24 Jul Action Required: Love Unconditionally
So the Brosious family has been out and about this summer a little, which usually means loading up the minivan – the family truckster – and heading out on the open road. Some of you love that sort of thing, and others I know would probably rather get a root canal. But entering my seventh year in Wisconsin, I can honestly say I have developed a love/hate relationship with summer. I LOVE the summertime and being outdoors in the sunshine. But I absolutely hate & detest to the very core of my inner soul, road construction! When I first arrived in Madison, I remember someone telling me the state tree was a traffic cone. And I didn’t quite get it at the time, but now in my seventh summer, now I get it.
Construction gets in the way, especially on a road trip. Cause I’m all about making good time, forget about the journey, gas stops and potty breaks are coordinated acts done with precision and speed, Success is measured in how long you can go between stops…I’m focused on the destination, orange traffic cones only slow me down. In fact, if the Catholics end up being right & there is some sort of Purgatory, I’m convinced it involves some type of road construction (and maybe a minivan loaded with kids too…I’m not sure, just speculating now) And I think I might be getting close to being a true Wisconsinite, because last year the first time it snowed, I actually thought, “Thank you Jesus, at least the road construction will finally stop.”
A Dangerous Road
Well one place road construction never stopped was in the Roman Empire. They built over 50,000 miles of roads throughout the ancient world. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho that Jesus uses in our story today is a winding, 17 mile stretch of road that descends steeply over 3000’ from Jerusalem down into the Jordan river valley just north of the Dead Sea. Jesus describes it as a dangerous road where thieves were a constant threat, but it was also the quickest route, the shortest route from Jerusalem to Jericho. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about this road in his “Been to the Mountaintop” speech he gave on April 3, 1968, the night before his assassination. During a visit to Jerusalem he and his wife Coretta had rented a car so they could drive along this road and he saw immediately why Jesus used it as an illustration. It offered many hiding places & easy escape routes for bandits waiting in ambush around its sharp curves and in its cliffs and ravines.
And it’s this road Jesus chose to place one of the most familiar stories in our faith. Even if you’ve never opened a Bible, even if you’ve never set foot inside a church, you know what it means to be a Good Samaritan. There are Samaritan Counseling Centers, Good Samaritan hospitals, Samaritan’s Purse Ministries…we have actual Good Samaritan Laws, Good Sam RV Club! And there’s even an Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, check it out! I’ve preached sermons on all the characters in the story, from the priest to the innkeeper… & I’ve always wondered if the priest was coming from worship, & what the sermon was about that morning. But I also wonder as you hear this familiar story, who or what character are you identifying with? Because Jesus very carefully places each one of them in this story for a reason. To answer a question posed by a lawyer… an expert in the law…again, which means Jewish law, the Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible. I’m often triggered to think of any interactions Jesus has with a lawyer or a religious figure as a contentious one. But the lawyer in this story is not necessarily antagonistic. He calls Jesus teacher, a sign of respect and he answers his first question very earnestly, and by Jesus’ own accord answers it correctly quoting from Deuteronomy 6 (Deuteronomy 6:5) & Leviticus 19 (Leviticus 19:18).
And in the presence of Jesus, this amazing teacher & rabbi, the lawyers 2nd question seems legit, “Who is my neighbor?” You know, if loving God, and if loving neighbor as we do ourselves… is a KEY COMPONENT to eternal life. It’s important to know how we define NEIGHBOR. Do we define it in terms of PHYSICAL proximity, or SOCIAL proximity? And how far does this Neighborly LOVE extend? Especially in the extremely tribal culture of 1st Century Jerusalem. We can’t begin to imagine all the ways people were culturally divided back then. And to that point the lawyer, when he answers the second question, again… correctly, he can’t even bring himself to say, The Samaritan, was the Neighbor… He just says “The one who showed him mercy.” Because of course to a Jewish lawyer, Samaritans were ceremonially unclean, socially outcast and religiously heretical. And remember it was the disciples who wanted to rain down fire on a Samaritan village that rejected Jesus just a chapter ago. But the lawyer knew the law, knew the Torah, “The one who showed him mercy.” But the pastor and the Levite had the Torah as well. They were both part of the priestly class, descendants of Aaron the house of Levi. They would have possibly worked in the temple, performed religious ceremonies.
But as Dr. King described, “That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the ‘Bloody Pass.’ And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking , and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ What will happen to me? Ultimately, it’s the Samaritan who pours out wine & oil on this victim’s wounds. Elements used by the priest & Levite in worship are used to provide medical care to this complete stranger.
Who is my Neighbor?
In this familiar story from the gospel of Luke (Luke 10:25-37) we begin to see the definition of NEIGHBOR depends a lot less on clever answers…on us having all the RIGHT answers and a lot more on LOVE…the power of LOVE to repair all things. And if you’ve ever driven on a freshly paved road, or if you’ve transition from a road that’s been beaten down by traffic, full of potholes, to a freshly paved one, then you know what I’m talking about. Suddenly you realize how rough the other road had been. You realize what a road is supposed to look like and feel like. You understand why repairs were needed, because even the best road is still going to need repairs over time.
The Bible talks a lot about roads. About a city on a hill & a land flowing with milk & honey our ultimate destination. Where the streets are ALL paved with gold. And in this section of Luke’s gospel and throughout this entire Summer Series called “Action Required.” Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem, with his disciples, It’s a dangerous road that he knows ultimately leads to the cross, Down a street paved with palm branches. And all along this road Jesus reminds his friends it’s not just about the destination. It’s about the fact that the Kingdom of God has come near to you, is here and now, You know, Sometimes in my rush & haste & stress to reach destinations in my life, I forget to focus on the journey, I forget to focus on the road. Sometimes we forget that our FAITH is ALSO about the JOURNEY
And I wonder where the road construction is in your life today? Cause we all have our potholes; we all have places where we’re beaten down. And sometimes were so focused on our destination we just accept them as the way we are, as the way things are in our lives, the way things are in the world. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about Repair and Restoration. Because there are three loves in the lawyers answer today. LOVE of God / LOVE of neighbor / and LOVE of self. And the Good News for us is that Jesus LOVEs us, LOVES you and all your potholes unconditionally. Which is important because Jericho roads exist everywhere in our world today. They have names like Raymond Road & Park Street & Allied Drive. Many are called Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. And when were focused on our own destinations.
We fall into thinking that’s just the way things are, it’s just a condition of our world today, & if it’s a condition then charity will do, we don’t have to get involved… Or get our hands dirty. So… we roll up our windows and lock our doors and keep on driving. That’s why the Priest and the Levite walk by, that’s just the way it is. But the Good News in this story is that Jesus defines who the Good Neighbor is. It’s the one that LOVES UNCONDITIONALLY – Just like Him. The one who mirrors the LOVE Christ had for each and every one of us, Opening His arms wide on the cross saying this is how far neighborly love extends, and Jesus knows if we can just do the same for one another, for all God’s children, There’s going to be a lot of repairs taking place, restoration of mind body and spirit all along the road of life. And amidst all the road construction in our world today, we see this kind of LOVE happening everywhere.
The Power of Love
I was at a swim meet just a few days ago. And there is a young boy on my sons swim team named Paul. Paul has Down Syndrome and just moved up in age so this was the first race where he had to swim down AND back in the pool. So during his race everyone else had finished before he had gotten just to one end. And there was a hush that feel over the crowd for a moment, but then everyone started cheering him on and clapping. And before you know it the whole place was on their feet cheering for Paul. Sometimes these little moments can completely restore your faith in the power of LOVE!? And I wouldn’t want to live in any other period because this is the time and place where we are being called to fix out roads. And we are all called to be Good Samaritans, to cross the street, in Jesus’ name. But the LOVE of Christ also calls us ultimately to look at why roads like Jericho exist in the first place.
Because we can bandage wounds and fix potholes. But to really transform the roads in our world, Takes something no construction crew, or police force, or scientist or politician has the power to do…It is a cultural revolution, a transformation that can only come through the Power of LOVE… The Pure Unconditional Love of Christ…Shared with us on this altar… In these waters..and remember this is a journey, we’re all on this road together, and we all struggle and we all pass by, we are all the priest, we are all the Levite, we are all the one left for dead on the side of the road depending on the day or hour of the week.
But we are all the Samaritan as well. That’s as Lutheran….actually that’s as Christian as our reality gets. We all have the power to LOVE UNCONDITIONALLY. And Jesus uses this moment on the road today to remind us how important that journey to the other side of the road is. Jesus reminds us if we’re only focused on our destination were never going to stop. Because it’s in the journey where we find our FAITH In the journey is where we find LOVE, UNCONDITIONAL LOVE!