Monday, July 5, 2010

on being sent

You must rely on the people to whom you are sent, to provide you with food, shelter; we can't share the love of Christ alone. I'm paraphrasing here, both the apostle Paul in Galatians and the sermon this past Sunday. We have been sent. How will we be received? We don't know. What does it mean to be received? Received by whom? -- By those to whom we are sent -- our neighbors. Who is our neighbor? It's the question I asked last week, the question of this week's Gospel of the "Good Samaritan." It's the question behind the strange, wonderful, sometimes painful journey we are on (we the church) - Are we being sent? Assume we are (even if you have trouble believing it), how will we be received?

A lawyer stood up to test Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem. Well, I would say from personal experience that we certainly have been tested on this journey, by lawyers -- and by realtors -- and tested too by bankers, by politicians, by bureaucrats. We have been on the road for four years, I sometimes think -- the entire time I have been associated with this church -- we have been sent out together, as Pastor Craig said, and not alone, but we've been on the road. Again and again some new figure has appeared along the way to teach us the law, to test us according to the law. At times I've felt we weren't so much journeying as merely limping along, exhausted, sick at heart, and I've wondered who would have mercy on us -- who would take us in and accept our mission? Who would receive us? Who would be our neighbor?

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers. They stole his clothes and everything he carried, and left him for dead, naked and bloody, by the side of the road. A busy road, as it turns out -- both a priest and a Levite passed by, and seeing the poor man's trouble, took care to cross to the other side of the road in case the trouble was contagious. But a man of Samaria had mercy on the victim, and took him in and provided for him.

The priest and the Levite, like the lawyer, had their reasons. They had that internal conversation -- what should I do? Is this man my neighbor, should I help him? Should I stay away, mind my own business, protect myself in case the robbers are still lurking nearby? Should I wait and see? Perhaps if someone stronger and braver than I shows up to help the naked man then I will help him too -- perhaps if someone with more resources than I shows the robbed man mercy, then I will know that this is the appropriate action, and I'll help him too. Jesus, tell me who is my neighbor.

I know a few wonderful lawyers, wonderful people who know the law, who are helpful and kind. I'm more skeptical of realtors, but only because one of my best friends was a realtor. I don't know any bankers really, and I wish I did. I was angry, for a while, when we the church were struggling to understand the road before us and to find our way -- through painful staffing cuts, through trying internal conflicts, through the gradual disintegration of comforting routines, through rejections and failures of every kind. I thought that if we could get the right advice, if we could get the loan, if someone would just see and believe in what we were trying to do -- if they'd receive us with open arms, show us mercy -- then everything would be alright.

It seemed to take an awfully long time, mostly because of the law -- we weren't being rejected personally, oh no, but by the lending climate, the real estate market, the political landscape in good ol' Northeast. It seemed certain that eventually we WOULD reach Jericho -- but whether we'd make it on foot or in a wheelbarrow was a real question for a while there.

We were sent to Jericho. We were on the road. We are on the road. Maybe Grace Center is our Jericho, and once we settle in then we get to decide how to be the Good Samaritans, how to best love our God and our neighbors. But we are on the road with them, with those neighbors, at the same time -- we are naked, we are hungry, we are bloodied by all that we have lost. We rejoice in each other; we aren't alone.

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