Pentecost 5 July 14, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

PENTECOST 5 Proper 10 Year C

Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Ps. 25:1-10; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37

 

Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Rev. Janet B. Campbell

 

 

You are driving alone

in the late afternoon heat

through a stark and desolate landscape

 

mile by mile

you are drawing closer to home

and supper

and bed

and a good night’s sleep.

 

You’ve been on the road

since early morning

and you’re really rolling now,

and there’s music on the radio,

the melodies and yearnings of

your teenage years

fading in and out

as you follow the long and winding road

through the sun-bleached hills –

 

 

and as you round a curve

you see it –

a shape by the side of the road,

 

a shape that resolves

as you speed closer

into the sprawling figure of a person,

motionless,

in the dust

of the shoulder of the road . . .

 

You slow down . . .

curious, concerned . . .

 

and stare through the glare

in the windshield

trying to make out

just what sort of person it is –

 

because – well, because

it might make a difference,

mightn’t it,

as to whether you stop . . .

 

The person’s clothes,

or what is left of them,

are disheveled and torn;

the face,

or what you can see of it,

smeared with dirt and blood . . .

 

 

You are driving alone . . .

 

If only you had

someone in the car with you . . .

 

it would be so much easier

to decide what to do . . .

 

 

“A man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho

fell into the hands of robbers,

who stripped him, beat him, and left him

half dead.

 

“ . . . a priest was going down that road;

and when he saw him,

passed by on the other side.

 

“So likewise a Levite, when he . . . saw him,

passed by on the other side.”

 

Did either of them stop and stare

from across the road

at that crumpled form,

trying to make out

just what sort of person it was . . .

 

 

 

And why did they hurry on,

these ones who were supposed to stop –

 

for fear it was a bandit’s trap

for the tender-hearted and un-wary?

(a real possibility on that dangerous road)

 

or because it was no business of theirs,

or because they were late for their temple service,

or because a stranger on the other side of the road

was beyond the range of their caring  . . .

 

 

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

a lawyer asked Jesus.

 

“What do you read in the law?” Jesus replied.

 

He answered, “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.”

 

“You have given the right answer,”

Jesus said,

“do this, and you will live.”

 

“But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus,

‘And who is my neighbor?’ ’’

 

 

Jesus replied,

“You were going down from Jerusalem to Jericho

and fell into the hands of robbers,

and they stripped and beat you

and went away leaving you half dead.

“A Priest passed you by.

A Levite passed you by.

 

“But a Samaritan came near you,

and when he saw you,

was moved with pity . . .”

 

or was it a Palestinian who was moved with pity,

or an African, an Asian, a Latino, an Anglo . . .

was it a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, an atheist . . .

was it a panhandler, a politician,

a sanitation worker, a teacher, a drag queen . . .

was it that kid from school you never liked,

the co-worker who got the promotion you wanted . . .

 

“Who was it who bathed your wounds and bandaged them,

carried you safely to shelter,

and tended you through the long, painful night?

 

“Who was it, do you think,

who was neighbor to you?”

 

 

 

“Wait a minute . . .”

the lawyer said to himself,

“he’s twisting my question all around . . .

 

What I meant was,

‘who is the neighbor I must love?’

That’s what I asked him, I’m quite sure of it.”

 

(How much easier it would be,

to keep this commandment

to love one’s neighbor,

if one could only be sure

exactly who it was talking about!)

 

The lawyer just wanted a simple answer

to the question –

“Who must I love?”

hoping to get a simple answer at the same time

to his real question,

“Who do I not have to love?”

 

 

It’s risky to ask Jesus questions . . .

he can’t be maneuvered

into giving you

the answer you want –

 

So expansive is he in his thinking and living and loving,

he takes you far beyond where you wanted to go –

 

 

and suddenly you find yourself

on the road from Jerusalem down to Jericho,

and you are

the victim of a brutal robbery,

you are

a self-absorbed priest,

a timid Levite,

a compassionate Samaritan,

a vicious roadside bandit . . .

 

 

You ask Jesus for a simple answer

and you get a story

as wide open as his heart –

 

a story that plunges you into the ambiguity

of human living and human relationships,

human kindness and human cruelty,

 

and into God’s hope for a neighborhood

called the Kingdom.

 

Some years ago,

when I lived in Seattle,

I was going down from Capitol Hill

to Second Avenue on Friday night,

to the Moore Theater to see a production

called the Maafa Suite –

 

It happened to be the weekend

I was to preach

on this parable.

 

 

A bicyclist stopped to let me cross the street,

only she hit her front wheel brake instead of

the rear

and flipped over, right in front of me.

 

I was running late already,

but it was a no-brainer –

I stopped to see if she was okay,

(which she was)

and I went on my way amused

to have stepped into the parable

I’d been thinking about all week long

and to have passed with flying colors.

 

The Maafa Suite, however,

would not yield such an easy passage.

 

 

Maafa is a Kiswahili word

meaning the great tragedy:

the transatlantic slave trade,

the abduction and enslavement of

uncountable numbers of

African people.

 

Our country was built on the Maafa

and its effects still permeate every aspect

of our American way of life.

 

 

 

Entering the lobby of the theater,

I found myself assaulted by

the screams and wailing

of dark-skinned men and women

in tattered rags,

lying on a tanbark-covered floor,

chained to the handrails of the ramps

into the theater.

 

To get to your seat

or the refreshment counter

or the restrooms

or the T-shirt and hat and tote bag souvenir stand,

you had to pass them by

despite their pleading eyes,

their outstretched, beseeching arms –

 

They were, of course, actors

playing the role

of their suffering ancestors.

 

I passed them by,

but would I pass by

the story they were telling?

 

I settled into my seat

in an audience mostly African-American;

not many people white like me,

like the ones who made

this misery,

whose lives of privilege and advantage

still are based

on conscious or unconscious assumption

of white supremacy.

Suddenly,

in this gathering where I was

much in the minority,

I experienced myself

as “other,”

the one who must be difficult

to see as neighbor.

 

 

In the darkened theater we waited,

hearing still the wailing from the lobby,

and now also the sounds of surf,

the Atlantic ocean, I supposed,

carrier of those slave traders,

washing against Africa’s western coast.

 

Then the story began –

people snatched from homes and lives,

tight-packed like cargo

into airless holds of slave ships,

sold and bought

(the ones who survived the passage)

on the auction block.

 

Dark-skinned people

pouring out sweat and blood

in white folks’ cotton and tobacco and sugar cane fields,

in white folks’ plantation kitchens and laundry sheds,

whipped for punishment or pleasure,

raped for humiliation or lust,

hanging from the limbs of poplar trees

as warning and deterrent,

along the country roads of America’s Southland . . .

 

Their story was one of horror, despair, grief, anger;

 

but also of courage, hope, laughter, joy;

 

of the fierce determination of a proud people

not just to survive,

but to thrive.

 

It was a transforming liturgy

an explosion

of song and drumming and dance and drama,

of poetry, scripture, prayer and ritual . . .

 

It was a wounding and healing liturgy –

one people’s suffering

and another people’s sin,

God’s faithfulness and compassion

toward both peoples,

the possibility of redemption, reconciliation,

renewal.

 

It was past 11 o’clock

when we emerged

into the night,

black and white together,

united at least for that moment

by the power of our shared experience . . .

 

 

maybe a little more able to

look at one another

and see

beyond black, white, female, male,

straight, gay, transgendered, transitioning,

beyond young, old, poor, rich,

oppressor, oppressed

 

beyond religion

nationality

ethnicity

class –

 

to look at each other

and see a wondrous mystery suddenly revealed:

a person uniquely and marvelously made

in God’s image,

a person beloved of God,

valued by God

to the point of suffering and death

on a cross.

 

 

The Maafa Suite,

a creation and ministry

of St. Paul Community Baptist Church

in Brooklyn, New York

is

an invitation

to admit and own this heritage

of terror and triumph,

 

and perhaps to admit and own

other stories of terror and triumph:

stories

of the native peoples of this land;

of Japanese people interned in World War II,

of women intimidated, exploited, held back,

of the GLBTQ community,

of the children of asylum seekers

separated from their families

and housed in inhumane conditions;

of asylum seekers themselves

crowded into cells with no room

even to sit down . . .

 

The Maafa Suite is an invitation

to see, to admit, to repent of these patterns,

to seek forgiveness and to forgive,

to be reconciled,

to be true neighbors to one another.

 

 

I wonder if we were closer to that vision

those several years ago

than we are now.

 

So many of the demons in this life

are demons of our own creation.

 

In the Kingdom neighborhood,

the particulars of each human life

no longer divide and estrange

person from person,

but enrich and enlarge our lives

and our love for one another,

revealing the unity we have always had

in the God who made and loves us.

 

Jesus came to proclaim

and enact that Kingdom.

 

In his association with the

outrageous and the outcast,

he shattered

all simple and comfortable ideas

about neighbors and who they are,

and what it means to be a neighbor –

 

The neighbor we are commanded to love

as we love God,

as we love ourselves,

the neighbor who is commanded to love us

as he or she or they loves God

as he or she or they loves theirself . . .

 

 

That neighbor frequently turns out to be

the inconvenient one

God has thrust in our path,

the one who is strange to us,

of whom we are wary and afraid,

the one we can’t understand,

the one who gets in the way of

having things our way,

the one who forces us to let down our guard

to step out from behind our barriers,

the one who stretches us to the limit,

 

the one whose wounds open up our wounds . . .

 

the one of whom we want to say,

“Not in my backyard,

not in my heart . . .”

 

 

The sharing of the peace in the Eucharistic liturgy

is a symbol and an enactment

of the indiscriminate neighbor-love of the Kingdom –

 

you never know, after all,

who is going to be next to you,

behind you, in front of you –

or who will approach you

with extended hand –

 

and in taking the hand of that one,

the often unexpected

and sometimes inconvenient one,

 

you share in

God’s prodigal desire

for reconciliation and peace

for everyone and among all.

 

And then you share the meal

of the Eucharist,

the Kingdom banquet,

the outpouring of God’s

indiscriminate love,

 

the body and blood of Christ

given without limit or condition

for

your life, your neighbor’s life,

the life of the world.

 

 

Going down the road of life,

there are no simple answers

if you want to hang with Jesus . . .

 

who welcomed everyone as neighbor,

saw no one as stranger,

 

who wandered this world

with an available heart,

open to the pain and suffering

of everyone he encountered,

 

himself the very embodiment

of God’s love and mercy,

and no stranger to the ambiguity of life

and its dangers.

So,

you are going with him

down from

Christ Church to your home . . .

 

And you see someone

lying by the side of the road . . .

or holding out a hand for some spare change . . .

or speaking a language other than yours . . .

or shivering under a sodden blanket in a chill Tacoma drizzle . . .

or trying to start a car with a dead battery . . .

or wearing a T-shirt of a different political persuasion . . .

 

You slow down and you look

to see

just what sort of persons

these are . . .

 

and you see

that they are all

your neighbor.

 

 

 

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