5th Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who calls us to be neighbors. Amen
Did you ever notice that Jesus doesn’t actually answer the lawyer’s question?
The lawyer asks Jesus,
what must I do to inherit eternal life?
this is who you must be.
They’re speaking different languages
the lawyer is speaking of doing,
Jesus is speaking of being
because for Jesus it’s not about what you do,
it’s about who you are
and that is a much more wholistic approach
than the world usually takes
In the world we are able to,
even supposed to
compartmentalize the different aspects of our lives,
who we are and what we do
can and should depend on the situation,
at work we are to be one person,
at home another,
at church another,
and heaven help you if one of those areas bleed over into another.
Compartmentalization it what allows someone
who is loving and kind to family and friends
to be ruthless and unfeeling as a business person,
just doing a job
is what allows seemingly good
people to inflict harm on others.
Compartmentalization allows us
to know exactly where we stand
in a cause and effect world
and we humans like to know where we stand,
mostly so we know just how much we can get away with,
or so that we know we have done enough.
That's what is behind the lawyer's questioning of Jesus.
But that’s not how God works.
God sees all of us all the time,
we are one whole person
and God expects that one person to be consistent whether at work,
among family or even at church.
And yes, while there is some wisdom
to keeping good boundaries between work and home
and in relationships,
the purpose of these boundaries
is to define who we are as a whole person.
With God it’s about who we are,
not what we do,
it’s about identity.
And that is what is behind Jesus’ response to the lawyer’s question.
Because the lawyer knows the answer to his own question,
he quotes the law as written in Deuteronomy
back to Jesus when pressed,
“you shall love the Lord you 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.”
this is the law that God gave the people
after they were freed from slavery in Egypt
to teach them how to live as free people,
how to be free.
But the lawyer has turned the teaching into a means to an end
- inheriting eternal life-
his follow up question who is my neighbor, shows that.
And that’s not the point Jesus says,
as he tells the story of the man beaten and left by the side of the road
- the priest and the levite were following the law-
to touch blood would have left them ritually unclean
and the road was dangerous,
they are thinking of themselves
and as far as self preservation goes
they did the right thing,
and yet they don’t come off looking so good
when compared with the samaritan
who allows himself to be changed by encountering the man,
when he sees him in the ditch he is moved with pity,
at least that’s how our version translates it,
but the Greek word is much stronger
it literally means to be moved as to one’s bowels,
which is kind of like us saying his heart was wrenched.
He has compassion,
he feels the pain of the man in the ditch in his gut
and that leads him to serve the man with all his resources,
his time, his animal and supplies, his money
even his emotions in essence his whole life.
And this is the example Jesus gives to the lawyer
of the one who was a neighbor.
It’s about who we are rather than what we do,
and that’s hard for us,
because it means that when we think about our relationships with God and neighbor
improving those relationships means working on ourselves,
who we are,
rather than a check list of things to do
and that can seem overwhelming,
the first six months of this year
I did a leadership development experience
through the Nebraska synod,
there were about 30 of us
and the goal was to look at leadership
so we took a bunch of those instruments
that told us about our preferences for being in the world,
how we handle our emotions
and other things
and of course all of the reports
came with suggestions for how we could improve our leadership
through improving ourselves,
and it was really hard work
and overwhelming at times,
after one of the sessions one
of the other pastors posted on facebook as his status:
“you know continuing ed is good when you need to finish a cry in the parking lot before you leave.”
working on ourselves can be overwhelming,
overwhelming enough as to seem impossible,
overwhelming enough to feel like you can never be enough,
especially when it come to your relationship with God
and that’s where the grace of God comes into play,
joined to Christ we are enough for God
who loves the whole us,
when it comes to inheriting eternal life
Jesus has it taken care of,
there is a place for us
and nothing can separate us from God’s love
no matter how many times we mess up or fail
and this sets us free
to practice living as a neighbor to those around us,
it frees us to be available with our whole selves
to those who have been beaten and left in ditches,
it frees us to try to be our best
even when we know our best isn’t perfect.
It’s not about what we do,
it’s about who we are,
and who we are,
is beloved children of God
grounded in grace, nurtured for growth.
This is Paul’s message to the Colossians
when he writes them in our second reading
essentially he tells them
that Grace leads to faith,
faith leads to hope,
hope leads to lives that bear fruit in service to neighbor,
and this is something we learn from others,
the ones who reach out to us
when we are in the ditch
and we practice this
when we are moved with compassion
as we move through our lives.
When we mess up there is forgiveness,
when we get discouraged there is the community of saints
and throughout it all
is the love of God
for whom we are enough. 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.