One of the many things I love about Easton is that we get to celebrate Independence Day twice! I love how we get to get our day off, have the cook outs and the fireworks on July 4th and then on the Sunday after, get to do it all over again!
But this has been a complicated week. Between the 4th of July and our celebration of that first public reading of the Declaration of Independence, we have had some very sad and tragic things going onowhere.
First came the news came two more senseless and unnecessary killings of African American males by police officers took place, one in Baton Rouge and another outside of St. Paul, Minnesota, reawakening and last summer’s apparent epidemic of violent encounters between police and people of color. So by mid-week we were grieving and praying for Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, and we were praying for justice and an end to violence.
Following the two killings, many peaceful demonstrations and public prayer vigils happened around the country, bringing to attention the issues of unwarranted violence against people of color, and gun violence in general. And during one of those peaceful #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations in Dallas, Texas, where the police were actually supporting and protecting the demonstrators, a lone gunman shot and wounded seven officers and killed five others.
We pause today to remember those officers and their families in our prayers, and the seven officers wounded in the line of duty. We remember transit police officer Brent Thompson; Dallas police officers Patrick Zamarripa; Michael Krol; Lorne Ahrens; and Michael Smith.
Let me say their names again: Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa; Michael Krol, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith.
A former Texas police chief and Episcopal Deacon named Alberto Melis posted a photo taken in Belo Garden Park, Dallas, and Tweeted by Dallas PD during the protests march before the shootings, showing a Dallas police officer standing with Black Lives Matters marchers. Deacon Melis wrote: “We are a polarized nation. We sit and live in our echo chambers, listening only to those who think like us and listening only to what reinforces our beliefs and values … Since the shootings I've read comments which range in the polar extremes of blaming "Black Lives Matter" to "Chickens coming home to roost." Really? Really... But I've read countless comments written from within the depths of people aching for our communal and personal loss. Indeed … Look at this photo. THIS is our nation. Beyond the hate, fear and discord, exacerbated by the ugly metrics of an election year—this is still us, this is our nation. We are in this together ..."
This violence did not happen in a vacuum. The soirces are deeply ingrained in all of us.
It arose out of the deeply ingrained mistrust that many white folk carry around in our hearts for our African American neighbors…you know what I mean right? The pause, the check in our step, that we experience when we see a person of color, especially if they are young and male.
It comes from a context where black parents have to teach their sons and daughters in how to survive an encounter with the police.
It lives in a context where same sex couples dare not hold hands in public as I can do with my wife.
It comes from a context where every woman must be aware of how men interact with them.
When I started planning this service with my colleagues several weeks ago, I thought it would be good for us to listen to some of our forebears and recall that patriotism is not just a love of country but a duty and responsibility to live and work together. To remind ourselves that we citizens are in this together.
Then all this happened.
Thank God that the Revised Common Lectionary gives us this Gospel for today, a Gospel shared by all our churches, and that is Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan.
We all know this story. Everybody knows what a Good Samaritan is: it is a person who goes out of his way to help. In some big cities, the tow trucks who come and help you when your car breaks down in rush hour are called “Samaritans.” We have Good Samaritan laws and Good Samaritan hospitals. We all know that any charitable act makes us Good Samaritans. Even people who only use Gideon Bibles for hotel coasters have heard the story.
The story contrasts the two who did not help with the one who did. To Jesus’ audience, the most righteous pass by the injured man, but the one we would not choose, the outsider, is the one who comes to help.
But there is more going on. Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, a New Testament professor at Vanderbilt University, who is also Jewish, reminds us that Rabbi Jesus tells this short story in answer to a question “how do I inheret eternal life?” Jesus asks the person, a lawyer of the Jewish law, what he thinks. He says that the heart of the law is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and our neighbor as ourselves.
This means that the man is part and parcel of the movement in 1st Century Judaism to move the heart of Judaism out of the Temple and into the synagogue, from sacrifice to daily faithfulness and obedience that comes from the heart. Jesus is pleased.
But who is my neighbor?
The question is not mere self-justification.
There were those in 1st Century Judaism that believed that there were two standards for ethics and morals. One for inside the community, how we act among ourselves, and one for how we act around Gentiles.
So which is it? Do I love just the people in my tribe, my neighborhood, my denomination, my political party, my race, or my nationality? Does charity both begin –and stay—at home?
Or is love for everyone, including—especially—those people that I would never hang around with: the stranger, the other, the outcast, the outsider, the oppressor?
In a world where Judaism was moving out into a pagan, secular world called the Roman Empire, this was a very big question. Should we stay in our little silos, or go into the world?
This question is still with us today.
To answer the question, Jesus tells the story.
Imagine that you are going from Jerusalem to Jericho when you are set upon by brigands who rob you and leave you for dead. A priest and a Levite see you and cross to the other side of the road and hurry on their way. But a third man sees you, helps and cares for you. When you wake up you discover that this man who helped is your worst enemy…a Samaritan.
“So,” Jesus asks. “Who was your neighbor?”
The one who showed you mercy, that’s who.
The point of the parable is not neighborliness, but mercy. The story is not a moral tale about being nice but teaches an ethic that says God’s love applies to all people, at all times, in all places.
Mercy is intentional. It is hard work. Mercy requires sacrifice. This is not Mr. Rogers (or our view of Mr. Rogers…who actually taught the hard work and joy of mercy to children in wonderfully gentle yet subversive ways!) To love God with your whole being and to love your neighbor means that you must love and show mercy. That, for Jesus, was the heart of the law.
So…in a world of violence, racism, division, what do we do?
Don’t walk away. Don’t avert your eyes. Show mercy. Dare to offer acts of practical, life-changing compassion. Trust that God bigger than our fear of the Other, the Stranger, the Different.
Mercy is much more than helping one stranger on the road. Mercy is coming to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway.
Mercy is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that the world that produces beggars needs restructuring.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King reminded us that violence only brings about violence. That darkness does not dispel darkness but only light can push away the night. We are called to be the ones to bring mercy and justice to all God’s people.
Our land and our people are hurting today. Do not cross the road, but be citizens of God's heavenly Jerusalem. Show mercy.
Do not cross the road. Show mercy. We must confront our deep seated racism and turn anew and join with Jesus in making God’s reign known to all.
Do not avert your gaze, but instead be the Samaritan who shows mercy. Seek real conversation and engage—really know—the people who are different, who scare us, who are other.
Do not walk past, spending your energy and focus on choosing sides and enemies. Instead, like the Samaritan choose the side of compassion and healing. Choose mercy.
On this Heritage Day, we celebrate our country and our city. We are called to see the pain of the world, the injury of our neighbor, the division in our culture and choose what kind of patriots we will be As the prophet Micah says , “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.”
Don’t walk past.
With a steady gaze, and a steady beat, in this moment choose to walk the way of Jesus, the way of mercy.