Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pentecost 8, 2013: Sermon by Michele Wiltfong, Aspirant for Holy Orders

Lectionary: Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Psalm 25:1-9; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37
Preacher: Michele Wiltfong, Aspirant for Holy Orders

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Being the youngest of three children, I held an interesting place in my biological family. I always thought my sister was the prettiest of us and my brother was the most caring. I was always kind of the black sheep of the family because I never really acted like my siblings and certainly did not do what my parents expected me to do. I would go about my life studying and I started working at the age of thirteen. We were a regular middle class family with a roof over our heads and clothes on out backs, but they were certainly not name brands.

As different as we are, all three of up learned one of the legacies that my father left behind when he passed away - the desire to advocate for those less fortunate than we are. A popular quote going around Facebook right now is "I don't give because I have in abundance. I give because I know what it is like to have nothing." My father would often speak to local farmers who were paid to not harvest their fruit or who let the less than perfect fruits and vegetables fall to the ground that would not bring as much money. He would ask them if he could pick up the rejected produce and donate it to the local food bank or needy individuals. Often the response from the farmer was "Whatever as long as I am not expected to help you gather it or deliver it." My father would then gather all he could in the bed of his pickup truck. Sometimes some of the hired hands around the farm would help him gather because he would bring them warm clothes for the winter. He would then make the stops to those people he knew needed these items just to put another meal on the table for their children.

I started my working life as a cook and dishwasher at a neighborhood golf course. We would cater weddings for hundreds of guests each weekend. I would watch as the serving line ended and clean-up began. The plates would come back to be washed and the leftover food would get thrown in the trash. Trays and pans and platters of perfectly good food went out in the garbage. I was horrified, but I did not know what could be done about it. The owners of the course did not care because the food was already paid for. I asked if there was a better system for finding a use for the food instead of throwing it away. I was basically told to mind my own business and do my job. I knew, from that point on, what I would do to try to make a difference in the lives of those who could have benefitted from that pan of green beans or that platter of cheesecake.

In today's Gospel, we hear Jesus being tested by the lawyer who wanted to trip him up by asking him the question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus answered that question with a question, "What is written in the law?" The young lawyer then answered with the great commandments written in the Bible. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself." People often get into debates about "Who is my neighbor?" Being a good teacher, Jesus tells us who our neighbors are by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. Two religious leaders see the man beaten on one side of the street and intentionally cross the street to avoid him. Perhaps it was so that they would not become ritually unclean by touching a man who is bleeding or so near death. Perhaps they feared they too would succumb to the same punishment if they walked down the street passed this man. None of that mattered to the Samaritan. He didn't ask, "Did he deserve this or will I get sued for helping him? " No, he just went about helping him to heal by pouring wine and oil on his wounds and bandaging them before taking him to an inn for respite and recovery. He told the innkeeper he would be back to take care of whatever other expenses he might incur. The Good Samaritan did not just drop the man off and forget about him. He said he would return to see what else was needed.

Brian Konkol, Lutheran Pastor in Wisconsin, writes, "While the parable of the Good Samaritan provides a wonderful lesson in response to a specific question (who is my neighbor), we are often left wondering how to advance life-giving communities alongside our neighbors. For example, while people of faith are often spectacular at providing relief in times of crisis, we often fail at long-term work that is necessary for lasting social justice." He asks, "What if the parable continued and the Good Samaritan paid similar expenses day after day for victims?" So often we get involved in helping someone until it becomes a burden on time or finances, then we say, "They need to stand on their own now. I've done my share. Do they even appreciate my help?" The short term effort would be focused on relief from the current symptom, but the long term solution would be to try and prevent people from being victims in the first place.

Showing mercy and justice are not just about providing food to the hungry or clothes to the naked one time. It's about hearing God's call on our lives and living into the people God is calling us to be. It's about living in faithful obedience, as a community, to be merciful. This often flies in the face of our individualistic thinking and acting society, but if we listen and "get ourselves out of the way", we can hear where God is calling us to make a difference - no matter how large or small.

Jesus asked the lawyer who presented him with these questions meant to trick him, "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" The lawyer could not bring himself to say the Samaritan, but said, "The one who showed mercy." Jesus said, "Go and do likewise." That can seem like a hard instruction, but if we love others with all their human imperfections as God loves us, it should not be so hard after all.

There was a poem by an unknown author titled The Other Side of the Desk I was given when I began working at DSS. It helps me remember the dignity of the person on the other side of the desk and I would like to share those poignant words with you.

Have you ever thought just a wee little bit
of how it would seem to be a misfit,
And how you would feel if you had to sit
on the other side of the desk?
Have you ever looked at the man who seemed a bum,
as he sat before you, nervous -- dumb --
And thought of the courage it took him to come
to the other side of the desk?
Have you thought of his dreams that went astray,
of the hard, real facts of his every day,
Of the things in his life that make him stay
on the other side of the desk?
Did you make him feel that he was full of greed,
make him ashamed of his race or his creed,
Or did you reach out to him in his need
to the other side of the desk?
May God give us wisdom and lots of it,
and much compassion
and plenty of grit,
So that we may be kinder to those who sit
on - the - other - side - of - the - desk.

What would we want to happen if the tables were turned and we were lying in the ditch, beaten and left for dead? Where is God calling us to be the Samaritans of our time? Where is God calling us to ask more questions in our own lives and receive more questions in return? Where does God want to break us open and use us for the social justice that is so desperately needed in society today? Jesus defied all convention. Where and to whom in our lives are we called to do the same thing?

"I do not give because I have in abundance. I give because I know what it is like to have nothing."


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