Thoughts on the last week

In the wake of the 74th school shooting since Sandy Hook less than two years ago I am hearing two narratives making the rounds. These narratives are the same ones that surface each time a tragedy happens like one in Troutdale, or Seattle, or Las Vegas, or Isla Vista, or Indianapolis, or Chicago. The dual narratives are whether or not we need more or less gun control and the need for better mental health care in this country. Both of these are valid narratives and important conversations to have: why is it easier to get a gun, which is designed to kill, than it is to get a license to drive? why has the paranoid schizophrenic father of a friend of mine been told he his being dropped by the practice that provides the prescriptions for the medicines that keep him balanced? These are huge topics and major discussions to have, but so often they end up becoming nothing more than TV talking head shouting matches and no one listens to the others and nothing changes.

This is where I would like to propose a third narrative. This is the narrative of scarcity vs. abundance. If we wish to get to the root causes of violence, and particularly gun violence, we need to address this narrative. By doing so, I believe we can begin to heal the disease instead of just treat the symptoms. However, discussing this narrative is far more dangerous than having a shouting match over whether guns are good or bad, or whether there is adequate mental heath care. It is dangerous because it causes us to become players in the story. When we begin to really have a conversation about the nature of scarcity and abundance we must include ourselves, we are not allowed to create an “other” or a “them.”

If we really begin to dig into the stories of the persons committing the most acts of gun violence, be they on the streets of Indianapolis and Chicago or in the fluorescent lit hallways of a school, we hear the stories of people who have given up hope. Given up hope at finding a job. Given up hope at finding love. Given up hope at finding stability. There is an abject sense of hopelessness. This hopelessness is rooted in the belief that there is not enough. Scarcity.

This belief is rooted in experience. If you were to ask a gang member why they have decided to join the gang, in my experience, it is because by doing so there was a place for them. There was a family. There was money. There was a way for them to supplement the poverty they had previously known. Poverty breeds desperation and hopelessness. It puts one into survival mode because scarcity is the dominant story.

It doesn’t help matters when politicians are more concerned with the welfare of a corporation than with the people in their charge. Or when the benefits that help lift people from poverty are laid on the chopping block of racialized greed. It is a travesty when one group is ostracized for being leeches on the system and they happen to be of a certain color, while those of another color somehow are not the faces on the posters proposing cuts to the programs. The body politic is fostering the narrative of scarcity by repeating the chorus that there is not enough; that there is not enough to provide food assistance or debt reduction because, well we have … well, you don’t line my pockets.

The story of scarcity skulks the streets and alleyways of this nation, and it is not just here in the inner city. It is in suburbia as well. Persons of means are constantly told they don’t have enough and that they need more and more. And when they can’t live up to an over sensationalized sense of self-worth, they, too, seek to find meaning elsewhere.

The story of scarcity breeds violence. It forces people to live in a survival mode. To do what needs to be done in order to survive. It fosters the myth of redemptive violence. The idea that if you act out against me it is my duty to retaliate – survive; if I hit you with enough force you will stop and I will win. Of course this only breeds more retaliation. Survival mode is what causes it make sense that the first thing to do is grab a gun when you feel put down. It is what causes one’s defenses to be drawn up so high that dehumanization is the only rational response to an affront.

The story of scarcity also eats away at community. It causes people to withdraw into themselves and protect what they have by whatever means. As people withdraw into themselves they begin to see people not as neighbors but as potential threats. The story of scarcity is a beast destroying lives. The story of scarcity is the sickness that is destroying us.

But as I said, this narrative has a second part and that is of abundance. Those of us with a voice should – while honestly debating the merits of gun control and mental health – we should be working to shift the narrative from scarcity to abundance. It is possible, but it is dangerous and hard because we need to confront our own narratives of scarcity. This isn’t a narrative that can be change by some great hope coming from the outside, but rather is a lived narrative that can bring healing one step at a time.

This narrative is suited for those of us in faith communities, particularly the Christian tradition. After all, our tradition is rooted in a community that lived in community together. A tradition that is rooted in the Jewish tradition of hospitality and care for the least among us. One of the things that made the early church so dangerous was its radical care for and solidarity with those on the margins of society – the widow and orphan. Its danger came in its radical egalitarianism that said at the Table of the Lord there is no slave or free, just sisters and brothers. The church is rooted in the narrative of abundance: at the Lord’s Table all eat.

That is not to say others don’t share in that narrative, but the church has a unique lens through which to read this story.

For all of us, regardless of faith tradition or not, the narrative of abundance requires that we engage our neighbors; that we hear their stories and share ours; that we begin the re-humanization process that the story of scarcity seeks to destroy. Unlike the story of scarcity that only requires we think about ourselves, the story of abundance asks that we think outside ourselves. It asks that we see the world as others see it and try to build bridges that embrace commonality and unity rather than difference and discord.

When we being to shape a narrative that seeks to connect us rather than divide us we can begin to hold each other accountable. We have an authority that comes when a community is formed that we do not have as solitary individuals. As we shape a narrative of abundance we are are able to say to someone that their actions are destroying community rather than building it. There is a power in a collective story.

If we really are tired of all the blood on our streets, it is time to change the story. It is time to realize that talk of gun control and mental health, while important, are only bandages on a gaping wound. The real healing will come when we begin to change the story. There is hope in the narrative of abundance.


Ash Wednesday Sermon

Justin Thornburgh

Gethsemane Lutheran Church

IAM Ash Wednesday

Luke 7:36-50 (Series Theme: Tears)

5 March, 2014

Shadows and Tears

 

She had been lurking in the shadows; following behind Jesus and his band of disciples, she blended into the back ground. Since the miracle when he raised that boy – the dead son of her mother’s friend. She hid. Watching. Listening. In the dark, behind doors, hidden she prayed. 

Her life had been fraught with abuse and scorn. Outcast as a result of sins she had committed – and that had been committed against her. Her days were constant ridicule. Her nights doing what she needed to do to survive. Shame followed her in to the shadows. Guilt hung around her neck. Often, before Jesus arrived, she would stay in within the walls of her home – safer there than streets. The streets where the pharisee would see her and point her out. “You do not want to be like this woman. This worm.” When the pharisee would open his mouth it gave free reign for others to abuse her. This was her life. A struggle day to day. A result of decisions she had made, and decisions thrust upon her.

In the shadows behind the door, she prayed. In her hands, an alabaster jar filled with costly ointment. Ointment used to anoint the dead. Sweet perfume, an offering. She prayed in the shadows. Something had moved her when she had seen Jesus return the dead boy to his mother. She saw tears in his eyes as he restored not only the son’s life, but the life of the widow who had nothing. She saw tears; compassionate; joyous; angry – angry at a world where such a woman would be left with nothing. Ignored by the community that was supposed to support her. The woman in the shadows saw his tears and her life was changed.

Jesus entered the home of the pharisee. The smell of the roasted lamb filled the street – the pangs of hunger stabbed her gut. They sounds of laughter rang out in counterpoint to voices in her head – the jabs, the taunts, the derision from the very host of Jesus. The weight of the jar in her hands began to make itself known as the shame and  guilt in her heart brought her to her knees. She knew this was the time – now or she may never see the man whose tears gave her hope again. She knew he did not remain in towns long. 

Uncovering her head – a sign of humiliation and humility – her auburn locks fall down her back.  Gasping for her breath; inhaling courage and hope, he emerges from the safety of her shadow and breaks her way into the house of the man who heaps hate upon her. She breaks through and falls on her knees behind the guest of honor and without a word begins rubbing the ointment from the alabaster jar upon his feet. As she does, the tears flow and she uses them to wash the hard and cracked calloused feet of the man of hope.

She feels a hand rest upon her. A peace that she had never known. She hears the sound of her accuser speaking to Jesus, but can’t understand the words. She continues wiping the feet of the traveler. The hand of peace never leaves her. The hand of blessing. Then the words, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in Peace.” Through her tears, she sees the face of love. Feels the hand of grace; the touch of blessing. And a tear lands on her head; a saltwater tear washing her of all that had come before. The tear of love, baptizing her anew. Having anointed, she has been anointed.

***

Sisters and brothers, we are here this evening to begin our Lenten journey together as the Irvington Community. We gather this evening from the shadows of our lives. The shadows of shame. The shadows of guilt. The shadows of hurt. The shadows of hate. The shadows that wrap around us and give us a sense of security. We gather this evening emerging from those shadows to remember that we are frail and broken humans. Flawed and imperfect. We gather to remember that from dust we have come and to dust we will return. We being this Lenten journey together emerging from the shadows.

The shadows of our lives offer us protection from the forces around us that are out of our control. For some of us, the shadow of protection of our families in a time of uncertainty offers the safety we need. When we received the diagnosis that means everything we know is now going to be different, for many, wrapping ourselves in the shadow of the family or friends give us one thing we can cling to.

When the echoes of gunfire ricochet down our streets; the shadow and safety of our isolation offers us the insulation we need to feel a modicum of protection. It is dangerous outside, so it is better to remain closed up and secure.

For some of us, there are shadows that we can not get out from under. Placed there by powers beyond our control. The shadow of abuse shrouds us like the shadow of death -weighing down on us until we can not breath. The shadow of depressions, slowly strangles us as we gasp for any thing that gives life. The shadow of discrimination as we are constantly told we are less than because of who we love or the color of our skin or the language we speak -the shadow blots our our humanity -  our image Dei. Shadows beyond our control that offer no safety, but constant heartache and pain.

These shadows. These hidden havens or caverns of despair are so prevalent that it is nearly impossible for us to climb out, and yet here we are. Braving the light we have come together because we have seen something in that wandering teacher. We have seen something in how he has touched our lives of the lives of those we love. We have seen how tears of hurt are transformed into tears of joy. We have seen light lift the shadows. And that is why we are here tonight. To come before the one, Jesus, who gives to us hope and joy; transformation and healing. We come this evening to acknowledge that we are not the ones in power – we are dust and to dust we will return. We come to eat a meal that has sustained a body for over 2,000 years. We come with heart ready for this new journey. And as we come and as the ashes are put on us as a reminder of our humanity – our lives and deaths, we come to be marked with the sign of the cross. The sign that cuts through the shadows that we carry with us and marks us as beloved. Anoints us a blessed. 

And as we begin these forty days, days of repentance and remembrance of our humanity and our brokenness. Days where begin to name the shadows that overcome and overwhelm. Days where we shed tears and offer prayers, we do so with the hand that blessed the woman with the alabaster jar firmly on our heads. We do so washed in the tears of love from the one who at that table was anointed for his death. We do so marked with the sign of the cross. We do so with the love of Jesus. Love so deep that it says, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

Thanks be to God.


Christmas Eve Sermon

The words of an angel came to her;

Spoke of a child who was to save the world;

Spoke of God with Us. The Lord Saves.

The words of an angel came to her.

Said she was to carry the son of God

He will be great, 

He will be called the Son of the Most High.

Do not be afraid.

The words of an angel came to her.

 

What is to become of this baby – this boy

Head now resting in the hay? Afterbirth and blood 

Wiped away the best it could, 

Still scarlet rests

Staining the corners of his eyes. 

 

Eyes of the deepest space. Eyes yet unable to focus

On her face, and still eyes that see the whole of the time and space.

In the black of his pupils – stars reveal their glory;

Grace unimaginable daces in the flecks of his brown irises. 

What is to become of this baby – this boy

Head now resting in the hay? 

 

The mis-shapen head of a newborn.

The dimple deep in his double chin.

The milk from her breast now dry upon his lips.

The breaths – deep and precious – raise his soft belly -

Gentle waves undulate in the glow of the firelight.

Watching this baby the animals stand guard.

What is to become of this baby – this boy 

Head now resting in the hay? 

 

They have come from the house to sit with her.

Scraps of cloth now clothe the new born child.

Watching her watching him. Daddy, can’t but help gab her hand.

In the middle of the busyness of the town; full of pilgrims

Trecking to be taxed. The bustle and noise of exiles -

Long gone now returned – Like Ruth and Naomi - 

The bustle and noise of the day disappear into the crackle of the fire.

The rejection of friends and family now forgotten. Forgiven.

What is to become of this baby – this boy

Head now resting on the hay?

 

Strangers come. Outcasts – outsiders. 

Shepherds from the outskirts come seeking.

Seeking him.

Outcasts – outsiders. The smell of their sheep - 

Foul and fetid – makes its way before them.

They come with the words of angels.

“Gloria in excelsis Deo.” The Armies of God

The fighting armies of the Lord

Shout this is the Prince of Peace. Shalom has come

For them. The outcast outsiders. 

They left the 99 to come and seek the one.

They left the 99 and to be found by the one.

What is to become of this baby – this boy

Head now resting on the hay?

 

What is to become of this baby – this boy

Head now resting on the hay?

 

This is the night, God enters in.

This is the night, grace breaks through.

This is the night, this baby  – this boy  

Head now resting on the hay

This is the night when the armies of God cry Peace

This is the night when love breaks down the door of hate

This is the night when the mighty fall from their perches of power.

This is the night when the mourning, the broken, the abused, the oppressed

Are given their rest; their freedom.

This is night the when the abused, the addicted, the ostracized

Are given home.

This is the night, God enters in.

This is the night, grace breaks through.

This is what becomes of this baby – this boy

Head now resting on the hay.

 

The lame walk. 

The mute speak.

The prisoners freed.

The oppressed set free.

The hurt healed.

The possessed made whole.

The broken mended.

The sinner forgive.

This is the night.

This is what becomes of this baby – this boy

Head now resting on the hay.

 

Betrayed, denied, hated.

Arrested, tried, killed.

This is what becomes of this baby – this boy

Head now resting on the hay.

 

Killed, buried, forgotten.

Risen, healing, breathing.

Forgiveness, grace, mercy.

Death is destroyed. 

The gates of hell slammed shut.

The hope of life restored. 

The gift of love – given freely – with out hesitation.

This is what becomes of this baby – this boy

Head now resting on the hay.

 

The words of an angel came to her;

Spoke of a child who was to save the world.

Spoke of God with us. The Lord saves.

This baby – this boy

Head now resting on the hay.


Sinner Saint

Justin Thornburgh

Emerson Avenue Baptist Church

Luke 16:1-13 SAP18C

28 September, 2013

Sinner/Saint

(Confessio)

My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.

Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land: “Is the LORD not in Zion? Is her King not in her?” (“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their foreign idols?”)

“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”

For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.

Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?

O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people! – Jer. 8:18-9:1

The prophet Jeremiah is weeping for his people – the people of Judah. I am weeping for the people of our land. The news of the week has been weighing me down, and I have begged not to have to preach what I am to preach. I have been praying for good news. News that is in line with God’s reign, and yet this week we have learned of the mass shooting at the Naval Yard in Washington DC; we have seen funding for food  assistance threaten to be gutted by 39 Billion Dollars – threatening to leave the most vulnerable in our nation without enough to eat. And the blame is not just on the house; the senate’s compormise that they sent to the house calls for 20 billion in cuts. Here again the threat that 25 million people will be denied access to healthcare is a real possibility; the government is probably going to shut down -leaving the millions of employees with out a pay check; there was a mass shooting in my home town of Chicago that took down 13 including a three year old boy shot in the face and another 4 year old last night; one of Indy’s finest was gunned down as he attempted to break up a domestic dispute and  so was a fiver year old little one. I have prayed for good news. News that would turn around this grief sick heart. 

That is my confession to you. 

(Scene 1:  Greed)

The Prophet Amos, a farmer from the land of Judah, called by God to speak to the power of the King of Israel does not mince his words

 “Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. 

Israel was the larger northern kingdom; Amos was from the small insignificant land of Judah; and yet he speaks these words to the people of Israel.  People who had no reason to listen to this nothing of a man. He was an outsider speaking for those who had nothing.  He was speaking for the hungry widow and the malnourished orphan. He was speaking for those who did business with Israel. He was speaking for the ones whose bodies were sold as commodities. He was speaking with the authority of God. He was speaking as God for God’s own.

Israel had become powerful; full of rich folks who forgot their God – the God of their ancestors. They worshiped at the foot of a golden calf. They intentionally neglected the widow and orphan – because they were a drain on society. They could not live the good life it they had to care for them. They enslaved people for even minor debts. For as minor a debt as a pair of shoes – people were held captive. Men would use their power over women to gratify their own sexual urges. Justice was only for those who could afford to pay off they judge. The poor had no recourse. 

Amos came into this land as an outsider. One given God’s eyes and voice, and he spoke God’s judgment against the land. Judgement that They would be taken captive; that they the mighty Israel would be made small. And that the injustice they practiced would turn back on themselves.  Amos – spoke God’s justice to a land where they were their own gods. They offered prayers and incense that were pleasing to themselves. They prayed to hear their own voices, and not hear the word of the LORD.

(Scene 2:  This Land is my land.)

People love to hear their own voices. Love to hear how good they are, and how righteous they are. Even if it is them saying it about themselves. That couldn’t be true than with those – who like Israel of old have grown  large with power. Those who bloviate and belch their own greatness; while ignoring the tears flooding the streets. Those who line their pockets with fast cash and dine with fat cat; while stepping over the broken one laying on the marble steps. Those who take food from the mouths of babes, money that averages 4.50/day- saying they are trying to relieve the burdens of taxpayers; while they gorge themselves on rich foods and wine; steak and caviar – costing over $100/day at the expense of the taxpayer. Those who have no fear about going to the doctor because they have insurance that foots all the bills; while working class people go to work sick because if they try to go to a doctor they can’t afford they could loose their job. ” But no matter,” say the powerful. “We are doing great work.” Blind to the real world.

  “Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land.”

There is blood in our streets. In Washington DC. In Chicago. In Indianapolis. In Tulsa. In Albuquerque. In Herkimer Conty, NY. In Akron. In Federal Way, WA. In Manchester, IL. In Fernley, NV. In Waynesville, IN. In Santa Monica. In Hialeah, FL. In Clarksburg, WV. In Dallas. In Oklahoma City. In Crab Orchard, TN. All sites of mass shootings since the Horrors of Newtown – 9 short months ago – where God wept. There is blood in our streets and on our hands. There is blood on the hands of those with the power to stop this violence, but refuse to see the reality of these situations. But rather only seek to praise the might power of the NRA or claim that by eliminating all guns we will solve the problem. All sides seek their own glory and refuse to see that is it deeper than who does or does not have guns. It is rooted in poverty; hopelessness; desperation; mental illness. But saying that would mean it would not make sense to cut the fabric of the safety nets. 

  “Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land.”

(Scene 3:  What the?)

Outrage and anger are appropriate emotion to the events of the last week. Heartache and grief are ok when we hear the stories of those who are the least among us. I have no problem calling out those with the power – and holding them, regardless of their party affiliation – to the standard of the Kingdom of God. And yet, often, I ask myself – what is the point? Why do I even try? The powers of darkness that pull the strings of the puppets in power seem to not even notice – so why try? I kept asking myself this, and then I heard – again – the parable Jesus told.

“There was a land owner who heard about the shenanigans of his manager. ‘I am going to fire you, but first – settle your accounts.’ 

‘Umm…what the? What am I going to do,’ says the manager. ‘I can’t muss up my pretty hands doing manual labor, and I am too good to beg – what will I do? Ahh – yes, I know…I will make sure those who owe my former boss are on my side.’

So the manager went to those who owed his former boss, ‘How much to you owe him?’

’100 jugs of olive oil.’

‘Quick, sit down and make it 50. Your debt will be erased….How about you? What do you owe?’

’100 bags of wheat.’

‘Go, make it 80.’

When the land owner heard about the dealings of his former employee – he commended him.”

That is confusing. The manger is fired for shenanigans, and then is commended for shenanigans. As the events of this week unfolded and my anger and grief began to flood my being – I kept coming back to these words. Then it hit me. This is how God is working in our screwed up world. In a land where our leaders are fighting over feeding the poor – a fight that is just incomprehensible in the Reign of God. As they are pointing fingers over who is to blame for the blood on our streets; God is working in our screwed up little world. God is working through our sinfulness. Making us saints unawares.

The manager, in his own need to save is hide, unknowingly elevated the poor; the indebted. He wiped there balances clean and brought them up to his level. He, the mighty had been brought low. And the low brought high. And the land owner said, ‘good job.’ God was working though his sinfulness. There is the good news, my friends. The good news I have been praying for.

God is always working, by any means necessary.

(Scene 4: The Promise)

When the leaders are cutting food from the most of the hungry – a conversation is being started that includes those with hunger. A conversation is being brought into the mainstream that often sits on at the margins. A conversation that those of us who have been sitting with those at the margins have been screaming for. A conversation that is saying to those in power – Look at the faces of those you are starving. God is working – even in your self-centeredness.

When we begin to pass the buck about who is to blame for the blood in the streets – while we are passing the buck between the gun lobby and the gun control lobby; voices are screaming out. Voices that say – we are fighting for dignity by the weapons we are given. Voices of poverty and scarcity are crying out – the problem is bigger than whether or not people have access to guns. Voices are crying out saying we are loosing an entire generation because we can not see the beauty of God in our neighbor because we can not see God in ourselves. God is screaming  out – I am at work here.

We the grief of Jeremiah is keeping making my weep; through the tears I hear the psalm of today: 

Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?

God raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.

God gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!

When the world is heavy, and the tears are falling upon the ground; these word of hope give power through the tears. These words of promise remind us that God worked through the corrupt manager. God is the one who raise the poor from the dust; gives power to the powerless. Gives us the authority to speak as God’s prophets to the powerful. To call them to account like Amos; and to give hope to the hopeless because we have have been given hope through Christ Jesus. We have seen Jesus nailed to the cross – God the Son becoming as dust. Becoming as us – lifting us up: sinner and saint. Working through us: sinner and saint. Giving voice to the voiceless; hope to the hopeless; all while we are sinner and saint. 

God is at work when we are doing our best to  negate it. When our sinful broken natures are trying their hardest to ignore it God is still working.

We are certain of this because we have experienced and are expiring grace daily.

In the words of Pope Francis:

 “I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else—God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.”

God is at work despite our best efforts. God will make the pain, healing. The anger, joy. The dark, light. The old, new. We are called to be part of that process – even when we can’t see the end. God is at work through us – sinners and saints.

Thanks be to God.


Lost and Found

Justin Thornburgh

Emerson Avenue Baptist Church

Luke 15: 1-10 Sap17C

15 September, 2013

 

Lost and Found

(Scene 1: Perspective)

It’s a matter of perspective. As we heard a couple of weeks ago, what you see depends on where you sit. Jesus sat next to the bent over woman on the sabbath and healed her. He sat at the end of the table as the others in the room fought for the seat of power. And now he is sitting with sinners and tax collectors. He is doing worse than sitting with them, he is eating with them. He is sharing a meal with those people.

The religious leaders and their lackeys had heard about this habit of Jesus. That had heard that he even allowed one of the tax collectors – a position despised by the Hebrew people because these men were their own and were making them give their hard earned money to the occupying Rome. They were taking food out of mouths of good Hebrew babies and feeding it to the fat offspring of opulence. And on top of that, these tax collectors often demanded a service charge for the privilege of working with them. Then there were the others that he ate with. Forget the unclean folk – it was the sinners. Especially the women of ill repute; the veiled ones, smelling of sandalwood, charcoal over their olive eyelids. The ones who sold pleasure to the plundering pilgrim; or a night of bliss for the lonely man in town for business. How cold he even allow himself to be seen with these people? It was disgusting. He was disgusting.

The leaders and their lackeys questioned his sanity. She, though, sat at his side feeling each minute with him her sanity restored. The life of pain she knew – all she knew for her mother brought her into the oldest profession at the age of 10. Her pain masked as pleasure for the drachma that would be dropped on the table and the end of the night. Her life was nothing but pain – inflicted by the men in her room. She longed for the peace the pipe of opium would bring. The slumber; only to be knocked awake by nightmares – the toothless slob hovering over her laughing as if possessed by Lucifer. She knew pain, but at his side she felt peace. At the table with Jesus she felt whole.

The leaders and their lackeys questioned his faith. But at his side – the little man’s faith was restored. When Jesus called him out for his transgressions – called him from that tree, he felt his faith for the first time. He had been one to demand payment to Caesar, in order that his village be protected. He demanded from the people their livelihood and in the meantime built his wealth all because of their labor. But when he sat at the table with Jesus – he knew forgiveness. His faith was full. 

“This man dines with tax collectors and sinners.” A charge of which they would never be found guilty. 

Jesus hearing them responds with the parables we heard this morning. Telling them of a shepherd who goes in search of a lost sheep. Speaking about a woman who stops what she is doing to find the lost coin. Jesus sings about how these two would call their friends and rejoice when what was lost is found. He proclaims that this joy is what will be in heaven when one who was lost is found.

The leaders and their lackeys do not hear what he is saying. They hear stories about idiotic thugs who would leave the livelihood in order to search for one lost sheep. They knew about shepherds. They knew that they were untrustworthy, and obviously by this story – stupid. Why would any shepherd in his right mind leave 99 sheep unattended – 99 sheep who were not his, after all he was just a hired hand. Why would he go after one?

Why would they even pay attention to a story about a woman doing what she is supposed to do? She did not earn the money, so of course she should look for it. But at the expense of keeping the home? The leaders and their lackeys could not hear that these stories were for them.

The leaders and their lackeys were trapped by the idea that it is all about us and how good we are. They were defending what they knew was right, but here was Jesus messing things up again. 

(Scene 2: Messing things up)

Jesus is always messing things up. Just when we think we can do something on our own – Jesus has to come by and remind us that it is God who is doing something.

Many, many times I fall into the category of the leader and their lackeys. I follow the rules, and I know what is best – after all, I went to seminary, right? I spend all those hours reading theology, writing papers, parsing greek, I know the hitpaels in Hebrew – for crying out loud – I know what it is about. But then, something happens to remind me I am just a lost little sheep crying out for my shepherd. I am a coin hidden in the cushions of the couch. Seemingly lost and forgotten.

The dark days after our second miscarriage – all of my book learning and prayer did nothing to help me. As I saw a spiral of depression being to engulf our apartment it didn’t matter that I was in seminary. It didn’t matter what I was taught growing up; none of that mattered because all I could experience was the hopelessness that we would never have a child. All I could see was my beautiful wife in a state of absence. The joy of the previous 10 weeks did not matter because all I could touch was the specter of the shadow of death. For four years we had struggled; and now it was for naught. I was a lost sheep, bleating, not knowing if I would attract the enemy or my help. 

A woman I know would go to work with the rashes of the previous night’s party making itself known on her face. Raw spots of flesh caused by her stomach acids regurgitating  the vodka when her body said it was trough, and and her sleeping in it – only to repeat it the next night. The tattoo given to her by her junkie boyfriend infected and ballooning. She, relishing the fact that she would probably be dead by the age of 30, lived in rebellion of all that she had been taught. She ran from the fundamentalist Christianity of her childhood because it said there was no room for people like her. Abused by a Bible that only spoke of right rules and damnation; she fled as far from that as she thought she could. Until she ended up realizing that she cared for nothing – not even herself. That she had become a lost coin, bumped and knocked around until it was hidden.

There is the widow who did not know how she would survive after the death of her husband. Where would her rent come from? There is the widower whose only comfort after the death of his dear wife was two guys named Smith and Wesson. There is the woman in the extended care facility kept company only by the nightmares that those charged with her care only care about her death. There is the diagnosis of the return of the beast that we though had gone into remission. There is the upcoming test where any reusult will not be optimum. There is the mother, running here and there to provide for her children. There is the child bullied until all of her tears have run out. Lost ones – crying out for help. Not knowing if they are inviting the enemy or seeking salvation.

Our lives are a roller coaster of ups and downs; some of us are blessed with more joy than pain. But for many of us – the darkness of being lost is the reality of our situation. The rejection by those we thought loved us. They absence of the help we long for. The reality that it is just too much. Sometimes we are lost because of our own sin and willful ignorance of consequences. Sometimes we are lost because the of the sins of the systems that push us down. But no matter; we are a lost coin – longing for light. 

And then Jesus shows up and messing everything up. 

(Scene 3: Jesus messing things up!)

The leaders and their lackeys did not hear what Jesus was saying, but the woman with the charcoal on her eyes, smelling of sandalwood knew what he was saying. And she felt found. A profound sense of belonging and peace that she never found under the weight of a john. 

The leaders and their lackeys could not understand what Jesus meant, but the little man who had come down from the tree knew what he meant. And he felt found. A feeling of faith filled him and he rejoiced being carried on the arms of his savior.

Those sinners and tax collectors sitting with Jesus understood that it was not because they were seeking to be found that they were found. It was that the shepherd – the lowlife scoundrel came to them to find them and rescues them. It was because the woman – the one who should be kept in her place lit her lamp and crawled around on the floor looking for them – found them and rescued them. The sinners and tax collectors saw that Jesus was messing everything up. They saw that it was because of the shepherd coming to the margins and searching int he dark places that they were found. They understood that Jesus was that shepherd. The one from Glory…the king of glory come down into broken humanity to find them. To carry them back to the flock and celebrate all the while. They saw Jesus as the forgotten woman looking without hesitation for the lost coin. The one who has come to where they are. They did not need to try to go to him – it was not because they were good people or followed the rules, but it was because of his love that he came to find them. 

 Jesus is always messing things up.

(Scene 4: Lost and Found)

Jesus messed things up when he came and found me in my sorrow and despair. Coming to me in the presence of my friends who sat and said nothing. Coming to me in the profound sense of community that carried me out of that valley of darkness. The Lord is my Shepherd.

Jesus messed things up when found that woman in a church basement. The raw skin and infected ink were not a barrier to the good shepherd. He climbed into that church basement and introduced her to a Bible that spoke of grace and forgiveness. He sat next to her as she suffered the DTs and had suicidal thoughts. He called her by name and told her to rebuild his church. He is with her as she pastors the House for all sinners and saints in Denver.

Jesus messed things up when for three months that widow was provided her rent. When an unexpected bonus, a gift from mother, a serendipitous gift from Uncle Sam made sure the roof stayed over her head. Jesus messed things up with the widower heard a voice say you have a kid and a grand kid and I am not done with you yet. Jesus messed things up when a stranger’s hand reached out to the woman trapped in a nightmare. Jesus messed things up when treatments and tests start to cause the cancer to say oops. Jesus messed things up when the test came back with bad news, but a husband and child were there to say you are not lost, but you are found. Jesus messed things up when a partner shows up who loves your kids as much as you do; when there is a new school that offers solace from the bully’s pulpit. Jesus really messes things up.

Jesus really messes things up when he says to you – “Hey you! I’m here to help!” When he gives us a way out of our lost paths. Jesus has come to where we are to find us and bring us home. There is nothing we can do about that – it happened when he came to walk on this earth and die as we die. It happened when he sat with the sinners and tax collectors and said to them, “There is such rejoicing in heaven with the angels when one sinner repents.” Jesus really messes things up when he says to us – stop trying to do it on your own. You have a community around you that is my body. You have people who care about you because they are mine and I am theirs….because you are mine and I am yours. Because you were lost but now are found. 

Thanks be to God.


It’s Time

Justin Thornburgh

Emerson Avenue Baptist Church

Luke 12: 49-56 SaP13C

18 August, 2013

 It’s Time!

 (Scene 1: The “Peace”)

It had been a fitful night of sleep. Rebecca had been staring at the dark walls of home for most of the night. The sonorous snoring of her father echoing through the shared space – at times is drilled like a bore into her brain. They slow, steady constancy interrupted only by his occasional rolling over. How could he sleep after the events of this past day. That night, as the stars of the sky twinkled over head, her mind kept replaying the events she had witnessed. Peace keepers, keeping the peace. Tears would drip from her cheeks onto the dirt of the floor. Making mud. And over and over again she saw how Rome – Legion as they are – kept the peace. 

At the market the morning before the sleepless night there was Simeon, uncle to Rebecca’s best friend Miriam. Simeon was one of those zealots who would come into the village to gather some food and water and then retreat to the wilderness with the rest of the Sicarri – an extremest group of zealots who were more clandestine and dangerous than most knew. Rebecca and Miriam saw him wandering around the market as the sun began to rise, they were going to the well to fetch the mornings water. They watched as he wound his way around the still covered stalls – stealing what was needed for him and his band to eat.  Miriam knew that she was supposed to tell her Av – daddy – if she saw Simeon, but this day her only confidant was Rebecca. They went home in silence.

The noon day sun filled the sky. It was cooler than most days had been at this time of year. The breeze was blowing and Rebecca and Miriam were letting this bursts of wind billow they tunics. Walking around watching their shadows turn from tiny ten year olds to waddling old men – fat with good food and wine. They were chasing Menachem, Miriam’s younger brother – around the market place when there was a scream that shattered the serene bliss of the afternoon. Ruth, the toothless widow, the one who used to be so bent she could not walk, who used to beg at the side of the synagogue came running into the center square – she was breathing like a dog caught in the sun trying to stay cool. Her skin was as white as the linens of the synagogue. Her words were stammering and difficult to hear, but Rebecca caught the word “Giaus.” Giaus was the head of the Legion that patrolled this area of Galilee. He was a man who kept the law and the peace. He was a frequent face, reminding the people of their place, reminding them they were the dogs of the empire. 

The men of the villiage gathered around Ruth to try to understand what was going. Finally there was a murmuring amongst the men, and they spread like wild fire to all the women and children who were watching the scene from the marketplace. The men found their families and fled to the safety of their homes.

“Hush, now. Keep Quiet.” Instructions echoed to each and every family as they went to their houses. Rebecca saw that Miriam’s Av was moving slower than the rest and had gone as pale as Ruth, the widow beggar. Sensing that there was something profoundly wrong, Rebecca asked her Av, “What’s going on?”

“Giaus is dead.” With those words from her daddy, Rebecca’s knees buckled from under her. She knew what this meant. She knew that Simeon had done something after she had seen him. When she got back to her feet she bounded to the house, ran around back and vomited all of her breakfast meal. She was scared. She ran to her mat and curled up. “What’s the matter, Bat?” Asked her father. She said nothing and tried to forget.

She must have dozed off because she was startled awake by the screams coming from out side, in the market place. He father tried to keep her in the house, but she wriggled her way through his arms and into the square where she saw it. The Roman Peace. Pax Romana. She saw Simeon tied in ropes. Miriam’s Avy, tied in ropes. Menachem, the 5 year old little boy, tied in ropes. All of the men in the village realted to Miram and her mother were tied in ropes. Miriam was weeping into her mothers robe. The mother was standing there stone frozen – uncertain what to do or how to react. Frozen with fear – for she knew what was about to happen.

The men were nailed to crosses outside of the village. Stripped naked before everyone. Any semblance of dignity, stripped. The few from the villiage who dared witness this execution were held back by the spears of members of the Legion – Gaius’ legion. Menachem was dragged in front of the crosses, in front of his father and his throat slit. The Romans sought to kill anyone who could provide for Miraim and her mother – that included a five year old boy. 

Rebecca saw all of this. And as the world went silent around her. Her best friend, beating on her mother’s breast. She just slid down the side of the wall into a puddle of her own despair. Wondering if this was what peace was. Knowing that there had to be something different. The Romans were causing division amongst her people. She knew her family would do what they could to help Miriam’s mother, but not many else would. They would be shunned for bringing this horror to the village. She knew, that sleepless night, that one day there would be … there had to be a peace that was something different than this – this Roman Peace.

(Scene 2: False Peace, False Divisions)

The great Pax Romana, The Roman Peace was only that because of force and violence. It was a world where the Orwellian theme of “war is peace” took a very literal sense. Peace was maintained through violent oppression of anyone who sought to undermine the power of Roman rule. People were slaughtered to maintain the status quo. To keep the peace. Divisions were made in order to keep people so afraid that they understood that they had no place other than that of servant of Caesar.

Sounds a little familiar to me. This imposed peace. These artificial divisions. The illusion of calm. The collusion of media and images. Colliding to create a picture.

Just the other day I read an article covering an event that a United States Senator had with a group of people who seek division. He pandered to them by saying that The United States was funding Christian Persecution. He told them that because enemies of America were burning the flag they sought to destroy Christianity. He was conflating the cross with flag. He was painting a false picture. Creating divisions that do not need to exist. Proclaiming a false peace could be achieved through militarism. Pandering for votes from those who thrive on division – it is them vs. us.

There are divisions being drawn in the news saying that black on black crime is the leading cause of death amongst young black males. 75% murders of black males is caused by other black males. This an epidemic of violence that needs to stop. But false divisions are being made in the media and by the parrots who deny that racism is as alive and well today as it was 150 years ago. They neglect to mention that 85% of murders of white people are cause by other white people! But white on white violence is not and epidemic that is news worthy. That stays out of the news because it doesn’t fit neatly within the us vs. them narrative. If we were to see that violence general as an epidemic that crosses barriers of race; we could not have the mentality that seems to give us – white folks a sense of peace. A false peace.

There are divisions between the haves and the have nots – divisions that perpetuate cycles of poverty and violence. The educational system is broken. Schools like #58 are struggling to provide basic services to their children while schools up in Carmel or Fishers have no problem doing the same. The inequality of funding based on geography and property tax base breeds divisions that seem like they can never be crossed. A false peace to those who have the power, and yet there are children – our neighbors – who like Rebecca sink into pools of their own despair. Thinking the only way for peace is to act out and get attention they are missing elsewhere.

Like the people of the Roman world, we have a false understanding of peace and security that pervades our world. Divisions are made in order to maintain peace. The haves and the have nots are kept at odds in order to maintain power, peace. African-Americans, Latinos, Those with non-white skin are kept to the margins by a system that, even 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation seeks to divide rather than unite. Divide so that power stays in the hands of those for whom power is the only way to peace. War is peace. There is a false notion in this country that we are followers of Jesus are being persecuted, a division used to drum up support of militaristic intentions. Until we are being murdered like our Coptic brothers and sisters in Egypt – we have no comprehension of persecution. 

There are many who are calling for unity and peace, but their definition of unity and peace still seeks to divide: we welcome everyone unless you don’t think like us. Division leads to a false peace. A Peace that only works through power.

(Scene 3: Tears to Triumph)

As her tears mixed with the mud, Rebecca remembered the words that the traveling teacher spoke. Jesus of Nazareth, a village not to far from her own. Jesus said, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” At first those words only brought confusion. Your followers say you are a prophet, a man of peace. And you say this? She had heard stories of Jesus reaching out and touching the lepers; healing the sick; giving sight to blind; speech to the mute; hearing to the deaf. She heard how he was bringing people who have been on the outside of the villages – the land of the leper; the unclean; into the synagogues as fully restored people. People who … Then she sat bolt upright. She understood his words.

She got up and leapt over Levi, her sleeping sibling. She burst through the door and sprinted across the village square. The dust kicked up in her way drifted in the thin night air, like the smoke of offerings before the Holy of Holies. She began ponding on Miriam’s door. “Miriam, Miriam…”

She kept pounding until Miriam’s mother opened the door. Her eyes puffy and red; her face gaunt and frozen. Grief had aged Esther years in these past few hours. “Rebecca. Go home. They are patrolling the village. Go home. Leave us in peace.”

“I can’t Ima Esther. I have good news. I need to share it with you. With Miriam. With any who will hear.”

“What are you talking about child? Miriam’s Avy is dead. Menachem has been murdered. Simieon, pht, the cause of all this is crucified. What are you talking about, Good News. Go home.” 

“Ima Ester, please. Let me in.”

“Go home, Rebecca!” Just then an arm reached under Esther’s and pulled Rebecca into the house. Miriam, eyes sunken with sadness just looked at her best friend. Rebecca could not tell what she was seeing; definitely grief, maybe hope – anxiousness. Her friend’s eyes were a mixture of emotions, swirling together. Mixing melancholy with mania; pain punctuated with perseverance.

“Miriam, remember when Jesus came through town? Remember when we was saying those words that made people scared, ‘Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!’ Remember how they thought he was going to start a fight with Gaius and the others? But what did he do? Remember he went to the synagogue and heal Ruth. Remember How we went straight to the edge of the village and touched the lepers? How instead of having supper with the rabbai, he came and ate with you and me? How he put his hand on us and said ours is the Kingdom of God?”

Miriam just stood there. It seemed like ages, but then she whispered. “Peace.” Her eyes began to brighten, “Peace.” “PEACE!” A smile came to her face and she embraced her best friend. Esther began to cry, “What is wrong with you child? You father is dead. Your brother is dead. We have nothing anymore. All we have is gone.”

“Ima, don’t you see? Jesus gave us the Kingdom of God. When he touched us, we understood what true peace was. The peace of God is not like the Roman peace. That is what Jesus was saying. He dose not come to bring peace like we would expect from Rome. He brings a peace that brings healing. Even now, Ima, my heart is lighter. I am not less sad about what they did to Avy and Menachem and Simeon. But they can’t not separate me from that peace that I felt when Jesus touched me. I have seen the Kingdom of God. Felt the Reign of God. I want to be a part of that. Not to bring peace like Rome, but to be present in God’s Reign.”

“Stupid child, go to bed. You, Rebecca. Go home. What would your Avy say if he knew you were here talking this garbage. Go home.”

Rebecca went. Her eyes open. Her spirit free. In Peace.

(Scene 4: It’s time.)

The divisions Jesus brings are not the false divisions that we create. It is not a division between the haves and the have nots. It is not the divisions of persons based on skin pigment; religious affiliation; or language. The good ones and the bad ones. It is a division between those who have seen and experienced the Reign of God,  and are are ready to embrace it and act and say “It’s time,” and those who do not, who refuse to see and refuse to act. 

That is the division Jesus speaks about. It is the division of those who act out the Reign of God, regardless of the consequences. War is not peace in the Reign of God. Peace is triumphant – there is no war. Inequality and false divisions are not in the reign of God, but healing and restoration; reconciliation and redemption are. The Reign of God brings a peace that surpasses all of our understanding and will cause divisions with those who refuse to see and act. 

It’s time to share the Reign of God. To offer the liberation it brings. The freedom. The wholeness. The reconciliation. The redemption. The salvation. It’s time to bring God’s peace in a world that has no understanding of true peace. It’s time to run across the village square like Rebecca, unafraid, because our hope is in the one who brings true peace, who ends division as we understand it. There is a fire burning – the fire Jesus longed for. Burning by the power of the Holy Sprit. Let it catch in this place and move us beyond the supposed safety of what ever false divisions we have created, let it move us into the Reign of God that brings us face to face with true Peace. Let it give us to the power to tell the world of true peace. Let us WORK together with the Holy Sprit to bring about that peace; regardless of the what may be the result. It took Jesus to the cross. It will bring division. There are consequences. But our hope, our grace, our good news, is knowing that through Jesus we have the power to end divisions that separate us. Through Jesus we have the peace that will call the storms. Through Jesus we have the gift of new life. Through Jesus all things are possible. Through Jesus – we are given the power to change the world.

Thanks be to God.


On the Side of the Road

Justin Thornburgh

Emerson Avenue Baptist Church

Luke 10: 25-37 P8C

14 July, 2013

On the Side of the Road

(prologue: Out on a Limb)

If I were to go out on a limb and guess, I would say that pretty much everyone in this sanctuary this morning has heard today’s Gospel lesson in one way or another. The good ole’ flannel graphs that Ms. Betty and Ms. Wilma used when they taught the primary children….that is one of the earliest ways I remember the story. I remember teaching a VBS in one of the buildings of the Springfield Housing Authority, in my hometown, and when we did it we had kids with markers, drawing a cartoon we we told the story. Even if you are in church today for the first time, this story has become such a part of our pop culture, you probably know it – if only because of hearing of a Good Samaritan hospital, or the Good Sam sticker on the back of the RV.

There are Good Samaritan laws that seek to protect those who try to help someone. They protect the server who gives the heimlich maneuver to a chocking customer even though she might have accidentally cracked his rib in the process. The Good Samaritan has become one of the most told and preached upon stories in the whole Bible. It has touched lives since Jesus told it, and since Luke retold it. It has become a part of our culture. The Samaritan has become someone for us to imitate. A role model of neighborly care. Something for which we strive and are often left to feel guilty when we don’t. 

When we see the homeless man or woman on the street and cross over to the other side  – uh oh, I am the priest; when we witness an act of violence and do nothing – call me a levite; because this story has so imbued our culture we are left to feel guilty. And sometimes that is an appropriate reaction to our actions – for we are to care for the least among us and be ambassadors for peace, but I want to challenge our assumptions of this parable. I want us today to look at this story in a new way. In a way that maybe Jesus intended. When he first told this parable it wasn’t to give us warm fuzzies or to create a neutered main character that we should like and aspire to. When Jesus first told this story it was to challenge the hearers whole way of looking at the world. It was to not only challenge them to define their neighbor, but it challenged their understanding of a savior. Challenged their whole idea of who the savior was and what he or she looked like. Jesus was going out on a limb.

(Scene 1: The Road to Jericho) 

Let’s, use some sanctified imagination and go back to when Jesus might have first told this story. Remember that Luke was written long after Jesus’ death and resurrection – somewhere between 30-60 years later. And as an author Luke had an agenda. He sought to frame Jesus’ parables as ethical examples, which they are for us. They are great examples of how we are to live, and how we might be a part of the world. They draw us into the story and help us to see them as allegory. It is important for us to read them this way, but it is also important for us to dig deeper. To explore what Jesus was saying when he first uttered these words, to look at the story with a deeper lens than just Luke’s. So, let’s go back to when Jesus might have first told this story. Let’s go back to when this story was heard more as a challenge than as an ethical example.

The fire was crackling. The shadows were dancing across the faces of the followers of Jesus. The nightly meal had finished and the eating area had been cleaned. Leaning around the fire they are laughing and telling stories. They are sharing the adventures they had when Jesus sent them out, and how they were able to cast out demons and heal. Some are sharing about the meals they ate; some had eaten like royalty, others ate mud pies. But none the less they we rejoicing that they were so well received. The people seemed to get that they were doing something different. There was joy around that fire. They were going to return Israel to its rightful place as center of the world!

Jesus sat there listening to them. Hearing them. He sat and was quiet. Finally as their conversation lulled he spoke up:

“There once was a man. He went by himself from Jerusalem to Jericho. Walking along that Jericho road.” 

“Moron,” shouted one of the followers. Everyone knew that this was the most dangerous road in the entire Roman empire – what kind of fool would take on that journey by himself. 

Jesus held up his hand to silence them. He had that gleem in his eye that told them there was something even more … let’s say challenging … yet to come. “As it happened, Peter, that man was attacked and beat up by robbers. Stripped of everything. Beaten and left for dead.” 

Peter interjected the sarcasm oozing from his words, “Didn’t see that coming. Served him right.”

Jesus continued, “As the sun began to rise and the vultures began to circle – smelling the infection growing – waiting for his life to end and their feast to begin – there happened to be a priest passing by. He heard the moaning of the man, and the priest approached and saw the blood coming from the man. He uttered a blessing and crossed over to the other side of the road.”

“He did not want to become unclean. Touching the blood, he would have to take a dip in the Mikveh. I haven’t seen any of those on the Jericho road,” came voice from the peanut gallery. The others chuckeld at this, but Jesus moved on.

“The heat of the day dragged on – parched – the man was begging for his life to end. The sand in his throat; the pain in his broken bones. Yet, just as we was about to give up a Levite approached. Saw the broken man, and crossed to the other side.”

“Come on, Jesus. What could he have done? The man was dying and the Levite is not a doctor.”

Jesus paused. The silence brought back everyone attention to him. “Then, when then man had given up. Closed his eyes and given up all hope of being rescued. There was a shadow that came over him. He readied himself for the shadow of death, but then cool water hit his lips. He choked at the fist drink – his parched throat burning at the touch rejuvenating water. Gasping he tried to talk, but his words were silent. There was a searing pain in his leg as his savior began to clean the would with wine and oil. Finally, he opened his eyes and beheld his savior. As he did, his heart began to race. The way the helper looked he knew he was not to be making contact with him. He saw a Samaritan binding his woulds. He…”

“What…That dog,” shouted a follower. “A half-breed is touching this man. Probably to see if there is anything left to steal.” The followers knew about Samaritans. They were the epitome of evil – everything that was wrong with the world. They were thugs; insincere people who claimed to believe in the same God as good Jews. They are the offspring of heretics and were known to treat Jews as wild animals. They were hated by the people sitting around this campfire. Hated by all “good Hebrews.” 

Undeterred by this outburst and the growing chorus of negativity coming from around the fire Jesus continued, “He saw a Samratian binding his wounds. He began to struggle – trying to free himself. Wishing he would have died earlier.” 

“If only…” came another voice.

“Then the Samaritan turned and saw the man was awake. He again moved to give the man some more water, but as he put the skin to the man’s mouth – the beaten man clenched his teeth, not wanting to share spit with this man. He fought and struggled the help.Then the Samaritan looked in the man’s eyes. The broken man saw something he did not see in the priest or the Levite.”

“Yeah, a mongrel’s eyes.”

“Pity – compassion,” Jesus responded. “When the beaten man saw the eyes of his savior, he relaxed and let himself be cared for. He gave himself over to Samaritan. The Samaritan finished binding the man’s wounds. Laid him upon his own donkey, and continued to Jericho where he found and inn and cared for him for the night. 

“When the morning came the Samaritan gave the innkeeper two day’s wages worth of money and told the keeper to care for the man…”

“And to keep a total so he could charge the man when he woke up,” came another voice.

Shaking his head, Jesus finished, “He told the innkeeper to take care of him, and when he returned if anything more was owed he would pay it.” With this, Jesus got up and moved to his sleeping mat and fell asleep. The followers sat around the fire, quite for a long time. As the flames began to die down, they slowly made their ways to their own mats. The stars above them - 

(Scene 2: Presuppositions)

The followers of Jesus were disturbed by this parable. It seriously challenged their presuppositions of things. The man, should have been blamed for going on the dangerous road by himself. He took a stupid risk, and suffered the consequences of his actions. Sounds kind of like some of the rhetoric coming from certain areas of our own society, doesn’t it? You made your bed, now lie in it. You made the choices you did, now you are just paying the piper…It is easy to blame folks when they make decisions we consider stupid or wrong headed. 

The priest and the levite were doing their best to follow the law. The priest and levite were trying to be good followers of God in their own pious ways. Don’t touch the bloody man because I don’t want to be defiled. Pray for him, ask God to take care of him, but my own holiness can’t be affected by this man. He is probably dead…the Levite certainly didn’t have a cell phone. How could he have helped? He wasn’t a doctor. Making excuses for why he couldn’t help. All logical excuses, rational. Excuses I make every day. 

Excuses and choices that I beat myself up over. Should I? Shouldn’t I? What about disease? What about if it is a ploy and he has friends that want to beat me up? What about this? What about that? Each time I remember an excuse, it is another punch to the gut – stripping me of who I think I am. I am a pastor, I should know better. I am an example, what about my congregation? I know, though discussions this week that I am not alone in these feelings. For many of us, we let the guilt we carry about being less than we think we aught to be, beat us up. Tear us apart, leave us on the side of the road. Beaten and blood. Looking for a savior.

Sometimes we are beaten up by circumstances out of our control. Beaten like the man. Attacked by physical brutality. Abused. Snatched by spiritual warfare. Captive to systems of power that seek to place themselves above us at all costs. Lead down the dark hallway of loneliness and depression; held prisoner by pain and disease; beat up by a bottle or pills; smacked around by someone we thought we loved – someone who claimed to save us. Sometimes we are left on the side of the road. Beaten and bloody. Looking for a true savior.

And when that savior comes he or she is not what we might expect. The followers of Jesus and even the initial listeners of Luke’s gospel HATED the Samaritans. They were even more despised than the Romans – at least the Romans did something. The Samaritans were leeches. They did things that were reprehensible to the sensibilities of the Hebrew people. One thing they did was put human bones on the altar in Jerusalem. Desecrating the altar. There was complete distrust of them – pure hatred, and the Hebrews thought the world would be better off without the Samaritans. And here was Jesus saying that this…thing…was the way to life for the beaten down man.

When we are beaten and battered on the side of the road, and in need of a savior it is often the face of the enemy that we meet. The tattooed, pierced, Hell’s Angel who offers to take to get you gas. The shady windowless van that takes you home when your vehicle is dead. For me it was being protected by a gangbanger as I walked to my car  night after night. 

(Final Scene: The face of a savior. [Put on hoodie])

I worked for WIC in Chicago, and one of our stores was in one of the roughest neighborhoods in the city. I was always beating myself up over how little my work seemed to help. I was, figuratively but spiritually, beaten and bleeding on the side of the road, but one night – Halloween, a dangerous night in this neighborhood, I was greeted by a face that terrified me. I saw the colors. The sagging pants. It ink of the face and arms. The signs of prison tattoos. Instinctively, I put my hand over my front pocket were I kept my wallet. I didn’t know what was going to happen. As I locked the door, he began to approach me. My pulse quickened. I was muttering under my breath, “o god o god o o god…” I tried to keep my composure. 

“Come on, I am walking you to your car.” I stood there for a minute, stunned. This “thug” was wanting to walk me to my car. I was prepared to be mugged. I was letting every negative stereotype take control over me. I was scared. I was pretty sure he was carrying a piece and I had my keys on a caribeaner…those makeshift brass knuckles wouldn’t do anything agains a 9mm. When he got me to my car he leaned over to me…”You all takin’ care of my shorties. I got your back. Go, I will make sure you get out of here safe.” 

I got into my car, assisted by a thug savior. We were the faces of the enemy to each other, and yet he had the vision to see that I needed a savior that night. That night this thug, this person who had done some serious stuff was the face of Jesus. 

This is what this parable is challenging us to do. To see Jesus in our enemies, to learn from the outsider, the other, the alien, the ones we don’t expect. To move beyond profiling someone because of the color of their skin, their accent, or the way they pray, and to see them as a child of God. 

Because no one expected the face of the savior to be born of an unwed teenage mother.

No one expected the face of a savior to be a carpenter’s son. 

No one expected that the face of a savior, of God incarnate, would be there touching the unclean. Healing on the sabbath. Being a law breaker.

No one expected the face of the savior to welcome women into his midst, to allow them to be his funders, to give them places of power. 

No one expected the face of the savior to be there sitting amongst the children. Calling them greater than all of the powerful men.

No one expected the face of the savior to be nailed to a cross on the side of the road. Willingly taking upon himself the punishment because we could not recognize that the face of the savior was the one always meeting us on the side of the road.

No one expected the face of the savior to come through that upper room door and say peace to you, after we have denied him. After we have betrayed him. After we have retreated into our places of safety.

Sometimes, sisters and brothers, the face of the savior is the one we don’t want to be around. Jesus makes us uncomfortable. The call to discipleship is hard. When we stand our ground it is hard to see what we are standing on is Holy Ground. Sometimes it is easier to want to be on side of the road – even in our pain – because the savior is not what we expect. 

But we need the savior. And Jesus goes on healing anyway. Shattering our presuppositions. Seeing us for who we are. Goes on feeding us with bread and wine. Washing our broken bodies. Even as we try to struggle. Jesus is there caring for us on the side of the road.

Thanks be to God.


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