This blog comes later than usual. A week later than normal. A friend has committed suicide and that has sort of kicked me into a funk. And before that news settled into me like a damp Winter’s day, the bombing of the Istanbul airport had already saddened me. The shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota sunk me further into sadness. And the Dallas sniper attack pretty much laid me out. Amidst the very heavy pastoral care load in my parish, these shootings plunged me into a melancholy numbness. I suppose one might say that I felt like May BoatWright from the Secret Life of Bees, the sister who would go out to her “wailing wall” to sob out the world’s hurts.
This past week has been something serious. I thought numbness had me for good until I struggled out of it by reading something posted by my seminary mate, Pr. Jennifer Krushas. Jennifer captured the dilemma that was growing within my numbness. I had to preach. And how could I point to Jesus in the hellish mess that we’ve made of God’s world? Yes, Sunday was coming—and now it is here—and I am about to preach to roughly 150 people who have stood witness to these same stories. And my heart’s not in it—-because in all honesty I’d like to ascend the pulpit this morning, call for a moment of silence, then give the entire lot of ’em my blessing to sit in the sacred space for a good cry.
Our tears could be for the victims and the families of victims, but as selfish as it seems, I think our tears ought to be a heart deep wail for our own sinfulness, a plea for mercy, and a profoundly sobbing lament of our own complicit behavior that has landed us in this violent place.
Consider the victim in this story:
25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He answered, “You shall 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.” 28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37, NRSV)
The one left to die is a man beset by robbers. And after the thieving assault, we hear nothing more of the robbers. All we know is that they “stripped someone, beat this same someone, and went away, leaving this someone half dead.”
Now let’s leave that victim in the half dead space for one moment to consider that the opening part of Luke chapter 10 is about 70 disciples that are sent out by Jesus to be peacemakers. Look at the first five verses of chapter 10:
“…the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’” (Luke 10: 1-5, NRSV)
Pay close attention to verse 5.
The last sentence in this text segment “cuts to the chase.” For if the beginning of the chapter shows mission, and gives purpose and shape to that mission, then the Samaritan text serves as an example of what the mission ought to look like.
If seventy sent ones are traveling the roads to speak peace into homes, then the Samaritan story becomes the example of what it looks like to be about the business of peacemaking in the homes and along the roads between the homes.
Five-ish weeks back our “prayers of intercession” were for the Orlando victims. Last week we could’ve included prayers for the Istanbul airport, but before we could’ve written them, they’d’ve had to’ve been amended to include the people who’ve died in Minnesota, Louisiana, Dallas, and those harmed by car bombs in Baghdad, and the victims of shootings in Charlotte—just to name some of the tragedies in recent headlines. And these are just some that rolled off the presses. Other tragedies, worldwide, national, regional, local, and some individual, didn’t and haven’t garnered the press they might’ve deserved.
And don’t we rock along, a ship of fools, continuing to address these tragedies as matters of behavior? And, how’s it working for us? We all ought to know that it’s not. And aren’t the blindest among us are those who assert otherwise?
I assert that part of our challenge is that we are trying to change others when we can only change ourselves. Further, we’ve obfuscated Jesus’ mission of peacemaking, electing instead to try to change other people, other cities, other nations, when in fact, the change has to begin here in our own heart. This nation will never change until we individuals have a change of heart.
Any recoverer in a decent 12-step program will tell you that the first step towards recovery is to admit powerlessness. Yet we do the exact opposite, don’t we? Don’t we stay puffed up, show-offy, acting so powerful? When the truth of the matter is this—we feel powerless. And this is what we should be feeling! Because when faced with these sorts of tragedies we are powerless!
In his book, Breathing Underwater, theologian Richard Rohr says, “Christians are usually sincere and well-intentioned people until you get to any real issues of ego, control power, money, pleasure, and security. Then they tend to be pretty much like everybody else. We often give a bogus version of the Gospel, some fast-food religion, without any deep transformation of the self; and the result has been the spiritual disaster of ‘Christian’ countries that tend to be as consumer-oriented, proud, warlike, racist, class conscious, and addictive as everybody else-and often more so, I’m afraid.”
Believe him! We have forsaken our mission of peacemaking, opting to be warlike, to nurture hearts intent on war rather than hearts intent on peace. With a brother soon to take command of a USAF squadron, I totally realize that we will commit dollars and people to all sorts of causes. Why then will we not commit to a change deep inside our heart. If there is no change of heart, then what Richard Rohr says will naturally become our truth. For at its source, “deep transformation of self” is a change of heart.
A generation now lives on earth that does not know a world at peace. The children born in the USA since 9/11/2001 have no memory of a world at peace. And generations before them have failed to set them an example. This is especially lamentable given that we Christians in the USA tout our country as a “Christian nation.” Were the chapter, Luke 10, to be used as legal evidence to try the USA for being a Christian nation, one whose heart is set to peacemaking after the pattern of Jesus, then there’d be insufficient evidence to convict. For doesn’t the violence within the borders of the USA speak to this matter directly, we needn’t even look beyond national borders for our truth.
Ours is a nation composed of individuals. And the individuals in this nation require a change of heart before the nation will have a corporate large-scale change of heart. We need a heart turned to peacemaking.
So since we’ve a generation that has no idea what a world turned to peacemaking looks like, it becomes apparent also that we’ve a generation that does not know what a heart turned to peacemaking looks like. Let’s explore this shall we.
For a Christian shouldn’t a heart bent on peacemaking look like:
- a peacemaking heart that doesn’t pass by the wounded party knowing good and doing it not, but knowing good and really doing it. (Per Luke ch. 10 )
- a peacemaking heart loves enemies, loves “haters,” does good to those who despise it, gives oxford shirt and twill coat away without question, does to others that which we’d have done to ourselves, shows mercy, and doesn’t judge. (Per Luke ch. 6)
- a peacemaking heart tends to the log its own eye rather than tending to the speck in the eye of its brother or sister. (Per Matthew ch. 7)
- a peacemaking heart forgives way more than seven times, in fact, it forgives seventy times seven, metaphorically forever forgiving. (Per Matthew ch. 18)
- a peacemaking heart loves neighbor as self, refuses to generalize in an effort to segregate people under bulky divisive labels: Blacks, Whites, Liberals, Conservatives, Demicans, Republocrats, Gays, Straights, etc. And in this act of refusal sees love in neighbor, which is to say, sees God in neighbor rather than use labels as a generalizing mechanism for fencing ourselves away from relationship and thus averting love. (Per Mark ch. 12,)
- a peacemaking heart does not throw stones.(Per John ch. 6,)
To claim the definition “Christian,” shouldn’t individuals and nations give heed to these words of Jesus the Christ? Isn’t this how the world sees that Jesus has made a difference by the creating of a change in us? And this change is something more than some change of behavior; for isn’t it really a total change of being?
So the question for us is this—-will we live as these verses ascribe? Will we pay the costly price of a Samaritan’s suffering love? Isn’t what we’re talking about here? The expense we willingly pay to heal in the way the Samaritan bore the entire expense of creating a peacemaking healing for another? Isn’t this how we speak peace to houses and homes, and along byways, highways, and pig trails? It’s no matter of words alone is it? It is all about actions, isn’t it?
Of course it is! And it requires from us a change of heart. And we call that change of heart repentance. And it starts with our admission of powerlessness. And it looks like taking what Jesus says in Luke ch. 10 seriously enough to actually live it!
Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard says, “The matter is quite simple. The bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.” In this case, regarding Luke ch. 10, I think Soren’s nailed it.
In a world bent on violent war we Christians have an example set before us in Luke ch. 10. It’s the example we are called to show the world again and again. So the question before us is not a matter of “do we understand it,” but the clear matter of “will we follow it.”