8 Pentecost C—7/10/17
Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Psalm 25:1-10; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37
Pr. Scott Kramer
On our day off this past week my wife and I did what we often do this time of year: head into the mountains for a hike. Hikers have a list of what’s called the Ten Essential systems: Map and compass (navigation), sunglasses and sunscreen (sun protection), extra clothing (insulation), headlamp (illumination), matches (fire), repair kit, extra food (nutrition), extra water (hydration), emergency shelter.
Hikers have the Ten Essentials. We Christians and Jews also have “ten essentials.” They’re called the Ten Commandments. One day a devout man stood up and asked Jesus, Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus replied, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” The man knew his scriptures and answered, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. And Jesus said, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
The Ten Essentials—the Ten Commandments–are commentary on one essential: Imitating the unconditional love of God for all people. What could be simpler…and what could be harder! Christian love is not sentimental or romantic. All your heart, all your soul, all your strength, all your mind—all people!–Christian love is the hardest work there is!
And yet, apparently, not impossible! In today’s first reading from Deuteronomy God says, Surely this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you…No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe. Like the religious lawyer, we know the right answer. The question is, Will we do it?
I noticed a story this past week about singer-songwriter k.d. lang who was interviewed about a new band she’s brought together. She invited two other independent women musicians to join her in cutting an album and they all were excited about this new project. But they’ve also found that collaboration is difficult. Lang says, “We all have approached songwriting for our own benefit…so this was a different thing. For example,” she says, “[one of the other women] refuses to use the word ‘love,’ and I use it all the time, because it’s pretty much all I care about.”
Love. Pretty much all k.d. lang cares about! Today’s gospel reading raises one of the most important questions a Christian can grapple with: What do you care about more than anything else? Is it that one essential, all-encompassing commandment? Or, is it something else?
Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan, a story like so many familiar stories is in danger of being watered down because we’ve heard it so many times before: “If you see someone in need, go out of your way to help them out.”
But this doesn’t begin to tap the power—and the offense!—of this story. The Samaritan, after all, was a despised member of society. And yet, he turns out to be the hero of Jesus’ story. Why? Because he had gone outside the rules of society, making the one essential law of love more important even than his own tribe.
That’s the power—and the scandal!—of Jesus’ story. He asks you and he asks me, What’s the most important thing for you? Is it patriotism, your nation? Is it a political party? Is it your family? Is it your race, the color of your skin? Is it economic power? If any of these are our answer, then we don’t need God, because these loyalties are as natural to us as breathing. And if these things are our highest priority, then we can expect more police officers to die. We can expect more racism, more bigotry, and more injustice for people of color.
The proof of that is every new tragedy that makes the news. Notice what Jesus says to the devout religious man: You have given the right answer. But knowing the right answer is useless unless we practice that one essential law. Do this, and you will live, Jesus says. Don’t do this, and you will die. Maybe not you, personally, but others around you, future generations, and eventually your nation, and all those things you hold most dear, will die.
Singer-songwriter k.d. lang says, “Love is pretty much all I care about.” Sounds like something Jesus would say. How about you?
Practicing that one essential law is the hardest thing Christians do. On your bulletin cover this morning you find a picture that appeared on the front page of yesterday’s Seattle Times. It’s the Good Samaritan story in a nutshell. Here is a young black father, with his young daughter, reaching across boundaries of race and power to extend a word of compassion and a rose to a grieving and despairing man who represents power and order, but who is an ordinary person with an impossible job. What I love most about this image is that according to the picture’s caption the man and his daughter represent a local faith community.
Do this, Jesus says, and you will live!
Last Sunday we pondered the public nature of Christian faith. It’s one thing to pray and to say, “God, here’s a problem I want you to take care of.” That would be a private expression of faith. Better by far would be to ask God to show me how I can take personal responsibility and to be a public example for others to see. Notice the question asked of Jesus: Not, What must I believe but, What must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus could have answered, “Ah, don’t worry about it. We live by grace. God’s got it covered.” Instead, he gives the hardest answer possible, one that demands the man’s entire life, for everyone to see.
So it is with us. God requires all our heart, all our soul, all our strength and all our mind. And if your response is, “I can’t do that!” –Congratulations! There may yet be room in your life for God, who can do all things, even through you and me.
The ten essentials—the Ten Commandments—are all just commentary on the one essential law of love that knows no bounds. If we choose to embrace this law of love, ours will be a public response. It may not be the sort of response that reaches tens of thousands of people on the front page of a newspaper, but what if it’s just one other person who notices?
For example, the character in Jesus’ story who gets probably the least attention is the innkeeper. But imagine this innkeeper seeing this Samaritan’s example of love that set aside tribal loyalties and human instincts. Think how that one innkeeper—one person!—would have told that story over and over to all the people he knew. Our public response to God’s love will be noticed. The Holy Spirit will see to that! The choices we make, for good or for ill, have a multiplier effect far beyond what we can see.
What do you care about more than anything else? A commitment to your own group, your own tribe? What do you care about more than anything else—loyalty…or love?