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Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, July 10, 2016

“Oh, no”, I thought, as I heard the DJ say that it had been a strange, weird and sad morning. What has happened now? And then I found out. A lone black gunman who said he wanted to kill white people came into the middle of a peaceful protest against nationwide officer shooting incidents with “enough is nough” chants and Black Lives Matter signs and opened fire, killing five officers and wounding seven others. He laughed and sang during the shootings, according to a news report. Now we have another name – Dallas – to put in a countless string of shootings: Orlando, Charleston, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Columbine. Shooting after shooting and still we cannot get guns out of the hands of mad men. The shooter, Micah Xavier Johnson, had at his home other tools for mass murder – bomb making and ballistic materials as well as more guns and ammunition, according to the Washington Post.

The Charleston killings spawned a movement under which various peaceful protests have been held: Black Lives Matter. And perhaps it is especially important because black lives haven’t mattered for so long, through slavery and lynchings and segregation and a biased judicial system where many more blacks than whites are in prison and on death row. Black lives do matter, but all lives matter. Gay lives matter. Hispanic lives matter. Muslim lives matter. White lives matter. We are all children of a God who loves us passionately and fiercely and wants us to love one another.

Violence is not ever loving, not ever. And God sent Jesus to tell us to love even our enemies and our persecutors, to pray for them, to want the best for them.

And that is why our story today is so important. Every life matters.

A lawyer asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. In typical rabbinic fashion Jesus puts the question back on him. What do you think? He gives the correct answer. Love God with all that you are and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus says he is right: do this and he will live eternally. That is fine, as far as it goes, but the lawyer was testing Jesus, so he asks, “Who is my neighbor?” The lawyer wants to know what the limits are of his good behavior. The law specifies your kin and the Jewish people.

So Jesus, as he so often does, tells a story. A man is traveling the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. He is probably a Jew since nothing else is specified. The road is dangerous and bleak and hilly, dropping more than 1000 feet as you go along it. It is hard to see around curves, so it is a perfect place for robbers to hang out, waiting for unsuspecting travelers. The traveler is unlucky, and robbers attack. They take his things, strip him and beat him severely, then leave him in a ditch. The man is in dire need of help; perhaps he will die if no one comes to his aid.

Jesus then tells about three travelers who come down the road. One is a priest, who sees the man and immediately distances himself from him by crossing to the other side of the road and going on his way. The second traveler is a Levite who does the same thing. Then along comes a Samaritan. He sees the man and is moved with great compassion for him. This man’s life matters. Instead of pullng away, the Samaritan draws near to the man. He pours oil and wine on his wounds to cleanse them and dull the pain and puts him on his own animal. Recognizing that the man needed additional care, he takes him to an inn, pays the innkeeper to take care of him and promises he will pay the rest on his return.

There are some interesting points to note about this story. First, Jesus doesn’t say why the priest and the Levite pass one of their own people by. Perhaps it was ritual purity laws that forbade them from touching a dead body, although the victim was not dead and it is possible they could tell that. Perhaps they feared that robbers would still be around and come after them. Perhaps it was just an inconvenience to them to have to stop and care for this needy man. But whatever the reason, they could have at least gone and gotten help, but they did not. This man’s life did not matter enough to them.

The introduction of a Samaritan into the story, especially since he was the one that is the exemplar of the good neighbor, was a huge shock. We shouldn’t be surprised since Jesus was in the habit of introducing shocking concepts that may not have fit the hearers’ expectations but fit the kingdom of God. The Jews hated the Samaritans and the Samaritans hated back. The Samaritans had intermarried with the local people and had different Scripture and a different temple. They were considered heretics. So it was highly provocative to the hearers that the Samaritan crossed the boundaries of hate to love his enemy. So highly provocative that when asked who was neighbor to the man, the lawyer could not say the Samaritan and had to say “the one who showed him kindness”.

We are also called to go and do likewise to inherit eternal life. We are Christ’s hands and feet on earth and surely he would be the one to do as the Samaritan did. He crossed boundaries all the time, eating and socializing with the wrong people. We are called to cross boundaries too. Class, race, political opinion, religion and other categories may make us want to do less than we can to help a neighbor in need. I don’t think any of us here would use violence with any category of people, but there might be something inside us that shrinks back at the thought of crossing paths with homophobes, NRA members, people of opposing political viewpoints or other folks we disagree with. It is important for us to eliminate – or at least try to overcome – those  prejudices and be open to helping one another.

Our baptismal vows call us to respect the dignity of every human being and that means all lives matter. Violence against anyone touches us all, and we need to do all we can to stop the violence that kills and hurts the neighbors we are supposed to love. In this case, it was the police, who have often been vilified recently, who rushed to help the protesters. It was the police who were good neighbors to people they didn’t even know, said one news source, and they suffered for it. It was also the police who set off the robot bomb that killed the shooter. In the kingdom of God violence is never the answer, but in our broken world, it seems we have to use violence as long as those bent on violence are able to obtain guns.

One of the important things about being a neighbor is drawing near (Karoline Lewis). The priest and the Levite distanced themselves from the man in the ditch, but the Samaritan drew near. It is hard to have compassion if you are across the road or separated by some other barrier. When you draw near to someone in need, it is much more likely that kindness will be your response. We are to embrace those in need and care for them, even if they are people we do not like. We are to take risks for the neighbor.

Your lives matter, and what you do with them matters even more. Write you senators and representatives, if you are so moved. Ask for stricter gun control laws. Episcopal News Service reports that Dallas diocesan missioner for evangelism Carrie Headington, who attended one of the many memorial services offered, said, “Today is a clarion call to action. A call to pray. A call to racial reconciliation. A call to see the dignity in all persons. A call for the church to live fully into our mission as ambassadors for Jesus. Today is a call to love.”

So Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. You would want your life to matter if you were the man in the ditch. Work for justice and peace. Help others who are in need to the best of your ability. You will be living the gospel and you will inherit eternal life.

AMEN

     -- Rev. Ann Barker


Works Cited: Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, blog post, July 3, 2016