Defining Neighbor - a version of Luke 10:25-37 for today's world.... a riff on "The Message" translation by Rev. Kate Epperly (from a sermon on July 10, 2016)
A legalistic religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”
Jesus answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”
The scholar said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”
“Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”
Looking for a loophole, the scholar asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”
Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a heavily tattooed, paunchy , middle-aged skin-head ( we know this because he had a big swastika tattooed on his arm) riding on his motorcycle to Baton Rouge late one night only a couple of days after yet another unarmed black man was shot and killed by a policeman. As he would later admit, when the TV reporter was interviewing him, he had been going to Baton Rouge to look for some action. “He wanted to kick some butt,” he said.
On the way, however, he was forced off the road by a bunch of young thugs. They not only stole his motorcycle but his wallet, and leather jacket and all his clothes. They beat him up pretty good too. They went off leaving him lying by the side of the road half-dead. At dawn, luckily, a minister was on his way down the same road. When he saw this pudgy, bruised and bleeding heavily tattooed skinhead lying by the side of the road, him he not only passed him up but he pulled his Lexus all the way to the other side so that he almost hit an oncoming car!
A short time later a rabbi drove up but seeing the injured man, he simply sped up to get by him quickly. Perhaps that bloody bald head and all those tattoos somehow made him look frightening even though he was only half conscious. Maybe he just didn’t want to get involved - who knows.
The next to come by was a young black woman wearing a “Black Lives Matter” T Shirt and driving a Jeep. Without hesitation she pulled over and stopped. When she heard the man groaning and saw his condition, her heart went out to him. She gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. She almost had to drag the groggy yet grateful man to her car. After hearing that he didn’t want her to take him to a hospital because he didn’t have any health insurance, she took him to a nearby motel. There she made him comfortable and before she left, gave the front desk clerk her credit card number saying ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill.” She had to hurry on to Baton Rouge because, as a “Black Lives Matter” community organizer and she had a lot a long day of work ahead of her.
Jesus finished the story by saying, “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by hugs?”
“The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded sheepishly.
Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”
German Mystic Meister Eckhardt once said, “If the only prayer you make is ‘thank you’, that’s enough.” Today, my heart is filled with thanks… to you and to God.
Were you raised in a “cup half empty” or “cup half full” home? I was raised in a home where conversation was often negative. Therefore, as part of my spiritual growth over the years, I have worked hard at developing a faith based positive attitude. I have discovered that the best place to start is just being thankful for what we have. Thirty some years ago my husband, Bruce, and I studied a devotional book called “To See Differently”. The author, Susan Trout, was a student of Gerald Jampolsky, a physician who helped children dealing with cancer make a change in their attitudes towards their cancer. He taught the children that “love heals all things” and told them to “See only love!” What was most unusual, for me, anyway, was the understanding that the opposite of love is not hate, but fear. Thus, to see only love meant letting go of fear!
Jampolsky discovered that as they let go of their fears, the children with cancer often experienced miraculous things. So too, when Bruce and I began to “see differently” and become “love finders” rather than “fault finders” with each other (Trout) we also experienced amazing personal and relational transformations. After a year of following the path of “seeing only love” we renewed our wedding vows and have been experiencing marital bliss ever since! Yet, in a way similar to that of an always recovering addict, I still need to own and always manage my tendency towards negative, fear-based thinking. At a rational level, while I truly believe God provides what I/we need, deep in my bones, rooted in my family’s irrational fears and negative thinking, I still experience days when I struggle with maintaining a positive, faith based attitude of gratitude!
What do I do then? I revitalize my sense of connection with God. I pause and notice what I am feeling and thinking, and while contemplating all this, I engage in mindful breathing in and out. During this time of breath prayer I let my gentle inhalations be a relaxing and opening to the inflow of God’s/Christ’s love and life, and my exhalations be a letting go of my negative thoughts and fears. Along with this sort of pausing and noticing, and opening and yielding to God, I also write in my gratitude journal and I take care to express my thanks to others throughout the day.
Does any of this sound familiar to you? Do you ever find yourself living by fear and not by love? Do you sometimes find it hard to maintain an attitude of gratitude? What sort of things do you do to let go of the negative and claim a positive approach to life and love? I would like to talk about this journey of gratitude during the upcoming Lenten season. Lent is often a somber season of penitence, but I think most of us “beat up on ourselves enough already!” Instead, I invite us to join in a season of renewal of our efforts “to see differently”. Can we let go of our fears and negative thinking and “see only love”? If we do, I expect us to experience new resurrection life in a dynamic way at Easter! My experience tells me that we will experience amazing healing and abundance all around us, born of the ever-bubbling well of Divine grace abundantly available to us through the Love of our Risen Savior! I am very grateful to be able to share with you both the joys and challenges of this time in the life of CUC and this beautiful and fragile slip of sand called Truro. Whatever else is going on in my life, I give thanks to God and pray for each and every one of you daily saying, “This is the day that God has made! Let us rejoice and give thanks in it!”
- Dr. Kate
A poem by one of the many poets and artists who shaped my early ministry...
"Autumn is death in life," said my outer eye.
"Color of leafand fragrance of blossom die."
Ynbder time's shealthing, autumn is life indeath;
After this respite, gardens shall draw new breath.
Nothing can hinder, nothing can hasten law.
Look at the garden, look at your heart, with awe.
- Elinor Lennen
As we launch this website for our unique little interdenominational church it seems appropriate to bless it by sharing the prayer of Jesus in John 17 which speaks to the consecration - the traveling with the Holy - upon which we in this community of faith seek tolean during these days of change and challenge (from The Message):
Make them holy—consecrated—with the truth;Your word is consecrating truth.
In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world,
I give them a mission in the world.
I’m consecrating myself for their sakes
So they’ll be truth-consecrated in their mission.
I’m praying not only for them
But also for those who will believe in me
Because of them and their witness about me.
The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind--
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us.
Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me.
The same glory you gave me, I gave them,
So they’ll be as unified and together as we are--
I in them and you in me.
Then they’ll be mature in this oneness,
And give the godless world evidence
That you’ve sent me and loved them
In the same way you’ve loved me...