First United Methodist Church
July 10, 2022
Rev. Lauren Hall
Crossing The Street
When people first encounter one another, they usually take a moment to assess the other person. Before you develop any kind of relationship with another person, you have to determine how much you want to invest in them. Are you going to take the time to get to know this other person? What is happening is what we call an “I-position.” And this is an actual thing. When we meet someone, we have to determine in the moment how we are going to perceive that encounter. Are we going to be friendly, and respond with empathy and compassion? Are we going to be critical, and respond through analyzation and judgement? Or are we going to take no position at all and allow the moment to pass us by? There are other I-positions, but we don’t have time to discuss all of them today.
Our situation is a little different, because we have a unique relationship that will develop over time, and no matter what I-position you take today, you will have an opportunity to change, or reposition yourself at any time. Again, this happens with every encounter we have in life, and as Christians, we also have a fourth position, which is our commitment to forgiveness and reconciliation, and we find ourselves continuously repositioning as we consider this in all of our relationships.
The prophesy we read in Amos this morning illustrates what might happen when people accept the position of indifference. He does not offer good news. Amos was known as the doom and gloom prophet, and today’s reading was the third of five visions in which Amos prophesies judgement against Israel. In this particular oracle, Amos uses the vision of a plumb line (a piece of string with a weight on the end of it that is used to measure the straightness of walls) to illustrate that the people of Israel are out of line, or out of right relationship with God and with God’s people.
The ancient Israelites were great at religious ritual and worship. They loved the rituals. And most of the time they participated as God instructed. Where they struggled, was in separating themselves from the rest of society when it came to doing the right thing. Rather than setting the example of righteous living accompanied by a life steeped in social justice, they often adopted the religious and cultural practices of other cultures, and thus corrupted their own religious practices. Rather than being attentive to the poor and the widows and orphans, they ignored or exploited them, and built temples to other gods when they needed to overcome droughts or promote fertility or address other extreme measures. When they saw that these practices were occurring, they took the position of indifference, which is a position that occurs quite frequently in our modern world.
Amos is warning them that their entire livelihoods are going to be destroyed because they aren’t being attentive to the same two commandments that Jesus addresses in our gospel today. Because they are not being faithful to either God or God’s people, everything is going to be destroyed. I think it’s important that we pay attention to these prophesies, because they shine a light on what might happen when we turn our back on God.
Our gospel addresses a similar issue, although Jesus approaches it in a different way. Jesus talks about three people who take different positions, when they encounter the injured man on the road. Quite often, when we read this parable, we interpret it to mean that Jesus is telling the lawyer (and us) to go and be good Samaritans by noticing those in need and helping them. In other words, we think Jesus was telling the lawyer (and us) to go and do something. He says it, “do this and you will live.”
But I want to challenge us to notice a couple of other things about this scripture. Perhaps, Jesus wasn’t telling this man to DO something so much as he was challenging him to SEE the world around him, especially its people, through a different lens. To put it another way, perhaps it isn’t as much about what we do as it is about what I-positions we choose to take).
The lawyer asks, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And when he responds to Jesus’ question by quoting Scripture – love God and neighbor – Jesus says, “Do this and you will live.” Live. As in now, this moment. Jesus doesn’t say, “you will inherit eternal life,” or “live forever” or “eternally,” or “join me in heaven” or “experience eternal bliss,” or any of a hundred things he could have said that would parallel the lawyer’s question.
Rather, he says simply, “Do this and you will live.” Which makes me think that life – kingdom life, life in and through the reign of God – isn’t something to possess or strive for or covet or earn but is actually something to be lived, or acted out, or embraced right now. To live in the kingdom of God is to see others with compassion, to see others as fellow members of God’s kingdom and family, to see others in terms of how we are all joined by our need, our possibility, and our shared dependence on God’s grace and each other.
Jesus could have told this parable without including the Priest and the Levite. But Jesus was making a point. They were good, holy people. They had committed their lives to loving God, but at that moment they ignored the part of the commandment that told them to love by showing compassion when the opportunity expressed itself.
We don’t know why the Priest and the Levite crossed the street. We don’t know if they had obligations that would be unmet if they stopped to help. But we do know that the Samaritan, who was probably despised by the person he helped, did stop. That’s all we know.
Have you ever been faced with this kind of thing? I actually have. I was on my way to Charge Conference, which is mandatory for the pastor, and I witnessed a car accident. I really didn’t have any involvement in it, but I realized that I knew the people who caused the accident, and the other vehicle had a mother and two little kids in it. No one was hurt, but the Mom was hysterical, the kids were scared, and it was cold outside. I noticed that. I approached the mother and offered to stay with her children as she worked things out. I was thinking about Charge Conference the entire time. I risked making my leaders attend another one. But in that moment, I took the I-position that Jesus calls us to, and that is one of friendliness, compassion and empathy.
I think this story reminds us that Jesus wants us to take the time to have the encounters. It’s easy to look the other way or to cross the street to avoid people. It’s much more difficult and it takes more time to stop, to engage, to become involved in changing the wrongs that plague the world.
To inherit eternal life, Jesus says, we must be in loving relationship with all of God’s children, especially those with whom we disagree, would judge as sinful, or even despise. The Golden Rule, which summarizes the moral obligation of Christians, commands, “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you” – do to all others, not just a select few (Matthew 7:12) As the story of the Good Samaritan powerfully illustrates, the command to love one’s neighbors is universal; it applies to friend and foe, good and evil, saved and the condemned. To love those who we believe are condemned is not to hate God, but to obey and imitate God, who makes the sun shine on both the good and the evil (Matthew 5:45) and who loves those who have made themselves God’s enemies (Romans 5:6-7). As United Methodists, this is the “parable” that speaks to the second part of our mission statement. By living in this way, we participate in God’s transformation of the world.
But Jesus says that the way to find eternal life is not by doing something, but by BEING something. Specifically, it is by being the kind of person the Good Samaritan was. Eternal life is discovered by living in the way of Christ for the transformation of the world.
Growth in discipleship happens in spurts. It doesn’t happen if we cross the street. We become stronger in our faith when we look for opportunities to build relationships with others. We change internally as we intentionally interact with people who are different than we are. This parable shows us that God is concerned about the way we treat each other – that we treat each other well, that we help each other flourish, and that we live together in mutual care for one another right here and now.
Perhaps Jesus’ entire ministry – including his death on the cross – was to demonstrate God’s tremendous love for us and God’s burning desire that we also love one other.
Let us pray…
Lord, how are we ever going to be your disciples? We are overwhelmed by the needs of the world. The cries of people who feel threatened by others, those who are in need, those who are in danger, those who are alienated, ring in our ears and in our hearts. Sometimes we would just like to run and hide, hoping that all this turmoil will go away. But it doesn’t. It sits outside our doors and waits for us to do something. Lord, help that “Something” be service and compassion. Help us to remember how you have forgiven and blessed each one of us, how you have called us blessed and beloved. You remind us in today’s scripture of the compassion a Samaritan had on one who was injured. We like that story, but now is the time for us to take that story to heart. We are called to reach beyond our comfort zone, to those in need, to the alien, the injured, the lost, the lonely. It is difficult for us to do and we need to feel your powerful presence with us. Bless us again, O Lord, with a good measure of courage and strength that we may truly serve you. In your mercy and love, help us to reach out to others as you have reached out to us. For we ask these things in Jesus’ Name. AMEN.