Sermon Pentecost 8 July 10, 2016
Amos 7:7-17 Psalm 82 Colossians 1:1-14 Luke 10:25-37
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.
It’s tough preaching on a parable such as the Good Samaritan, because it is tough to find something new to say about it. But that begs the question, ‘why is it necessary to say something new, isn’t the original message enough and still valuable’. I think in all honesty we all can answer ‘Yes’ to that. There is absolutely nothing wrong with loving God, otherwise we are wasting our time here. Loving God is actually essential to eternal life. There is nothing wrong with loving our neighbour either. We are social creatures and when you look at it we are all neighbours too. Don’t we want to be loved ? Of course we do ! There are more people now than ever before and the family, the original centre of love, especially now in the Industrialised Countries, has its members so spread out that contact is often infrequent and fragile. This means that more and more of us are neighbours and more of us need Good Samaritans in our lives.
If we are to think of the relative merits of old and new the lawyer’s answer to Jesus’ question comes from the time of Moses (Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18) so it was not new however it really sums up the Ten Commandments, the Law. The first four Commandments are the Holy Commandments as they are about God and our relationship with Him. The following six are Societal Commandments, which are about our relationships with each other. So as Jesus says they are summed-up in what He calls the two greatest Commandments, Love God, Love your neighbour as yourself. It’s all you really need to know, because every lesson and every principle in the Bible springs from those two decrees – love God, love your neighbour.
When Jesus came to live as one of us He came to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17) particularly by these two Commandments. The old is good but Jesus made everything new again as Paul tells us (2 Corinthians 5:17). So we must not poo-poo the old teachings because they are good for all time, and we can receive them anew. In the way of old teachings we can seldom do better than Amos. Amos was an extraordinary prophet, one day he had a vision that everything should be done right, in accordance with the Law that is. His vision included a plumb line, a measuring device for determining a vertical line. It’s how God wants us to be, that is upright. The trouble is Amos had great difficulty in getting anyone to listen to him and when they did they opposed his message and told him to get lost. What was happening was that the people of Israel the Northern Kingdom of the Ten Tribes had broken the Love God part of the Commandments by worshipping another god, and Amos was sent to straighten them up. It was a hard task because the people wanted new ways and a new god at the expense of the old.
And today we have trouble getting people to listen to the old, old story too, mainly because it is old, but old does not mean without merit or value. Works of art and historical objects gain value as time goes by, not because of their usefulness in today’s world, but because of their rarity. We have history and hope in our Bible stories so they must be valuable, they are useful and available and in no way can Christians be said to be rare. We have become a dime a dozen because of our success. And as the saying goes ‘the demise of everything lies in its success’ (Karl Marx). Christianity was the founding religion of white society in Canada and was successful, therefore it is old and can be overlooked, ignored, forgotten by today’s generation.
Now that is a very sad story indeed. But when we look around the world today it is not unusual to see that the old, the traditions, the institutions that have been relied upon for generations to hold societies together are being rejected – we saw it in the Arab Spring, the remnant of which is still being fought out still in the Middle East – we see it in the unbelievable direction politics is taking Americans in the United States – the recent ‘Brexit’ vote – all are signs of the general population being fed-up with the institutions of society and the elites, which run them often to their own advantage. The institutional Church and its elites are often seen as irrelevant. Unfortunately the Church deserves in many ways to be lumped into the mix with secular institutions because it has shot itself in the foot so many times (sexual abuse, residential schools, the Doctrine of Discovery) when all the while the average Christian has been doing the legwork, the hard work of ministering to people – just look at the Church’s mission here in Canada helping resettle Syrian refugees for one of thousands of examples – but still it is tagged with the wrong label and its relevancy is poo-pooed.
Perhaps these times are the right times to look anew at the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Priest and the Levite, who represent the institutional Church and its elite, walked by the injured man, demonstrating their and its irrelevance to the world and its people, they and it had forgotten the Commandments to love, in favour of being politically and ritually correct. At the Last Supper Jesus gave us the same lesson by washing the feet of His disciples. He is the Church but He got down on His hands and knees and did the humble and hard work of serving others. Like the ancient Israelites that Amos faced, people have gone after other gods, and one of those gods is themselves. We went through the “Me” generation, “Generation X” and now the “Millennials” who are rushing towards isolation from the world and from each other. They are the wounded, although they would deny it. As they see it the Church is irrelevant, passing by on the other side, it is therefore up to us to get down on our knees, not to pray this time, but to do, to clean-up the wounds left by a self-centered and careless world on our neighbours, who are those we are called to love – ours is a Samaritan ministry when we truly follow Jesus Christ. Amen.