A sermon preached for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost + July 11, 2010
Stop in the Name of Love!
In his dialogue with the lawyer, Jesus did not say to him, “great answer!” Rather after the lawyer cites the correct law of the double command to love the Lord your God and ones neighbor as ones self. Rather, Jesus said simply, “go and do.” This simple response is according to Parables scholar Luise Schottroff the answer to the core Torah question: What shall we do? What is the reaction God expects here and now?
My response to these questions, in light of the Gospel story today is to: Stop in the Name of Love (with sincere apologies to Diana Ross and the Supremes). Do you remember the lyrics to this Motown classic..?
Stop! In the name of love. Before you break my heart.
Stop! In the name of love. Before you break my heart.
Think it over… Think it over…
But it seems that we are not called by Jesus to think it over. Much of Christian faith is experienced as head religion, thinking it over. Jesus wants us to move beyond thinking YOU Lawyers, Priest and Levites… engage, look around you, see and out of love DO.
- Stop in the rich Jewish context for which this was written.
- Stop in our Christian context of WWJD, what would Jesus do… today?
- Stop in active compassion as an expression of love for God. Stop thinking and be Christ’s hands and feet gracing others as our love for God is lived out by doing justice.
Jewish Rabbi Huna in a Midrash on Levitical caring for the poor writes that in visiting and caring for the sick is what we are to do, and sometimes a miracle of love happens, even if it can only take away a little of the sickness. This belief encourages the love of neighbor. In the same book, Rabbi Abin says that when a poor man stands at your door, the Holy One is standing at his right hand. For it is written [Psalm 109:31] ‘For he stands at the right hand of the poor man.’
The command to love ones neighbor is not exclusively Christian as this Lukan parable draws on Leviticus 19. Love for God is made concrete in love for others, is a matter of course for the Hebrew Bible. For Christians this call of Jesus to go and do, or as we are sent each week to go in peace and serve the Lord (or remember the poor), is a call to relationship with ones neighbor out and through God’s love through us. This love of God in and through us and our neighbor brings the kingdom to our lives through one another.
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So how would this story play out today? Who would the characters be here in East Hartford? Inspired by Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch version of Luke-Acts, Jesus Doings and Happenings, perhaps the parable of the Good Samaritan would go something like this…
A gang of teen thugs carjacks a man on Burnside Avenue, pulls him out of his car, beats him half dead and leaves him sprawled between the sidewalk and gutter before speeding away in him car, wallet in hand…
A prominent Connecticut politician, perhaps you’ve voted for her, perhaps his political sign is on your lawn, drives by with an aide and slows, shaking his/her head, assuming its just some crack-head sleeping it off, and drives on…
A bus full of choir members from a local church (Levites were the musicians of the Hebrew Bible) stops at the nearby traffic light long enough to notice someone there, in need… but they are on their way to a concert and stopping to help would risk dirtying their clothes, or make them late for the start of the show…
Finally, a Middle Eastern looking taxi driver sees another inn need, stops, cleans off the man with a paper towel and water from the cab. He picks him-up and places him in the cab and offers him a drink. He drives to the Econo-Lodge and checks him into a room. After offering further care, he stops at the desk on his way out and says, “you have my credit card, let him stay and I’ll come back to check on him and settle any final charges.”
This story and the one in Luke doesn’t say whether the Samaritan or Taxi Driver were believers or not… or if this good deed was somehow tied to an eternal, or divine reward. It says he saw, stopped, and he helped… not out of obligation, not out of guilt, not out of a promise of favor with God, but out of love. A Christ-like love that he shared freely… regardless of whether he knew or believed in the Christ whose love he shared.
God’s abundant love seeps into our lives and fills us so deeply, that it overflows when we stop in the name of love and see the world and others through Christ-like eyes. Christ-like eyes see love and neighbor verses the ‘know the rules and play by them’ perspective that shades many world views. The Samaritan played by the rules of moral decency, he did unto others as he would want done to him, even if as an outcast, it probably wouldn’t play out that way.
Thankfully the Jesus who doesn’t play by worldly rules, but by God’s embraces outcasts, even sets them as hero in this story. My Gospel Parables teacher used to say; “there are many things in parables.” The way Jesus tells this one, we often jump to do the right thing as the rule, or key message. But one of the many things in this one, is that the one who notices… who actually sees the beaten man, and through seeing him is moved to pity, is the Samaritan, the outcast. He is the one who recognizes that when it comes to the question of who is our neighbor, there is no time to think.
Thinking can often get in the way of seeing. So where does the vision to truly see come from? It apparently doesn’t come from your title or job, your status in life, your ethnicity, your religion, or being trained to see. This vision through Christ-like eyes of faith to see that all people are children of God, and anyone in need is ones neighbor, is a gift of God. A gift that as a matter of faith starts with seeing, and then by God’s grace we are moved to do, taking action in the name of love.
Doing God’s work through our hands, or perhaps better framed as having God’s sight, though our eyes is a gift from God. It is through the perspective of love that we can see our neighbor is not the person we choose, or think we should help, but often the person who stops to help us… even if it is the last person on earth we would want, or expect help from.
For me the role of sacrificial love, healing, reconciliation and the breaking in of the kingdom of God is manifest through the deeds of the Good or perhaps better named Merciful Sam. This is a parable of praxis focused on doing, just as Jesus teaches the lawyer.
But what is at stake here is not just knowing what to do, but truly seeing what to do. What needs around us would Jesus see and do. What needs around us does Jesus open our eyes to see, deeds of love, God’s love flowing through you and me. Jesus teaches and shows how love can be embodied. The priest and Levite fail at this, but the Samaritan sees, stops in the name of love, and doesn’t think it over.
As a Lutheran Christian, there is strong sacramental imagery here. The broken and oppressed are cleansed and brought comfort. There is binding of wounds, washing, and sealing with oil as we are cleansed and marked with the cross of Christ forever in Baptism. The sacrificial love reminds me of Eucharist and how God works through the cross, a place where God’s love and saving action happens where and sometimes when we least expect it. In this case, God’s love and action comes though an enemy who stops in the name of love.
All of us who hear this parable play a role in its open narrative… Jesus’ call to see, stop and do. We may not fix everything. We may not be fully whole ourselves, or ever heal the broken world we see around us. The story doesn’t say the wounded traveler is released from the inn as being cured… but Jesus says the Samaritan promises to stop back.
For it is in the act of truly seeing as Jesus sees:
- that moves us to stop in the name of love…
- that transforms us to be the Body of Christ…
The lawyer will act, the listeners will act, you and I will act…
in the name of Love, Jesus the Christ!