This was the sermon I preached this morning at Foothills Christian Church. The Cycle of Works/Cycle of Grace is from the book Cycle of Grace by Trevor Hudson & Jerry Haas.
10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying:
“‘Jeroboam will die by the sword,
and Israel will surely go into exile,
away from their native land.’”
12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”
14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16 Now then, hear the word of the Lord. You say,
“‘Do not prophesy against Israel,
and stop preaching against the descendants of Isaac.’
17 “Therefore this is what the Lord says:
“‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city,
and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword.
Your land will be measured and divided up,
and you yourself will die in a pagan[c] country.
And Israel will surely go into exile,
away from their native land.’”
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[e] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
The summer time is made for travel, especially for desert dwellers who need to get out of the heat. When I was a kid we didn’t travel a ton because my dad owned a business he needed to keep track of but we’d get away on short trips whenever we could. We had a motorhome, which was a BRILLIANT way to travel and in the summers we’d park it up at Munds Park and go up there every weekend. We took it to Colorado, California and Oklahoma to visit family. My dad likes driving and we road tripped everywhere.
In addition to our family road trips for vacation, we had major commutes on a daily basis. When I was in middle school and high school we lived in Litchfield Park, off Dysart Road and basically Bethany Home. Our house was at the end of civilization and then there was dirt. Now it’s completely populated, which means you all might now know how old I am. But back then, it was nothing. My brother and I attended private schools, so we had to schlepp from Litchfield in to school at 30th avenue and Bethany when I was in middle school and then when I went to high school, I moved to a school at 32nd Street & Shea. This was pre-interstate 10, pre-SR 51, almost all surface streets. Then about 3 months before I graduated we moved to 7th street & Greenway. Thanks a lot J
There are all kinds of travel. There’s the big trip kind of travel and there’s the everyday getting to work, school, wherever travel. Whether it’s an event or it’s a routine, God is still present in all of it and God calls us to be God’s ambassadors of neighborliness.
In our scriptures today we see that both Amos and the Samaritan were on journeys. Amos was specifically told to leave home and go somewhere for a specific period of time with a specific message. The Samaritan was going about his normal routine. Both types of journeys are just as God-directed as the other. We have all been given specific missions and we’ve all experienced God’s calling as an interruption to our normal routine.
In the story of the Good Samaritan, the lawyer was also on a journey. He was very concerned about his journey continuing into the afterlife and he looked to Jesus to give him a checklist of what he needed to do.
In his book Wishful Thinking, Frederick Buechner talks about the lawyer’s definition of “neighbor” this way:
“When Jesus said to love your neighbor, a lawyer who was present asked him to clarify what he meant by neighbor. He wanted a legal definition he could refer to in case the question of loving one ever happened to come up. He presumably wanted something on the order of: “A neighbor (hereinafter referred to as the party of the first part) is to be construed as meaning a person of Jewish descent whose legal residence is within a radius of no more than three statute miles from one’s own legal residence unless there is another person of Jewish descent (hereinafter to be referred to as the party of the second part) living closer to the party of the first part than one is oneself, in which case the party of the second part is to be construed as neighbor to the party of the first part and one is oneself relieved of all responsibility of any sort or kind whatsoever.”
Instead Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), the point of which seems to be that your neighbor is to be construed as meaning anybody who needs you. The lawyers response is left unrecorded.When Jesus said to love your neighbor, a lawyer who was present asked him to clarify what he meant by neighbor. He wanted a legal definition he could refer to in case the question of loving one ever happened to come up. He presumably wanted something on the order of: “A neighbor (hereinafter referred to as the party of the first part) is to be construed as meaning a person of Jewish descent whose legal residence is within a radius of no more than three statute miles from one’s own legal residence unless there is another person of Jewish descent (hereinafter to be referred to as the party of the second part) living closer to the party of the first part than one is oneself, in which case the party of the second part is to be construed as neighbor to the party of the first part and one is oneself relieved of all responsibility of any sort or kind whatsoever.
Instead Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), the point of which seems to be that your neighbor is to be construed as meaning anybody who needs you. The lawyers response is left unrecorded.”
The lawyer was caught up in the cycle of works. He started by believing that he needed the works to give him significance. Once he achieved some level of success he would receive recognition that gave him a sense of significance. That success would give him a spiritual high that would hopefully lead to acceptance.
Jesus journey was modeled for us in the circle of grace – knowing he had come from God and was going back to God (John 13). His calling to go about his every day and be interrupted can be illustrated in the cycle of grace. Jesus began his journey with God telling him that he was beloved and in Jesus, God was pleased. We then see how Jesus maintained his relationship with God by often going off by himself to pray. Jesus moves toward his ultimate purpose on earth with an affirmation of this call in John 13:3. We have confirmation of the completion of Jesus’ calling in John 17:4 when he says, I have completed the work you called me to do.
Theologian Miroslav Volf said, “Justification by grace takes the price tags off human beings so as to give them their proper dignity: they are loved unconditionally by God.” We all are already accepted. Already loved unconditionally. We only have to allow ourselves to be sustained by our connection to God and let God lead us to our calling.
The Samaritan in this story stopped and helped someone that was not someone he would’ve helped. Who is the most villainous character you can think of? If you want to shout it out, that’s ok. When Jesus is telling this story, the people listening would’ve gasped because normally storytellers would’ve cast the Samaritan as the villain, the most despicable character. I like to think of Darth Vader. This guy, the “villain” of the story was on his way to Jerusalem. I don’t know what he was doing going there. It’s not like he would have a lot of friends there. On business, maybe? Maybe he was going to the temple to make a sacrifice. Samaritans had their own houses of worship, but maybe he wanted to make a sacrifice in Jerusalem, just to hedge his bets. Either way, he was interrupted by the sight of someone who needed his help and he was willing to let his trip to Jerusalem be interrupted to help. He was called to help this man.
What about the Priest & Levite? When we read this story we tend to think of them as the villains and the Samaritan as the good guy. Just for today I’d like us to think of them differently. Because of their status in the religious orders, the priest and levite would’ve been prohibited from service if they came in contact with anything dead or almost dead. They had a calling and a journey of their own to follow. Maybe they aren’t villains. Maybe they were people who were responsive to a different call. It’s not up to us to decide how other people should live out the call of God in their lives.
A week or two ago, a team of us were putting together a report for the Hope Partnership project. We had to figure out the amount of hours we spend doing missional outreach as a congregation. To be honest, it’s not that many. But you know what? We have a lot of people in this community who volunteer with all kinds of organizations every week and we’re so proud that you are all doing that great work and living out your calling that way.
Today in your bulletin you each should have received a heart and a hand. Don’t mock my cutting abilities. I was up pretty late working on those. We’re going to write on those, so if you have pens or pencils, get those out and get ready to write. First, I’d like you to take the heart and write on there a cause or social justice issue about which you are passionate. It could be domestic violence, food insecurity, or human trafficking. Then, if you are involved in an organization for one of those causes, write down a little bit of what you do on that hand.
We’re going to take these hearts and hands and attach them to this board at the end of the service to give us a visual reminder of the passions and efforts of our community.
No one needs to feel left out here. If you have a passion but haven’t yet connected it with an organization, I’d like you take that heart where you wrote your passion and put it in the offering box in the back. I’m going to collect those and see if we can get you connected somewhere either in our community or in another organization where you can pursue that call.
Sometimes on our journey, we are the one who is asked to go to a new place to complete a specific task. Sometimes we are going about our normal travel and we encounter someone who needs our kindness. Sometimes we are traveling and we are the victim of horrible circumstances and have to rely on one who might have at one time been considered an enemy to us.