Friday night Alison and I went to Brooklyn to play one of our favorite board games with a few friends. Some of you may know it. It’s called Settlers of Catan.
Players assume the roles of settlers, each attempting to build and develop holdings while trading and acquiring resources. Players are then rewarded points as their settlements grow; the first to reach a set number of points is the winner!
Now it’s a little bit more complicated than that. It requires a keen mind, an understanding of probability and negotiating and diplomatic skills. Along with just a taste of ruthlessness. I struggle with the ruthlessness part. Well, actually no I don’t. I often don’t like to admit this, but I can be a bit competitive.
That drive to win takes over and, though I’ve learned to keep it under check, it flares up from time to time—from game to game—from argument to argument.
There’s a card game Laura Joy & I play on Youth Retreats called Hong Kong. I’ve even taught a few women at our women’s retreat this past April how to play. It’s fast, furious, and it’s competitive. So, they’ve all seen that side of me. And I know Alison for sure has seen that side of me. Gloating when I win, pouting when I lose. Alison says I get this look in my eyes, like I’m out for blood. I don’t doubt it. Games can get a little contentious in our household if we’re not careful.
This drive to win, this taste of ruthlessness reminds me of our lawyer.
Now we’re not exactly sure where this guy comes from, he may have been in the crowd following Jesus for a long time. Perhaps he was even waiting for just the right moment to jump out. Our text says “just then a lawyer stood up.” It’s as if he wanted to surprise Jesus, catch him off guard, put him on the defense.
What we do know is this guy has been trained in the Law of Moses, and probably serves as a secretary or advisor to elders and priests. So it’s expected when he quotes two different passages of the law in his first reply to Jesus “Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.”
It’s even expected then when Jesus agrees with his answer. But, what we also know is he wants to test Jesus. “Luke characterizes the question with the greek word ‘ekpeirazon’, meaning ‘testing’ or ‘tempting.’ The lawyer’s question has an edge to it, at the least he is pushing Jesus and at worst he’s trying to trip him up.” He’s trying to make Jesus look bad, so he can look good.
And when he doesn’t get Jesus the first time, he goes back for more,“who is my neighbor?” he asks.
This desire to win, to be right, persists. He wants to be the one at the end of the day who’s on top. Who’s got it all figured out. In many respects I feel for our Lawyer.
And it’s not just because of my competitive streak, though I clearly have one. I know that feeling of wanting to justify myself. Wanting to prove I’m right to the point where everyone else is wrong. Isn’t it the start to most arguments? Rather than sharing points of view, we have to convince the other that our point of view is the correct one. We have to make them see the way we see. Where our law, our views, our perceptions, our beliefs, our actions are the Gospel truth. Where our definition of the world, is the right one and our way is the right and only way. As a result, we have a much harder time listening, a much harder time communicating anything other than “I’m right and you’re wrong.”
We do this. The more obvious—
Yankee fans vs. Red Sox fans. I won’t say which one I am.
But even more than baseball teams. There’s also: Republicans vs. Democrats;
Evangelical Conservative Christians vs. Progressive Christians.
The point is, we all think our team is the better team, our way is the right way, our political views are the right views and Our religious beliefs are the right beliefs.
It’s a tragic piece of our human nature. We’ve seen its consequences throughout history. Our Church’s past is colored with the blood of Martyrs for the pursuit of correct and right belief at all cost, even war and persecution.
Time and time again we’ve found ways to avert our eyes from the real work of restoring life God calls us to and instead we find ourselves destroying it in small and big ways.
When WE answer the lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor”
what seems to happen more often than not—
Our neighbor becomes those who think like us, look like us, act like us.
Our neighbor becomes those who believe and define the world the way we define it.
And anyone who is not my neighbor is just wrong, just not worth it, is maybe even my enemy, is fare game for my criticism, rejection or worse discrimination, and abuse.
In the here and now, we see the ways this attitude effects and desecrates our world.
Not only the recent verdict of the Zimmerman case which points to so many problems embedded with this attitude and relationship to the world around us, but even the way our children treat other children.
I watched the documentary Bully last month. Bully is a 2011 documentary film about bullying in U.S. schools. The film follows the lives of five students who face bullying on a daily basis.
The very real and tragic fact is that every year, over 13 million American kids will be bullied at school, online, on the bus, at home, through their cell phones and on the streets of their towns—because they are perceived to look, think, and act —
just a little differently.
It is the most common form of violence young people in this country experience and it stems from the notion and belief that different is bad-
Different is wrong.
Different is scary, strange and needs to be stamped out.
And most certainly, different is not Neighbor.
The film was heart wrenching. As I watched the bullying, the name calling, the hitting and kicking, the day to day torture of these kids being picked on, I saw that man in Jesus’ story that fell at the hands of robbers. Who was beaten, stripped of all his clothes and left to die on the side of that road to Jericho.
But Jesus gives us something different. What Jesus offer’s in response to the Lawyer’s question is not an answer but a story.
Not an answer, but a challenge.
What he challenges us to do is put away all those things that we use to separate us, to divide and define us—so that what’s left
So that WHO is left, is the one who shows mercy.
So that what is left, is life and not death.
Because discipleship is not marked by knowing the good from the evil, it’s not marked by knowing at all but is marked by living into the love of God that’s for all people.
Let me say that again, it’s marked by living into the love of God, that’s for everyone. No matter how we identify ourselves, at the end of the day, discipleship is about identifying with mercy, with love, with hope.
So the question becomes not “who is my neighbor”, but “how are you a neighbor”. How are we showing mercy?
And even further than that, how can we continually practice, and then practice some more this kind of mercy and love and care.
So that again, what’s left is a life lived as A Neighbor not trying to figure out who or what is our neighbor.
And the hard truth is this, every truly moral act, every bit of love, compassion and tender care presupposes an astonishing store of meditation and preparation and practice.
As Julie mentioned in the children’s message and as Paul speaks to the Colossians. Bearing fruit takes time.
And it doesn’t just happen by chance. It happens through hard work, dedication and intention. Through practice. And through our failure.
A few weekends ago, Alison and I went up to Beacon, New York, just north of Cold Springs, to celebrate the fact that we’ve been dating now for 2 years.
We decided to commemorate our 2 year journey with a little hike up Beacon Mtn, and then around the nearby Beacon Reservoir and along the Scofield Ridge.
Even with the threat of possible thunderstorms and a slightly cloudy sky, we packed a few essentials and set out for what we hoped would be a great trail.
And the day did turn out to be beautiful.
There were no thunderstorms. We made it to all the scenic views-
We not only climbed to the top of Mount Beacon but we even found the fire-tower near the Scofield Ridge.
The Fire-Tower was really one of the most memorable points of the hike. We were so high up you could see for miles and miles in every direction.
We were even looking down on a couple of hawks that were soaring and flying in the sky. When you’re up there like that, high with your eyes looking out over the beautiful vision set before you, you forget what it’s like to come back down.
I’ve heard people say, that coming down was always harder than going up, but that never really made any sense to me until now. Sure we’ve done strenuous hikes before but when you spend 3 hours descending it takes a toll on you and on your body. My struggle this hike didn’t come from the climb up but instead the descent down.
My ankles and knees and body began to get really tired and that’s when the real work began. My reflexes weren’t as quick so I HAD to slow down. I HAD to take each step with tender care. I couldn’t barrel down this mountain as I had barreled up it.
My posture, my attitude, my effort had to shift. It was a humbling experience. And maybe that’s the point.
This journey down to Jericho has to look a little different. We have to walk it a little differently, a little more carefully.
The Parable of the ‘Good’ Samaritan is one of the most well-known of all Jesus parables. It’s a story we’ve heard told time and time again in a myriad of ways. From art, to tv, to film. To those adorably animated vegatables in one of my personal favorites, the Veggie Tales movie entitled “Are you my neighbor?”
It’s a story we commonly recognize as leaving us with a message to help others. And this is a very important piece to remember and carry with us in our hearts. But after my own personal trek down that mountain and coming off the high of that fire tower, for me this is also a story of humility and descent—A story about a lawyer who was high on being right, only to realize where he had gone wrong.
And I believe it is here that we as a Church can find our lesson and grow, because every now and again we need to come off that mountain and embrace a posture of humility. We need to humble ourselves, in order to get down to Jericho and be where Jesus is, as the one who shows us mercy.
And that trek isn’t an easy one. It can be hard on your joints, on your body, taxing to your mind and soul. It’s hard to recognize, hard to swallow when we’re wrong, and then even harder still are the careful and humble steps towards change that follow.
The Young Adults have been reading Adam Hamilton’s book When Christian’s Get it Wrong. In it, Hamilton cites research conducted by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons that details the perceptions of non-Christian Young Adults have regarding those who identify as Christians.
So what they found is the stereotype forming in our country about Christians.
Among their findings
- 87% felt Christians were judgmental
- 85% felt Christians were hypocritical &
- 70% thought Christians were insensitive.
I had two thoughts about this.
To be honest with you, my first thought after reading this, was that’s not who we are. We as a community, St. Paul and St. Andrew, work very hard at living into the love of Christ. We work hard to debunk those perceptions. But then I started questioning my need to justify, my need to separate myself from those other “Christians” who I may think are judgmental, are hypocritical, and are insensitive to the needs of the world.
I asked myself, isn’t this how it gets started? The hypocrisy, the judgment, the insensitivity?
That was my first thought.
My second thought. Sad. It made me sad to think that we, however we define ourselves as Christians,-we who go by the name of the “one who shows mercy” seem to hold, at times, very little mercy, compassion, and grace for others.
And coming down off my mountain hurt a little. I grieve those perceptions.
I’m not sure what we do with them, but I can say this:
I believe it is only when we come down from our mountains, whatever they may be, whatever they may look like, whatever form they may take, no matter how scary, or hard. It is only then that we can begin to really see the mercy of God that surrounds us.
And truly it is here that our work begins, where we have to move a little slower, where we have to take each step with care and humility.
I think from our story today what we learn is sometimes we have to stumble, we have to admit when we’re wrong like our lawyer, to ever have a chance of seeing how the real work of love lodges itself so deep within our hearts, our minds, our souls, our bodies that we can truly restore life and live into the love God has called us to.
Where like the lawyer we can say with humility, through every up and down!
“It is the one who showed mercy.”
And then maybe in the face of every danger, we can follow Jesus command to “Go and do likewise,” getting down to Jericho to spread that same hope, compassion and mercy. And that’s a life worth living.
I’m amazed by the witness of such hope and grace and mercy in the speech given by Malala Yousafzai to the U.N. this past Friday afternoon. On her 16th birthday Malala, in her speech calls on world leaders to provide “free, compulsory education” for every child. Malala, the girl who wanted to learn, to stand out, to be different and grow into the person she is going to become, only to be terrorized and shot by the Taliban.
What I’m amazed by, is even though she was left to die on the side of that road, she is able to speak out on her terms. In terms of forgiveness and mercy to those who were her abusers. To those who bullied her to the brink of death.
And not only that, but she is also a beacon of light and love and determination to be a restorer of life and an embodiment of mercy and grace.
So I want to end on her words this morning and pray that they guide you off every mountain and into the heart of God. To a life that’s everlasting and worth living.
“They thought that the bullets would silence us but they failed.”
And then, out of that silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born. I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same.”
July 14th, 2013