“The Summary of the Law” (July 10, 2016: Eighth Sunday after Pentecost–Proper 10C)

This sermon was preached on Sunday, July 10, 2016 at both the 10:00am principal Eucharist and 6:00pm evening Eucharist at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Collect: O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Readings: Amos 7.1-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1.1-14; Luke 10.25-37

“Who is my neighbor?”—Luke 10.29[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

I would like to begin this morning’s sermon with a particular point of humility, for I will be doing something that goes against a personal preaching standard: I will be incorporating civil affairs into a sermon.  With recent events that have been happening in our country, specifically the shooting deaths of Philando Castille in Minneapolis, Alton Sterling just across the Atchafalaya in Baton Rouge, and Dallas police officers Brent Thompson, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Smith, and Lorne Ahrens and the wounding of seven others,[2] I felt the times warranting a rare breaking of my own rule.  And I would not be doing so if I did not feel the Gospel having something to say to us regarding these recent happenings.  So I approach the pulpit this morning with a degree of nervousness higher than I normally have and great emotional vulnerability.  But I do so with one chief aim: to proclaim the Gospel and “woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!”[3]  May I be a conduit for what the Holy Spirit is saying to us this morning.

I begin with humility as a testament for our need to be honest, about where we are emotionally, what is affecting us, and how we are in need of help.  “Our help is in the Name of the LORD, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.”[4]  God’s help comes to us in the Person of Jesus, who does for us more than we could ever do for ourselves, more than we could ever ask or imagine.[5]  Today’s Gospel, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, not only tells us how we should treat others, but also a story about Jesus and of His love for all of us.  His is a love that has the power to transform hearts and minds; it is a love that is very much needed in times like these.

A lawyer confronts Jesus with a test: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He, of course, already knows the answer to his own question: “You shall the love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  It is the summary of all the law.  “Do this,” Jesus says, “and you will live.”

“But because he wanted to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”  With this question, the lawyer seeks Jesus’ confirmation that his limited view of who his neighbors are fulfills the law, therefore securing him his inheritance of eternal life.  But what the lawyer does not realize is that he cannot justify himself.  No one can justify themselves.  Justification cannot be obtained based on a mentality of love for some, but not for others.  It cannot be based on prejudices, stereotypes, and misplaced motives, which, if we are totally honest with ourselves, we all have or have had in some form or fashion and have been a major part of our country’s recent domestic struggles.  All of us are sinners and in need of justification.  But we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.[6]

As today’s epistle from Colossians reminds us, only Jesus, the beloved Son of God, can justify.  “If anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one.  He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.”[7]  Because Jesus’ love is the only love that is completely unconditional, only He can justify us.  And it is out of love for the lawyer, and for us, that Jesus describes who a neighbor really is.

To hear the Parable of the Good Samaritan and be reminded of what it means to be neighbors to one another in the wake of massive violence is both timely and important for us all to consider.  Both the Priest and the Levite pass the beaten traveler, not because of hypocrisy or that they are bad people, but because the law forbids them too.  They keep to the laws of ceremony and social convention.  But the Samaritan, the Jews’ mortal enemy, hated and despised by them, thought by them to be utterly devoid of any good, foregoes ceremonial and social law in favor of love.  “Faith, hope, love remain…but the greatest of these is love.”[8] 

What we see in this parable are three good men, but only one who puts his faith to radical action.  The Samaritan does not allow social dictates and ethnic prejudice to preclude him from doing what is right.  It is the Samaritan, the “outsider,” not the Jew, the “insider,” that gives forth a powerful witness: love conquers hate.  “Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?” asks Jesus.  “The one who treated him kindly,” says the Jewish lawyer.  “Go,”[9] says Jesus.  Go and do as the Samaritan, the outsider, the one you hate, did.”

How unfortunate it is that in many places of our country, violence, fueled by the prejudices of some and the rage over oppression by others, still keeps one from being a true neighbor to the other.  But as today’s Gospel tells us, it does not have to be that way.  Just like the Samaritan, we too have the choice to either let social divisions prevail or confront negative circumstances with love.  “God created mankind in His image…and found it very good.”[10]  The ability to do good is within us.  We have the strength for everything through Christ who empowers us.[11]

And it is here that we see in the parable the story of Jesus and His love for us.  All of us are the traveler walking down the road.  On the way, we fall in with sin, which strips and beats us and leaves us for dead.  Bishops, Priests, and Deacons passing by cannot help us.  But the One like the Samaritan, Jesus, the Outsider not accepted by His own people, the only One who can save, comes: “And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us…full of grace and truth.”[12]  Jesus takes pity, comes, and cares for us: “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.”[13]  He provides for our care in that He Himself “was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity.  He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by His wounds we were healed.”[14]  We are justified, we are saved by Jesus.  And when He leaves, the Holy Spirit, like the innkeeper, cares for us.  Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus is with us still, even now: “I am with you always, until the end of the age.”[15]

Because of Jesus having saved us and given us authority to instruct others in the ways He has taught, we have the power to say no to the hatred, bigotry, and racial injustice that still prevails in our land.  The Bishop of Dallas says rightly

“This much is clear…Christians [of all races] of all denominations, are called to stand together…We who do so are already one body in Jesus Christ, in spite of all the fault lines in our society.  May the Holy Spirit guide us all in  discerning the shape of our common witness…May He protect all exposed to danger in their work.”[16]

May it be so.  May we all be saved and transformed by the love of Jesus.  May we all have the courage to love in the power of the Spirit and be neighbors to one another.  Let the hatred and violence stop!

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from The New American Bible (Revised Edition), Copyright ã 2012 by HarperCollins Publishers.

[2] Although mention of their deaths were made during the preaching of this sermon at the 10:00am principal Eucharist, the names of these five officers killed in the line of duty were not individually called out.  At the suggestion of the Rev. Dr. Duane Peterson, their individual names have been added and were each called out at the 6:00pm evening Eucharist.

[3] I Corinthians 9.16 (New International Version)

[4] Psalm 124.8

[5] Ephesians 3.20

[6] Collect for the Third Sunday of Lent, The Book of Common Prayer (1979), 218.

[7] I John 2.1-2

[8] I Corinthians 13.13

[9] The Message Bible

[10] Genesis 1.27, 31

[11] Philippians 4.13

[12] John 1.11, 14

[13] “Holy Baptism,” The Book of Common Prayer (1979), 308.

[14] Isaiah 53.5

[15] Matthew 28.20

[16] The Rt. Rev. George Sumner, “American Tragedy: A Word From the Bishop,” Episcopal Diocese of Dallas (July 7, 2016).

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