Lectionary 15C (July 10, 2016)

There’s a Good Lutheran inside of me. Allow me to explain. My theology is Lutheran. My ethnic background is Lutheran. I promised to teach and preach in accordance with the Lutheran Confessions not because I had to in order to get ordained but because I think they’re good. That’s not the Good Lutheran. The Good Lutheran inside of me wants to give correct Sunday school answers and gets upset when things don’t go the way the catechism says they do. The Rev. Timothy A Leitzke, Ph.D., pastor of a justice-oriented Reconciling in Christ congregation in 21st Century Indiana preaching on the weekend after the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa, would really like the Good Lutheran to be quiet. It is kind of like when I am trying to get out of the house with the girls and I’ve got them in the car but they will not stop shouting and I am just about to lose it when I realize they’re saying I haven’t buckled their seatbelts yet. So I listen to the Good Lutheran. The Good Lutheran wants to know why the priest and the Levite pass by the guy while the Samaritan helps him and why the Samaritan is praised when it is not good works that save us and, AND…why Deuteronomy tells us we can follow the Law when I thought we had Jesus. The Good Lutheran awaits your answer.

Trouble begins right off the bat. A lawyer asks what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus says, “What’s the Law say?” Lawyer says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus says, “Right. Do this and live.” The lawyer asks: “But who is my neighbor?” In Jesus’ day, “neighbor” appears to have meant fellow Hebrew. It really did mean your own race. #GentileLivesMatter would have been laughed at. Jesus replies to the question with the famous story. A man gets mugged and beaten on the way to Jericho. A priest sees him and keeps going. It is true that he would defile himself by touching a corpse. But this isn’t a corpse; the dude in the ditch is alive, and the sense of the story is that the priest knows that. He chooses not to help. Then a Levite comes by. Levites helped with sacrifices. They set up, kind of like how the altar guild and assisting minister set up here. He, too, sees the guy is alive and chooses to avoid him. We think that any decent human being would approach a wounded person by the side of the road. But there exist famous examples of large crowds failing to help a person. And this says nothing of our capacity to hurt people in the first place. Consult the killings of black men by police or any retaliatory violence against police for further evidence of so called human decency.

In any case, we know what’s coming, right? There’s gonna be a third guy; that’s how these stories work. Priest and Levite won’t help the poor guy. This is gonna be a typical anti-authoritarian story where some poor schmo comes by and helps the guy, Jesus stands with the 98%, whatever, but then, no, it is a Samaritan. It’s a foreigner. Foreigner means a different God. (Yes, you and I know it is the same God, but Hebrews and Samaritans did not believe so.) This one with the other God fulfills the Law. Jesus adds a flourish that we shouldn’t overlook. The Samaritan uses wine and oil to clean the victim. This is standard first aid in those days: oil softens, wine disinfects. Oil and wine are also common elements in sacrifices at the Temple. Levites set them out and Priests use them. Only, here, it is the Samaritan who carries them and puts them to Holy use, while the priest and Levite refuse to acknowledge the humanity of the man in the ditch.

With this story, Jesus teaches that “whoever responds to human need is a true child of God and an example of love for the neighbor.” (Hultgren, 98) I think this is where the Good Lutheran in me gets nervous. This sounds just like justification by good works. And while we are all 21st Century people with 21st Century problems—most of us do not wake up to find that we have been transformed into medieval monks horrified that we might go to purgatory—the Good Lutheran raises an important question: if we are saved by grace, why does Jesus tell this story and then say, “Go and do likewise”? It sounds like that commandment, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself, still applies.

It is probably time to consult Moses. He has just told Israel how God knows that people mess up but God remains faithful, and now in our First Reading we learn that God is so faithful to us that God is going to make us faithful. We will be able to follow God even though God has flat out admitted that we will keep failing. “I’ve been watching you a long time; you’re not getting any better at this.” God is putting the word very near to us—in our hearts and in our mouths. The heart for Hebrews means emotions, passions, intellect, will, and conscience. The “heart” is a pretty way of saying “inside,” while the “mouth” is a pretty way of saying “what connects us to the outside.” The word is in your heart and in your mouth. In other words, “The Word is a part of you and should be coming out of you in your words and actions.” Sounds better the way Moses says it.

God is going to put the word in you. On behalf of the Good Lutheran I did some digging. Turns out that Philip Melanchthon, Luther’s right hand man, writes in the Apology to the Augsburg Confession that “Christ was given…that on account of him the…Holy Spirit…may be given to us. [T]he law is established… through faith, because the law can be kept only when the Holy Spirit is given.” (Ap. IV: 132). Christ gives us the Holy Spirit so that we can follow the commandment to love God and neighbor. The Holy Spirit, who Christ gives us, keeps that Word in our hearts and mouths. Turns out Justification by Grace through Faith is the beginning. It’s crucial. Can’t get to any other steps on the walk of faith until you get through it. Still the beginning. If we stop at justification, it is like finally getting out the door, into the car, belts buckled this time, and then saying, “Okay wasn’t that fun? Everyone back in the house!” If we stop at justification, we ignore the Word God has put in our mouths and our hearts and in the mouths and hearts of our neighbors. We’re like the Priest and the Levite.

The Samaritan is the true priest and true Levite, the true Child of God, because God has put the Word in the Samaritan. I don’t know when it happened or who preached to him, but he has the Word inside of him and busting out of him. And when he sees the man by the road, the Word in the Samaritan says to the Samaritan, “The Word of God is in that man, too. Love that person. Serve that person. Ask what we can do for that person.” And the Samaritan is a Neighbor, Jesus says. He is a neighbor because he serves and keeps on serving. We get a vivid account of his first aid technique, but he provides extended care. He pays for a long stay and says he’ll be back. He is going to come face to face with the man again, and what he hears then may not be as easy to handle as wounds that need cleaning. The Samaritan may hear that men like this get attacked on the road to Jericho a lot and no one seems to care. He may in talking to the victim realize that he has friends who are black and friends who are police officers and he may be tempted to say, “Well, we’re all justified by grace through faith. Got to go!” But the Word of God in his heart and in his mouth is saying, “Justification’s great! You’ve just buckled the seatbelts and checked the mirrors. It’s time to get that car moving, dude.” It is time to put things to holy use.

We will be putting things to holy use this morning. To the Samaritan’s oil and wine we will add bread and water. The oil at Baptism won’t be used to soften little Allison (though her skin is going to be spectacular afterwards). The oil with the water will seal God’s promise to Allison that the Word is near to her, in her heart and in her mouth. She is justified and ready to serve. And the wine isn’t for disinfecting, though it fortified. The wine with the bread will nourish us with Christ, placing the Word in our mouths and in our hearts, heightening our awareness that God is in us and in our neighbors, and drawing us together so that our ministry is not isolated individual acts of charity and kindness, but God’s Word alive in our community.

God’s Word. That’s why it is important to heed the irritating voice of the Good Lutheran. It is God’s Word that does this. Human decency produces the sickening scenarios we’ve watched with horror this past week. Human decency murders black people for being black. Human decency murders police officers in retaliation. Human decency causes us to fixate on the evil, and despair of any good. That irritating Good Lutheran reminds us that it is God’s Word that compels the Samaritan to help the man by the road. It is God’s Word that compels us to help those left by the road today. It is God’s Word that will change the robber, the priest, the Levite. It is God’s Word that will heal a twisted, broken society. God’s Word, placed in the heart and mouth of Allison today. Placed in the hearts and mouths of each of us.