A Plan for Following Jesus.
Faithful Living for Hard Times: Honor All People.
The eighth in a ten part sermon series on our community charge:
Go out into the world in peace;
hold on to what is good;
return no one evil for evil;
strengthen the fainthearted;
support the weak,
and help the suffering;
honor all people;
love and serve the Lord,
rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Last week we took the opportunity to look fairly closely
at the parable of the good Samaritan.
If you weren’t able to be here, don’t worry.
It is perhaps one of the most well known of the stories that Jesus told
So you probably already know the basics.
A man falls prey to robbers on a dangerous highway
And they leave him there half-dead on the side of the road.
A Priest comes by, sees him, crosses the street to avoid the man
And continues on his way.
So too a Levite, a respected pillar of the community, happens down that road
Sees him, crosses the street and moves on.
The kicker, Jesus says, is that next comes a Samaritan.
And we reminded each other that part of the point is that
the Samaritan was a Samaritan
that these sorts of stories, the kind you’d hear at the local pub
or at the diner
or share while out on a stroll
usually compared a Priest, a Levite, and an Israelite
you know, be like the good Israelite
not like those elitist folk
whom everyone knows should do good things for ya
but who are all wrapped up in their business, whatever that is,
to help a man when he’s down. No. Be like the Israelite.
But Jesus didn’t do that. He didn’t tell the story that way.
Actually, he didn’t tell that story at all.
His was about a Priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan
Someone, depending on which historical source you looked at
Was either like the disowned cousin
That everyone was embarrassed about
For causing the family shame because of the way they dress and carry on…
Or, according to other sources, would be more like your mortal enemy
Your Hatfields and McCoys,
Your Nazis and the Brits
(If you watched Dunkirk last night, like I did).
A Priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan.
It was a Samaritan who did the good. This story, Jesus told to his Israeli audience
It was a Samaritan, who was a neighbor to that hurting man.
And would you, half-dead, accept the help of your disowned cousin,
your mortal enemy?
Can you go and do likewise?
The Gospel writers made do with what they had.
By that I mean the context and the stories and the history of that time and place
To describe what Jesus meant and taught,
To illustrate the point so that those hearers 2000 years ago
And the audience would have understood quite potently what Jesus meant
When he extended the concept of “who is my neighbor” beyond my family
Beyond my clique
Heck, beyond my people
To the Samaritans.
It was part of Jesus’ appeal, and part of what turned people off to him.
It remains so, today: Jesus’ expansive, inclusive understanding of who God loves
The breadth and the depth and the reach of it.
For some it’s a comfort: It means there’s hope for me!
For some it’s a challenge: It means there’s hope for him, or her.
Jesus didn’t flinch from conflict.
He didn’t fail to call out hypocrisy
or protest injustice in the temple
or take the side of the poor and those taken advantage of.
But he did so with an unmistakable refusal to hate the so-called “enemy,”
whoever that is
engaging and dining with tax collectors and Pharisees
and those who sought to do him harm.
Or, as we see from today’s readings:
With Samaritans and Royal Officials too.
I was surprised that I had never preached on
the parable of the good Samaritan before,
that well known story.
That led me to do a bit more reading about it than I otherwise might
And I came across some stories that didn’t make the cut last week.
One was particularly moving to me,
It is about an ordinary day one winter, ten or fifteen years ago
In New York City.[i]
A day like any other day. People trying to get to work, or to school.
People going about their daily lives.
A construction worker named Wesley Autrey
was standing on a subway platform with his two young daughters,
they were four and six, young kids
and the three of them were waiting on a train.
Suddenly this other man on the platform suffers a seizure,
And he stumbled, and falls off the platform
down onto the subway tracks.
And just at that moment, the headlights of a rapidly approaching train
appeared in the subway tunnel.
Autrey acted quickly, with no thought for himself.
He jumped down onto the tracks to rescue the man
Intending to drag him up out of the way of the train.
But he realized immediately that the train was coming in too fast.
There just wasn’t time to pull the man off the tracks.
So Autrey pressed the man into the hollowed-out space
Between the rails and he spread his own body over him
You know, to protect him
As the train passed over the two of them.
Apparently, the train cleared Autrey by mere inches.
It came close enough to leave grease marks on his knit cap.
When that train came to a halt, Autrey called up
To the frightened onlookers on the platform:
Hey, There are two little girls up there.
Let them know their Daddy is OK.
The press called him the Subway Superman
The Harlem Hero.
Or, as Newsday put it, “Good Samaritan saves man on subway tracks.”
In 2012, around the five year anniversary of the thing, the local CBS station said
“New York City Subway Hero Wesley Autrey still the man.”[ii]
When they asked him about it,
He just said this:
“I don’t feel like I did something spectacular;
I just saw someone who needed help.
I did what I felt was right.”[iii]
What does it mean to Honor someone?
One way to look at Honor is the respect and the distinction we give to someone
The way we lift them up, put them on a pedestal,
Make them an example to emulate.
We do this with heroes, for sure.
And New York did this with Wesley Autrey.
They honored him for his bravery and his sacrifice. And rightly so.
As we move through this sermon series and focus this week
On a unique calling to Honor All People,
WE might ask if that’s the sort of HONOR it is that we’re talking about.
If you Honor everyone you meet by lifting them up, making them an example
You dilute the idea so as to make it pedestrian, everyday.
Its kind of like going to a special ice cream treat, but EVERY DAY after school
So, well, its STILL ice cream, and ice cream is ice cream
but its not so special
A month later, on some random Thursday at Sheridans.
How does Honoring All People make sense, if it means that sort of honor.
Or maybe it means something like Honor your father and mother
Like we read in the Hebrew Scriptures, in the 10 commandments.[iv]
That would be well understood by the people listening to Jesus.
We have an idea what that is trying to get at.
To Honor someone, in this way, is to revere, to prize, to value them.
Honor gives respect not just for accomplishments,
even some amazing accomplishments
For some heroic act on the subway platform
Or fishing people out of a flooding car
In your little ten foot boat on a Houston street.[v]
Those are respect worthy.
But in a broader sense, the intent of that Old Testament teaching
Honor your father and your mother
is getting to something more basic and foundational:
It asks for respect beyond merit.
In this case, it is because of rank, or relationship
An acknowledgment of what someone
has done to bring you into being.
Now, this gets complicated,
because some of us have broken relationships with parents or with children.
But the honor suggested here doesn’t say that those should be ignored
Or glossed over with some sort of saccharine falseness
But, instead, it reminds us to always remember where we came from
To see the dignity of our parents as our parents
The ones who birthed us.
In some respect, this is where our love of family comes from,
And, for some, our fierce loyalty to our own.
We extend this, and apply it to close friends,
families that become ours by relationship or adoption or happenstance.
It is the sort of natural extension of respect and dignity to those who, it is hoped,
Protect and provide for us, our material needs, our emotional needs,
Our need for love and companionship.
So what would make someone dive off a subway platform for a STRANGER then?
Or risk harm on a dangerous road, one with robbers and bandits about
To help some nobody half-dead on the side of the road?
It is one thing to go out of your way for family, or friends, or even those like you
But Jesus is saying something much deeper here:
That dignity, that respect, that honor we’re talking about
That extends to all. Show honor to everyone.
Its not about rank. It is simply because God made everyone
The image of God is IN everyone. God loves them, too.
And this isn’t about watering down honor, but making it come alive.
What was Jesus DOING at that well, talking to that Samaritan woman?
Well, John tells us, Jesus is passing through. He’s on his way to Galillee
And he’s got to go through Samaria to get there.
Ok, all well and good
But he didn’t have to be there, at that well, at that time.
But he was, and because he was, he had an encounter with a woman there.
In a time when domestic chores were entirely the domain of servants and women
And particularly the manual labor of gathering water the domain of women
The well was, so to speak, women’s space.
Men almost never were there.
It wasn’t very seemly, to say the least.
It could bring dishonor on you, good sir,
If you were seen there, kanoodling with the women doing their work.
And say, perchance, that you did, ACCIDENTLY,
Find yourself, as a man, at the town well, where the women were gathering their water
Well, you’d maybe look away, or speed onward.
You wouldn’t dawdle.
Cheryl only read the end of this little story in the fourth chapter of John
But you might go back and read the whole thing. Its worth it.[vi]
Jesus is tired, from his journey.
So he is sitting by the well, mid day,
and this Samaritan woman comes to get water.
And she knows, as well as he does, that men and women don’t share this space
And she knows, as well as he does,
that Samaritans and Israelites don’t really get along.
But Jesus asks her for a drink,
And she is kinda astonished by that
But he asks her again, and then does something remarkable
He discusses theology with her:
You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know…
But the hour is coming, and is here now, when the true worshippers
Will worship the Father in spirit and truth…
And she said “I know that the Messiah is coming…”
And he says “I am he”
And just then, wouldn’t you know it, the disciples show up,
And they think to themselves
Hey Jesus, what in the world are you doing, talking to this woman
Talking to this Samaritan
Talking to this Samaritan Woman
But its done. She goes, and she tells her friends,
And she is now ALIVE with hope and possibility.
Jesus is doing something remarkable here.
Jesus is showing this Samaritan woman honor:
He is dignifying her humanity, her personhood
By engaging her person-to-person.
He asks for a drink from her, and from her very own bowl too.
He talks theology with her, not with condescending tone, not with incredulity
But forthrightly, directly, respectfully.
And off she goes, newly alive, fully alive
To follow God on the way of Jesus.
Then John offers an interesting little digression, that some might think is out of place.
The Samaritans, remember, the SAMARITANS
Invite Jesus and his disciples to stay. And they do. Two whole days.
No big deal. They eat their food. They stay under their roof.
They receive their hospitality.
And then they leave, and make it to Galilee
At Cana, where Jesus extended the life of a wedding party
By making water turn into really-good-wine.
And a Royal Official has a son, John says, who is ill.
So he comes, and begs of Jesus to come heal his son.
And Jesus talks a bit with him, and then sends him back home
Back home to find his son healed,
a second sign of God’s power flowing through this Jesus.
About this Royal Official:
He’s a representative of the Emperor, or maybe of Herod Antipas
The Provincial Governor at the time.
Its unclear whether he was Jewish or Gentile. Scholars debate the point.
Either way, he is a representative of the Gentile state, the Romans
The powers that be
The representatives of those who oppress and take
And keep impoverished most of the Jewish people.
The son of a man who represents all of THAT….lay ill in Capernaum.
And the man goes to Jesus, and Jesus talks with him,
And Jesus heals his son.
A Samaritan woman: engaged and enlivened, given living water.
A Roman Royal Official: his family made whole.
Jesus the Christ: Showing Honor to these outsiders, these putative enemies
Through acts of love and grace.
Just briefly, turn with me for a minute to what is going on in this letter I read from Paul.
Paul is talking to his people in Corinth, the people he loves
Who are trying to grow as a church there.
Paul established that community, helped it grow
And is now somewhere else trying to do the same.
They are having problems, now that he’s gone.
They are bickering with each other.
They are trying to one-up each other.
They’re disagreeing on what gifts matter for this work of Christ
And which don’t, some might say.
And Paul is trying to get them to overcome their retreat into groups of self-interest,
And particularly is telling the people who have some amount of influence
To stop using that to dominate the others
So that they get their own way.
In the church, Paul says, in God’s world…
God gives everyone gifts that are useful for the work of God.
Not all people get the same gifts, but they are all important.
But if we start saying my gift is important, but yours is not
We’ll start falling apart.
What is amazing to me is how he puts it:
On the contrary: those members of the body that seem to be weaker
And those members of the body that we think less honorable
We clothe with greater honor,
And our less respectable members
are treated with greater respect.
Do you see how Paul is challenging what we THINK, how we SEE
These questions of honor and worth and rank.
There is no room, in God’s house, for failing to treat one another with dignity
For not seeing in them the gifts that God gives them
As beloved children of God.
And the next very next chapter reminds us that
No matter how we act, if we are the world’s best speaker,
Or can pray like no other
Or can teach or heal or run things better than anyone
But don’t have love
The greatest thing is love.[vii] And that love we share,
In greatest measure with those we think are less worthy of it.
Today we gather at The Kirk
Seeking a word from God about how to go about our daily lives.
Todays suggestion is for us to reflect on the calling God gives us
To Honor All People.
How do we do that?
How can we possibly do that?
Do I have to jump in front of a rushing train to show my honor for a stranger?
Put myself in harms way on the side of the road?
Is that what we’re getting at, Jesus?
Well, I don’t know.
Maybe it will look a bit more like Mattress Mack.
Did you hear about Mattress Mack?
That’s what they call Jim McIngvale, who owns two high end furniture stores
In the Houston area. They’re called Gallery Furniture[viii].
We’re talking $20,000 couches
$25,000 table sets.
$12,000 mattresses. High end furniture.
Did you hear about this.
Hurricane Harvey hit.
Flood waters rose. People fled.
And some of them knocked on the doors of Gallery Furniture.
And wouldn’t you know it: Mattress Mack opened his doors
And those dirty, wet, mucky,
many not able to imagine having a table-that-cost-a-years-wages
people, they found shelter in Jim’s store.
“We sell home theater furniture that you watch TV in, they’re sleeping on that.
They’re sleeping on recliners, sleeping on sofas and love seats.
We have sleeper sofas, they pulled them out and slept on that,”
McIngvale told NPR’s Morning Edition.
“They’re sleeping on hundreds of mattresses throughout the store.
They’re sleeping on the couches
— wherever they can find a place that’s comfortable, and God bless ’em.”[ix]
Sometimes, Honoring All People means simply seeing them as people
And treating them as your very own people.
May we, dear friends
Honor all people
Seeing in them the very image of God
And through that, finding ways of lifting up their humanity
In all that we do. May it be so. Amen.
[i] The story was told by the Rev. Dr. Tom Long in his sermon “Meeting the Good Samaritan” at http://day1.org/1051-meeting_the_good_samaritan, accessed August 25, 2017.
[iii] Quoted as from the New York Times in the Wikipedia article on Wesley Autrey, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wesley_Autrey accessed on September 2, 2017.
[iv] Exodus 20:12
[v] See for instance https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/29/us/volunteer-rescue-crews-hurricane-harvey-houston.html
[vii] 1 Corinthians 13
Image: family on a couch at one of Jim McIngvale’s stores. See http://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/local/2017/09/02/mattress-mack-mississippi-native-helps-harvey-victims/625996001/, accessed September 3, 2017