Neighborhood Watch

Neighborhood Watch” The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost Luke 10: 25-37

Sermon delivered by the Rev. Dr. Maria A. Kane
Ah, the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

What a great story, especially today; but this parable is not without its problems; The obstacle, you see, is that we’re all too familiar with this story, so it doesn’t give us much reason to pause. We can list off the cast of characters rather easily: A well-educated and religiously committed lawyer who wants to ensure that he has all of his bases covered. Next, we have our two “bad guys”: a self-righteous pastor who probably complains about being overworked because he’s forgotten that his job is not save people but to love them into wholeness; and a Levite, a well-known who’s-who kind of guy to whom people respect and look to for wisdom.

Now the good guy: He’s from Samaria. He, too, has places to go and people to see. He travels the same road that the other two men walked, but as he does so, he notices drops of blood near his feet and follows them until he reaches their source: a young man clinging to life, left abandoned on the side of the ride and rendered someone else’s problem. The man is a Jew, and for generations, Jews and Samaritans have been avowed enemies. To this guy, a person is a person. So, he kneels down and lets him know that he will carry him to safety and make sure that he has the time and space to recover. Now, with our bad guys and good guy clearly delineated, it seems that the point of this parable is clear: help those is need.

But therein lies the problem.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that we shouldn’t care for others, especially when their lives hang in the balance. Nor am I suggesting that supporting one another doesn’t have an impact. But that is not what this parable is about. If Jesus only came to tell us stories about being nice and charitable nobody would have wanted him dead. For years, plenty of people had been saying and doing similar things and nobody wanted to kill them. So, what’s the difference?

Absolutely everything.

This story isn’t just about doing something for someone in a time of need. Jesus is calling us to create a certain kind of community where people celebrate and share in life with one another. Jesus called it the Kingdom of God, and however you refer to it, he is willing to die for it so that it lasts forever. The heart of this community can be boiled down to five words: Love your neighbor as yourself.

This may not appear terribly life-alerting until you realize that when the lawyer asks who is neighbor is, he is essentially asking who is not is neighbor. Who doesn’t he have to love, respect, or regard as an equal? 1 Jesus’ response to this question is to tell him a story of how a man from Samaria lifted up a Jewish man to wholeness. In the first century, creating this kind of community demand that long-established norms be uprooted. Suddenly, this story about helping someone becomes a story of re-birth instead—of person and place.“Do this,” Jesus says, “and you will live.”

It goes without saying that this has been a tough week. Everyone wants to point fingers, draw clear lines in the sand, and justify behavior, but we’ve been doing that for hundreds of years and to no avail. As a society, we have often stood in the position of the lawyer picking and choosing who is worthy of justice, love, and mercy—unconsciously or not.

Other times we’ve been like the priest and the Levite averting our eyes and deciding what’s someone else’s problem to face. Today, however, we reminder that there is another way. And as people who pray each week: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” it’s the only way.

The first thing we can do is to be honest and real with ourselves and unlock the door of shame that tells us to leave well enough alone. This is less about blame and more about unity—and in the end, mutual joy, respect, and trust. The truth of the matter is we all have harbored or harbor assumptions, prejudices and judgements about people different from us. Myself included. Some of those with deadly consequences. Does that mean all of us are a bad or undeniably evil people? No, but it means we have room to grow and we need each other to do it. We have to take time to learn about people and their stories. We have to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Yes, it may be uncomfortable at times, but discomfort is nothing compared to planning your child or your spouse’s funeral. It’s nothing compared to sleepless night of endless crying
I am going to say something about law enforcement and about people of color because it needs to be said and it can be said without taking away the value of either group.

Everyday, black and brown young men and women walk out of their back doors not knowing what they will face. They carry the weight of the world on their shoulders and see and experience things that weaken their resolve and lead them to fear other’s contempt or disdain. Some of them are a part of the Black Lives Matter movement; some are not, but they are not anti-cop, anti-white; they are trying to bring to our attention the power structures that have been a force of inequality.

Are they perfect? No. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. Do they matter? Without a shadow of a doubt.

Everyday, the people who are called to protect us walk outside their back doors not knowing what they will face. They carry the weight of the world on their shoulders and see and experience things that don’t make the news but will shape their lives forever, but they do it anyway. They are crucial to our life and community in ways we can’t imagine.

Are they perfect? No. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. Do they matter? Without a shadow of a doubt.

Friends, one can be committed to the justice and welfare of those who have been excluded and marginalized by systems of institutional racism, sexism, classism, and ableism AND also committed to supporting, encouraging, and being deeply grateful for the men and women called to protect our communities.

This is not a political thing, this is a Jesus thing. In a few moments we will baptize John Ryan and Colt Anthony. It is an extremely radical thing that we’re doing because as we do it we declare to the world that the Love of Christ is more powerful than anything else that has a hold on our lives. We will wash them in Jesus’ death and raise them up into his power over death. And, we will support them as they grow into life as God’s children. We will show how to love themselves, God, and their neighbor with faithfulness and joy.

At one point I had originally planned to tell a story about a church in Houston that has created an intentional community of people from every demographic you can imagine being the kingdom of God. But you know what? It’s right here.

Together. Imperfect. Steady. And Hopeful ..the Kingdom of God.

As I look out I see and have seen and experienced such a kingdom. It defies words but it changes lives, and undoubtedly it keeps changing mine. Do we have work to do? Absolutely. Does that change how I see you or how much you contribute to the world? No way.

So a parable that began as a problem has become an invitation to become all that we can and are meant to be. All of you out there have the power to touch one of these lives and change this world. “Do this,” Jesus said, “And you will live.” So, what will it be, friends?


Or, death?
Dr. Maria A. Kane St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Waldorf, MD July 10, 2016

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