We are continuing our series on setting down and picking up things for Lent. First we laid down our stones of judgment and picked up honesty. Then we laid down our constructed identities to pick up a way of being where our insides match our outsides. Last week we set down our sermon series, to pick up the joy of celebrating our newest and youngest members Daisy, Sadie, Colman, Emerson and Jacob. I have to say I could not have been more proud of each and every one of you!! Thank you for sharing with us the magic of your faith!!!
It is a familiar story I will take the liberty of changing one word. Read Luke 10:25-37
We just read the Good Muslim story. How do you feel? How did it feel to have the Muslim care for the beaten and injured man? How would you feel if a Muslim was caring for you? Just asking these questions takes this story from a long time ago in a distant land and makes it real in the here and now. I think the parallel fits with the amount of animosity towards Muslims in our culture. The attempts to ban travel from Muslim countries certainly tries to put them in the second class status, much like Samaritans were in Jesus’ day. Hatred, discrimination, fear all plagued the Samaritans. They were despised because of their different faith and mixed ancestry. People treated them as less than and different, which is why this parable works. We expect religious leaders to care for those who are hurting. But they didn’t. I might have also said a pastor and a community leader passed by on the other side before the Muslim came near to help the man. As a pastor, I certainly don’t like being called out as not helping my neighbor. Because that is what Jesus is trying to teach- Who is your neighbor?
Paul gets right to the heart of the matter when we write, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor.” As Christians we have heard this more times than we can count, yet we still can’t get it right. Maybe that is why Jesus and Paul repeat their talking points. We have a hard time with this one. We want to limit who we treat as neighbors.
Reading through the Good Muslim story, something jumped out at me. In addition to not helping, both the Priest and the Levite had something else in common. It is not their shared faith, or their religious zeal, even though we know that is their excuse for not helping. It is something they did. Do you know what it is? They both pass by on the other side; meaning the other side of the road. They put as much distance between themselves and the injured man as possible.
Distance matters. VIP seats vs. nose-bleed. Watching on television rather than actually being there: hearing, smelling and seeing all the action. How close we are to something makes a difference. I responded differently to the attack in London this week, than I did when I was only an hour away from the Twin Towers when they fell. Knowing people who worked in the city, and seeing the billows of smoke made the proximity and gravity of that event very poignant.
Proximity is exactly what was created by the good Samaritan, the good Muslim. He came near to the injured man, cared for him, saw him as a fellow human being, and provided for his needs. It was his proximity to him that moved him towards compassion and created his desire to help.
But when we keep people and ideas at arm’s length, at a distance, then we don’t have to worry about who is our neighbor. Our neighbor becomes only people just like us. We can stick with the people and ideas we know and not deal with the challenging question. A study from a few years back stated that 75% of white Americans only had white friends” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/03/black-white-friends-poll_n_5759464.html). This is how we can start to think that our neighbors are only people who think, dress, believe and look like us. But Jesus does not give us those stipulations.
Paul even says, there are no Jews or Greeks, slave or free, male or female.
You are to love your neighbor, all neighbors, as yourself.
Think back to a time when you changed a belief. How did that happen? I came of age in the early eighties about the same time as the rise of the conservative movement, the Moral Majority and Anita Bryant. I started seminary at the end of that decade. One of the requirements was Clinical Pastoral Education, CPE, working as a chaplain in a hospital. I had a great supervisor, he taught me so much about myself and working with people. Chris was also the first person I knew who was openly gay. I later discovered my uncle was gay, but that was before anyone talked about it. Because of my close relationship with Chris, my understanding and support for gay and lesbian individuals increased. My preconceived notions melted away. That only happened because we were in close proximity. Change rarely happens at a distance. So this Lent let us lay down distance, and pick up proximity. May we cross over and come near to those we do not know, see their wounds, just like our own wounds. Discover the humanity that unites us, not the superficial things that don’t. That can only happen when we get up close and personal.
Come from Away is a new Broadway musical telling the true story about September 11, 2001 in Gander, Newfoundland. It premiered last week with Prime Minster Justin Trudeau welcoming Ivanka Trump to the production. Gander only had 10,000 people living in this small community, which had the distinction of being a refueling place for flights crossing the Atlantic. So when the Twin Towers fell and the world was transfixed in shock, glued to our televisions, Gander received 38 international flights, over 50 in total, that needed to land. Remember all air travel was suspended. 6,700 passengers from all over the world and all walks of life disembarked from their flights to then become known as the “plane people” to the folks of Gander. Of course there were not enough hotels or restaurants for all of these people. Their cultural, social, religious distance is traded in for chaotic proximity. This physically unforgiving place becomes the emotionally welcoming Gander. People opened their homes, stayed up all night to cook for the stranded people, made lifelong connections including a marriage between an American and a Brit. They even had a reunion ten years later.
In the musical, Bob is a young black man primed to be suspicious of people but shown great kindness by the mayor who housed him. They both let go of distance, prejudice and fear and pick up proximity. The song Prayer is a modern version of our closing hymn, with a Hebrew overlay within the score. It reminds us that all that we can be in God’s sight is up to us laying down the distance that separates us through religion, culture, hatred anything really that separates us from each other, and picking up proximity to God’s Spirit. When we get close to each other amazing things can happen. Tom Brokaw tells the story of an “80-year-old woman when she saw what happened on 9/11 said she had lost all faith in mankind, but after spending 5 days with you people of Gander, you have restored my faith in people.” Amen.