Monday, August 26, 2013

To the Man - Incarnational Mercy

Mission Sunday – The 13th Sunday after Trinity, August 25th, A + D 2013
St John Lutheran Church, Fairview, Montana
To the Man – Incarnational Mercy      Luke 10:23-37 , 2nd Chronicles 28:8-15

     The Samaritan went to the man.  He had compassion for his plight.  Literally speaking, he had ‘his guts turned out.”    Esplangxnisthe, you can almost hear the visceral reaction, the gut reaction, that is built into the Greek word.  Esplangxnisthe.  Having compassion in his gut upon seeing the beaten, naked, half-dead traveler, fallen on the side of the road, the Samaritan goes to the man, right up close to him, taking on this poor man’s problems, as his own.  To the man. 

     That’s what it takes for real mercy, it takes going to the man, to the woman, to the child.  Whatever person is suffering and in need, to deliver real mercy requires going to the man, getting up close with a person in want and suffering. 

     If Cindi and the gang at ROI, o.k., they’re probably too short staffed to call them a gang, but anyway, it would do no good for Cindi and the other staff at ROI to stand around at a meeting or in a church basement, talking about how there are people with disabilities who could really use some help.  Helen could write letters to the editor every day about how bad domestic violence is.  Shelee could cover the countryside with pro-life posters.  Tim could stand outside every bar in town with a megaphone, warning people about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.  None of these deeds would be merciful. 

     They might be useful, like the prophet Oded’s warning to Israel, which kept them from making slaves out of family, kept them from abusing like cattle their captured cousins from Judah. There is sadly a very necessary place for prophets like Oded in our world.  We can and should proclaim the evils of ignoring people with special needs, the evil of violence in the home, the tragedy of taking the lives of babies, a tragedy for the child, for mother and father, and for our nation.  We can detail the destruction of substance abuse.  We can warn and plead with people to flee from these evils, and some people might do less evil.  But that is not showing compassion.  That is not giving mercy. 

     To be truly compassionate and merciful requires going to the man, to the flesh and blood human being. To the woman who fears the man she loves.  To the drug addict.  To the person with disabilities.  To the single mother of two, who is pregnant again.  True mercy is always in the flesh, flesh to flesh, face to face, messy, risky.  True mercy is incarnational, that is, it entails one flesh and blood person going to another flesh and blood person and getting down in the trenches to try to help them. 

     And you and I don’t really want to do that, do we?  We, like the lawyer in our passage from Luke, would like to qualify a few definitions, in order to limit the need for us to press the flesh with needy neighbors.  Who, after all, is really my neighbor?  Do I have to help the single mom next door?  After all, she’s on food stamps, so I’m already helping her through my taxes, right?  Do I really need to go and help my elderly father cut up his food and clean up his messes?  Isn’t that what we have nursing homes for?  Is it really my concern if women all around me are getting pregnant, and then are pressured into abortions by boyfriends, husbands, parents or poverty?  Are these fallen people really my neighbors?

     Yes.  According to Jesus, yes, your neighbor is every person in need you meet.  Consider that the Samaritan has no tie to the wounded man.  Jericho and Jerusalem are Jewish towns, and so the Samaritan was passing through a land where he was a decidedly 2nd class citizen, maybe even 3rd or 4th class.  Why, since Jews have no dealings with Samaritans, should this Samaritan have compassion on the fallen man, who is in all likelihood a Jew?  Surely the Jewish priest and Levite, who perhaps were still visible, riding away in the distance, as the Samaritan came upon the fallen man, surely they had a greater responsibility than the Samaritan, right?  Why should he go to the man, right up to him, cleansing his flesh and bandaging his wounds, sharing his donkey, and paying for his care? 

     Why?  Because God has put him there for just that purpose.  God gave the Samaritan the privilege of feeling compassion in his gut, of getting up close and personal, of delivering incarnational, in the flesh mercy.  God invited the Samaritan into executing the will of God by loving this neighbor as himself.  There is no higher earthly privilege.

     Are you feeling guilty yet?  I am.  I can admire the idea of loving my neighbor.  I can praise those who go above and beyond, diving into the really messy situations.  I can allow myself to be caught in situations in which avoiding doing something is impossible.  I can even grin and bear the unpleasantries of loving my neighbor, especially if my reputation is on the line.  I mean, I don’t want people to think I’m the pastor with no compassion.  But my whole heart isn’t in it.  I don’t very often consider it a privilege.  I do not rejoice to deliver incarnational mercy, even when it dawns on me that the thing I’m caught up in is from God.  I do not measure up to the Good Samaritan, not in my actions, certainly not in my heart. 

     No one does.  If we could, then the Lawyer’s desire to justify himself could be fulfilled.  According to Jesus, there is, at least in theory, a way to be saved by the Law:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Do this, and you will live, says Jesus.”  And so, we are dying.  According to the Law, we have no hope, because our love for God is weak, and dirtied by resentment and anger at His rules.  And our love for the neighbor is very situational.  I love my neighbors who take care of their yards and have me over for parties and don’t ask anything difficult of me.  But needy people?  Not so much joy in having them for neighbors. 

     Even those who do many visible good works cannot but fail to live up to the standard the Lawyer quotes from Moses, the standard which Jesus endorses.  Scripture declares this truth, by works of the law shall no man be saved.  Honest consciences confirm it.  You cannot justify yourself.  You cannot do what it takes to inherit eternal life.  You are not the Good Samaritan, and you never will be. 

     But there is a Good Samaritan.  His name is Jesus.  Almighty God, rejected by the men and women He created, has chosen to come and find us anyway.  Spiritually dead from sin-disease, even from our birth, and dying physically as well, from the very beginning of our lives, our future at the hands of that robber satan was grim indeed.  But Jesus has come to us, all the way to us.  We do not, indeed, in our sinfulness we cannot muster a love for our neighbors to match our selfish self-love.  But Jesus has loved us perfectly, even though we were His enemies.  Jesus came all the way to us, not merely coming along side His fallen creatures, but even entering into our flesh, facing our temptations, struggling through our broken world. 

     Indeed, the heavenly Good Samaritan has come even farther than the Samaritan in our reading today.  For while that Samaritan only came to the fallen man and cared for his wounds, Jesus has shared in our wounds.  Jesus was beaten, and even stripped naked, by the Roman soldiers, just before He was nailed to the tree.  Yes, the all-powerful Son of God has submitted His flesh to the worst beating humanity could dish out.  Even more, Jesus has accepted from His Father the punishment that all of us deserve for all the cruel blows we’ve inflicted on each other.  Jesus became sin, suffering in our place, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.  Indeed, our Good Samaritan is still working His righteousness in us, for He is risen from the dead and is still seeking fallen people.  Jesus comes and pours Himself out, baptizing sinners into His crucifixion, that they might share His resurrection, declaring His absolution each and every time a repenting sinner confesses her sins.  Jesus even pours Himself out for us in a physical mystery, by His blood, poured into the Chalice, to give forgiveness and new life to all who eat and drink His Supper in faith. 

     And so, in the midst of our world, still soaked through with sin and sorrow and suffering, a new hope, a new love, a new light shines, as the God who has gathered sinners into His Inn, into His Church, and has cared for them personally, bringing them back to life and health, now sends them out, to deliver incarnational mercy to other hurting people.  It’s no accident that these four leaders of these four organizations are doing what they are doing.  It’s no accident that so many other members of our congregations are involved in these and other efforts to serve the hurting people who are among us and all around us.  It’s no accident that wherever you find real, in the flesh human care, you find Christians involved.  For as God feeds Tim, and Helen, and Cindi and Shelee, and the rest of you at this altar, He is preparing you for the service He intends.  As God reminds you how precious you are to Him, despite the sins that you still have to come and confess, week after week, He is preparing your hearts, preparing your guts, to feel compassion for your neighbors, for whom Christ also died, and rose. 

     We rightly rejoice in the care provided by these organizations, but all the credit goes to God.  For there is no truly good work among human beings, except those God leads His faithful into.  For it is Christ alone who is purely good, and only by our communion with Him can any of us sinners do anything worthy of God’s Kingdom.      

     Today we support and celebrate the work of Richland Opportunities Incorporated, District Two Drug and Alcohol Program, Sunrise Women’s Clinic, and the Richland County Coalition Against Domestic Violence, four local organizations that are going to the man, to the woman, to the child in need in our community, meeting hurting people in the flesh, in order to serve them as best they can.  None of these organizations are Churches.  But that does not mean God is not there, working His mercy, for God has put His children in these organizations.  Where there are Christians, there is Christ, moving them to serve compassionately, and even creating opportunities for them to tell others the reason for the hope we have. 

     And these are by no means the only places where God is delivering incarnational mercy through His people.  Every Christian mother or father, changing a messy diaper, loving and disciplining their child through 18 years and beyond, is God’s instrument of incarnational, in the flesh mercy.  Every Christian who runs a business and works hard to make sure she can keep her people employed for the long run is God’s instrument for service to the neighbor.  Even when you and I are not whole-heartedly thrilled to be helping out a person in need, God overcomes what is weak in us, as He works out His perfect plans. 

     And so we rejoice to see God at work, through the lives of His people.  We rejoice even more at the Good News that our good works don’t save us, our good works aren’t part of what it takes for us to inherit eternal life, so we can do them freely, without fear of failure.  And most of all we rejoice at the love and service and incarnational mercy of God, found in the crucified, resurrected and ever-present Son of God, Jesus Christ, our true Good Samaritan, who has come to the fallen man, all the way to us, to save us and give us life, eternal life, in Jesus’ Name, Amen. 

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