First Congregational United Church of Christ
Great Falls, MT
May 13, 2018
“Testing”
The Rev. Lynne Spencer-Smith

Luke 10:25-37 (NRSV)

25A lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He answered, “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.” 28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

 

When I was old enough to believe I was supposed to have a favorite color, I decided blue would do just fine. Blue is the color of the sky…. And the ocean, and our white cat’s eyes. Blue is the color of bachelor buttons and one of my favorite dresses that had been made just for me and not handed down from my older sisters. It was a blue velvet jumper. I loved resting my hand, gently on top of the stand-up fibers and feel them shift when I moved my hand back and forth.

It was the same feeling as putting your hand on top of the crew-cut hair of the boy who stood in front of me when we lined up to come in from recess. I think his name was Randy. I can’t remember if Randy was bothered much that the girl in the blue velvet dress behind him in line liked to rub his hair.

Yep, I liked that dress, and the velvet, and Randy’s hair. Maybe I liked Randy, too, but second grade was a real long time ago to remember a lot of the details. I do remember that I liked the color blue. But, that was a little bit of a secret. You see, as far as everyone else was concerned, my favorite color was red… because that’s what I told them. Yep, when I was 8 years old, I lied and told the world that my favorite color was red, as in roses and radishes and blood when, in actuality, I was drawn to the deep blue of the summer sky. It wasn’t an easy decision to make. Like any hard decisions, there are circumstances that explain it.

You see, I was the youngest of four girls and there are rules to follow to keep peace and respect in the sisterhood. And one of the big rules was “Thou shalt not be a copy cat.” And, you guessed it, two, not just one but two of my older sisters had previously laid claim to blue as their favorite color. There were no more blue tickets left. Even though I loved the color blue, I had to confess something else.

I was stuck in the ethical conundrum between lying and being a copycat. Well, as you now know, the scales tipped away from the truth to avoid forever carrying the label “copycat” among my sisters. It held steady there for a number of years… probably until my sisters no longer really cared about favorite colors. I think it was about the same time they started to pay attention to other things like people named Randy or Dave or John or Alan. I don’t know why, but somehow, I was released from living behind the bars of being a liker of the color red. All that time, I had played a role for which I had not learned the lines. Even though I wanted to pick the blue balloon, everyone knew that blue wasn’t my favorite color. I’d pick the red balloon so that my disguise would be secure.

This is almost sounding like a “coming out” story, isn’t it? Wouldn’t that just catch everyone’s attention? It’s not… but it is, ….. sort of. Because it’s about how easy we all can fall into the trap of not being our true selves because of some sort of external force or influence.

It’s what the three travelers on the road to Jericho were facing the day they came across the poor sap who had been robbed, beaten, and left for dead. There were rules to follow and some of those rules left them in a conundrum about whether or not they could or should help the guy out. The first two, the priest and the Levite were pretty bound by some rules about ritual purity. If they helped the guy it could have left them ritually unclean, therefore requiring all kinds of work to have their cleanliness restored… time, washings, fasting, making certain offerings, more washings and separation from their work and family. So we should give them a break. They were stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. But the third guy, well, that’s where things get real interesting. He, too has a role to play but it’s not always a desired role.

For most first century Jews living in Palestine, putting the words “Good” and “Samaritan” together would have been seen as one of the most absurd oxymorons of their time. They were probably the folks who first coined the phrase “The only good Samaritan is a ….. dead Samaritan”. You see, way back in the day during a very hard time, when the Jews had been kicked out of Jerusalem and forced to live as refugees in a foreign land, those who settled in Samaria decided that life outside of the law wasn’t such a bad thing. They married outside of the faith and they settled in for the long haul. Some of them even took to worshipping other Gods and creating idols in order to do so. So while others were struggling to follow the rules, the Jews of Samaria were finding ways around them. Life in exile, for them, wasn’t such a bad thing. As far as the Jews that stuck it out were concerned these Samaritan Jews were no good.

So, we have the righteous priest, the law abiding Levite and the scoundrel. And we have Jesus. Yea, he’s got a role to follow as well. His role usually has something to do with re-defining our lives.

Let’s back up a bit to look at the rest of the story. Remember that it starts with a lawyer, a guy whose job it was to see that the religious laws were properly interpreted and observed. And, he was giving Jesus a little test. Some think it was a test meant to trick Jesus. The trick was to see if Jesus really did know what he was talking about with all this stuff about the kingdom of God and blessedness and how to pray. After all, there are rules to follow when it comes to living a religious life, rules meant to keep the peace. Rules meant to keep things in order. Rules meant to define who they were as people of God. Not bad rules… just rules.

The test starts off with a question about eternal life: “What must I do to inherit it,” the lawyer asked.

And the answer? Love. Love God with every bit of your being. And…. Jesus is not going to stop there. That “loving God” is only part of the answer. There’s more. Love your neighbor…. a lot… as you love yourself.

Then the lawyer comes in for the kill. Just how far does this “neighbor” thing go, he wants to know. Just who is my neighbor?

And that’s when we get the story of the three guys traveling down the road. Two of them stuck in the ruts of the conundrum of their prescribed roles. And one not so much.

This third guy’s “prescribed role” was to be scum of the earth. Folks were probably totaling expecting him to take whatever was left that the poor guy might have on him and make his way on down the road.

When Jesus tells the story of the Samaritan, he’s saying, “this is the guy you should imitate. This is the guy you want to copy cat. Because this is the one who presents the example of loving your neighbor. Jesus basically changes the terms of the game. Eternal life isn’t about a reward for righteous living and following all the laws. It’s about extending love to others on earth forever and ever and ever. This Samaritan, who was expected to be ruthless and uncaring and scum of the earth was set free to live the law of the realm of God where loving others is always the right answer, regardless of whatever other role in life you play.

We all have our roles in life – sister, brother, parent, child, spouse, boss, employee, neighbor. And they all have their rules and we will always be tested in them. But there is one role that we all have in common and that is child of God. In living into that role, we are expected to be copycats of anyone and everyone who understands that. We are invited, encouraged, commanded and equipped to be copycats of those who love God with their whole being and to love their neighbor no matter what. That was the test that Jesus put in front of the lawyer that day. I guess you could say it’s a test that’s put before each of us every day. A test that calls for us to know the rules of heaven and live into them. It’s how life comes to earth, eternally.