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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

What Will Happen If I Don't Help This Man - 07/10/2016

This has been a sorrowful week.

Not even a week, really … it's been so much longer than that. Every time we turn on the news, it seems, or we browse our social media pages or gather in our coffee clutches, another sickening news story about a person of color killed, attacks against our police officers, or a mass shooting falls on our ears, breaks our hearts, divides our nation.

It is literally sickening. We are ill, my brothers and sisters. I keep going back to the words I used from Theodore of Mopsuestia (Mop-SUE-stia) last week. When writing  about the spirit behind the Greeting of Peace we've been sharing in our Christian spaces for nearly 2,000 years, he said it means that we regard the individual's needs as concerns of the community.

We have had more than enough evidence just this week that there are far too many individuals with very serious needs … and our community has much to be concerned about.

But it doesn't quite seem like we know what to do about it. I hear a lot of people say something to that effect, especially people like us who live in places that are a pretty safe distance from the epicenters of the most disturbing events of the week. We are fairly insulated here from what's happened in Dallas to those police officers and another in St. Louis. We are somewhat buffered from the tragic event that took the life of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, and even Philando Castile in St. Paul, right next door in Minnesota. I've said it myself. I'm not sure I know how I should respond. How can I be the best neighbor possible to all these people?

And the insidiously sinful part of all this is that while we remain paralyzed not knowing what to do, those who want to stir the populace with fear and hatred know exactly what do to. They distract us and divide us.

… we get distracted about what we mean exactly when we say “black lives matter.” Does saying that mean that only black lives matter? That's how the arguments have divided us.

… we get distracted over what it means to say we have a serious problem with gun control in this country. Does limiting access to things like automatic weapons that are designed solely to kill as many people as possible in a short burst of time mean that the average American will lose his or her legal access to a handgun or hunting rifle? That's how the arguments have divided us.

… we get distracted over whether we should call out the unacceptable behavior of some police officers and hold them accountable for their actions. Does questioning the actions of a few mean we condemn the life-preserving work of the majority of the 1.1 million people employed by state and local law enforcement agencies in this country alone? (2008 data, That's how the arguments have divided us.

And while we remain distracted and divided, this horrible cycle of violence continues to churn and inflict pain and trauma and death on all of us. We get caught up in these arguments that get us nowhere and, in the process … maybe without even knowing it ... we  end up being more like the priest or the Levite in our story today, paralyzed and distracted until …. how long? How long will it be before the next sickening news story breaks?

It's a sorrowful and heavy week indeed. I've spent a lot of time this week thinking and talking with people about what we do, and especially what we do as predominantly white people who enjoy the privilege that comes with the color of our skin and who grieve deeply with the families and loved ones of those killed in Orlando a few weeks ago, of Mr. Sterling and Mr. Castile, of the police officers killed in Dallas and St. Louis.

I think we often start in the right place. Many, many of us continue to offer these tense and deadly times up to God in prayer and lamentation. And those prayers are heard and answered. I think God was at work weeks ago when this weekend's services were planned to include a brief order of healing. There is so much healing needed in this world, including us. We are wounded by the trauma of these events and the sin we bear when we get caught up in the distractions and divided one against another.

But we are followers of Jesus and we know there is always hope. We are graciously reminded of who we are and whose we are each time we come together to share the body and blood of our Savior. As I was reminded by a great preacher this week, we are joyously thankful for the white robes we will wear one day in the fully revealed Kingdom of God. “But ultimately,” this great preacher said, “people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here.” (Martin Luther King, Jr., I've Been to the Mountaintop, Memphis, TN, April 3, 1968)

Yes, we are right and obedient to God to offer these overwhelming problems up in prayer, but it doesn't stop there with God – it never does. God desires to work healing in the world through us in answer to those prayers and lamentations.

That great preacher I speak of was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He spoke those words in the famous “I've Been to the Mountaintop” speech he made in Memphis on April 3, 1968. The next day Dr. King was killed.

When he spoke to the assembly in Memphis that day, he also pulled in the story of the Good Samaritan that we have before us today in our Gospel from Luke. I'd like to read to you what he said.

One day a man came to Jesus and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters of life. At points he wanted to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew and throw him off base. Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from midair and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side; they didn't stop to help him. Finally, a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But he got down with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying this was the good man, this was the great man because he had the capacity to project the "I" into the "thou," and to be concerned about his brother.

Now, you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn't stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn't be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that one who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony. ...

But I'm going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It's possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho Road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road I said to my wife, "I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable." It's a winding, meandering road. It's really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about … twelve hundred feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho fifteen or twenty minutes later, you're about twenty-two feet below sea level. That's a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the "Bloody Pass." And you know, it's possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it's possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking, and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?"

But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?" … That's the question. (

It's both brilliant and tragic, but Dr. King's words are just as hard-hitting and relevant today. Brilliant because he spoke the truth and hope of the Good News of Jesus Christ into that moment in 1968; tragic because 48 years later, we still desperately need to hear and act on these words.

I went back on forth on what to do with this text this week. I think many of us have heard the practical morality sermon this text easily leads us to so I thought I'd try to go at it in another way.

But the truth is, I think we as a nation need to hear this morality lesson again … and for some of us, we hear it for the umpteenth time.

Because the question before us really is a question of morality. What will happen to our neighbor if we don't model the Samaritan? What will happen if we don't stop ourselves in our busyness and distraction, put aside our own divisions and risk our own comfort and safety and allow God to work through our healing hands? What will happen if we continue to use the privilege of our skin color and our geographic location only to benefit ourselves in our own little bubbles? What will happen to the next person of color assumed to be a thug, or the next police officer assumed to be a menace to the neighbor rather than a protector, or the next unsuspecting victim in the wrong place at the wrong time with an unbalanced person holding an automatic weapon? What will happen when we see any of this unfold on the winding, meandering road ahead of us?

Who in this story will we model?


Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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