why he so often goes on the attack against hypocrites who would profess to believe one thing but actually do another.  That’s really what Luke’s Parable of the Good Samaritan is all about – breaking down prejudices, eliminating stereotypes, understanding that “love your neighbor” might mean loving someone very different from ourselves.

I have to admit I used to be just a little bit prejudiced…against New Yorkers.  I couldn’t help it.  It was just the way I was raised.  That’s why I’m so glad Paul is our reader today – I love his accent.  I will never forget my first Christmas here in Connecticut, when Paul read Luke’s nativity story about the “multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, (with Brooklyn accent) ‘14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’”  See, I grew up in North Carolina and down there, the readers say, (with Carolina accent) “‘14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’”  My point is, when my friend Dorothy moved up to New York from North Carolina, to go to NYU film school, I was a little afraid for her.  You know, a young woman alone in the big city.  You never know what might happen.

Well, turns out what happened one night was this:  It was a dark and stormy night.  Snow and ice were making the sidewalks slippery and dangerous.  Dorothy was getting out of class a little after 10, and heading for the subway to take her back to her apartment in Brooklyn.  There weren’t many people around, and those that were around were kind of sketchy – mostly young guys who might or might not be gang members or maybe even homeless drug addicts – in any case they seemed to be hanging out in the subway station for some reason OTHER than transportation home.  So she made a point of hurrying past them, not making eye contact, crossing to the other side of the stairwell to keep her distance.  She said later it was probably all that avoiding of these guys that caused her to completely miss one step and go tumbling all the way down the subway stairs.

When I heard that, I was horrified.  After all I’d heard about inner city crime, I figured she might have gotten beaten and robbed while she lay at the bottom of the stairs.  But what she told me came as a complete surprise.  A couple of well-dressed commuters hurried past her to catch their trains.  And the shabby guys she had been avoiding DID come and surround her, but it turns out, only to be sure she was OK.  And she was not.  She thought she might have broken her leg, but she struggled to stand.  When they saw she could just barely move and not really walk, they offered to call an ambulance – but she just wanted to get home and see how she felt in the morning.  But they wouldn’t let her try to catch her train.  They were too worried about her getting hurt worse.  They insisted on calling her a cab.  This was back in the ancient days before cell phones, and before taxis would accept credit cards, so one of the guys went looking for a pay phone while the rest of the gang started digging in their pockets for cash to help pay for car service.  Among all of them, including Dorothy, they managed to scrape together the $20 or so she needed, and she tried to get their addresses to pay them back.  But they wouldn’t hear of it, or else they didn’t HAVE an address, except for the subway station.

Now why in the world would I tell you that story about my friend Dorothy?  In case it’s not obvious, it’s because her story, like the Parable of the Good Samaritan, upsets our prejudices and surprises us about the goodness of people we might be otherwise tempted to discount.  Back in the time of Jesus, Samaritans were pretty much hated by good Jews – and here’s why.  They were descendants of the Israelites who had remained behind at the time of the Assyrian conquest of 722 B.C.E., when most of the leading families of the region had been deported into slavery.  Jews saw them as a new and impure mixed race, since many Samaritan families were formed as these lower-class Israelites intermarried with foreign settlers brought in by the Assyrians.  Samaritans didn’t see themselves that way, though:  they continued to follow Torah and built their own temple on Mount Gerizim, when there was no temple in Jerusalem.  But only 100 or so years before Jesus, a Judean ruler had destroyed that temple and so increased the hatred between Judeans and Samaritans.

See, we have become so comfortable with the idea of “The Good Samaritan” that we more or equate the two words.  None of us has ever heard of a BAD Samaritan.  The original Jewish listeners to this parable would have NEVER in a million years expected Jesus to end his story with the Samaritan being the good guy.  To a good Jew, the Samaritan was ritually unclean and probably someone likely to attack him on the Jericho road – a steep and winding path that descended some 3000 feet down into the valley from the Temple Mount.  Like a New York subway station at night, no one would be surprised if someone fell and got hurt, or got beaten and mugged.

So here’s the thing: we have to look back at why Jesus was telling this story.  He was telling it because a pesky lawyer was questioning him when he repeated the familiar words of the shema to the people, reminding them of what we know as “The Great Commandment.”  “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” the lawyer asks.  Notice he isn’t even asking what he might be able to do to please God; he’s looking for what he can get for himself.  And Jesus answers, ““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.” But the lawyer won’t leave it there.  Luke says, “wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”  The lawyer is looking for the convenient loophole.  “Surely, Jesus, I don’t need to love those Samaritans – they’re enemies of the state, terrorists and muggers?” or “Surely, Jesus, I don’t need to love those other people who make me feel so uncomfortable – the lepers and other outcasts, right?” 

All you have to do, when you listen to this parable, to see where your own blind spots are, to discover the people you might be less than inclined to really love as your neighbor, unconditionally, the way God calls us to do, is fill in the “Samaritan” blank for yourself.  For me, I’m sorry to say, it was New Yorkers who surprised me.  New York gangster types hanging out in dark subway tunnels.  They were the people I figured it made sense to pass by, holding my breath.  Who are those people for you?  Is it the parable of the Good Liberal?  Or the parable of the Good Right-Wing Conservative?  Is it the parable of the Compassionate Feminist?  Or the parable of the Compassionate Klansman?  You get the idea.

The point of the story is right there at the end, where Jesus reminds the crowd that the whole point of religious practice was to show love and mercy to ALL our neighbors, no matter who they were, in the name of the one God who made us all.  And we are a church that loves nothing more than to “go and do” this, as Jesus says at the end of this parable of the Good Samaritan.  Our senior high youths are “going and doing” next week when they fly off on their mission trip to the Lakota Sioux reservation in South Dakota. 

Remember, it wasn’t that long ago, after all, that we had ushers stationed at guards at the front door of our own meetinghouse to guard against Indian attack!  It wasn’t that long ago that I myself played cowboys and Indians in the backyard – and the Indians were ALWAYS the bad guys.  (I know because I had the long, dark, braided pigtails and ALWAYS had to play an Indian.)  Well, thanks be to God that now the day has come that we are working together on being good neighbors, in Christ’s name.  May God continue to bless us, and bless our youth, as we try to walk in Christ’s way.  Amen.



Luke 10:25-37

25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He answered, “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.” 28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”




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