The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s182g07 Sunday 15 15/7/2007
'he passed by on the other side' Luke 10.31
Over the last few years I have come to realize how much of what passes for religion considers other people expendable. One has only to hear how many people were killed in Iraq 'today' by suicide bombers to see this at its most logical extreme. However I have said before that the concept that we as Christians are 'saved' while others are damned is actually a more potent threat than the physical death that 'terrorists' inflict on others. How often have the words of Jesus in John 3.16 been interpreted as implying that those who aren't Christians are going to hell? Jesus might well have not spoken this parable at all!
The picture of the priest and the Levite passing by on the other side tells us in no uncertain terms that for them this fellow was expendable. The man who fell among thieves is no doubt a Jew there was never any question of the priest or the Levite helping anyone other than a fellow Jew. It is clear that it was the Samaritan who was crossing the sectarian boundaries of the day. So the priest and the Levite considered their fellow worshipper expendable. It was not that the person Jesus was calling them to help was anyone other than one of their own.
In a book I found very helpful: "Ethics and the New Testament' J. L. Houlden comments that the ethics of St John: 'the ethical horizon is narrowed and intensified to the love of the fellow-Christian, love within the community ..' (p72)
The existence of denominations testifies to the continuing inability of Christians to love even their own fellow worshippers. Within 'my' Anglican Communion traditionally persons of high church proclivities and low church have been mutually and equally disdainful. One has only to experience the politics of parishes to realize how some people in positions of 'authority' consider other people within the same congregation essentially expendable.
It is taken as 'given' by some good and faithful Anglicans that gay and lesbian people are going to eternal damnation don't blame us, blame the Bible! One can well imagine the priest, the Levite as well as the lawyer who questioned Jesus saying precisely the same thing!
The Church is generally viewed by those outside as existing to maintain biblical or moral standards (on others :-) and criticising those who are not part of its structures - rather than by ever showing mercy on others.
This famous parable is bracketed by the question: 'what must I do to inherit eternal life?' and the answer: 'go and do likewise' go and be merciful to others. Is what passes for our religion actually a faith that considers others expendable? Or are we merciful towards others? For it is OUR eternal salvation that is effected not anyone else's!
The lawyer asks Jesus: 'And who is my neighbour?' Much of this sermon asks the same question of us though it is couched in the term 'the other' whom we are called to love.
Is 'the other' our fellow worshipper? Certainly, though the reticence that most parishes have for new people coming and making changes shows the actual shallowness of the love of some in congregations.
Is the other just our fellow Christian? Certainly, though denominations show the essential lie to this.
Is the other the poor to whom we give a handout to make us feel good?
Or is the other the person who does not live like us, believe like us, worship like us?
It is OUR eternal life that is called into question by these answers. It is OUR faithfulness to OUR Lord that the world is calling us to examine and evaluate just how genuine we really are.
In the Anglican Church the most important questions have traditionally been how faithful to the bible is the preaching or whether the minister wears vestments, choir robes or a suit! When will we be marked as being merciful towards others towards others who express their Christianity in other than 'biblical' terms or whose ministers wear something different to that to which we are used? When will we be marked as people who respect other people whoever they are? Neither the priest or the Levite who passed by on the other side are saved by their religious devotion, so neither will anyone of any shade of Christianity or Anglicanism be saved by anything other than their openness to those who are different.
So in some ways the present crisis in the Anglican Church (as well as a lot of others of course) regarding gay and lesbian people is actually forcing us to really consider what our gospel is, rather than the concerns pretty identical to those of the priest, the Levite or the lawyer who passed by on the other side, or wished they could do so.
I was interested to read in the latest issue of 'Market-Place' an interview with (Anglican) Dr Andrew Bell, medical director of the Katherine West Health Board Aboriginal Corporation (p16) where he says: 'This is a really important (challenge) for me: Christ calls us to love and accept each other for who we are, especially by example the marginalised in society. As a follower of Christ I am increasingly uncomfortable belonging to a body that continues to discriminate against people on the basis of their gender or sexuality. I live my life during the week in a secular environment that lives the inclusiveness that is central to my understanding of the teaching of Christ, often to a greater extent than the Anglican Church. If I didn't believe there was change ahead, albeit slow, I would leave.' To which I would say: 'Amen' and 'Hear, hear!'
Curiously, but characteristically, these words reflect the truth that it is the world that leads the Church in love and respect for other people, and it is often the Church that drags her heels, that finds excuses for failing to love someone else.
For me just how far some in the Church have moved from the love of the other is shown dramatically by those who are stridently opposing the blessing of same gender unions. They are concerned to stop other persons expressing their intimate affections one with another to stop others loving! To condemn another person to a life-long celibate existence simply because the object of their affections is the same gender to themselves is indeed to 'pass by on the other side', to show that we really don't care, to whatever hell we condemn them.
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