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s182o04 Lockleys Sunday 15 11th July 2004

"The word is very near to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe" Deut 30.14

For Christians, the word "word" is highly significant. You will know as well as me, that the word is not just that which is written on paper, or the text of scripture, but the word made flesh in the person of Jesus.

As I have gone through my time in the Church, the traditional sources of authority are predominantly external. In the terms of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of the Anglican Church, they are the words of scripture, the Creeds, sacraments and the historic episcopate of the Church. But scripture tells us that which is important is found, not externally, but internally, already present within each and every one of us. Neither you nor I need anyone else to teach us what God would have us do. Even the lawyer who questioned Jesus about eternal life was looking to Jesus as another external authority. Jesus, in telling the parable of the Good Samaritan tells the lawyer, that he doesn't need any external authority. His own mind and his own reasoning give him the answer he desires.

Again and again, Jesus lifts people to their feet. Neither Jesus nor God needs people to grovel before them. God lifts us and all people to our primal dignity; being able to stand before the Almighty, and to use our God given brains.

The effect of religion, as typified in the priest and the Levite who believe that they are constrained to pass by on the other side, has often been to stop people from being useful to others. More seriously it has often been the cause of hurt towards others.

You and I know what God would have us do. You and I know that God knows that there may be personal circumstances that prevent us doing everything we would like to do for others. We might earnestly desire to save the world, but God is content with us getting on with those around us.

The incarnation that is fundamental to our faith, tells us that this native and inherent knowledge of the right thing to do that exists already in everyone, is precisely this risen Jesus, in your life and in my life. Our freedom to not pass by on the other side is Jesus living in us. We do not have to have any other "spiritual" or "religious" experience. Nothing is more important than this ability to be of positive assistance to others where we can.

And as I type these words I wonder how much they impact on the doctrine of original sin. I confess I do not feel competent to make definitive judgements here. Even for the person who intends to be self-serving and who may be traditionally described as unredeemed, (though I'm not sure, in the light of the Cross, anyone at all can be truly described as unredeemed), God does not leave this person entirely without constraint. There are very few truly amoral persons over the age of seven. The parable of the Good Samaritan tells us in no uncertain terms that religion, as much as anything else, can be self-serving. The parable of the person who is forgiven the debt of 10,000 talents being unmerciful toward the debtor who owes 100 talents shows us that even great forgiveness does not guarantee compassion towards others. (Matthew 18.23f)

The parable of the Good Samaritan tells me that eternal life is not an elusive reward reserved only for an elite; those who are doctrinally, ethically or devotionally impeccable. The parable of the Good Samaritan tells me that eternal life is available to each and every one of us. God does not put hard things in front of us. We are called to do what we can, not to strive for things just beyond our reach. We are bidden to help where we can, and not use our religion (or race, tribe, gender or whatever) as an excuse to turn aside. This is Christ in us; this is eternal life.

The parable of the Good Samaritan, of course draws on the religious traditions of Jesus' day. There were no "Christians" as such, when Jesus said these words. It is difficult to argue from silence, but it is instructive to me that Jesus' didn't say that HIS followers would naturally help the injured man.

Jesus' parable tells us that "orthodoxy" does not necessarily imply "charity". We are bidden to see that the risen Jesus is present in all who are free to not pass by on the other side; in whatever faith tradition they might follow, or in whatever non-faith tradition they follow. For if we do not recognise the risen Christ in these others, then we are denying even the very possibility of it in ourselves.

For me this perception illuminates those rather cryptic words from the gospel from last week, when the disciples are told to tell the towns who do not welcome their approach. Even despite their unwelcome they are to say "Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near." (Luke 10.12)

This Good Samaritan was obviously a person of means in that he could afford to continue to help the injured man by placing him in the care of the innkeeper. He had monetary means but time constraints. So with us, we too may be constrained by our circumstances, be they lack of money or of time, and we can do what we can to hand over the person in need to someone more able to continue the assistance if necessary. The Samaritan was able to do what he could and hand over to someone else the things that he couldn't. In doing so he not only provided the innkeeper with the means to assist the injured man, but also the occasion to be able to do so.

I am not a gynaecologist or a psychiatrist, though I probably have had more than my fair share of experience in both these fields. It is important to not come to me for advice as an excuse to avoid doing what a doctor prescribes. I mean; it will only be yourself who doesn't get better!

It makes me ask the question, do we readily allow others to exercise their ministry; or has it all got to be centred on US? Do we support Christianity or the Anglican Church to deny others credibility? The Good Samaritan enables others to exercise their ministry. The "orthodox" denies assistance and as well denies that anyone else can as effectively render assistance, even when they themselves won't. Indeed Jesus was killed by the orthodox by suggesting that others were worthy of his care!

No wonder people have little patience with the church, which reads the parable of the Good Samaritan at least once every three years and then spends the rest of its time acting as if those who do not worship precisely as they do, are lesser Christians, if Christians at all! Jesus tells us that anyone who renders assistance is doing the work of God.

Having Christ in us means not allowing religious, racial, gender or any other differences to dictate that "we pass by on the other side". There are so many ways we can do this, but the fundamental one is that we can deny others dignity.

The parable of the labourers in the vineyard tells us that we cannot use what we have done in comparison to others to suggest the others don't deserve to be able to feed themselves and their families.

The parable of the prodigal son tells us that whatever has gone on in the past still means that we are still welcomed with equal dignity with others.

The parable of the Good Samaritan tells us that all people are capable of great good.

Is our religion one that demands of us to pass by when others are in need of dignity? The conferring of dignity doesn't cost you or me a brass razoo.

On the contrary I would say most emphatically that God blesses us when we do this. I know this in my life, and I'm sure that you know this in your life as well. I have seen people live miserable lives, defining just who is acceptable and who is not, and oh so very sure about it.

And I see others, as often outside the Church as in, who know only too well how God blesses their work for others, whoever they are, and how much joy that brings to their lives. I know enough of the latter to realise that I want to experience this blessing and joy more and more, and I can do this simply by continuing to realise and be open to the contributions that others can make to my life.

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