5th Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one in whom we have redemption. Amen
It’s all a matter of perspective.
The angle from which we look at things
Shapes how we see it
The lens we look through
Or the filter we put on the photo changes how it looks
The questions we ask show how we understand the world
And shape how we answer the question
And it is possible for someone to come along
Who asks different questions
And through these questions show us
A new way to understand the world
This is what Jesus does time and again in his teaching
In our gospel
we have the lawyer in Luke,
who stands up to test Jesus with a question
asking “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
perhaps he’s hoping to trip Jesus up,
or maybe he’s really interested in the answer
but either way
Jesus turns the question back on the lawyer, responding
“What is written in the law? What do you read there?”
and now it seems like the lawyer is being tested,
and he responds “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 to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
and you’d think that would be the end of the conversation,
but now whatever else it started out as,
it’s getting personal for the lawyer
and he continues “wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus,
“And who is my neighbor?”
Wanting to justify himself,
he wants to make sure
that he is doing everything he can
to inherit eternal life,
and for him, someone who lives according to the minutiae of rules,
that means defining who is a neighbor,
who exactly does he have to love as himself,
or put another way,
who can he leave out,?
who can he refuse to love
and still inherit eternal life?
And in response Jesus tells him the parable of the Good Samaritan,
where people who are considered good
and are technically following the law (the priest and the levite)
pass by the man in need of help,
and the Samaritan,
the one who from the perspective of the Jews is bad,
(the Samaritans don’t worship in the temple but on a mountain!)
The samaritan is the one that does the good thing,
who stops and takes care of the man beaten and left by the side of the road,
physically, financially and one has to assume emotionally.
And Jesus ends the story with one more question for the lawyer
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
With a question he changes the perspective
put this way the answer is obvious
and the lawyer responds
“The one who showed him mercy.
Jesus said to him, ‘go and do likewise.’”
The answer is obvious,
if the focus is on the one who needs help,
if the focus is on how to act,
not who to help.
But that’s not where the lawyer started out,
his focus was on himself
and what he could do for himself
how he could justify himself,
to be fair to the lawyer
that was his understanding of how the world worked
even as he knew the correct answer found in the law.
And then Jesus comes,
a teacher of that same law
that was given to the people as a gift from God,
he teaches from that law
and because of the way he lives it out
he is placed on a cross,
and on that cross something amazing happens
and because of the cross and the empty tomb three days later
we get to joyfully proclaim that we are justified by grace through faith
and this is not our own doing it is a gift of God.
Because Christ is perfect
and in baptism we are joined to Christ,
we are by God treated as Christ is,
we are justified.
The perspective has shifted
And we see this in the Colossians to whom Paul is writing,
we hear him praise them for their faith in Christ
“and of the love that you have for all the saints
because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.”
They are acting in love
not to justify themselves
but out of the hope for the future that they already have.
Their future is taken care of,
freeing them to turn to care for others
because this love they have received from God in hearing the gospel
keeps working even as it has already enabled them
“to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
but still imperfect humans,
they will make mistakes,
they will act selfishly,
but in Christ they are set free to grow in the grace of God,
to strive to lead lives worthy of the Lord,
to bear fruit in good works,
not because they need them but because the world does.
With Christ the question changes from:
What must I do to inherit eternal life?
To: what can I do to share the grace of God with others?
It’s a change in perspective
And the answer to that question is often riskier than we like,
because it means showing mercy,
it means stopping to help someone left for dead by the side of the road,
investing time and resources even our own safety
for the wellbeing being of a stranger
who from the perspective of God is a neighbor,
it means showing mercy that does what needs to be done
without asking what do I get out of it?
Or even, do they deserve help?
According to the perspective of the world,
discipleship, following Jesus, is a risky business
because it calls us to think of others first
rather than ourselves,
and we struggle with this,
we struggle to see the world as Jesus does
we wonder who our neighbor is,
what we must do to inherit eternal life?
what must we do to preserve our current lives?
But then Jesus pulls us aside,
and tells us a story,
a story of people usually considered good
and a person usually considered bad
and what they do when they encounter someone in need,
and then he asks us: who was a neighbor in the story?
and the answer is obvious,
the one who showed mercy,
and Jesus, who has already shown us mercy,
tells us, go and do likewise. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.