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The Neighbor Question, Again.

The Neighbor Question, Again.

We believe the words of today’s Eucharistic readings, Galatians 1:6-12 and Luke 10:25-37, just as we believe in the truth of the words in the Daily Office readings, Acts 22:30-23:11 and Luke 6:39-49. These were incorporated into the Canon of Scripture, or as Article 6 of the 39 Articles states, “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation … “ (BCP 868). I can’t emphasize enough that we are at our peril when we cherry pick and twist the meaning of Scripture to support our own preconceived notions (left or right), yet sometimes what we are given is so relevant that the Spirit won’t let us slough it off as familiar. It begs us to take it in, deep in our hearts, deep in our souls. The passage from Luke is such a one. The Good Samaritan. 

Again we have to thank Luke for his talent in story telling. These days, Luke is said to be a Gospel focusing on social justice (cf.,e.g., Luke’s Sermon on the Plain to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount). We know from Acts that the Lucan community had pretty well separated from the orthodox Jewish community, and that they held property in common, and supported the wider church in need. That puts the focus on good works, but that is only one facet. We know from today’s Daily Office Gospel that the author of Luke/Acts had a firm knowledge of the collected sayings of Jesus, such collections probably forming the basis for the Gospel Luke was to write. Reading Luke 6:39-49 certainly reads like such a list. It wouldn’t make a very good sermon. The Blind Guide, Servant not Better than the Master, the Log in your Eye, the Good Tree (and good heart) bearing good fruit, the House build on a firm foundation. All in ten verses. These must be Jesus sayings passed down by those who heard them, on a mountain, on a plain, in the synagogue, or at the seashore. Words remembered. Words written down. But Luke had a talent for taking that which was remembered and weaving stories. And so we have the story of the Jewish traveler who is attacked by robbers and left to die, is ignored by priest and scribe, and is helped by a Samaritan, and for that we could now say a Muslim or Jewish traveler or a black stranger, who might be regarded as dangerous to be avoided. Yet, it is the Samaritan who shows compassion and mercy, which Luke fully details. Yes, who is our neighbor. 

The polarization in the U.S. has become critical to our wellbeing, civic, and, more importantly, our life in the Spirit. In today’s Daily Reading from Acts (22:30-23:11), the High Priest orders Paul to be struck in the face for no apparent reason other than he doesn’t like what he hears. But throughout these chapters of Acts, and remember that this is Luke’s Acts, Paul is beset by crowds drumming up violence by false accusations, beaten and imprisoned for little or nothing. We know that Paul was once stoned and left for dead (Acts 14: 19-20). Who of those of his one-time synagogue brothers were his neighbors? 

Today’s reading from Galatians begins, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.” And what is the gospel our society has turned to? In verse 10, Paul says, “Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” I would contend that we were already turned by the luxury of this first world materialism, and one which already put its emphasis on trending or current. A throwaway culture. One that is founded on other’s approval, for ill as easily as good. And we had already moved to boredom which is quenched momentarily by the stream of scrolling and the variety of entertainment. We can’t read books. We have an attention span measured in seconds, if that. So information has to be fed to us in tiny tweets. Therefore discussion is too complex. Better to hate and shout down anything that disturbs or asks us to ponder, good or ill. Meditation and contemplation, disciplined ascetics, the stuff of the Spirit, becomes harder to focus on. Even given that all gifts of the Spirit are not sought or made by us, but pure gifts of God, we at least have to be willing to pay some attention. We inherited, or created, a pretty shallow world. Even the best and truest things are quickly reduced to memes or slogans. Love takes time. Mercy takes struggle Forgiveness takes prayer.

Does this world, as it is now, make us more able to hate than hear? Fight than forgive? Believe liars and those who traffic in false witness rather than the Gospel of Christ? I will leave this to the pundits, and to our prayerful consideration. Yet the fruits of this are clear, on our streets, on the airwaves, in our minds. And it isn’t the Kingdom of God. 

This is where those true words of Jesus come to bear. Who else can we listen to? Social media? The pundits, even though some of them are very good and truthful? But they speak the word of the world, not God. Certainly not the powerful. That is the blind leading the blind (Lk 6:39). First we must take the log from our own eye (Lk 6:42). Start by praying for an open heart, filled with Christ’s life and light. A loving heart (Lk 6:46). That means giving up the treasure of impatience, false wisdom, anger. Do we hear his words? But do we abide in them, when the noise level of those around us begs, cajoles, bullies us to think as others do? Left or right. The wisdom we seek is traditionally called the fear of God. I know that fear and obey and cherish it. Maybe shock and awe will work better today for that fearful power. The wisdom of the Spirit is what guides us. But we Episcopalians never were told to check our brains at the door. So God’s work may be informed by, but not controlled by, the world’s wisdom. Now when confronted by the chaos today, be it the isolation of the COVID restrictions, the anxiety about the fires or floods, or the upcoming election, and you are side by side with a stranger, ask the Spirit, is this my neighbor? 

In the first centuries after the Resurrection there were times, during persecution, oppression, invasion, when it looked like the End Time was close, or it was all a fake. A made-up hope where there was no hope. But we survived. God led us through as he did for Israel, ever failing, ever repenting and returning. Now it is our time to abide in faith and endurance. Be righteous in Jesus’ teaching, and know his loving care. But be kind to yourself. Take joy in God as he does in us. Give thanks, especially now. 

One quick note on the election. Poll watchers are chosen, vetted, and named in advance. They are not vigilantes who come into the polling stations to cause disruption or intimidation. The post office is safe. Mailed ballots are safe. Our mail carriers are our neighbors in the best sense. Poll workers are those same nice old neighbors who have been doing it for years, only this year wearing a mask and sitting far apart. Vote. But vote with your heart, for that is where the Light of Christ lies.

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