Pent 8 Lect 15 C: We Do Mercy

READINGS

Sermon

This sermon is adapted and borrowed heavily from the gracious Sarah McGivern.
You can read her original writing here.

I’m going to do something that I was taught never to do in a sermon.  I’m going to ask questions that I’m not going to answer right away.

Who is being beaten up on dangerous roads near you and left to die?
Who is being chewed up and spit out by the culture, or individuals, or groups or institutions where you live and work?

There is a temptation with today’s gospel reading to revamp it and make it impacting and resound in a different way than you’ve all heard it before; in part because we seem to be dulled to the impact of what Jesus is getting at, and in part because we seem to still be missing the message.

For example, I could ask you to imagine this gospel story being retold where the characters were a beaten gay man laying in the street happened upon by the Bishop, the Premier, and a Muslim woman in a hijab and a Tim Hortons uniform.

And I am sure that a simple change like that stirs something in everyone listening to my words.

At least, I hope it does.

And as we gathered this morning, we came before God with the words of confession:

We have not loved you as we ought.
We have not loved our neighbours as ourselves.

I think it’s easier to confess to this reality than it is to name it: just who is my neighbour, God?

Perhaps it’s safer instead to ask: “What does it mean to love?  What does it mean to be merciful?”

Lutherans confess that God’s love is for everyone!  By grace you have been saved.  In one of my favourite analogies, our salvation is like a wrapped present: offered to each of us, whether we unwrap that present or not.  Unfortunately, sometimes, after we’ve opened the box, we can begin to think of ourselves as exceptional or particularly set apart from the rest of the world.  We are holy: we think we’re the ones doing God’s will! We believe that we’re the ones who understand what Jesus is all about! There is some part of us that posits that everyone in the world reaps what they sow… right?

The church may have started as a movement of outsiders, but over a brief period of time, it has turned into a collection of a new insiders.  And, like any group of insiders, we can’t help but become fixated on our survival: our selves, our cherished structures, our communities.  We begin to worry about who is part of our group and who is not.  We wonder who is going to step out of line first; who is going to cause a ruckus by stirring the pot, however gently.  We begin to look at everyone with greater degrees of suspicion, and then it becomes incredibly easy to justify that decision to walk on the other side of the road.

Today’s gospel not only tells us who our neighbour is, but it tells us:
Love means not passing to the other side as we approach someone in need or someone whose condition frightens us.
Mercy means not ignoring inconvenient interruptions along our journey.

Here’s the thing: our discomfort, our stress, our worries, even our religious rules are no excuse for inaction, for looking the other way, for justifying ourselves by telling ourselves that there’s nothing that we can do.  It is clear that every time we avoid someone in need, people, beloved children of God, we participate in something that is neither loving or merciful.  Avoiding eye contact, changing the subject, turning our ears off is neither loving or merciful.

Which makes life hard.  Especially because we are constantly bombarded with news of people in need.  We are flooded with one tragic story after another.  We pass by so many different groups of people who are desperate for acknowledgement, validation, a shred of compassion.

And we end up feeling powerless.  Or incredibly guilty because we know can’t give everyone help in the form of financial donation, and that seems to be the biggest request.  But there is always something that we can do:

We do mercy.  Just like the Samaritan did:

He came near.
He was moved with compassion.
He went to him.
He bandaged the wounds.
He poured oil (a soothing agent) and wine (antiseptic) on the wounds.
He put him on his animal.
He brought him to an inn.
He took care of him at the inn.
It’s kind of like triage: all of these were things the beaten man could not do for himself in his condition. So the Samaritan did them.

The Samaritan didn’t just send money at one particular bit of need.  The Samaritan doesn’t fix everything for the beaten man.  He does more than that because he makes it possible for the beaten man to have some kind of community to aid him back to his own feet.

This is a great example of what it means to do ministry with someone.  To do mercy, hands on.  To love neighbour as self.

Sometimes it really is all about rescue, if that’s needed: like all those who suffer great crisis and tragedy – the floods and fires and wars and refugees.  Sometimes it’s about making sure the systems of care and community in a place have what is needed: like the ways that we as a parish support the many groups and organizations who do ministry with the people in each of their particular areas through our prayers, our participation, and our financial contributions.  And sometimes it really can be about physically walking away because we trust God and the resources of the community to do what is needed from there, but also continuing to advocate for the support of those communities by calling on our community leaders to do what it is that they are called to do.

When we come before God speaking words of confession, we also take a moment to consciously listen to God’s response to our admission that we have not loved our neighbours, or God.

We are forgiven.  We remain human.  We are left standing before God with that unwrapped gift, that God continues to point to over and over.  We are loved.

And if we look to our left and our right, we see our neighbours.

All of them.

Children of God.

We’re not impervious to pain or injury when we do mercy with those around us.  We become incredibly vulnerable when we practice loving kindness.  We can be hurt or deceived as we reach out to others.  We may face verbal and physical attacks when we stand up with the marginalized and unloved.

But we are a people of God.   We do love and mercy.
For everyone.
Love is stronger than death!
Having the confidence to love in the face of fear is a witness to our trust in God.

God will always love us and will not abandon us. When we cross over to the other side of that proverbial roadway, we are acting out of fear, we are acting out a forgetfulness of who God is: trustworthy, loving and steadfast.  We can avoid suffering from these fears and forgetfulness by being with people who are different from us; by seeking to find God standing in the midst of those who are marked as unloved, discarded, and suffering; by doing mercy.

So, I put it in front of you again:
Whoever is being beaten up on dangerous roads near you and left to die is your neighbour.
Whoever is being chewed up and spit out by the culture, or individuals, or groups or institutions where you live and work is a precious child of God.  To the left and right of each of us: loved by God.

Let us pray:
Holy Trinity,
We know that there are far too many times in our lives when we have not loved as we ought to have loved. Help us to live as better disciples. When faced with neighbours who are hurt, ignored, segregated, or beaten up – literally or figuratively – encourage us to see your precious children, loved by you. And give us the courage to act as you want us to in the midst of such suffering. Amen.


Sermon Inspirations

  1. Burton-Edwards, Taylor, Director of Worship Resources. “Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C: Gospel Track: Learning from the Master.” Worship Planning.  Discipleship Ministries: The United Methodist Church.
  2. Sarah McGivern. “We Have Not Loved: On The Road #3.”    Discipleship Ministries: The United Methodist Church.
  3. Sarah McGivern. Jerusalem to Jericho.  https://jerusalemtojericho.com/about-sarah/

This week’s image is “The Good Samaritan” by Ferdinand Hodler.
The image is public domain and is modified for use with this blog.
You can find more information about the artwork here.  You can learn more about the artist here.

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