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Sunday, July 04, 2010
Lectionary Scriptures: Amos 7:7-17, Psalm 82:1-8, Deuteronomy 30:9-14, Psalm 25:1-10, Colossians 1:1-14, Luke 10:25-37

We’ll start this week with the Gospel lesson because I like the question it asks—although it also makes me squirm. A “lawyer,” an expert in the rules of behavior required of pious Jews, asks “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25) Jesus responds with a question. It is almost an insult, the most basic catechism question that every Jewish child should be able to answer. Jesus asks this wise and well-trained student of Jewish law to summarize the Torah. (vs. 26) The lawyer thinks he can hit a home run with his answer: “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.” (vs. 27) You can almost picture Jesus patting him on the head and saying, “Good answer!” (vs. 28)

The lawyer hasn’t yet learned to quit while he is ahead. He asks a follow-up question. “If I’m to love my neighbor, I need to know who my neighbor is.” (vs. 29) It’s a question that rings across the centuries to us: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ answer comes in the form of a story, about a man who was robbed and beaten and left half dead along the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. (vs. 30) Two pious Jews, a priest and a Levite, pass by without offering help. (vss. 31-32) It is only a Samaritan, a person viewed with avoidance and suspicion by a faithful Jew, who offers help. Those concerned about justice might appropriately ask how we can make this section of road safer, how we can reduce the crime rate so that fewer robberies take place. Such activity is a worthy way of helping our neighbor. But this victim’s need is immediate, as is the Samaritan’s response. Bandage him up, take him to a safe place, and pay someone to care for him. (vss. 33-35)

Jesus then concludes with another question to the lawyer who started the conversation: “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer has gotten the point and says, “The one who showed him mercy.” The question has shifted from “Who is my neighbor?” to “What does it mean to be a neighbor?” To be a neighbor is to help those in need. And Jesus says to the lawyer, “Go and do likewise.” The power of the story is simply enhanced by the fact that the “neighbor” is a “foreigner,” not one of the pious followers of orthodox ritual.

So, who is calling us to be a good neighbor? The men at the Glisan Street shelter, the young girls in Kenya, the lonely person next to us in the pew, the friends suffering in the hospital, the person beaten by the police, and on and on and on.

On a larger scale, it is concern for justice that calls us to good neighboring. Some of the rest of this week’s readings, most notably Amos, remind us of that calling. Amos’ message is not unlike that of Jesus’ story in Luke. He looks at the practice of religion in his day and finds it wanting. He calls the rich women “cows of Bashan . . . who oppress the poor, who crush the needy . . .” (Amos 4:1) He speaks of Israel as those “who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate.” (Amos 5:12) Yet they continue to go to church and sing songs as if all is well with the world. He pictures God as a lion roaring at them, “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” (Amos 5:21) What God wants, Amos says, is justice rolling “down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24) Israel is being called to “seek good and not evil . . . Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate . . .” (Amos 5:14-15)

The portion of Amos’ message in this week’s reading has God holding a plumb line—a weighted string to determine if the walls—or the behavior of the nation—are as they should be. (Amos 7:7-8) They fail to measure up, of course, and the message leaves them angry as destruction is predicted. (vss. 9-17) The final chapter of Amos offers hope, but for the moment, they are forced to look directly into the face of the injustices that surround them. There comes a time when every good neighbor must face that reality and seek what is good. It’s not a pleasant message. It makes me uncomfortable, but God not only comforts the afflicted; God sometimes challenges the comfortable—even calling the comfortable to take notice of and reach out to the afflicted.

The theme of Psalm 82 is similar. “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy . . .” (vss. 1-4) Psalm 25 has more the tone of one who is feeling oppressed and put upon calling out for mercy and guidance, concluding that “all the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness.”

The epistle reading from Colossians contains a call which has challenged me again and again. Paul is praying for the people of Colossae, that they “may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord . . .” (Colossians 1:9-10) Leading “lives worthy of the Lord . . .” What a challenge!

The King James Version of the Bible talks about walking “worthy of the Lord . . .” I once preached a sermon titled, “Let’s Go for a Walk!” based on this text. There’s lots of walking in the Bible. Without repeating that sermon, let me just suggest that our walking may be a neighborly activity. Perhaps we can all take it from there and figure out how. Among other things, the reading from Colossians speaks of it in terms of bearing “fruit in every good work” (Colossians 1:10), the result of a hope found in Jesus Christ, which is “bearing fruit in the whole world,” and “has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God.” (vss. 3-6)

There’s so much more in this epistle lesson—and in all of this week’s readings. I hope every week you do so digging around in them yourselves, reflecting, praying, applying. Everything we need to know about being a neighbor is there if we take it in and then apply it as we walk the road from Milwaukie to wherever life takes us.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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