Sunday, July 14, 2013

Just Society & The Jesus Way

8th Sunday of Pentecost           
July 14, 2013
Fr. Philip Eberhart

Just Society & The Jesus Way (click for audio)

This morning’s gospel is perhaps one of the most familiar stories that Jesus told.  In answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus shared a story of self-sacrifice and giving that rubbed all the mores of the time the wrong way.  It pointed out the hypocricy of the professional religious orders – the ones, by the way, who were asking the question in the first place – and placed before the world a standard of self-giving and compassion that we have seldom lived into.

Our society today is saddened and in some places angry over the acquittal of Mr. Zimmerman in Florida.  Rather than argue the merits or de-merits of the case and the verdict I would like to look to scripture this morning, to define a different path – the one Jesus took – the one He talked about in our parable this morning.

A just society – isn’t that something that we all long for?  A society where every crime is punished and every victim gets justice.  But our definition of justice is colored by our own biases and desires – our own wants and needs.  It is that way in every case.  This present case has been tried in both court and on the airwaves of our media.  Today the later continues, after the verdict has been handed down.  And we wait and pray this morning for peace in our cities and across our nation.

A just society – what is it, really? 

At the root, justice is an outgrowth of the nature of God, the law-giver.  If we lived in the idyllic setting of the Garden still today there would be no need for law, but we do not.  We and our world are broken, and so we have a system of law and (we hope) justice that has been handed down and molded over the years as we live together as one society made up of diverse peoples.

Justice, as it reflects the nature of God is something that is foreign to our ears.  We are told by the Lord in scripture that we are to do three things –  in the prophetic writing of Micah – we are to

  1. Do Justly
  2. Love Mercy
  3. Walk Humbly with our God

When we consider those commands we see the order and the passion of the Father heart of God for His people.   We are to do what we see God doing -  when we fell, God did not destroy us.  He put us under the discipline of the Law, as a teacher.  Even today, as God’s people, we are subject to discipline – the discipline of a Father who loves us.  Discipline is a demonstration of God’s love for us, according to Heb 12.  We are subject to God’s justice – the consequences of our choices through life are cumulative and we can find life hard as a result of poor choices we have made.  There is a kind of “justice” built into life, isn’t there?

But the justice of God is also effected by God’s nature of Love.  Love, when applied to our lives, is spelled Mercy.  God’s love is something that we struggle to get a grip on and to understand.  It manifests itself in forgiveness when we are oh so wrong.  It shows itself in our parable this morning.  The point – the punch line of the story for Jesus is found in the last line – his last question: 

“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

The answer?  “The one who showed him mercy.”

And the charge to us all:  “Go and do likewise.”

The parable of the Good Samaritan is a story that, as I noted earlier, flies in the face of the mores, the rules of the society into which Jesus spoke.  Those who passed by, did so for good reason – ritual cleanliness, probably – but Jesus then twists the parable and has someone who is the unlikely, the despised one by Jewish standards, a Samaritan – one whose beliefs didn’t match up – whose lineage didn’t measure up – whose status in the society was questionable in some quarters;  the Samaritan was the one who showed mercy – something he probably had not had much of in his own life.

So what do we draw from this parable?  And how does it apply to our present day circumstances and challenges?

First, the command that Jesus was commenting on to the lawyer in the story, still stands for us today:

The Great Commandment:   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.”

If the commandment still stands for us and has not changed since the time it was given, then the application of Jesus here in the parable of the Good Samaritan has not changed as well.

Go and do likewise!”, still rings in our ears as we walk away from the story and into the real circumstances of our own lives and our world. 

In 2008, when the Democratic National Convention was here in Denver, about 70 churches came together to provide a place of live worship, and a tangible witness to those gathered for the convention.  Underneath all that activity, we had a prayer room going that prayed all day, every day and evening of the convention.  What were we praying?

The theme scripture that the Lord gave us was Micah 6:8 – We were asked by God to pick up garbage in the downtown area!  We had T-shirts made that were dark green, with a logo for One Church Metro Denver – and on the back were the words of our direction from God:

Do Justly – Love Mercy – Walk Humbly

Friends, God has a different path for us.  It is not a path of avoidance nor a path of finger-pointing in the face of injustice and suffering.  It is a path of engagement.  It is the path of Jesus!

Val once asked me if the Virgin Mary could have said, “No thanks!”  I had to respond “yes!”  I have often wondered at the conversation between Father and Son and Spirit in the Trinity, as to the course of action for the redemption of the world.  Interestingly, the conversation happened way before the world was brought into being.  None of what happened was a surprise!  How do we know that?  Jesus was the Lamb of God, “slain from the foundation of the world.”  The conversation was one that happened long before creation!

And we see the effects of the conversation in verses like Phil 2:6-10

“ who being in very nature God, thought not equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself (even more) by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Paul is clear in sharing this hymn with his Philippian readers, that the implications of this “mind” that was in Christ Jesus, is something that we are go make ours as well.

The prologue in that chapter reads like this:

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, and affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.


Friends, this is the definition of a just society!  Of a society in which we Do Justly – Love Mercy and Walk Humbly with our God.  It is the definition of the need in our society today and of the answer that we are asked to be.

Let us pray:

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us
 through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
 human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
 infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
 unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
 confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in
 your good time, all nations and races may serve you in
 harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
 our Lord. Amen.

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn
 but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the
 strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that
all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of
 Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and
 glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so
 move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the
 people of this land], that barriers which divide us may 
crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our
 divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace;
 through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us,
 in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront
 one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work 
together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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