Sermons

pastorEric aug20141Sermon for 8th Pentecost
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer

 

“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor.  Would you be mine?  Could you be mine?  I have always wanted a neighbor just like you.  I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.  So, let’s make the most of this beautiful day.  Please, won’t you be my neighbor?”
 
If you are a younger Baby Boomer, a Generation X’er, or an older Millenial you probably know these lyrics – they are some of the words to the song, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” the theme song of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, the children’s program which ran on PBS, the Public Broadcast System, from the late 1960’s into the early part of this century.
 
Fred Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian pastor, was just someone children, and their parents, could trust.  In real life he was just like he was on television – kind, welcoming, neighborly.  I did not know him personally, but I do know lots of folks who did.  And, of course, millions more of us who just loved him via television.  We all wanted to live in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, a place where everyone was loved and accepted and lived together in harmony.
 
Sadly, Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood is not the one most Americans now live in, as the events of this past week have shown us tragically and again.  Two seemingly innocent young African American men - Alton Sterling and Philando Catile - are gunned down by police in St. Paul and Baton Rouge and then, during a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas the officers were protecting, five police officers - Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamrippa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, and Lorne Ahrens - are killed by a lone sniper, a person who was unaffiliated with Black Lives Matter or any other protest group.
 
QUOTE 7 10 16It is all enough to want to throw up our hands and respond with a sense of hopelessness – how can this ever change? 
 
Here is what I know:  violence is not, is never, the answer.  Not for police officers or protesters or anyone.  Period.
 
This past Thursday our congregation sponsored an amazing event here at Mt. Olive, “Love Orlando, Music Heals.”  The music was wonderful, the crowd large and appreciative and the response gratifying with over $2,000 raised for the Orlando Center, the Gay and Lesbian community center of Central Florida, for their ministry to the victims of the Orlando shooting one month ago.  One of the participants told me afterwards, “We needed this.”  And indeed, we all did.
 
However, as wonderful as that event was and as grateful as we are for the musicians who contributed their talents and the audience who appreciated the music and supported the cause, I could not help but wonder if it would make any long-term difference, if it would change any hearts and help bring a wider acceptance of our Gay and Lesbian neighbors. 
 
Can anything help us to understand what it is like to be African American in this nation or what it is like to be an urban police officer?
 
Jesus gives us some guidance in today’s Gospel lesson from St. Luke, the well-known story we call “The Good Samaritan.”
 
Even non-Christians know this story.  And the term, a “Good Samaritan” is part of our everyday conversation – when someone does something good for another, especially a stranger, we often call them a Good Samaritan.
 
In response to a lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells his Good Samaritan parable.  Actually, all of those in the story are “neighbors” of the wounded man on the side of the road – the priest, the Levite, the Samaritan and the inn keeper.  It is just that the Samaritan, a hated outsider to Jesus’ Jewish listeners, acts neighborly and enlists the inn keeper in his neighborly-ness, while the priest and the Levite do not.
 
Scholar David Lose points out that the Samaritan sees the wounded man, while others ignore him, the Samaritan draws near to the wounded man, while the others keep their distance, and the Samaritan has compassion on the wounded man, while the others do not.  And Jesus’ lesson for his listeners – the lawyer, his other followers, and all of us today – Jesus’ lesson for his listeners is clear – “Go and do likewise.”
 
Go and do likewise.
 
No excuses.  No time to feel helpless, no time to feel hopeless.  Go and do likewise.
 
Jesus is saying, I believe, for our time that, while, of course, all lives matter, that Gay lives do matter, that Black lives do matter, that police lives do matter.  And how we respond to their calls for understanding, love and change matters.
 
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Violence never brings permanent peace.  It solves no social problems; it merely creates new and more complicated ones.  Violence is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all.  It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than convert.  Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love.  It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible.  It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue.  Violence ends up defeating itself.  It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.”
 
Violence “is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all.”
 
Who is my neighbor?  That is still Jesus’ question, simple and yet most difficult to carry out.  The story of the Good Samaritan challenges us to stop pushing back when others tell their story of pain.  We are encouraged to listen closely to one another and take seriously the experience of others - to listen more, to speak less, and to care for those marginalized.
 
I was also struck with Dr. Lose’s other reflection – Lose suggests that the Good Samaritan story is a story of promise, the promise that God will always show up and often where we least expect God to be.  God is present in our neighbors, even those we do not to acknowledge as neighbors.  God is even present in those we consider our enemies.  And Lose suggests that when we fail to see, draw near, and help those we mistrust or fear or just want to ignore, we risk missing the saving presence of God in our lives and in the world.
 
God comes where we least expect God to be because God comes for all.  God comes for the self-justifying lawyer and the outcast Samaritan.  God comes for the Black Lives Matter protester and the police who protect their protests.  God comes for the victims of police violence and police who are treated violently.
 
If you do not believe this, think again of Jesus who, as we heard in the text two weeks ago, set his face to go to Jerusalem, and there not only to suffer and die on the cross just to show us how far God will go to demonstrate God’s love, but also to forgive those who crucify him.  No one is beyond the reach of God’s love. 
Jesus brings this home to his listeners in today’s Gospel by choosing the most unlikely person to serve as the instrument of God’s mercy and grace and to exemplify Christ-like behavior, a Samaritan, a hated outsider.  That is what God does:  God chooses people no one expects and does amazing things through them.  Even a Samaritan.  Even us today.  Even a Black Lives Matter protester, a police officer, and even you and me.
 
Now is the time, especially for those of us who are White, to listen more, speak less and to care for those on the margins.  And, if we listen, we may find how God is working through people far different from us.
 
I still want to live in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, a neighborhood where all are accepted and loved, a neighborhood where violence is rejected, a neighborhood where all are welcomed and valued.
 
Will you join me there?
 
Will you be my neighbor? 
 
Amen.

 

 

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California


Won't you be my neighbor?
Sermon for 8th Pentecost
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
July 10, 2016
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California

 

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