Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Love hits the eye first. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 5, Proper 10C, preached on Sunday, July 14, 2019.

    In all the movies, love begins with a look.  The eyes meet in a magic moment and love is born.  Before you know a name or anything else, love is seen with the eye.  Maybe it was like that for you in real life.  Love was born through a glance, a look, a vision – whether pretend or real, whether actual or imagined.  Love begins with a look.  So in the parable the priest and the Levite passed by on the other side.  They wanted to avoid seeing the wounded and bleeding man.  If they did not see him, they would not feel for him compassion or feel any guilt in walking around him on their way.

    It has been that way all through Scripture.  Remember Jesus story of the rich man and Lazarus?  The rich man did not see the pauper at his gate.  The rich man figured if he did not see the man in need, he was not really there.  It is a game learned in childhood – a bigger version of hide and seek except here the goal is not to find problems, not to find needs, not to find duty or responsibility for another.  The winner is not the one who hides but the one who refuses to look and see.  It is the pretend world that thinks that bad things will go away if you just ignore them.

    I don’t think anyone of us wants to see our neighbor in need.  If you see him, you feel guilty for not helping him.  If you help him, it might cost you time or effort or money and still he may be fixed.  The safest thing of all is to pass by on the other side, to walk around the people who are wounded and bleeding, sorrowful and suffering, hungry and thirsty.  The priest and the Levite had good reason not to look and not to see the neighbor in need.  Just like the reasons you tell yourself why the hungry are somebody else’s responsibility and why you cannot help people who refuse to help themselves.  We cannot even look into the face of need for either it will evoke guilt for our failure to help or it will move us to bleed with those who bleed and suffer with those who suffer.  So the safe path is to walk around, to give wide berth to suffering.

    This is what God should have done.  God had every reason to ignore our suffering. We were only getting what we chose and suffering what we deserved for our sins.  God had every right to consign us to the fate Adam and Eve first chose in Eden and every one of us has chosen by our own sins of thought, word, and deed, by the good left undone and the evil done all so willingly.  Love always begins with a look and the first words of the Gospel are that God saw us in our need.  He saw us in our sin.  He saw us not as a people who were getting what they deserved but as a people who He had the power to redeem – not with any self-help program but with His own blood shed and His body offered to death on the tree of the cross and His own life laid in the darkness of the grave so that we might have hope. 

    This parable certainly has something to tell us about our own pretend world in which we hide ourselves from seeing the suffering around us but first of all it points us to the God who saw us in our need and whose heart was filled with mercy and who delivered up His only Son that we might be forgiven and have everlasting life.  This parable first points us to what God has done and it all began with a look.  The Lord looked into the future and knew that Adam and Eve would squander their birthright for a pot of lies and still He made them.  The Lord looked at the spectacle of men doing what is right in their own eyes all the while murdering with words and weapons, lusting with desire and act, lying until they could not recognize the truth, and making their peace with death.  The Lord looked and saw it all and still He loved us and promised to become our Savior.

    Who is my neighbor?  Words used to justify our blindness now become the first question of which the answer is Jesus.  Who is my neighbor?  We do not see because we choose not to look but God could not look away.  Jesus tells us not a story with a lesson or moral but a story to describe the Gospel of the One who looked and saw and carried the burden of humanity’s sin as His own and who paid the price to save what was left for death.  Jesus tells us what it is that will earn eternal life and then give it away to a people who do not deserve it for that is the Gospel.  Jesus gives us the preview to the cross in this story.  We were the ones who were robbed of what God intended and we were the ones who were beaten down by life and its trials and its death.  We were the ones left on the side of the road.  God saw us and love looked on us and mercy saved us.  And now who are we?  We are His own children.

    Who is my neighbor?  Be careful what you ask for the answer may not be what you want.  Your neighbor?  The one in need.  The one you do not want to see.  The one you want to pass by and give wide berth.  See him as God has seen you and love him as God has loved you and carry his burdens as God carried yours.  Go and do likewise.  For those who have been seen by the merciful God learn by His Spirit to see.  They see themselves not as the innocent but as the guilty and they address the Lord in words and in tears of repentance.  They see that it was no small thing to save them but the greatest of sacrifices and they rejoice that God loved them so much.  They see a world in need not as a burden upon them but as a field in which to plant this Gospel see in words and works of love, in the hopes that many will hear and believe. 

    If you came today like the lawyer hoping to be justified, you may have pled your obvious sins and explained away the big ones.  They are always somebody else’s fault.  But you got more than you bargained for. The Lord has laid bare your heart and called you to repentance.  The Lord gave you mercy beyond your worth.  The Lord saved you not because you were worth saving but because He looked at you and could not look away.  That is the real look of love.

    And in response to what He has done for you, you may promise to be better, to look more and notice more the poor and wounded around you and may be even toss a can of soup in the food pantry cart.  But what Jesus wants is for you to see that you are the wounded, left for dead, who was healed and saved by the Savior who became your neighbor, no matter what the cost. The point remains what do you see?  Now if the Lord tells us this parable only so that we might see the neighbor in need, help and serve that neighbor in need, and then be justified by the keeping the Law, this is a story without any happy ending.  For if our Lord tells us this story only to point us back to the Law in the hopes that we will try harder and do better at keeping the commandments, we remain lost and condemned.  No, the point here is not to tell us to do better at loving our neighbor but to keep our eyes upon Him.  For if we see Christ as our Good Samaritan, Him who looks and sees us in our need and who offers Himself up for our redemption, then we will see everything differently – including and especially our neighbor in need.

    If we could have done this by ourselves, we would not need a Savior.  If the Law could justify us we would not need Jesus at all.  The Law cannot save us.  Only Christ can.  His compassion and mercy are what redeems us from our lost condition.  Jesus is not telling us to look for people to help and to help them, Jesus is telling us to keep our eyes on Him.  For if we see ourselves as the people who cannot save ourselves and if we see Jesus as Savior and Redeemer, then we will see everything differently.  The Scriptures  are all about Jesus and the goal of our lives is to live as the new people we are in Christ and part of that means giving up the idea we can fix what is wrong or do what is needed to make things right.  And from that, comes the fruits of this new life in good works for our neighbor that do nothing to purchase our salvation but show to the world who we are and to whom we belong.

    The key to this parable is Jesus’ question:  Who is my neighbor?  Jesus is our neighbor.  He refused to leave us for dead but died that we might live.  He healed us with the mercy of forgiveness so that no sin could condemn us.  He wrapped our wounds in His righteousness and placed His own holiness upon as our new clothing in baptism.  He is not telling us to be like Him but to be the new people He has made us to be by baptism and faith, to keep our eyes on Jesus, for in Him good works are good. In Him we have been transformed and in Him we have something to offer a world in need.  Help for today and the Gospel that redeems them for all eternity.  So keep your eyes on this mercy and it will bring to fruition the good works that glorify God and show you as His own children.

    God did not have to save you.  He did not have to look upon your needs and claim your weakness for Himself.  He did not have to send forth His one and only Son to be your Savior.  He did not have to suffer what was necessary to pay sin’s awful price.  But those whose eyes which are fixed upon the mercy God has shown you will see the places to do good and will desire to do good – because they have been saved, because the Spirit is at work in them bearing in their lives the good fruits of the Kingdom.

    This story does not tell you what you must do to be saved.  It tells you what He has done to save you.  And it calls you to live as the saved, the loved by the Lord, who see Christ and see their neighbor and love them as Christ has loved you.  Where we look, we will see the people of God’s compassion.  This is not a call to be nice or to be better people.  This is the story of what God has done.  If the cross is in your view, the fruits of that cross will show forth in your life.  But if the Law is in your view, the pursuit of self-justification will never get past the question – who is my neighbor.  Christ gets you past the question by showing you the answer – in His arms outstretched in suffering and His life planted in the grave.  He is your neighbor.  That is the lens through which all of life is seen differently.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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