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Are You Still Coming Over?
Dr. Bruce Lancaster
September 20, 2015
A reading from the Gospel of Luke:
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ 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 neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
“Terrible,” was the reply. “My head’s splitting; I’ve got a pain in my back, and my legs ache all over…the house is a mess, and the children are driving me crazy.”
Was it one of you she called?
“Listen,” said the woman caller, “you go and lie down. I’ll come right over, fix some lunch for you, take care of the kids while you get some rest, clean up a little bit and then have supper ready for when Sam gets home.”
“Sam?” asked the hurting housewife.
“Yes, your husband.”
“My husband is Joe, not Sam.”
“Oh my goodness, I must have the wrong number!”
There was a long pause on the other end, “Are you still coming over?”
And that’s the point of this old, familiar parable.
This man is walking the road from Jerusalem down to Jericho. It’s a road that is best traveled in the safety of a group rather than alone.
Anyone with half a brain knew it was the fool who tempted fate by traveling alone.
But the Good Samaritan goes over to the one who is hurting because she hears in the “Are you still coming over?” the urgency of the love required – quite aside from any of the normal procedures of getting to know each other, making friends, traveling in a dangerous neighborhood, what might happen to me – just she needs me here and now.
The Samaritan goes over and binds up his wounds.
Hans Kung puts it in lawyer language, when says of this story: It leaves no loopholes for excuses or equivocations.
No room for the priestly excuse: I help in other ways; I’ve already donated at the office.
No more room for the Levitical equivocation: He has only himself to blame for being in that situation.
A love without loopholes. That was new for the lawyer back then, and it’s a dulled point for us today – with all our policies and biases and prejudices and politics and just plain old laziness – our excuses, our equivocations.
Wanda, a nurse, was talking to the Session about her CPR class and recommended defibrillators for the church to have for emergencies, how it could save a life.
One elder spoke up, “The church’s role is to save souls, not lives!” Then he realized what he said, “Anyway, it costs too much!”
And the discussion revolved around those two questions for the rest of the meeting – just what do we save and how much will it cost!
But in Jesus’ story – which began with question about salvation, the Good Samaritan goes over, and the one who asked the question in the first place finds out that neighbor might be a wrong number, a complete stranger, and Jesus shows us that if you are going to live in the kingdom of God, the real question is not what it will cost but “how much am I willing to commit?”
And that’s more than the point of this old, familiar parable – it’s the personal, the person, the power of this parable.
Jesus turns to us all and seeks an explanation of our answer when he asks, “Are you still coming over?”
What Jesus wants to know is if you and I are willing to join him in the adventure of mercy, both for others and for ourselves.
Because Jesus is asking us if we want to set limitations on love or live out the generosity of God.
Do you set limitations on love or do you live out the generosity of God?
John Calvin wrote: Now, in seeking to benefit one’s neighbor, how difficult it is to do one’s duty! Unless you give up all thought of self and, so to speak, get out of yourself, you will accomplish nothing here. For how can you perform those works which Paul teaches to be the works of love, unless you renounce yourself and give yourself wholly to others?
Let me stop – how did you hear what I just said: ‘wholly’ with a ‘w-h-o-l-l-y’ or holy with an ‘h-o-l-y’?
Could it be that they are actually one and the same – to give oneself ‘w-h’ wholly is the same as an ‘h-o’ holy act in the name of Jesus Christ?
Or to be ‘h-o’ holy is to give one’s self ‘w-h-o’ wholly to God.
Today, as we ordain these deacons, and as we serve and share the bread and cup, we are reminded of how each of us has an opportunity to give of ourselves in the name of Jesus Christ.
Not just to reserve your place on a pew, but to answer the church’s call for you to give – you are part of this congregation because it gives you something – what are you giving so that others will find what you have found here?
The question is whether you see this church as a force or a fixture.
The dictionary defines ‘fixture’ as the ‘state of being fixed.’ In other words, not subject to change!
I know that flies in the face of what happens here – we are constantly facing change, each one of us – both by circumstance and opportunity.
And the dictionary defines ‘force’ in many ways. One of the ways is this: “to press, drive, attain, or effect against resistance or inertia.”
Leslie Newbigin, a great missionary and keen observer of the church, describes the faithful church in those terms.
He says, “The church that is a force for God will be a community of praise…a community of truth…a community that does not live for itself…a community where men and women are prepared for and sustained in the exercise of their priesthood of believers in the world…a communion of mutual responsibility…a community of hope.
We are doing that all of the time. To be a force – moving against injustice, the mistreatment of any of God’s children – this church is known throughout this community, and its people are the forces behind it – in this church’s capacity to influence, your desire to help – a force for God and for good today…
Along the road we travel – from Syria to San Antonio Street – those who are weighed down by pain and sorrow, worn out by day after day demands and difficulties, those depressed by the cruelties of nature, those who are slaves to their own passions and desires.
They are our friends, our neighbors, those who wonder and worry what Monday morning will bring – waiting for a doctor’s diagnosis, insecurity at work, the pressures of school, stretched at keeping a home and family together, or those whose Monday is just another day alone.
They are looking, they are wondering, they are asking:
Are you still coming over?
TO GOD BE THE GLORY.