As we work through the gospel of Luke, our text this week is the parable of the Good Samaritan. I usually have about 3 sermons going on in my head at a time, so weeks ago I was thinking to myself:
“Great. What am I going to say about one of the most famous stories in history? One that we’ve heard over and over again? The story that even Seinfeld used to for the series finale, where Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer all ended up in jail for not helping someone in need…” I know others didn’t, but I rather enjoyed seeing Baboo again.
I thought about the different ways to look at the parable of the Good Samaritan… We could talk about how the religious leaders knew all the rules and laws and beliefs of their faith, who was clean and unclean and how to stay that way, but they absolutely missed the point in how to treat their neighbour.
We could talk about how Jews and Samaritans hated each other, and the Samaritan crossed all sorts of boundaries and barriers and taboos to help someone in need.
But then, when I was on vacation last week, CTV called our church. And after some pondering by the pool side, I stood up and declared to Ashley – I’ve just finished my sermon for next week.
About a month ago, a man with a gun walked into a mosque in Quebec City and killed six Muslims while they were praying. While all stories of violence are hard to listen to or understand, stories of violence in places of worship seem to impact me on a deep level. Most of us don’t show up on a Sunday morning fearing violence, but that is a reality of many people of faith around the world. From African American worshippers in the States, to Muslims in Canada, to Jewish Synagogues and community centers receiving bomb threats, there is a certain level of risk in simply showing up to practice your faith.
After the shooting in Quebec City, a few of us at Grace were wondering how we can best show support and solidarity for the Muslims in our community. Anti-Muslim rhetoric has been around for centuries, but over the past 16 months, here in North America it seems to have made a jump from the “comments section” to the main stream. Recently there was even a protest against Islam outside a mosque in Toronto.
A Mennonite Church in the USA noticed the increased hostility towards Muslims, and in their context, Latinos, so they made some “house for sale” style signs for their congregation.
In Spanish, English and Arabic, “No Matter Where You Are From, We’re Glad You Are Our Neighbour.” And since then, this sign, or adaptations of it, have appeared all over North America by a variety churches and faith organizations.
And so, a few weeks after the mosque shooting (and it took a few weeks because getting anything printed in Arabic in Steinbach is a bit of a challenge), the sign you currently see ended up on our parking lot (And yes, we are aware of the grammar mistake in Arabic. We did our best, but something got lost in translation from talking with our Syrian neighbours to the printer).
I received a picture of it while on vacation, and made a little bit of a post of it on Facebook and Twitter, which many of you liked and shared.
After about an hour, I sent a text to Audrey (our superb administrator):
“Twitter is enjoying our sign. I hope the media calls Mel.” (I’m such a kind and gracious co-worker.)
And then a few hours later I received a text from Audrey: “Media would like a contact. They’re on their way. Mel is gone today. Please advise.”
At this point Audrey and I facetimed, made a bit of a plan, and CTV in the end decided that coming to Steinbach just wasn’t worth the trip (mostly because we didn’t have anyone ready to talk).
But when Audrey and I were talking about what to do, I asked what the CTV reporter had said. Audrey replied: The reporter said that the sign was amazing! That this was big! And that they wanted to help get the message out there!
It struck me… A sign stating that we like our Arabic speaking neighbours is considered “amazing” and “big”.
Okay, so partly I get it that she was trying to convince us to go on air with her.
And I get it that it’s a bit of a charged atmosphere lately, especially with our neighbours to the South of us. And so a statement like this offers a different narrative to the xenophobia and racism and violence that we are seeing these days.
And I get that sometimes the relationship between Christianity and Islam has been a bit strained over the past thousand years, and churches sponsoring Muslim refugees is significantly better than what happened during the crusades.
But honestly? With a sign like ours, I wish we wouldn’t have to use the words “amazing” and “big” for our sign… I wish could rather use the words “normal” and “meh.”
I mean, as churches we believe we’re the Body of Christ, and so being good neighbours is what we’re supposed to do.
And look around Steinbach – Which church isn’t sponsoring or helping refugees? We are, SMC, the MB’s, Efree, Kleefeld EMCs… And I know that some of the smaller ones who are most definitely giving money to support organizations that help settle refugees. The sign could appear in front a bunch of churches in Steinbach and not be out of place.
This is what we’re supposed to do because this is who we believe Jesus calls us to be. Do to others as you would have them to do you, right?
Here’s the thing about the parable of the Good Samaritan and the words of Jesus… About loving your neighbour as yourself.
There’s a certain pre-emptiveness and pro-activeness to it. Bruxy Cavey is a pastor in the Toronto area, and he told a story at Mennonite World Conference. He was sending his kids to camp, and told his kids that when trying to love people, don’t be a rock. Rocks just sit there. Sure, they don’t harm others, they’re not rude, they don’t hurt other people’s feelings. They don’t do anything bad. They don’t sin. They’re rocks. But they also don’t do anything good. They’re rocks. They just sit there.
Loving your neighbour as yourself goes beyond the ethics of a rock. Love is an active choice. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes, imagine how they’d want to be treated, and then do it. (I know this is much easier said than done, but I think it’s a pretty good starting point).
Part of this Anabaptist tradition that we find ourselves in is that we believe we are judged by the fruit we produce, not solely our beliefs. This is why Jesus praises right actions more than right beliefs, this is why Jesus separates the goats and sheep not based on having the right words, but the right actions, and this is why Jesus has harsh words are for the people who had the right beliefs, like the priest and Levite, but not the right actions, like the Samaritan.
So to a very kind CTV reporter, a church trying to love its neighbour is apparently a big deal.
Maybe that’s a bit of an indictment on us as the church, isn’t it… Maybe we have to be reminded that churches are often seen as places that care more about right beliefs than right actions. Maybe it’s a reminder that we should view church primarily not as school of answers, but rather as a school of love, where we practice how to love each other and love the world. And that through these loving relationships, we might find some right answers together.
Or, as the Roman Emperor Julian commented 1700 years ago, “The godless Galileans feed our poor in addition to their own.” That looks like a good marriage between actions and beliefs, doesn’t it?
We’re entering the season of Lent, the 6 week period before Easter.
This year, maybe we can view Lent as a bit of reset button… A chance to realign our trajectory. That all of our worship, all the social media and ice caps and wine we give up for Lent, all the spiritual practices we participate in… they’re all a part of us joining in God’s great restoration project… or us participating in God’s school of love…. Of working to learn and live into God’s grace and into God’s peace and to share that with to every person and every community. A chance to re-align our trajectory.
Every Sunday throughout Lent, you are invited to participate in communion. We here at Grace believe that the table is the Lord’s, not ours, so thus you are all invited.
And as we receive communion this morning, we can do so with the following as our prayer, our plea, our re-alignment: God help us to love you, help us to love our neighbours, help us to remember the way of Jesus, and when we hear stories of people crossing all sorts of barriers and boundaries to offer compassion and kindness, may we find the strength and courage to go and do likewise.
Grace and Peace,