There’s something to be said for distance.
People, after all, are exhausting. Just ask us!
I attended a workshop on domestic violence. Domestic Violence is violent or aggressive behavior within the home, typically involving the violent abuse of a spouse or partner. In a situation like this a lot of people are in pain---more importantly, people could lose their lives. They definitely lose their dignity. A member from the Domestic Violence Support Center who led the workshop shared the story of a woman who was left without clothing during the day so she wouldn’t leave the house. She couldn’t emphasize enough how critical it is for an abused spouse to have people to talk to, but that since it usually takes a victim of domestic violence at least seven attempts to leave their abuser—most of their friends drop away. They simply don’t have the patience to see their friend through the process of leaving their abuser.
How many of us have had a friend or two who wore us out, or neighbors, or family? That island is getting better looking all of the time.
And yet Jesus teaches us that it’s not about “me.” It’s about God—and the OTHER person.
Luke relays this story in his gospel:
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus.
“Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (A paraphrase of this would be “What must I do to be spiritual?”)
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
In other words, it is very tempting for the religious community to tell ourselves that it is okay to overlook the needs of others because we are paying attention to the needs of God. Jesus confronts our indifference to the needs of our neighbors by honoring the Samaritan in his story and not the priest or the Levite. Scandalous! Spirituality, according to Jesus, is a heart open to both God and neighbor.
And who is our neighbor? The answer is: “Anyone in need.”
In our lesson text Mark relays a little story about how Jesus and the disciples spend their day. They listen to the desperation of a father who has a very sick child. They remain with a very large crowd, allowing people access to them—including a woman who had been very ill for twelve years. They visited the house of the frightened father and continued to assist his household in caring for the child.
When we read scripture many hundreds of years later, the way we remember that scripture was written to us and for us is to replace Jesus with our name, and the name of our church.
If we were to replace Jesus’ name with Central Christian Church we’d hear: “And when Jarius saw Central Christian Church (the congregation) he fell at their feet and pleaded for help for his daughter. When the woman heard abot the church, she thought “If I just connect with Central Christian Church, my life would be improved physically and socially. When Central Christian Church saw the commotion in the family of Jarius, the weeping and wailing, they went in and took the people by the hand.”
The spiritual ones, we see, are those who can bring a compassionate heart to a hurting world. What does it mean to possess a compassionate heart? It means we hear need:
Those persons caught in a cycle of abuse
Or neglect, or depression, or addiction.
Those persons experiencing loneliness,
Poverty, war, displacement, divorce,
Bankruptcy, bullying, decline, death.
Those persons longing for
A job, a child, a partner to share their life with,
Forgiveness, the courage to change their life,
The courage to face their death.
Jesus shows us how God IS with us: really personal. God touches us. Jesus teaches us who we really are: personal. Made in God’s image the church touches people.
To be human is to be messy------------there is no surprise there. To be SPIRITUAL is to be aware of what is around us as well as in us. Now, there is the surprise!!!
Prayer: Loving God, give us the courage to be spiritual, to embrace your loving heart within us. You are counting on us to be your difference in the world. Amen.
(This sermon was preached by Reverend Dana Keener on June 28, 2015 at Billings Central Christian Church.)