Sermon on Luke – Baptism and Life in our world

Luke 10:25-37 – Jacob Baptism

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 neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

Our gospel lesson this morning – and there’s a reason we call them lessons, has Jesus exposing the hypocrisy of society then and now around racism. Of how people treat each other when the “other” is someone different than us and how we fail to be neighbor. Despite our gospel lessons being thousands of years old, it becomes quite clear when we look at the issues facing us to day that they still have something to teach us. That all these years later we still struggle with being neighbor to those different from us, whether it’s race, nationality, class or religion. We let our fear control our lives and the love we’re called to share.

Jesus tells us in story about three people witnessing an uncomfortable event. A man lies beaten, naked, and left for dead on the side of the road. Then a priest comes down the road. The expectation culturally in hearing this story is relief: “Surely help is on the way now.” Luke’s statement that the priest appeared “by chance” suggests a note of hope, that fortune has smiled on this poor wounded man. But the priest does not stop. Rather, he passes to the other side and keeps going. The priest gets as far away as possible from the wounded man as he passes by.

Then a Levite, another potential source of aid, then arrives on the scene. As a person who serves in the temple, he should surely have compassion and stop to render aid. But when he sees the man, he also crosses to the other side of the road and keeps on moving. So two men of similar Jewish background have failed to render aid. They have failed to be neighbors.

But then another traveler comes on the scene. In Greek the text highlights this man’s arrival by placing his ethnic identity, a Samaritan, at the front of the description. Those hearing Jesus tell this story must have thought, “There will be no help from this outsider, this half-breed.” But as often happens in Jesus’ parables, there’s a twist on cultural expectations shows the story’s main point: the despised person will be the model of neighborliness. Maybe “enemies” can love God and be examples.

Jesus focuses his language now. In as many words as he used to describe the activity of the two Jewish leaders, he details all the Samaritan does to save the man–six actions in all. He comes up to the man, binds his wounds, anoints him with oil to comfort him, loads him on his mule, takes him to an inn and cares for him, even paying for his whole stay. A there to the innkeeper he says, `Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’

This lesson offers us an example of how to live in the world. How to be the neighbor to others. Not shrinking from diversity and difference, but embracing it and loving it. Not looking at the other with eyes of critique and concern, but love and compassion. Not with our heads down in denial, but looking forward facing that needing change in the world. To, as our collect this morning reminds us, “know and understand what things we ought to do, and also have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them.”

If ever there was a time to have a lesson touch our hearts it’s this morning, as we come to grips with what has happened over these past days and as we soon stand together in support of young Jacob being presented to receive the sacrament of Baptism.

I stand here truthfully challenged this morning. Today we gather together to baptize a new member of the household of God. And yet, this morning’s celebration is layered on top of a weekend of tragedy on many fronts. We gather here five days after Alton Sterling was killed in Louisiana, four days after Philando Castile was killed in Minnesota, and thee short days after five police officers were killed in Dallas. How ironic that after all this happens, this morning’s lesson is another reminder about love. Love with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind. A reminder of the call to love our neighbor as ourselves. Now perhaps more than ever is the call of Christ’s call of love so needed in our broken and violent world.

Many here this morning, have heard me preach frequently on a challenge we face as Christians living in this world today. That we stand on two feet, one planted in the earthly world and one in the Holy, just as Jesus did thousands of years ago. And that this straddling of two worlds can be incredibly complex and challenging. This is the life that young Jacob is called into, through his baptism, just as we… through our call as witnesses to this event, are reminded of our charge.

Straddling these two worlds is not easy, but it’s our call as Christians, and our call this morning to teach Jacob how to handle it also. Over the years, I’ve discovered that I not only deal with this challenge of dual living, as do we all, but I often feel split apart even further by the multiple worlds I’ve had to coexist in. I have to rest in an understanding that while I’m part of a group that over the years has been diminished, I come with a suitcase pack full of privilege as a white, successful male, with endless access to the best education, career advancement and a relatively easy life, well off compared to many around me. Opportunities that many will never see.

As a former police officer, I was part of group both hated and admired. Issues like these recent events force me to remember that past life and the complexities of having lived it. I grew up, perhaps like most of you, in a world where police were seen as the “good guys.” That they were here to protect and serve the public good. A perhaps somewhat simplistic understanding of an incredibly complex role. But I quickly grew to understand those realities, serving in a role that more often than not positioned me in a place of being the bad guy, even when attempting to help others. I quickly learned that it was a life of working in stressful and often dangerous situations, requiring that I make split second decisions to assess threat levels. I quickly saw that, despite the fact that the majority of my fellow officers were trying to do the right thing and follow their vocations to serve and help others, there were always the few bad apples that made the job even more difficult and more challenging. The ones who still today cast a dark shadow over an entire group of people.

And as a priest today, I find it incredibly difficult at times to exist in the earthly, knowing that my call, my vocation is to guide people and help them find a way to live into holy living. An incredibly challenging task in today’s world with its divisiveness, its corrosive media, and the non-stop attention seeking pull that distracts our attention from the work God seeks us to do.

I as all of us here this morning straddle these multiple worlds as we try to walk in this earthly world. And the challenge we face on a day-to-day basis is the decision-making moment. Do we continue on with our head down, plowing through life, or do we live it… and do we lift our eyes towards this earthly world with the vision of the Holy and seek to change the world. DO we lean with all our might and purpose on the foot that stands on Holy ground, Are we an example for others to see of the kingdom of God here in this world?

We don’t yet fully know what precipitated the events leading to the death of Alton Sterling. The media will certainly do a great job showing us two slanted sides of the story. We don’t know why Philando Castile who was stopped for something as minor a broken taillight was shot and killed in front of his girlfriend and seven-year old daughter who were watching beside him in the car. And sadly we know that the five officers in Dallas died doing their duty in Dallas. Protecting a group of protesters, protesting these recent deaths. We know that it was a peaceful protest, and that the officers there were from all accounts models of what a police department should look like. There were in fact countless selfie photos posted of protesters and officers standing together with smiles on their faces. These officers died, protecting those who were protesting police violence, but these officers were not violent. They died, doing their duty. Shot not the peaceful protesters on the streets but by snipers. What we do know this morning, is that seven more people are dead because of gun violence.

It’s in aftermath of events like this that we turn even more to God for answers and comfort. And it’s in prayer and in the stories of our faith, like those we hear this morning in our gospel where we find ways to cope and learn. We see and hear stories of people who like us have survived tragedy and overcome challenges. And more importantly… we find example after example of how we should be living as God’s created in the first place, in relationships of love and compassion, rather than violence and fear.

Jesus reminds us time and time again that violence begets violence; that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. And it’s in scripture where we are reminded to not be afraid. To not be controlled by fear, which only make things worse and creates division and blame. In our divided culture today, fed by the ongoing bias of our media, it’s easy for us to immediately try to find someone to blame. It’s easy to vilify a person or a whole group of people when we live in fear. We only have to look at the division that exist in this world around race, social class and sadly religion of all things to know that the world is broken. And we feel helpless and threatened. But Jesus knew better. As God incarnate, he knows the nature of mankind. He knows that we are all a mix of good and bad, that we all have our strengths and our weaknesses.  He knew that in our human frailty, fear makes it much easier to hate rather than love. That is why he tells us to love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us. He has hope for us and endless confidence in us.

In a moment, we will soon recite our baptismal covenant together. We respond individually and corporately as a community to promise to do all in our power to support Jacob in his life in Christ and promise… as we have many times before to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves and to strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being. Not mere empty words to recite by heart, but words meant to guide and continually open our hearts. Words meant to remind us of our place as Christians in the world around us, and a reminder for us all to live a live well lived as an example for Jacob to follow. He will not succeed in this world without our support, our love and our commitment to guide him in his faith as he grows.

And to do this, we pray. We come to worship on Sundays. We seek to teach him in the years to come through Christian education. And most importantly, we ask God to receive the prayers of his people who call upon him, and as our Baptismal response reminds us, we lean into the holy knowing “with God’s help” we will succeed.

We turn to God to replace hate with love, to replace anger with peace, and we find the strength to stand with those who need us to stand with. It’s this model of living that we are all called to emulate for Jacob to see.

Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” Jesus asked the lawyer. “The one who showed him mercy he replied.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

 

A reminder of our charge today, and the call to Jacob as he matures into adulthood. Go… Go and do likewise. Amen.

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About

I'm a priest in the Episcopal church who responded to the call when the voice said "who shall I send" This blog is a holding place for sermons past and present. These sermons are not necessarily in order by any particular date given.

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