*I apologize for getting this out so late, dear Reader. The following is an excerpt from my sermon Sunday.
Reread Luke 10:25-37
If one would truly seek after the fullness of life with God it will take sacrifice… Jesus’ teaching reminds us it will take all you got, your full self. It will take ALL your mind, all your soul, all your strength… it will take the outworking of God’s love that connects with one’s neighbor, that prioritizes others at least as much as one’s self. That Jesus tells us. This is how to find our true life, our true selves…
This passage puts one of the primary ethical teachings of Jesus about loving God and your neighbor into the mouth of one of Jesus’ testers, and one thing this really illustrates is that even when we know of the connection between how we treat our neighbor and how we treat God in our heads, the short journey that truth faces between our heads and our hearts and out to our “hands” can be quite daunting. If we are honest I think we all know we fall short, that we often desire to an integrity that goes beyond were we are with how what we believe and what we live are connected.
A few devotions back put up a video by a guy named Daniel Goleman. He asks the question, “Why aren’t we all good Samaritans?” One interesting experiment he did was get seminarians from one of his preaching classes to prepare a sermon on this text in one place, and make them walk a short distance to deliver it. Along the way he had it set up that they would encounter a man pretending to be in need of help. He wanted to see if someone who had been thinking and reflecting on this story, internalizing it even in preparing to preach about it, would act differently than most people. He was largely disappointed. Most people in his class would pass buy just like the people in the story… he would ask them questions later to try to understand this phenomenon and what he found was that the real deciding factor of whether or not they would stop to help had to do with how much of a hurry they thought they were in on their walk.
Don’t think for one second that I–because I am a pastor–am ignorant of my own struggles to live this stuff out. That I am not conscious of this disconnect between how we want to be and how we actually are in practice, which–if we wake up to its reality–can often be the start of God giving us eyes to see God Himself in our neighbors and in our neighborhoods.
Becoming aware of this same disconnect of integrity in my life has really helped me to realign my actions to what–in my heart of hearts–I already knew to be God’s truth in this area. As Christians we can sometimes find ourselves wanting compassion more than exercising it; we may genuinely want to help homeless people for instance but if we are honest it turns out that we want our own comforts and predictable patterns more. We may see someone clearly in a roadside jam but think, “I need to just get to where I am headed.”
I am not trying to provide extra ammo for legalism here, just trying to acknowledge the reality that good intentions undefined hardly ever become tangible actions. If for instance I only “intended” to show love for my wife, but did not back up that intention with some concrete follow through, someone would be right to be suspicious of what was meant by the word “love.” Love is a verb, an action word after all.
If we are truly going to take seriously this understanding of a connection between one’s love for God and one’s love for neighbor, and truly want to see that at play in Jesus’ example of the Samaritans’ mercy, we must start by learning to see “God” in the man lying on the road. Quaker’s believe there is “that of God in everyone” and that is a good place to start making this God/neighbor, love/action connection. We need to learn to silence the voice within that seeks to justify, that only knows intellectually, but not experientially, the truth of loving one’s neighbor.