Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Sermon for July 10, 2016: Memory Roads of Hope

This sermon was preached by Rev. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA on July 10, 2016.

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.”

Greetings to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ,

As many of you probably know, I was on vacation last week, going back to Minnesota, where we stayed with my sister, in southeast Minnesota for most of the time we were there. As anyone who has ever journeyed back to where they are from can attest to, when you drive on the old roads you grew-up on, many memories start coming back. One particular afternoon, my brother and I, along with Charlie and our nephew, drove down County Rd. 10. We remembered all of our neighbors who lived in each house, and we drove by the house I grew-up in; reminiscing the whole time. As we drove further down that road, the four miles into the small town of Dover, I told the kids about the time my friends and I rode our bikes to our middle school, on the last day of school. As we proceeded to cross the treacherous Highway 14, my brother and I both agreed we'd never allow our kids to do that today...it was a different time then! We continued though, driving along the back road into Eyota, by the "new" elementary that was built over 20 years ago. We stopped at Dover-Eyota High School, to see the pavers and bricks that had recently been laid there, especially the one we as a family bought and dedicated to my mom, who was a teacher in the district. Being back on the roads of my youth brought back a lot of memories and it was great to be "home" for awhile. 

Today, as we read Jesus' parable known as the Good Samaritan, it's sort of like a Biblical memory road for us. It is a story we are very familiar with, it's even a part of our culture..if someone does a good deed for someone they don't know or who is different then them, we often call that person a "Good Samaritan." And, this memorable story takes place on a road, a road from Jerusalem to Jericho. We may not be real familiar with this particular road, but we have strong memories of what happened on it, a violent act, an act that left a man robbed, beaten, and broken. We also remember the people, the "holy" ones, a Levite and a priest, and we remember we don't want to be like these people, who pass by the injured man rather then help him. We remember that we want to be like the Samaritan, the one who was a neighbor to that person in need. The parable of the Good Samaritan, is a very much a part of our memories. 

It is our memories that help connect us, now in the present, across the time and space of our lives, and it is our memories that bridge us to the future. 

On my last day in Minnesota, we had moved our base of operations to the Twin Cities, and in the morning I went to have breakfast with my friend, J. As we started talking, J asked me if I had heard what happened the night before on  yet another road, a road that I had lived next to, and driven on often. He started telling me about events that had happened on Larpenteur Avenue, very close to its intersection with Snelling Avenue. He told me that a young man, Philando Castile, had been pulled-over there, and that his life had violently ended, that there was video up on social media, and I was a bit shocked, as I remembered that I had worked at a restaurant that was right next to where this awful and violent tragedy took place. I remembered being in the area, and driving up and down that road many times, and never once feeling any sort of danger. 

As we reflected on what happened, other memories came back as well. Memories of the "Oh No!" kind. Memories of all the similar events that have happened so recently, (and probably occurred at the same rate in the past, when we weren't as connected with technology), and a memory of such a similar event that had happened in Baton Rouge, where Alton Sterling's life had ended so suddenly and violently. Memories that keep piling up, memories that cause grief and unrest, memories that you don't wish upon anyone. 
Still trying to make sense of the conflicting memories I had, of working and living in a place that was so safe for me, but not someone else, I was wondering how such a thing could happen there. And how such a thing could keep happening in our society. Then, on the very next day, the violent events of Dallas happened, where 5 officers violently have their lives taken from them, with others wounded, and so much fear all around. 

As we read this parable, about the Good Samaritan, taking place on that road from Jerusalem to Jericho, a road that I believe you can travel on today if you visit that area, a road that whether we've been there or not continues to play in our collective memory. Today, we all have different roads in our life and culture, that we've traveled on either metaphorically or literally, but it seems as if our collective, virtual road, the one that we travel on together as a society is a lot bigger and more connected than in the past. Over the past week, and even over the past weeks, this road has been filled with violence, pain, and suffering, things that tear us apart as a society, things that cause us to question what it is we base our lives on, what it is we know and don't know. 

In weaving together the story of the Good Samaritan and recent events, we want to become like that Good Samaritan, we want to do something to help, and we certainly don't want to be like the Levite and priest, who leave the man to suffer. In my own memorable reflections on this parable, trying to be like the Good Samaritan has always been what has been impressed upon me. Yet, in times like these, it can be hard to be the one, the Good Samaritan we are supposed to be. Maybe, it's because we don't always know what to do, or what is right. Or, perhaps, it's hard because the world, and its violence can seem so overwhelming, and there's so much going wrong with it. Perhaps, we just feel so far away from all of this violence, even something that happened so close to where I once lived and worked. How do you be the Good Samaritan, as painful memories keep being made, memories that don't provide a bridge to the future, but cause it to be so uncertain? 

We ask, how do we be the Good Samaritan, but this morning, let's try a little different take-away from this memorable story. Rather than ourselves as the Good Samaritan, let's replace him with Jesus, and instead of the Good Samaritan, how about we recognize ourselves, as human beings, as being like the man who is by the side of the road; robbed, beaten, broken, and in need of help. The man who now must certainly distrust this world, who fears it, the one wondering where our help will come from. As we make Jesus into the Good Samaritan, we remember what motivated him, we remember that this man was moved by his pity, or compassion, for the one who was left for dead, the one who was not only a stranger, but a Jew, the arch-enemy of the Samaritans. When we start to view Jesus as our Good Samaritan, we see our Lord, our God, who is moved by compassion for us, a God who feels our pain and brokenness, our despondency and despair, our injustice and anxiety; the things that are a part of our lives and society and which leave us in need of help. We know that our Lord, who feels such compassion for us don't just pass us by on the side of the road, but is moved to come to us, and give us his life, his love, his healing, and his HOPE. This is the hope that doesn't wait for the road to be safe, or for the time to be right, but is a hope that is shown to us on a cross. A hope that makes the time right, that makes our lives filled. This is the hope, the compassionate hope that is given to us, and the hope that will enliven us once again. This is the hope that indeed shows us the mercy of God, the hope that springs forth from the merciful actions of a Good Samaritan. 

Therefor, as we look upon our world today, we see a world that is as filled; filled with sin as it was 10 years ago, or 100, or even 1000 years ago, a world that is filled with fear and hatred, filled with injustice, filled with uncertainty. In such a world, it is hard to be that Good Samaritan that is a part of our memory, indeed, what are we to do? Called by the Holy Spirit, we are to come together to dine on the life of our Good Samaritan, to be filled with his compassion, to taste and see his mercy, so that we can give this mercy to others. We are called together to pray, to pray to this compassionate Lord, to be moved by the compassion which so moves him, so that the world may have hope, so that the world may know mercy. 

As we continue to come together, to KNOW of this mercy more and more, as we GROW in our prayers to a God who acts in such a way towards us, we see that this compassionate love, that this mercy, that this healing and health and life is for all people, no matter what. We see this mercy, and by it we GROW, being transformed to give this abundant mercy that has been given to us. This is the mercy of the Good Samaritan, the mercy which fills us so much, that it overflows onto others. This is the mercy that isn't passive, that doesn't sit on the sidelines. Rather, this mercy is active, it goes to those who are hurting, those who have been marred by injustice simply because of what they look like, those who are filled with fear and anxiety over their loved ones who spend their lives working to keep others safe, those who are just confused or lost. This mercy of God is active, it gives us life, it gives us love, it gives us hope. Today, God is here once again, to fill us with this mercy, with this love, with this life, so that we may go and do likewise. For this we give thanks!

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

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