20 Sep A Reimagined Heart
A Reimagined Heart
September 20, 2020
Calvary Presbyterian Church
Click here to join/watch our live worship from YouTube.
This morning in the second week in our new series Church Reimagined, we turn to Luke’s Gospel to the parable of the Good Samaritan which reminds us that there is no church—imagined or reimagined—that does not start by attending to the heart, specifically your heart and mine.
We are very familiar with the story, of course. The text says that a lawyer strikes up a conversation with Jesus. What Luke means by the word “lawyer” is different from what we typically think of. In Luke’s day, a lawyer was a teacher of the law of Moses. We’d say that the guy is a biblical scholar, and he is using his knowledge of the Hebrew scripture to try to debate and trip up Jesus.
“What should I do to inherit eternal life?” he asks, to which Jesus replies, “what do you think it takes? What do the scriptures say?” It’s important to understand that Jesus is lobbing a softball question back to the guy. The religious expert knows the answer chapter and verse. “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.” Jesus says, “Right, now go do it.”
But the religious rule-keeper doesn’t seem very interested in loving God. Because he’s not. He’s more interested in having the right answer and using it to catch Jesus and discredit him. So, he ups the ante, baiting Jesus with another question. “And who is my neighbor?” And as Jesus so often does, he answers the man’s question by telling a story.
A man gets mugged and beat up. The robbers leave him for dead on the side of the road. But wait! Just in the nick of time, here comes help. Or does it? A priest and then a temple assistant, a Levite, comes along. Surely one of these religious people will stop and help him, won’t they? After all, they represent God. They know the Bible. They’re righteous, upstanding men in the community. But it turns out, they must have been in a hurry to get somewhere. Perhaps there is a business meeting at the Temple, and you know how important it is to keep the synagogue’s finances in line. Or there is a sermon to prepare and this guy in the ditch would just be a delay. These are important men, after all, and they are too busy, in too big a rush to stop and help. Or is it that they just don’t care?
Then a Samaritan happens by. A hated, half-breed, no-good Samaritan. But look at him. He cleans and bandages the beaten man’s wounds, lifts him from the ground and takes him to the closest hotel, then spends the night taking care of him. The next morning, he pays the bill, leaving some extra cash to cover any additional expense that the man’s care might require. This Samaritan is a religious nobody who understands the essence of the scripture better than the religious insiders.
When Jesus finishes his story, he says to the biblical scholar, “that is your neighbor and that is how you love him. Now, go and do it. Go look for the people who are suffering and make it your business to stop what you’re doing and help them. Look for the people who don’t have much and share what you have with them. Look for the people who are struggling and go to their aid.”
The lawyer suffers from a problem that is as common today, in our lives, as it was in 1st century Palestine. He set a goal that he wanted to reach—in this case, “eternal life”—and he proposed to get there by achieving something. He missed the central point that the life of faith is first and foremost, about being, not doing. We cannot do discipleship. We must be disciples, or as Billy Graham used to say, if you want to make a difference, you have to be different. In the context of Jesus’ parable, we must be a neighbor to every person we encounter, and yes, that will eventually involve some doing. But it is critically important that we get them in the right order, because it is only as we come to embody Christ’s message of faith, love, and hope do we become truly alive, living participants in eternal life. “To do” is achievement; “to be” is aliveness.
This is a hard concept for us to grasp because from kindergarten on, we are trained in the skills of achievement, of doing. We are utterly ignorant about the skills of aliveness, of being, about how to be fully awake and alive to life. Soren Kierkegaard captured our confusion between achievement and aliveness when he wrote: “The greatest danger, that of losing one’s own self, can pass off as quietly as if it were nothing. Every other loss—that of an arm, a leg, a spouse, [even] five dollars—is sure to be noticed.”
Georges Bernanos, a Frenchman who fought in WWI and was described as the most original and independent Roman Catholic writer of his time, put it this way: “What the church needs is not more reformers, but more saints.” Sainthood is Aliveness: one’s ability to experience anything fully—whether pain or pleasure—and to participate wholly in life. Sadly, we are so indoctrinated to pursue achievement, we don’t even realize that we’re missing our own lives.
The priest and the Levite in Jesus’ story, as well as the lawyer standing in front of him asking the questions, were all focused on spiritual achievement. They were busy doing the tasks of religion, and—this is key—they believed themselves to be righteous and to be “right.” They were convinced they understood and were enacting what it means to love God wholeheartedly. And yet clearly, their hearts weren’t right which caused them to miss entirely the essence of the Gospel.
I trust that we hear in this story a cautionary tale of thinking we know with certainty what it means to love and follow Jesus. As good as our intentions may be, we, too, can be as blind as the priest and Levite, and we often get it wrong which should make us careful about judging others’ hearts or motivations. The question this story begs us to consider is to look at ourselves and ask how we can become the Good Samaritan Jesus is calling us to be, and I want to offer three ideas for you to consider in the coming week.
First, a Good Samaritan is alive with faith. While that may seem like stating the obvious, if the truth be told, there is a lot of faith out there, but how much of it is in God? As the research and empty church pews tell us, a lot of people have lost faith in God but not faith in scotch or self or angels. There are plenty of folks with no living faith in God but abundant faith in hedonism or materialism.
Good Samaritans who are alive with faith are wired, like they are hooked up to some invisible energy grid. That’s why their lives give off such voltage, as if someone has pumped an extra megawatt or two into them. They are spiritually on fire, as they have let God’s touch work in them so that the inner and the outer are one. It was faith that demanded the Samaritan abandon his own plans and turn his full attention to the injured man alongside the road. When Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt, the wind parted the waters once they believed, but not until they believed. Faith is what taps into God’s healing power so it can flow.
If we are “doing” faith without first “being” people of faith, we will burn out. We will do things in our own strength and with our own resources, and usually we bring an entire set of personal expectations to our “doing” as well. We want a certain result or to be rewarded or recognized. But when we are simply the channel through which God’s Spirit is flowing, it’s not about us. It’s about faith leading us to respond in compassion to the hurting people we encounter.
Second, a Good Samaritan is alive with love. In the midst of backbiting, name-dropping, self-praising, power-worshiping, face-saving people, Christ makes us into dare-to-care Good Samaritan disciples—people who embrace downward mobility rather than upward mobility; people who find themselves by losing themselves in others; people with a capacity to suffer for others; people who give cheek-to-cheek rather than eye-for-eye responses to injury; live-it-up people, who aren’t afraid of the abundant life, but who know that abundance is not a treasure trove to squander on themselves, but a trust to be invested in others.
It was love that stopped the Samaritan in his tracks along the Jericho road; love that reached out and tended the wounds of the hurt traveler; love that loaded the man on his own mount and took him to the inn for more care. Jesus’ parable is an ingenious invitation to look hard and honestly at our hearts. How often do we stop what we’re doing to tend to the hurts of others? Do we care more about their needs than we do our own comfort and convenience?
Third, a Good Samaritan is alive with hope. It is tempting to say that in 2020, this year of global pandemic, cultural strife, economic chaos, and political turbulence, we need hope now more than ever. But we tend to forget the storms of yesteryear and just how divisive and dangerous they were. Reflecting on the 20th century, respected journalist Pete Hamill wrote that “as this dreadful century winds down, its history heavy with gulags and concentration camps and atom bombs, the country that was its brightest hope seems to be breaking apart” (“End Game,” Esquire, Dec. 1994, 85). He wrote those words 26 years ago, but they might well have been penned yesterday.
I don’t know anybody who isn’t looking forward to the end of 2020. It’s as if the coronavirus has enveloped us in a world of cosmic gloom. We badly need a shot of hope, and the people who can offer true hope is the church because our hope is not grounded in circumstances or optimism or in humankind’s ability to progress. Our hope is not in who wins the next election or what happens in the next economic cycle. Our hope is in God which is why we find the words, “be not afraid” so often in scripture. Because God is God, we have hope and there is nothing to fear.
Hope led the Samaritan to leave the mending traveler in the hands of the unknown innkeeper. Hope led him to gladly pay for any future care the convalescing injured man might require.
Hope can be hard to define, but I like what theologian Rubem Alves says. He distinguishes hope from faith by calling hope “hearing the melody of the future” and faith as “dancing” to that melody in the here and now (Rubem Alves, Tomorrow’s Child [New York: Harper, 1972], 195). It takes a heart attuned to being, rather than focused mostly on doing to hear and to dance.
In these days that are so fraught with uncertainty, the Church still dares to proclaim: “Christ in us, the hope of glory” (Col.1:27).
We are called not to do discipleship, to do ministry, to do Christianity. We are called to be the neighbor to the other, to be the Good Samaritan. Let us reimagine ourselves as the Church, with hearts alive with faith, alive with love, alive with hope, being Christ present in the world today.
Thanks be to God. Amen