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Sermon preached by Reverend Charles Royden on the Good Samaritan.  Luke 10

Easier said than done.

Imagine if as our children grew up we constantly told them how horrible they were. That they were sinful, below our standards. If we told our children that they were miserable offenders and that they were not worthy even to eat the crumbs under our table. Can you imagine how scared and psychologically damaged our children would grow up?

But we do it in church. This understanding forms a large part of what we tell people in the formula for how to be saved.

Salvation is obtained only because God forgives us miserable worms. We have shouted at people and with our obsession with sin, we have told them every time they come to church how horrible, they are. It is as if God is only happy with us when we feel thoroughly miserable.

How refreshing then today to hear the words of Jesus when he is asked ‘What can we do to inherit eternal life?’

Let’s look at this episode

The lawyer came to Jesus and wanted a formula for spiritual success.
Jesus helped the lawyer answer the question for himself, and the answer was relatively straightforward.

"'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, 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'"

No mention of grovelling worms begging God not to crush them, rather we are released to share in the Godly enterprise of love. As God loves us, loves not despises, so we are able and encouraged by Jesus to love others.

This is not an easy reading of the text. Whilst loving neighbours is perhaps something we could have a reasonable stab at, the problem comes when Jesus defines neighbour much wider than would ever do.
Jesus included as neighbours the people we hate, the people who have a different religion, the people whom we think God really does despise.

We all have people or specific groups who we think God does not like. But truthfully anybody who is different from us, or just strangers, people we do not know - we find it easier to see them as enemies, rather than future friends.

This is true for us in what we call multi-racial Britain, think how much harder it was for the Jews to whom Jesus was speaking. In the mind of the Jews, there was an enormous division between those who were Jews and those who were Gentiles. Jews were a special people chosen by God and God was on their side. This was something which they believed that God had made them. That tribal boundary which separated the Jews from those whom God had not chosen is still something important for Jews today.

An example of that can be seen in the construction by Israel of a wall in Occupied Palestinian territory. The International Court of Justice in the Hague has ruled this week (14 to 1) that the wall is contrary to international law and that Israel should dismantle it and make reparations. It also said that (14 votes to 2) all States parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention have in addition the obligation, while respecting the United Nations Charter and international law, to ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law as embodied in that Convention. This judgement is perhaps not such a surprise. The Israeli high court itself had already decided that a 30 kilometre segment out of the 40 kilometre part of the planned greater Jerusalem apartheid wall was illegal. The Jewish people still find it impossible to live with their neighbours.

But it’s not just the Jews. In America, the Senate Committee report published last week was a complete indictment of the war on Iraq. The panel's ranking Democrat, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, said on publication

'We in Congress would not have authorized that war (in Iraq) if we knew what we know now, We went to war in Iraq based on false claims."

Almost in response - and in advance of the Butler report - our own Prime Minister has finally let it slip that we may never find the weapons of mass destruction which we were assured were present to justify going to war. When going to war was debated in England, we were told that we could not be privy to important information which told all about Iraq and what Saddam Hussein and his scientists were up to but ‘If you knew what I knew’ our Prime Minister said.

However it has become transparently obvious that the claim that the now notorious dossier was ‘sexed up’ is absolutely true after all. There was no justification for war. The statements now by our Prime Minister, that the world is safer without Saddam Hussein are utterly irrelevant. If that statement of end justifying the means were true, then we should today wage war on Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, Iran and anywhere else where we feel that a change of government would be a good thing.

Why do I explore these very political subjects when considering teaching on neighbours? The answer is simple, in a week in which America recognises that the war on Iraq would not have taken place had all the facts been known, we need to ask why it was so easy to convince a county and many other allies that it was right to do so. Why did we believe so readily that there was a need to send thousands of soldiers, civilian men, women and children to their deaths?

The answer surely is that we are all like the Jews, we all find it difficult to accept as neighbours, people who are different, or strangers. We all need to free ourselves from deep seated hatred and prejudices. We need as Christians to start trying to like people a little bit more.

The reason why so many people supported the war was because we were bombing people who were different. They were clearly not of our tribe. They were Arabs, Muslims, there was therefore an acceptance of the killing, because it happened to people outside the boundary, people who are inferior to us.

The life of Jesus teaches us constantly and repeatedly that boundaries of tribal identity have to be broken down. Jesus was a Jew, but he was given by God as a gift for the whole world. And Jesus wanted other people to know that the love of God went far beyond tribal identity. God’s love knows no boundaries. Even before Jesus is born, God declares this to the case by showing a star shining in the sky for all people to see, not just the Jews. And those who come to worship are from a very different religious tradition which was frowned upon by religious Jews.

That is why the parting shot of Jesus to his disciples is to go to the whole world, beyond Judaism.

This is an important message for the world today. Today increasingly we hate and fear those who are different. We are suspicious of those who speak, dresses or worship differently. For after all many would say, we are God’s chosen people, we are superior.

So we need to hear again the lessons of Jesus, that there is no such thing as a boundary to God’s love. God cannot be contained within one tribe or religion and God loves people, from whatever tribe, nation or religion they belong.

Perhaps we need to hear again what the Christian Gospel is really all about. The cross of Jesus teaches us that the love of God reaches out to the very worst offenders who are outside our superior group. The forgiveness of Jesus is lashed out on everybody not just his pathetic followers who ran away to hide, but also on the very soldiers who put him there in the first place.

The lesson of the cross is that God loves outside our human boundaries. The Gospel is the call of God to participate in God’s wasteful loving enterprise. The God who looks on us all as his children. It is only when we have a glimpse of this divine love that we can stop hating people who are different. A vision of this love prevents us from thinking that it is alright to bomb people who live outside our tribal system. A vision of this love prevents Protestants from killing Catholics, Jews and Moslems killing each other.

Most of us like worshipping here at St Mark’s because it is a place where all of your ministers believe that God’s love is bigger than our denomination, that God cannot be contained within any human religious framework.

This makes us open to love our neighbour, not in a condescending way that offers help as a pretext for making another convert. We love our neighbour because in our neighbour we see the likeness of none other than God himself. My part of the truth is incomplete and it is only as we move outside of our tribal boundaries that we begin to awaken and realize how much bigger God is than ourselves.
Charles Royden

Additional notes

The priest was "going down" from Jerusalem to Jericho, which is thirteen hundred feet below sea level, the lowest city in the world. ?

Priests were divided into twenty-four "courses," each serving a week in the temple in Jerusalem twice a year and at high festivals. Many lived in Jericho, so the priest was probably on his way home.

To find out whether the man was dead or alive, the priest would have to come within four cubits. If he were dead, the priest would be defiled and liable to discipline. If he were to touch a dead man, loss of his office of priesthood would mean that he could not collect, distribute, or touch the tithes on which priests primarily lived; he would lose prestige. He would also forsake the ancestral path of his fathers, because priesthood was inherited, not chosen. And if the person died, the priest would be required to provide for his burial

Levites were cultic officers of the second rank who rendered subordinate service in the temple. A step down from priests, they were nevertheless a step up from the common people. Their tasks included keeping the temple gates, caring for the courts and chambers of the sanctuary, maintaining the treasury, singing, and policing the temple. They were also divided into twenty-four courses. They were required to observe ritual cleanliness only during their tour of duty.

Samaria had been the capital of Israel's northern kingdom. When Assyrians conquered Samaria in 722 B.C., they deported about half the Samaritan aristocrats to other parts of the Assyrian empire and forcibly settled other conquered people in Samaria in an attempt to lessen the chance of uprisings. Intermarriage and theological differences led to a widening gap between the Samaritans and the Jews to the south. The Samaritans, excluded from worship in Jerusalem, worshiped in their own temple on Mount Gerizim. The Jews being told this parable regarded Samaritans as mongrels, half-breeds, almost Gentiles (John 8:48), cursed them publicly in the synagogues, and prayed that they should have no share in eternal life. Jews would not eat with Samaritans, use their drinking vessels (John 4:9), or believe their testimony in court.

Thieves and robbers exist in every society. Some of them in this period were former landowners who had been forced off their land by a punitive system that allowed land to be claimed for unpaid debts.