Sunday, July 11, 2004

an assiduous keeper of the law

Luke 10.25-37

In the name of God the merciful the compassionate the wise:

Word in mouth
Word in ear
Word in heart
We offer here
Through Christ to thee
O Lord our God. Amen.

Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. 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. ... And who is my neighbor?
Who isn't?

[When I was in Washington DC I was an assiduous keeper of the law. I worked for
a law enforcement agency called the I. R. S. We kept the rules, we made you
keep the rules, we made lots of rules, we made more rules than you could count.
Right across the street from our office was the Smithsonian, "the nation's
attic", which I would visit at lunchtime. It was full of lots of cool stuff,
including a red cardigan sweater with a zipper [knit by Mrs. Rogers for her son
Fred], and, at the time I was there, an exhibit called "Buckaroos in Paradise"
about cowboys in Nevada. It reminded me of the West, of wide open spaces.]

One day in Rockville Maryland, stuck in traffic, between low rolling hills under
a gray gunmetal sky, I thought, I've got to see the stars again. I remembered
pulling off the road out in the desert, and looking across miles and miles of
sage and creosote. With the engine off, there wasn't a sound. Some months later,
headed west toward seminary, we were halfway across Nevada climbing a hill in
the old Pontiac Tempest (Lucille) when the engine sputtered and died. I pulled
over and lifted the hood. I rested my forearms on the hood, and looked out
across miles and miles of sage lit in purple light by the setting sun. With the
engine off, there wasn't a sound. And I realized I'd got exactly what I wanted.

Cars passed by. Some people stopped - one person offered to call triple A from
the next town; a trucker got on the CB to the state troopers. They left. Nothing
happened. Then a cowboy stopped, a real buckaroo from the Paradise Valley. You
run out of gas? I explained how we couldn't be out of gas, I'd just filled up in
Wendover... he got a siphon hose out of his truck bed and stuck an end in the
gas pipe and sucked on it. Yep. Bone dry. He offered an orange plastic 5 gallon
jug he'd been using for a water jug (don't worry, I'll just get another) and
drove us 9 miles back to the last town, Carlin. Then he took us back to the car,
made sure we got it started, and followed us 50 miles into Battle Mountain to
see us all the way to the pump. Was he an angel? I am unaware. Was he my
neighbor? You bet.

The Samaritan was an outcast, to Israel, as Fr Stephen has explained. To the
people hearing Jesus' story he's the last person they'd call neighbor. And yet
he is the one who stopped, he was the one who showed mercy; he was the neighbor
to the man who fell amongst thieves.

Who is my neighbor?
Who isn't?

Afghan refugee selling coffee and donuts out side the American Stock Exchange
(The Taliban are terrible people, he told me. They seemed so far away... there
we were, after all, in the shade of the towers of the world trade center.)

A security guard from Accra working in Borders WTC (bldg 5)

Woman from Darfur in a refugee camp in Chad

Mother and child in a corner of al Aqsa mosque, an American lady bent over them,
cooing to the happy quiet child

A temp worker on his way to Wall Street dressed in black Carhartts.

Who is my neighbor? In Christ everybody is...

The human impulse to find tribe, [s Sarah Congdon terms it,] is the drive for
security, identity, and safety: to be grounded -- even if it's in beer drinkers
or Harley pushers -- yet this impulse to protect ourselves leads us to exclude.

I am this tribe, over against that one: Jew over against Samaritan, &c. &c. &c.

[Taken this way, the law condemns us. The lawyer in the story seems to have
taken this wrong turn. He saw the law, perhaps, as a list of rules to be
followed, or a list of prepositional revelations that if only he subscribed to
would he be saved. But it is a law more terrible, [as Noel King points out,]
than this: it is a law of love.]

Jesus took this on when, God knowing full well what would happen when the grand
inquisitors got hold of a truly righteous man, through him, through his taking
on our flesh in the full knowledge of what it would could cost him: that nobody
would show him mercy; Nobody would be his neighbor.

God made us in his image, then his Son took on our form, showing us the ultimate
sign and symbol of God's mercy and the ultimate source of our identity: child of
God, child of Man, human. This human form is all the tribal symbol you need. God
took the ordinary things of life – daily bread, wine, water, flesh and blood –
and made them holy. As he took on our form, our human nature, he took up the
cross, understanding what he had accepted: he became one of us that we might
become one with him – find our identity, safety, security, only in him.

If you need a sign, look no further than the cross.
If you need a symbol, look at the font, and the table.
If you need identity, security, stability, safety, look at Christ.

Yet through Christ we all become, in him,
His neighbors – and neighbors to each other.

Will you be my
Won't you be my

Sermon for Trinity Episcopal Church, Sonoma, California

July 11, 2004
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 10
Deuteronomy 30.9-14, Psalm 25.3-9, Colossians 1.1-14, Luke 10.25-37