14 November 2011

Sermon on the Good Samaritan 2011

“Desiring to justify himself, the lawyer asked, ‘But who is my neighbor’?” We can understand that question. It’s one we ask each and every day. If that person is my neighbor, I have a responsibility for him. God tells me to love him as I love myself…and that means to care for him in practical ways, to remain open to him, to forgive him.
But if I can truly say he’s not my neighbor, then I’m off the hook. When God asked Cain, “Where is your brother?” and Cain answered, “Am I my brother’s keeper?,” Cain was really saying, “He’s not my neighbor.” Cain was trying to justify himself.
The problem the lawyer in today’s text had, was that he thought of the word “neighbor” as a noun. A neighbor is someone I have. When the priest and then the Levite pass by the half-dead man on the road, it’s because they had learned not to see him as neighbor. It’s a survival strategy. When I see someone as neighbor, I see his plight as mine. I enter his experience. I run the risk of harming myself to help him. “How can I stop to help that guy?” the priest and Levite must have thought. “For all I know, the robbers are waiting for me.”
Who is my neighbor? Is it the man on the road? Is it the revolutionaries in Libya? Is it Quadaffi? Is it the Occupy Wall Street protesters? The Tea Party? The victims of child abuse? The abuser? The ones who covered it up? The Israelies, or the Iranians? Who’s wrong, and who’s right? Who is my neighbor? I suppose if you were to sum up the whole course of human history, from Cain and Abel to this morning’s headlines, it’s nothing but a constant posing and answering of that question. How’s that workin’ for us?

There is another way…a way Christ gives us in our Gospel. That’s to see the word “neighbor” not as a noun, but as a verb. Neighbor isn’t something I have; neighbor is something I do. See how Christ concludes our text: “Which of these showed himself to be neighbor?” When the lawyer answered, “The one who showed mercy,” Christ responded, “Go and do the same.”
This view, that neighbor is a verb, is stressed in The Brothers Karamazov. Listen to just one excerpt:
Do not say, "Sin is mighty, wickedness is mighty, evil environment is mighty, and we are lonely and helpless, and evil environment is wearing us away and hindering our good work from being done." Fly from that dejection, children! There is only one means of salvation, then take yourself and make yourself responsible for all men's sins, that is the truth, you know, friends, for as soon as you sincerely make yourself responsible for everything and for all men, you will see at once that it is really so, and that you are to blame for everyone and for all things. But throwing your own indolence and impotence on others you will end by sharing the pride of Satan and murmuring against God.
Everyone we see, everyone we hear, everyone we hear about—each of them is my neighbor. Love makes no distinction of persons. And I am responsible for them, to do whatever I can to serve—not their passions, but them.
Only when I see my responsibility, can I learn my inability, my unworthiness. I can see myself as broken and battered, lying by the side of the road, wounded not so much by others as by my own self-centeredness.

But then it is that I see the Samaritan who came for me…who entered my reality and life and joined it with his own. Only then can I see how great a gift he gives me in this inn, this church, this hospital for sinners. He is my neighbor, who showed himself my neighbor by bearing all my sin and by dying my death. He is my neighbor, who washed me clean in Baptism, anointed me with his Holy Spirit, feeds me with his life-giving body and blood.

I am responsible for all; I am guilty before all of you; and therefore I am justified—not by anything I have done, but by him who justifies the ungodly and shows mercy to sinners.

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