Loving my #blacklivesmatter neighbor

The following is a sermon I plan to give tomorrow.

“Love… your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27

Talking to a young lady about the Enneagram the other day. We were trying to work together to help her figure out her number. The Enneagram is a personality type system that helps us understand ourselves. It particularly points out our defense mechanisms and how we see things in the world through the filters that were created as a result of traumas we’ve been through. The things that have happened to us and all the ways we have responded to those things have served to shape our personalities. Anyway, as I was going through this with here and reading from the list of the particular tendencies of the number we believed was hers, she began to weep. It was as if for her for the first time she felt known, seen and understood. Something about her at the core of her being felt known. It was a powerful thing to watch.

We all want to be know and understood. We each have unique qualities that, when someone acknowledges them and acknowledges what those unique quality have to offer, it can be a very emotional thing. We want to be known as a unique individual who has unique gifts to offer. We also want to be seen as one who has overcome a lot to get to where we are; we want our woads to be acknowledged.

One really powerful and active way to love my neighbor as myself is to know my neighbor as him or her self, without trying to project my own self or my own agenda onto them. As a pastor this is how I meet with all difference. I want to meet people where they are, no where I expect them to be. I genuinely want to understand you where you are. And as long as we can continue to do this in a friendly non-threatening, safe way, I want to remain in relationship with you. When it becomes threatening; no longer safe for us to remain in a relationship, we may have to separate; go our separate ways. Sometimes it becomes necessary to love one another from a distance.

Much of the time our personalities are formed by pain. To acknowledge pain is one way to be a good neighbor.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan
Luke 10 (NRSV)
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Jesus told parables to help us understand how life in the Kingdom of God works. He also told parables to help us know ourselves and him and ourselves in relation to him. When we see ourselves in a parable we may feel known and understood. It may also be a painful experience when we see ourselves in a parable. Parables can be quite eye opening. Parables are all over the place. This notion of a story is not just a biblical thing. The idea of a story that gives a larger explanation of things is see in Greek teaching and also in Buddhist teaching. The Jewish rabbis were using this method for many years before Jesus came. It is also in many other places in the Bible besides the Gospels, particularly in the writings of the prophets. Many historical narratives in scripture also work as parables. A historical event in the Bible often expands beyond itself and becomes a parable for us today. We see this in the Exodus story. The notion of the Israelites being freed from slavery has become a picture for us of our lives before Christ and after Christ. St. Paul know this. He often made reference to Old Testament stories in order to explain spiritual realities. You can see this when Paul compares the story of Noah and the Ark with our baptism.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan was told in response to the question from the Teacher of the Law; “who is my neighbor?” Understanding the context to this question helps us a little with the reason Jesus chose to tell the particular story he told. You see, the teacher of the law would have had ingrained into his mind from birth that his neighbors were his fellow Israelites. This mindset can be seen as still firmly entrenched in the writings of Paul who was still battling the notion that the only pure God-chosen race was his fellow Jews. Even the Jews who had become Christian had such an identification with their national identity that they could not allow Greeks to become Christian and participate in the activities of the Church without going through the specific Jewish rituals that were handed down by their tradition. There was such a deep seated racism among the Jewish people of Paul’s day that Paul even had to rebuke Peter for engaging in it (see Gal. 2). To say “love your neighbor as yourself” to a Jew at that time would’ve brought all kinds of questions for Jesus. However, Jesus didn’t address specific issues head on with arguments and rebuttals or apologetics or theologies. Jesus didn’t engage in debate, instead he told a parable that brought the teacher of the law face to face with himself.

Let’s look at the parable for a minute…
We have an unidentified man who, while traveling was beaten and left in a ditch. Then we have two religious guys who see the beaten man, but quickly move over to the other side of the road. And we have a Samaritan, a mixed race man who actually stops, putting himself in harms way to help the man. Keep in mind, that it was very much intentional for Jesus to use a Samaritan man as the hero. Jesus knew how to be a little snarky. He knew that making a person from a hated group would get the teacher of the law’s goat.

Who am I in the story?
One consistent thing we ought to ask when we read the parables of Jesus is, “who am I in the story?” What part do I play? So, where are you in this story? Are you the unidentified man who was beaten? Are you the religious leaders? Or are you the Samaritan? When Jesus asks the lawyer, “who was the neighbor to the man?” The teacher of the Law could only say, “the one who showed mercy.”

We like to see ourselves as the hero. I know in my mind, I am always the hero of my own story. In the book written about me I know I will be cast as the hero. But, to someone else, I must acknowledge, I am the bad guy. I like to help people. I like knowing I’ve done a good deed. It puffs up my ego when I know I’ve done good.

What about the victim?
Have you ever felt like the victim? Perhaps we can all think of times we’ve been hurt, abandoned, left alone in a proverbial ditch. I felt beaten down week. I posted something about feeling sad about all the stuff that’s going on. I usually don’t do this. I usually don’t admit that I feel sad, it makes me feel uncomfortable when people try to make me feel better. I also feel awkward about letting people know on social media about my feelings. But, for some reason I just had no other outlet and I wanted some solidarity. And, I got it. Many people “liked” it or “loved” it and some commented with, “me too.” But one person sent me a private message just to check on me. It came from a very unlikely place. It was a former student who is a lesbian. She sent a sincere message just to check on me and see how I am doing. I’ll be honest, tears welled up in my eyes when I read it. I wasn’t expecting to feel so emotional about actually being cared for. This person knows that I am a Christian pastor and that we don’t fully agree with each other on certain things. She was heavily involved in the church but left it because of some of the ways she was being mistreated. She has remained in touch with me over the years. Here is what she had to say on a recent post she made:

“A story of four pastors today in these troubled times:
The first, I met this morning when I flipped the news on first thing (as we do now) and saw what had happened in DC last night. Bishop Mariann Budde. I listened to what she said about last night and what she said about Jesus, and guys. It just really fucking hurts to lose something as big as a church family that you love and believes loves you. Friends who have eaten at your table who actually do not remember you anymore. And I have been feeling that grief bad these past few months. And listening to her this morning soothed my wounded heart a bit and I needed it. Maybe that’s God. Who knows.
The second was a client. A local pastor who is supposed to be one of those “on our side” ones. You know. The kind of church that won’t collapse if a LGBTQ person goes inside. Rainbow COEXIST bumper sticker on the Prius. Wearing their Be Kind shirt. And friends, I’ve tried, really I have, because despite all my snark and frustration on FB, I am damn good at my job and actually a pretty pleasant and fun person. But I don’t see it in her. She’s just rude. Every time. It’s a real bummer. Especially since it is my understanding that hers is the only church of the “won’t collapse” variety in town and I do miss it sometimes.
The third is an old friend, one of my first Christian friends and mentors, who I keep in touch with from time to time on FB. He just wants to follow Jesus and show people Jesus and I know, that just like me, he is watching people he cares about do and say things that are surprising. And I know that even while he is trying to be a light in all this darkness, it still hurts. Sometimes I think it is easier for me. I didn’t stay and fight for my right to exist in the church and it is easy for me to look at the church from the outside and say this is what you need to do. But he fights every day to change people’s hearts and minds to Jesus from inside.”

God used this gay woman and her sincere care for me and her words of affirmation on Facebook that led me to think of the parable of the Good Samaritan. I was in a ditch and her kindness helped pull me out. Jesus was not supposed to make the Samaritan a hero. In our tradition, I am not supposed to make a gay person the hero. We get more uptight about these things than God does.

The murder of George Floyd has already moved beyond a historical event. Even justice in that particular event is being served, my understanding is that all the officers involved in his murder have been arrested, there are still protests and riots and battle lines are still being drawn. Many are saying, “What do the protestors want? The officers have been arrested, give it a break!” The thing is that the image of a white police officer with his knee on the neck of a black man crying out, “I can’t breathe,” has become parabolic or symbolic for black people everywhere. I must admit I have been somewhat ambivalent to the plight of black people. I have friends who are black, but, in terms of black people as a race and what they have gone through has escaped me. I have been unconcerned about it. It’s been a non-issue for me. I have even heard myself say, “I don’t hate black people, heck, I even have a few friends who are black.” I cannot say that I love them as I love myself. The Lord has convicted me about this. He spoke to my heart saying, “Gary, you are really no different that those religious people in the parable. You look, but you walk over to the other side of the road. You are afraid to really get involved.” In this regard, I must confess that I am a racist. I want to repent. I want to do better. I want every black person to hear me asking for their forgiveness for my ambivalence. I am sorry for not caring. As a pastor I have been given a voice and I want my voice to count not just for people like me. I want to care.

I hesitated to post any Black Lives Matter things on my Facebook page because of fear that I will be judged. I am afraid I will be lumped in which people that many of my brothers and sisters in Chairs would see as wrong, liberal, evil, left wing, progressive. I guess I am willing to take that chance. I feel like Jesus did the same thing when he associated and ate with the sinners and tax collectors of his day. He even had a disciple, Simon the Zealot who was part of a radical group on par with Antifa.
The Zealots were an aggressive political party whose concern for the national and religious life of the Jewish people led them to despise even Jews who sought peace and conciliation with the Roman authorities.

Our divided country
I am fully aware that we live in a divided country. There is so much division over politics nowadays. As an Enneagram 9 myself, I am the type of person who does not like conflict. I despise conflict. I tend to struggle with people pleasing; I often go along to get along. I struggle to make decisive actions. I really have to work at things. But, right now, at this time in our history I fully believe that Black Lives Matter. Right now, they are the ones in the ditch. For me, to say “All Lives Matter,” while I do believe that to be true, is to be like the religious people who walked over to the other side of the road, ignoring the man who was dying in the ditch. Jesus told the Teacher of the Law to go and do likewise. What Jesus was saying, “Go and align yourself with the ones that others in your group would criticize you for aligning with.” To the teacher of the Law Jesus was saying, “go and act like the one that others in your group would consider the enemy.” To me Jesus is saying, “go and act like that lesbian woman who sincerely showed compassion for you in your time of need.”

Last week I asked my church to “seek first to understand.” Well, that is what I am trying to do right now at this time in history. For me that means educating myself about things I wouldn’t normally look into. I am listening to podcasts and reading and watching movies and shows in order to help me understand what my black neighbors are experiencing. You may not be ready to get into the ditch with them, but perhaps you could make an effort to read about their experience or watch a movie and allow yourself to be moved by their experience and feelings.

Some recommendations:
Movies: Just Mercy, To Kill a Mockingbird, When They See Us (Central Park Five)
Podcast: Brene Brown interview with Ibram X. Kendi… extra credit if you read Kendi’s book, How to Be an Anti-Racist… I have to admit I haven’t read it yet but after listening the podcast I intend to.

The idea is to try as best as you can to get inside another’s shoes. As a white male I will never fully understand what black Americans have endured, but I want to try. I am not agreeing with all the rioting and such. I know that there have been a lot of attacks on police officers, it is horrible what is happening and I believe all of this breaks the heart of Jesus. But, I for one, want to lay aside some of my own bias and way of seeing things in order to at least acknowledge someone who is hurting, to help them feel seen, heard and understood. This goes a very long way in loving our neighbor.

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