July 10, 2016
Please pray with me – May the words I speak reach hearts that need to hear them, may the thoughts I share inspire thoughts of your own, and may all of us share in this time of learning and reflecting, recognizing the presence and grace of God among us all. Amen.
This is second stained glass window inspired sermon in my 10-week series. Interestingly, I chose the order that I would preach the windows on the morning I took pictures of them. It was a neat surprise when I learned that the theme of this week’s window happens to fall in line with the revised common lectionary. The Spirit is awesome! The ‘Good Samaritan” window here was placed in loving memory of Sir Robert Boak who died in December of 1904 in his 82nd year. Sir Boak was the founder and operator of the large West India business until passing it on to his son George. He also served as president of the Legislative Council and Provincial Treasurer. He was one of the original subscribers to this church and was one of the men responsible for funding the construction of this building. I could find little about his personal life or contributions to society, but today, in our remembering, we give thanks for his life and his support of the work of the church that allows to worship here today.
The story of the good Samaritan is well known to us in the church. As we read, the story goes that Jesus was asked by a man who studied the law who the neighbour is that he’s speaking about when he says “love your neighbor as yourself”. At the end of the story Jesus asks the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” – the right answer is the one who showed him mercy. According to the teaching then a neighbour is one who shows mercy to someone who is suffering. But wait!!! Is Jesus trying to tell me that I am only to treat those who show me mercy in the way that I would treat myself? If I was the lawyer (and in a previous life I think I might have been!), my next question would have been, “then how am I supposed to treat those that do not show me mercy Lord?” – Thankfully Jesus answered this question earlier in Luke when he said “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” I’m pretty sure that Jesus would have answered the lawyer me with, “love them too”. Today I want to talk about another dimension in this story. I want to move past “who is your neighbour” and think about what Jesus’ instruction at the end of the parable “go and do likewise”. I want us to consider what he means? HOW do WE do that?
Commentaries on this parable are endless. In them we learn that the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was a dangerous. It was dangerous because of its terrain with its ditches, twists and turns. It was also dangerous because that terrain allowed lots of places for bandits to hide. It was the main road leading away from the temple in Jerusalem and going back to Jericho. This is likely why we find a priest and the Levite going down this road despite its known danger. Jewish priests and people (like the Levite) were forbidden to touch blood or the dead as both would have defiled them under the law making them unfit for worshipping God. This may explain why they avoided the wounded man. It has also been argued though that there was no good legal reason because the story says they were going “down” the road back to Jericho and thus their temple duties would have been finished for the day and the law would have allowed them to take care of the dead and injured. We don’t know why they didn’t stop, the story never says. It does tell us who stopped and it tells us why. The Samaritan man stopped and helped because he felt pity. It would have shocked the listener to hear that it was a Samaritan man that stopped to help a man that we assume to be a Jew. Jews and Samaritans hated each other because of a land and cultural dispute centuries earlier.
The story becomes known by the provocative title of “the good Samaritan” because, to the Jews, there was no such thing as a “good” Samaritan. There was no war or overt fighting between the Jews and the Samaritans. No, this was a more subtle form of hatred. The Jews didn’t have dealings with the Samaritans and the Samaritans had no business with the Jews. They didn’t fight, they just remained bitter for centuries because their ancestors hated each other. I imagine that many of the people didn’t even know why they didn’t get along. It was just the way it always was. They just knew, on either side, that you simply don’t associate with “those people”. This was racism.
The idea that a Samaritan showed mercy to a Jew made him the neighbour in the eyes of Jesus. Jesus was teaching his Jewish followers that they were to treat all people, even those that didn’t look like them or act like them or worship like them, as they would treat themselves. This was a very radical and inclusive love and would have shaken the community off its foundation. Jesus was challenging them. “Go and do likewise,” he said. “Go and find ways to love those not like you.”
What did the Samaritan actually do? –He took a great risk and considered the needs of the other before the needs or safety of himself. I read Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” this week. I was reading the speech because I was trying to understand the horrible events in the United States this past week. There in the middle of the speech Dr. King starts talking about the Good Samaritan story – the same story that had been stirring in my heart. Dr. King taught me that the concern that seemed to prevent the Priest or the Levite from helping the wounded man was what would happen to them if they stopped.“If I stop, will I become unclean in the eyes of God – and no longer be able to be a priest?”, “If I stop, will I find out that he is just pretending and he will rob me?”, “If I stop, will more bandits come out of their hiding places and attack me too?”Dr. King said that the concern of the Samaritan was different. Instead of “What will happen me?” the Samaritan man seemed to only ask “What will happen to the wounded man if I don’t stop?”
This week I watched the videos of two young black men being murdered by police. I have never watched one of these kinds of videos before. I didn’t let myself watch them because I knew that they would hurt me. I felt I needed to protect myself somehow. But something in me, with this scripture reading stirring my heart made me ask, “what will happen if you watch these videos? What will happen if you don’t?” Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw, what I heard, and what I felt. As my helpless tears flowed, I slowly realized that the pain that I just witnessed, the screams I heard, the prayers cried was the pain of a people that have suffered discrimination and hate because of the colour of their skin for centuries. Racism is not new. What is new is that everybody has a camera on their phone and instead of these incidents happening in private or only in the presence of people where it becomes he said/she said, it is now possible for all of us to become witnesses to the horror that is getting pulled over for a broken taillight and being black.
The Washington Post reports that so far in 2016, over 100 black men have been shot and killed by police in the United States. The 2015 statistics from the same source show an overwhelming disproportionate percentage of police fatalities amongst African American men. I am trying to wrap my head around these stats because I don’t get it – I can’t. I am a straight, white, middle-class raised, well-educated, Christian woman living in Nova Scotia. This week I was ashamed to realize that with the rare exception, I don’t have black friends. My Facebook friends list alone is representative of the disproportionate number of black friends that I actually have. I really don’t know why this is the case. I certainly don’t hate black people. I don’t hate anyone. But just because I don’t hate them doesn’t mean that I have made an effort to love them. This is definitely not intentional. But this week it was so clear to me that all my friends look like me, and if they don’t then they are members of communities that I have made an effort to intentionally support. I don’t have a good reason why I have not made this same effort with my black neighbours. I do know that Christ wants us to love all of our neighbours, not just the ones like us or the ones we already know.
It is up to each of us to recognize when we are wrong and work with God to change our hearts. I am starting with this: I am teaching myself everything that it is possible for me to know from the position of who I am as a person of privilege. I am reading every article I can about the #blacklivesmatter movement. I also used to ask the question, “but don’t all lives matter”? I am teaching myself that this sentiment is wrong and why so that I can help other people understand how offensive and demoralizing it is when we correct #blacklivesmatter with #alllivesmatter. Saying all lives matter denies the truth that black lives have not mattered to many people for a very, very long time. Saying alllivesmatter is as obvious as saying that all people have the right to food. Does that mean that all people are fed? No. We wouldn’t respond to a campaign “to feed the hungry” by saying, “But all people deserve to have food!”, because that would deny the fact that there are still hungry people that need our help to be fed even if we know that everyone deserves it!
I am teaching myself about the disparity that black people face in North America. People that identify as black make up around 13% of the American Populations and only 3% of Canadians. Yet, approximately 80% of the cars pulled over by police in the US are driven by black people and black people here in Canada are three times more likely than whites to be stopped and asked to show their ID. This truth results in black parents having to have conversations with their children about the very real possibility that they will be treated like criminals by police and others because of the colour of their skin. This is a conversation I will never have with my children – it just doesn’t make sense!
I’m teaching myself how to use my position as a leader to teach others what I have learned. When I hear things like, “How could anybody video tape that stuff, shouldn’t they have helped?” I find myself saying, “this is the only way they can help, who are they going to call? The police?” I am learning to speak up and defend my neighbour like I would want them to defend me. I am arming myself with the facts. “Maybe he shouldn’t be carrying a gun,” they say. “Well, actually Philando Castile had a license to carry as is legal under the constitution of the United States, according to reports he announced it to the officer who asked him for his license and registration that he was reaching for in his back pocket before he was shot 4 times at point blank range.”I’ve heard things like, “He should have known better than to have weed on him.” Or “he should have known better than to fight back and resist arrest…” My answer will always be, “he did not deserve to be shot dead for carrying a legal firearm, for a misdemeanour, for a bag of weed, or for fighting back because he was angry that he was selling CDs in front of store where he had the permission from the owner to do so like Alton Sterling….”He, they, none of them deserve to be left for dead like the wounded man on the road, none of them deserve to have a gun remain drawn on them as they lay dying. I know that this kind of defense will not make me very popular among those that want to remain comfortable in the shelter of their ignorance where I myself have lived for too long. For this is what we are doing when say nothing. We are walking by and leaving the wounded for dead and carrying on our way like the priest and the Levite.
Earlier this week I posted on Facebook that I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t know what to say about what I witnessed in those videos. I still don’t know if this is the right thing. Quite frankly, I am terrified to say the things I am saying this morning. You don’t know me. I could stand up here and tell you that I am not a racist but…. But the truth is that although I wasn’t like the robbers who wounded the man and left him for dead, I have been more like the priest and the Levite by leaving the wounded man to die because I didn’t know what to say and I didn’t know how to help. It is my duty, it is all of our duties as Christians to learn from the parables of Jesus about what we are supposed to do. Jesus told us how and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lived these teachings. In his prophetic speech he said,
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now; we’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter to with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life–longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.”
In these words hear the hope for change. It begins in all of us when grace steps in and stirs our hearts to action. How can you commit to change in your own life? Who are the people in your world that you walk by? Can you find a way to search your heart and change the question from “if I help what might happen to me” to “If I don’t, what might happen to them”. I wonder if we can begin to care more about the answer to the answer to the second question? This is the hope for change. Each of us can do our part. Where is God calling you to start –today?