Texts: Psalm 91 and Micah 6:6-8
I have another scripture story up my sleeve this morning, and I want to start with it:
One day, a man was walking down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. He had traveled the road before, but the journey on this particular day was one he would never forget. He had been in a hurry and not made proper preparations. Around midday, he came upon a group of men traveling in the opposite direction, and just as he passed them, they ambushed him from behind. The next few moments were a blur. When he awoke on the roadside, he felt searing pain throughout entire body, and he realized they had taken everything—even his clothes, his food, and his water. Physically and emotionally, he could not bring himself to move.
For most of us Christians, this is a happy story with a happy ending and when we think of loving one’s neighbor we think about the story in an this innocuous way.
If Jesus wanted to teach love of neighbour in distress, it would have sufficed to use the standard folkloric threesome and talk of one person, a second person, and a third person [to make his point]. If he wanted to do this and add in a jibe against the clerical circles of Jerusalem, it would have been quite enough to have mentioned priest, Lévite, and let the third person be a Jewish lay-person. Most importantly, if he wanted to inculcate love of one’s enemies, it would have been radical enough to have a Jewish person stop and assist a wounded Samaritan.
But the story Jesus told was purposefully counter-intuitive. I think Jesus had another point in mind. Crossan, in fact, argues that he did:
[W]hen the story is read as one told by the Jewish Jesus to a Jewish audience, . . . this original historical context demands that the ‘Samaritan be intended and heard as the socio-religious outcast which he was… The whole thrust of the story demands that one say what cannot be said, what is a contradiction in terms: Good + Samaritan… [In this way], a world is being challenged and we are faced with polar reversal… [The hearers’ world is being] turned upside down and radically questioned in its presuppositions. (Crossan, 1977).
I went to the installation of a colleague yesterday at the old meeting house in east Montpelier. Installations are always joyful occasions. Indeed this one was. Lots of fun. Everyone excited about a new venture, new ideas, new energy.
The preacher on this occasion, tried to remind the gathered faithful, that faith in God also entailed engagement with a power that can only be described as dangerous. This is not the God of the letter of the Hebrews, “the same yesterday, today and forever,” but a God distinctly interested in transformation, in change, so that what was once broken, might be made whole, that what lives by violence might discover the life of creative cooperation.
Installations are great occasions to get fired up again about God’s power (albeit dangerous power) to lift us up on eagles’ wings, great occasions to say to one another this gospel we’re called to engage, to talk together about its meaning and then to live calls us in new directions for new ages. A new pastor is clearly a new age.
But it need not be a new pastor — in fact is not a new pastor – that makes us to say with the Psalmist, “I have no fear of the prowlers.” “I will not fear those who shoot arrows at me,” For it is not the pastor, it is the presentness of God — that is not just the presence of God, but the very nature of God that cannot turn from us in our need — that makes it all work.
I fly down to Tampa, Florida, today to work with four Episcopal congregations that want to think boldly and collaboratively about where God is leading them.
No more “business as usual,” said one pastor. Not because they are dying — for, in fact, they are holding their own — but because God needs more from them, and so do the communities they serve.
We will be working together for several months. Not a quick in-and-out workshop, but a sustained and, they hope, transformative look ahead.
I applaud their willingness to look outward and forward. As I wrote in this morning’s On a Journey meditation, “We settled Christians spend way too much time looking inward, tending to our internal affairs, asking each other what we want, performing for each other, sharing good times.”
God wants more from us and has more to give us. The crux is looking outward to discern and going outward to serve.
What will come of this time together? I have no idea. Neither do they. That is the mystery and grace of pioneering. But I think we can be sure the way forward will be different, risky, exciting, rewarding, difficult, and life-changing.
Please pray for this hardy band of pioneers.
And this hardy band of pioneers — out to repave the road. Amen.