Monday, July 11, 2016

Sermon for Pentecost 8: "The Outrageous Samaritan"

+ 8th Sunday after Pentecost – July 10th, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C: Leviticus 19:9-18; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

We are a storytelling people: “How was your day today?” “What did you do over the 4th of July weekend?” “How was your first day at swimming lessons?”

Now, we may think this is all just polite conversation, but these are invitations to tell a story, about our day at work or with the kids, our vacation or leisure time with family and friends, or our summer activities. It’s as if God hardwired us to be storytellers. And I think he did. That’s at least one of the reasons Jesus spends much of his time teaching us in parables.

Parables are stories. And at least one temptation with the parables, is to treat them like our daily stories around the dinner table, in the car, or on the patio over donuts. That is, to make them all about us. I watched fireworks. I spent the weekend with family. I saw Finding Dory.

Did you notice? It’s all about me. We’re tempted to apply this same storytelling method to the parables as well. “Am I the prodigal son or the one who’s angry at the Father’s lavish grace?” The answer is both, but it’s actually about the Father’s grace more than the sons’ sins.

“Am I the lost sheep or one of the 99 Jesus already has in his pen?” Again, the answer is, yes. But the parable is more about the outrageous love of the Good Shepherd than us.

“Am I the worker who’s been in the field all day or the one who comes at the 11th hour and still receives the same wages?” It matters not, because the parable is about the mercy and abounding grace of the land owner, not our work.

Jesus’ parables are stories that point to, find fulfillment in, and reveal Jesus’ mercy, grace, compassion, outrageous forgiveness, and undeserving love. When we turn them into Aesop’s fables or look for the moral in the story for better Christian living, we’ve missed the point. Jesus’ parables point us again and again to his seeking and saving the lost, the loser, the outcast by his death on the cross.

And so, when it comes to the parable of the Good Samaritan, we must fight the temptation to make it all about us. No doubt we’ve all heard it told this way before:

There was a man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was ambushed by robbers; they stripped him, beat him, and left him for dead. Along came a priest and a Levite, both of whom kept walking right on by. Finally, an unlikely hero, a Samaritan comes along; he helps the man, takes him to an inn, pays his medical bills and more. Which of these three was the neighbor? The obvious answer is the Samaritan man of course. The one who showed mercy. So, you go and do likewise. Don’t be the Priest or the Levite. Be the hero. Be the Good Samaritan.

That’s usually where we’re left hanging when this parable is told. The Good Samaritan is only an example we’re called to imitate. The problem with reading the parable this way is that once again it’s all about me. And the Gospel gets shuffled down the road quicker than the Priest and the Levite.

Remember, Jesus tells this parable to a man who asked him: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Wrong question. What do you do to inherit eternal life? Nothing. An inheritance is given. Jesus gives you eternal life.

So, Jesus tells this parable, not to give the man yet another merit badge to earn or an achievement to unlock, but rather to join him in his journey to Jerusalem and to the cross.
When Jesus is at the center of this parable it sounds quite different.

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.

Sounds an awful lot like Jesus to me. Like the man in the parable, Jesus is making a descent, not from Jerusalem to Jericho, but a journey downhill to his passion and death, to be the first who becomes last, the one who becomes lost and stripped, beaten, and left for dead…all for you.

Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.  So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

To the Jewish hearers, these men would’ve been the heroes. And yet, in their quest to fulfill the ceremonial law, they neglect the moral law to love your neighbor as yourself. Sadly, all they know is the law; they know nothing of love, for only love, not the law, can serve the neighbor in need. And so they kept on going. And you can hear Isaiah and John echo in the background. He was despised and rejected by men…he came to his own and his own did not receive him.

But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.

It’s no accident Jesus chose a Samaritan for this third character. The Jews considered them heretical worshippers and half-breeds, like the term mud-bloods for you Harry Potter fans. The Samaritan was an outcast, a loser.

And here’s the genius of Jesus’ storytelling. He sends the outcast to the rescue of another outcast. He sends the loser to minister to another loser.

Sound familiar? Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us. Jesus, who is first, became last so that we who are last might become first in Him. Jesus became the outcast, the loser, the lost one, the dead man, so that in our lostness, deadness, and outcastness, we are found, welcomed, and made alive again.

The Samaritan binds up his wounds, pours oil and wine – all acts of kindness to be sure, but something that most normal people would think an inconvenience when helping someone else, not to mention expensive and time consuming. But the Samaritan does it all the same. And more. He puts the beaten man on his own animal, which means he had to walk the road for him. Then, he takes him to an inn, takes care of him for the night, further impeding his travel plans. And, if that wasn’t enough, he goes to the front desk in the morning and books the victim an indefinite stay, all expenses paid – room, food, doctors, medicine, health club, a healthy donkey if needed – no questions asked, no strings attached. He lays down his own life and livelihood for this man.

Jesus’ whole point here is not to give this lawyer another stairway to try and climb his way to heaven. He’s not giving us a formula for Christian niceness, as if that is going to answer the question “What must I do to inherit eternal life?"

The reason for the rather outrageous, irrational behavior on the part of the Samaritan is not to point us to another set of good works for us to do, but to the passion and death Jesus accomplishes for us.

Jesus tells us along with the lawyer; stop trying to live by the law; stop trying to inherit eternal life by what you do or say. Rather, be willing to die, to be lost and then found, to be the dead man and to be made alive again in Jesus.

Does Jesus want us to go mercy to the neighbor? Of course. He meant what he said. Before we can be the Good or kind Samaritan, we must first be the dead man on the road, rescued. Only when we are free from the law are we free to help our neighbor and show mercy.

And Jesus has set you free. Here, Jesus puts you on his own back, takes you home, binds up your wounds, and lays down his life for you – everything charged to his account. We who are lost, are found in Jesus. We who are last, are first in him. We who are outcasts and losers are welcomed by the Father with arms wide open, victors in the death of Jesus. We who were left for dead on the roadside are joined in death, and made alive again in Jesus.

You are free. Free from your keeping track of your good works and free from making the law your own personal hamster wheel. You are free from sin and death. Free to go and do likewise for your neighbor.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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