This is an edited version of my sermon from Sunday, July 12, 2016. The Gospel lesson was Luke 10:25-37, the Parable of the Good Samaritan. I was editing and re-writing this during the services, trying to get the wording the way I wanted. It is still not there. I have added the names of the other two slain Dallas police officers that I didn't have on Sunday morning, as well as adding links to where I found the shooting data.
I watched four or five people get murdered this week.
On Tuesday, I watched the video of Alton Sterling being shot by Baton Rouge police outside of a convenience store.
Wednesday night, my Twitter feed starting referencing another incident, this time in St. Paul. I clicked onto a video link to a live stream taken by Diamond Reynolds. She was documenting what happened to her boyfriend, Philando Castle. He was shot by a police officer while reaching for his wallet after the officer told him to show his ID.
Thursday night, when I got home from a long council meeting at Nazareth, I heard about what was going on in Dallas. While watching coverage on TV, I went online and watched video taken and streamed by those in the midst of the gunfire. I saw the video of two officers falling to the ground. I saw another video of the gunman shooting, then standing over an officer, and shooting again. I don’t know which of these officers survived or not. The three officers who were killed and who have been identified are Brent Thompson, Michael Krol, and Patrick Zamarripa. The identities of the other 2 officers haven’t been released. (They are Lorne Ahrens and Michael Smith.) There were another 7 officers who were wounded, and at least 2 civilians wounded as well.
People say, and you may feel this way, that it is too soon to talk about this violence. Most of those who have died have not been laid to rest. The problem is that we never have a down time from violence.
Three weeks ago, I told you that there had been 185 mass shootings in 171 days in the United States, with 290 dead and 686 wounded. As of last night, there has now been 229 mass shootings in 191 days, with 338 dead and 841 wounded. (from www.massshootingtracker.org/data) So far this year, 569 people have died at the hands of the police in the US; that is almost 3 each day. (from http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2015/jun/01/the-counted-police-killings-us-database) Twenty-six police officers have been shot or killed this year. Last year, the number was 41. (from http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2016/07/08/nationwide-police-shooting-deaths/86861082/)
We have a problem with violence and hatred in this country.
After giving you those chilling numbers, I have a question to ask before I get to the Gospel lesson.
Can you support, encourage or advocate one thing, yet not automatically condemn or reject everything else? Maybe it is too early in the morning to ask that question without an example.
Just because you have a favorite dessert – brownies happen to be mine – doesn’t mean that you don’t want any other dessert. Liking brownies does not mean you won’t have pie, cookies, cake or ice cream. It just means you like brownies.
Advocating for a cause, such as wearing pink for breast cancer research, doesn’t mean that you don’t care about any one who has another disease. You aren’t thinking the heck with other cancers, or heart attacks, or any other illness, right? That’s silly. For some reason, what is going on with that animal, or illness, has made an impact with you. Maybe it was a personal experience, for you or someone close to you, that brought this to your attention. But you want to raise awareness and attention to this cause.
Then what is the big deal with #BlackLivesMatter? Saying Black Lives Matter does not mean no other lives matter. It is a cry for help and for attention that this group of our brothers and sisters needs. Saying Black Lives Matter acknowledges a reality that Black people are not treated as well and are disadvantaged in this society.
Recognizing the fact that people are treated differently because of the color of their skin; some better, some worse is the first step in addressing the problem. It means acknowledging that you are the beneficiary of how others are discriminated against. That makes us uncomfortable. You may want to reject that idea.
If you don’t think people benefit by the color of their skin, or gender, or ethnicity, or other way of separating us, ask a woman if she thinks she is treated the same way as a man. You may not get an answer, just a look because the answer is self-evident.
Quick reality check – the last time this church had a dinner/luncheon – what was the percentage of women in the kitchen to men? That is a role women are EXPECTED to serve, and will probably be talked about if they don’t. If it is that easy to see privilege and expectations between men and women, why is it so hard to see by color, sexuality or ethnicity?
Saying Blue Lives Matter recognizes the value of law enforcement officials, and the risks they bare. But wanting to hold police to a high standard of conduct is not rejecting their value; it acknowledges and honors their call to service, and the expectations incumbent upon those positions.
It is possible to say both Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter and mean both. You can support and value the police, but also demand that they operate in ways that respect the lives there are sworn to protect and serve. You can respect the rules of society and understand acts of civil disobedience to draw attention to injustice. If you want to decry protests, what is your alternative? If your child, if your brother, if your neighbor is being mistreated, what will you do to draw attention to the problem?
If you want to say that we shouldn’t hold the actions of a few bad ones against the overwhelming majority who do good, are you talking about police officers or Black protesters?
If you want to fall back on saying, well All Lives Matter, you are claiming privilege. You don’t want to give someone else a high position of import than yourself, and so you claim EVERYBODY matters. It is wanting to hang onto power and influence when you know someone else is in trouble. It is as if when everybody sits down at the dinner table, someone says they don’t have any food and they are hungry. Yes, you say, everybody is hungry, and you ignore them and their empty plate. Saying All Lives Matter is telling a drowning man to swim better.
Realize, this is not about you. You are OK. You’re going to be OK. We need to focus our attention on those who are literally dying.
Now onto the Gospel lesson, and the truly uncomfortable part of this lesson.
The 70 Apostles Jesus sent out have just returned with stories of the works they could do in Jesus’ name. Jesus is asked what a person has to do to earn eternal life. He answers the question with a question - What is written in the law?
The lawyer 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. He answers with the Shema, the cornerstone of the Jewish faith – You must love God with all you have. And you must show that love to your neighbor as well. After Jesus gives him a thumbs up and a gold star, the lawyer wants to justify himself, and asks Who is my neighbor?
In both the Jewish law and tradition of this time, your neighbor was probably a relative. People lived on family farms; the property next to you was most assuredly owned by a relative. The passage that the lawyer quotes from Leviticus (19.18) has a partner passage (19.34) calling upon the same love for aliens, immigrants or foreigners - The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. Surely a lawyer would know about the other passage, especially since it is just 16 verses later than the one he quoted. But he is trying to find out where the line is drawn, where does this obligation end.
Jesus answers with a story, the story of the man who was robbed on the Jericho Road. He was robbed, beaten, stripped and abandoned. Two leaders of the Temple see the man, and move away and do not help him. Then comes a Samaritan.
You know that Samaritans were not well thought of in Jesus’ time. That is what makes this parable so shocking. Samaritans were an offshoot of the Jewish tradition, but believing their Mount Gerizim to be the most holy mountain, rather than Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. This wasn’t just a geographical-theological disagreement; this got physical. Judean soldiers attacked and destroyed the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim. The Samaritans in response snuck into the Temple in Jerusalem and defiled it by leaving human body parts in the Temple.
Jewish thought and law at the time was that by touching anything dead, or near dead, you defiled yourself, and you were no longer clean. That is why the priest and the Levite didn’t help the man who was robbed.
But the Samaritan did. He took care of the man who had been robbed. He tended to his wounds. He took him to an inn. He left money and a blank check for his care. He loved the man like himself. He loved the man with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his strength, and with all his mind.
When he finished the story, Jesus asked the lawyer Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?
The lawyer couldn’t bring himself to say, The Samaritan. I’ve read of pastors working on this text trying to make this story more contemporary, struggling with whom to cast as the unexpected good guy. A terrorist, someone from ISIL? Depending upon your context, a racist cop? Or maybe a gang-banging felon? The lawyer said, The one who showed him mercy.
Then, Jesus give the answer to the lawyer’s initial question, Go and do likewise.
The lawyer wanted to know how to inherit eternal life. But you can’t do anything to inherit something, other than to be in the will. Generally, you inherit because you are a part of the family.
How do WE inherit eternal life? We inherit eternal life in our baptism, when we are named and claimed as a child of God, made sinless in God’s eyes through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. How do we prove it?
You know who someone is by what they do. You know if someone is a follower of Christ by if they follow what Christ said. They aren’t trying to earn eternal life; but BECAUSE they have earned eternal life, they are doing what God has commanded. They love their neighbor as themselves. They show that love in the mercy that the Samaritan showed the man who was robbed. They see someone in need and help.
That is why Christ said, Go and do likewise.
The day before he was assassinated, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, spoke in Memphis and gave a speech with the title, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” His text for that sermon was this parable. He said that the thoughts of the two men who passed by the one who’d been robbed were the same. “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" The thoughts of the Samaritan were, "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to HIM?"
They see their neighbor is suffering and doesn’t have the rights they have, and they show mercy. They help. They protest. They work for change. It does not matter who the neighbor is. They take God’s love and do likewise.
They love their Black neighbor. They love their Hispanic neighbor. They love their Asian neighbor. They love their Jewish neighbor. They love their Muslim neighbor. They love their Atheist neighbor. They love their gay, lesbian and bisexual neighbor. They love their homeless neighbor. They love their immigrant neighbor. They love their disabled neighbor. They love their white neighbor. They love their Christian neighbor. They love their neighbor who is a cop. They love their neighbor who protests.
They Go and do likewise.
They don’t just pray. They put their prayer in action. Our tradition, the ELCA, has the words God’s Work, Our Hands as our tagline, our motto. Prayer is aligning ourselves with God’s will. DOING God’s will requires us to DO.
Seeing and knowing our neighbor is in trouble, and moving to the other side of the road, hiding them from our eyes, lifting their names in prayer helps out our suffering brothers and sisters the same way the Priest and the Levite helped the man who had been robbed. Stopping what we are doing, and helping our suffering neighbor is the sign that we will inherit eternal life as members of the Body of Christ.
Our neighbors are suffering because they aren’t being treated as well as we are. It is our duty to help them. The Samaritan was a neighbor to a man he probably hated, and who hated him right back. But he saw someone in need, in pain, and he showed the man who had been robbed mercy. Go and do likewise.
Reject racism, and all forms of prejudice. Examine yourself, examine your family and friends. Admit that you’ve sinned and erred. Repent, and sin no more. Don’t tolerate prejudice or bigotry. Call it out when you see it. Take a stand. Use your influence. Call and write your politicians. Use your voice.
There are people who are suffering. People whom society has beaten, robbed of their pride and stripped of their dignity. Others have seen their plight, and walked on the other side of the road. An unexpected neighbor has helped to take care of them. As Christ has shown us mercy, this man has shown them love and mercy. Our Savior calls us to Go and do likewise to our neighbors. AMEN.
Pastor Brian's Page
Pastor Brian Robert Campbell has served at Our Savior's and Emmanuel since August 1, 2011, and began serving Nazareth on December 1, 2015.
Pastor Brian is originally from Saginaw, Michigan. He graduated from Alma College with a B.A. in Business Administration, and worked for the Saginaw Public Schools' Community Education Department for 17 years before answering the call to ministry. He graduated with a M. Div. from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in 2011. ONE in Christ Lutheran Parish is his first call.
He is the only child of Robert and Charlotte Campbell, both who have entered the Church Eternal.
He is accompanied in ministry by his faithful bulldogge Ananias, who regularly writes for our newsletter. His articles are archived here.
He is a fan of sports teams from his native Michigan, especially the Tigers and the Lions. But we tolerate him despite that.
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