Tuesday, July 16, 2013

On the morning after the Trayvon Williams verdict. The Samaritan. The neighbor question.


It is the morning after the Trayvon Martin verdict. And today’s gospel is the story of the Good Samaritan.

One of our old friends is there to greet me as I arrive and quickly picks up the broom to start the sweeping. My son Dan is the first to join me in the church and we wonder, will this be the day? Will this finally be the day when no one comes? But as always, the people arrive, one by one and we gather in a circle for scripture, reflection, prayer....and  song.

We start with Amos (7: 7-17). A harsh, rough reading. I describe the difference between the court prophets with their well crafted beautiful words. And the working class prophets like Amos and Micah. And this one...the plumb line story...not everyone knows what one is. A weight on a line to see if a wall is straight. And in this case, a society that doen’t measure up. Amos is warned to basically, shut up. But he can’t. As he says, I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees,  and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, Go, prophesy to my people Israel.

 And in scathing judgment, Amos concludes his prophesy, 
Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city,
    and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword,
    and your land shall be parceled out by line;
you yourself shall die in an unclean land,
    and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.

The message is clear. If the country falls ...and it won’t be because of outside enemies. It will have destroyed itself from within. Stop and frisk, Citizens’ United, racial profiling and stand your ground...with such a country devours itself. We read Psalm 82’s plea for justice, then Luke’s telling if the Good Samaritan, (10:25-37). a story with which we’re all familiar.

I give some background. How close the Israelites and Samaritans were. Ethnically related. How Orthodox Jews today still refer to the occupied West Bank as Judea and Samaria. And how our greatest anger goes out not to those who are different but to those so close. The greatest enmity can be between those who call themselves Presbyterians as opposed to Catholics, Jews or Muslims. 
So the very word conjures up negative vibes for Jesus’ listeners, especially the lawyer putting him to the test. And so follows the story of the one who is fallen upon by robbers. The religious leaders who pass by. And the Samaritan who ultimately helps. And how Jesus flips the question from Who is my neighbor to who proved neighbor. Compassionate response is not qualified but expected. And the lawyer cannot even bring himself to say the word Samaritan. 

How do we really get in touch with this story? I explain that Clarence Jordan of the intentionally integrated Georgia koinonia farm, in his Cotton Patch Gospel,made the ones who passed by a Southern Baptist preacher and a Sunday school teacher. And the Samaritan a black sharecropper. (I also mentioned how deeply Jordan had influenced Millard Fuller who started Habitat for Humanity and former  president Jimmy Carter.)

I ask who we identify with in the story. For one, it is the one who is beaten and robbed. For Don, the lawyer looking for loopholes. There is a lot of sympathy for the  ones who pass by. But as Marsha says, the one who has been beaten and robbed was invisible, he just wasn’t seen. As we pass by people every day of the week. 

In reality, at one time or another, each of us is all of  these characters. 

And Marsha, as she does, asks the organizer’s question,  When is someone going to ask why do people keep getting robbed on this road and what are we going to do about it?

To really get inside this story, we have to move past the too easy cheap prophetic metaphors seeing those who pass by as the religious and political establishment and the Samaritan as say, an immigrant Muslim. One says maybe the Samaritan could be a racist skinhead. For me to really get the feeling of the story, I have to see the Samaritan as a tall steeple preacher or a conservative Christian. And John R points  out that if you did a word association today, most people, because of this story, would have a positive reaction to the word Samaritan. Jesus changed the meaning if the word. 

When we move into our prayers, we are very aware of the Trayvon Martin verdict. The deep pain and anger it has caused and the potential for further rending of our societal fabric. For me, the window into the story is not pundits or people in the street but what happened last night when I came home and found my doorman Louis with his head in his hands. He is an immigrant from French West Africa. How could it be? How could it be? he keeps asking. His faith in his adopted country shaken to its core. And for himself, a profound feeling of vulnerability. Of insecurity. Of being unsafe in this country.

We pray for Trayvon’s family. And for our country. Take up our offering. Sing our song. Our worship is done. 

Later, Jane will stop in before her service. She has gained real clarity as to her own call. To create a container, a space, where people from different -isms can share faith practice towards the end of engaged service. I long for similar clarity. 

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