Lectionary Reflection for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
July 10, 2016
No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe. Deuteronomy 30:14
…we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. Colossians 1:9b-10
This week’s gospel lesson from Luke is one of my absolute favorites. I chose it for my ordination gospel, and I return to it again and again to find fresh insights, new ways of approaching the story, and relevant links to our time and culture. This week is no exception, with bombings, murders, political posturing, tawdry trash-talk, and accusations aplenty. We need to contemplate Jesus’ question “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
On the surface, it’s a no-brainer. The one who offered mercy to the man in need is the one who is acting like a neighbor. And I know we’d all like to think that we’re that neighbor. But wait! THAT neighbor is a Samaritan. THAT neighbor is not one of the “good guys” according to popular Jewish insider culture So this gospel story begs for more unpacking, and there are plenty of fine commentaries and blogs and reflections out there that do just that. Instead, I want to take a slightly different tack this week, an approach that makes me squirm a bit.
You see, the thing that makes me most uncomfortable about this parable is that I have to be honest and admit that I have more in common with the Levite and priest in the story than I’d care to admit. And I’ve been welcomed and shown radical hospitality and mercy by those who might be labeled and typecast in the role of “Samaritan” in our culture. For that reason, I think it is well worth bringing in the Old Testament lesson from Deuteronomy and the opening of the letter to the Colossians. Being reminded of the basics of what it takes to be a good neighbor is useful. Yes, to be a good neighbor one must be faithful AND fruitful. I don’t see either passage (or the gospel, for that matter) talking about being religiously proper or politically correct.
The writer in Deuteronomy reminds us that the word is very close to us. It is in our mouth and heart for us to observe. As Christians we know that Jesus in word and in bread and wine and water, in the beloved community, is also very close to us. Through God we are made faithful, not by our own righteousness or goodness or efforts. We are faithful because God is faithful and because God doesn’t give up on us—any of us.
It is in this God-given, God-near faithfulness that we learn to be fruitful, that we are equipped to tend the vineyards and orchards of God’s good creation, both human and natural world. By chewing on God’s word and letting it shape our hearts for justice, mercy, and love we do the works God calls us to, and in the process we become neighbors.
Yes, we may become outsiders to the insiders, too. We may be reviled for not fitting into the traditional roles, shapes, and functions that culture and even religion dictate for us. We may be using those hashtags #blacklivesmatter and #prayforIraq in ways that make us as feared and loathed as the “Samaritans” in some of the world’s eyes.
The good news is, I think, that in being faithful and fruitful folk and letting ourselves truly be transformed by God and one another in beautiful and unexpected ways, we become the neighbors we’d like to be. Not surprisingly, that is the point of the parable. So, dear partners in faith and fruits, let’s walk near to the word of God and become neighbors one to another and be surprised at just how amazing God’s nearness and reign-breaking-in can be.
Can our congregations be “inns” and can we be “innkeepers” to those in need of sanctuary and safe space? Today’s gospel lesson is a familiar one, but what about the innkeeper in the story? We don’t hear much about this character, only that we assume he or she did the work asked by the Samaritan, and that the innkeeper was a partner in the healing of this broken body. In a world that sorely needs healing and hope, how can we become an inviting place of solace, rest, and healing for world-weary and battered souls?
Consider using this litany (or a similar one) as your sending today.
L: This is God’s house, a place of sanctuary and rest.
C: Lord, make this safe space for all people.
L: Here we pour the wine and oil and break the bread. Here we dress the wounds of the weary and bind the broken hearts of the hopeless.
C: Lord, guide our hands and hearts to heal your beloved people.
L: In this house we will offer hospitality. In this house we will do God’s work with our hands. In this house we will welcome the stranger.
C: Lord, remove fear and doubt. Give us courage and grace to work for the healing of this world. Give us wisdom and compassion to serve the poor, the outcast, the widowed, and the orphan in your name.
L: We are sent to walk the Jericho Road. Let us look into the eyes of the other. Let us lift our hands and voices in solidarity with all God’s children. And then, let us return to this Inn, this house of God, and throw the doors wide open. May there always be room here. May there always be welcome. May there always be peace.
Now go and serve. Go and love. Go and be Christ’s presence in the world.
C: We will! Thanks be to God.
“Go and do likewise.” How can four little words be so tough to follow? Youth in your congregation will no doubt have been affected by the violence, political rhetoric, and calls for action in the last few days and weeks. Consider how you can offer them an “inn” in your congregation, a safe space to talk, learn, grow, and heal. Invite them into the story of the Good Samaritan and help them consider how they can “go and do likewise” in their own lives. Do their actions have to be grand? No, not necessarily. Do they need to stand for justice and mercy? Yes, by all means. Can doing so cause them difficulty? Quite possibly so. Make sure that each youth has voice, help them to talk civilly in a world that doesn’t always do so, blanket all that you do in prayer. Encourage them to find one small action each day to be merciful and do justice.
In 2013, this was the suggestion we offered for time with children: If your congregation is like the one I serve, people pray for the children and youth on a regular basis. Consider talking about Paul’s introduction to the Christians of Colossae in today’s second lesson. Consider having a large scroll made up before worship with a paraphrased version of these verses in a letter written from the confirmed members of the congregation to the children. In this “letter” remind the children that you give thanks for them, that you are aware of their gifts and talents for ministry in your community, and that you pray for them so that they may continue to grow in faith. You might even cite youth leaders and Sunday school teachers in place of Epaphras. Try to have the scroll somewhere before worship where members of the community can sign it. Post the completed scroll where the children can see it for the rest of the summer and be reminded that they are loved and valued in your community. Finish the children’s time with a prayer of blessing, encouraging the congregation to shout out a hearty “amen.”
Looking for another option? Consider using the Old Testament lesson from Deuteronomy, focusing on verse 14: “No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.”
Ask children where they see God and where they see Jesus. Affirm their answers. Sometimes we tend to think of God as very far away–up in the sky, in a painting on the church wall or the stained glass windows, or locked between the leather covers of the Bible. Share with the children that the word is close to them. We encounter Jesus in many ways–in our neighbors, in bread and wine at communion, in the word proclaimed, and in baptism. God is all around us constantly doing new things among us. Invite them to see these words from a time long ago as timeless and FOR THEM today, too. By staying connected to God’s people, listening to Jesus’ words, and following his example, we are close to the Word. Finish with a simple prayer.
(Photos: d-olwen-dee, tonp, and George A. Spiva Center for the Arts, Creative Commons)