It was a joy and gift to be the good people of God gathered as Sinai Lutheran Church in Fremont, Nebraska on Sunday July 10, 2022. Thank you to Pastor Al Duminy for the invitation and to the whole congregation for the warm welcome. What follows is the majority of the manuscript that I preached from, based on the appointed readings for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 15C), especially the gospel reading about the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37. A video recording of the service and sermon can be found below.
Grace and peace from God in Christ, who is with you, for you, and who loves you. Amen.
Good morning Sinai! It’s so great to be with you. Thank you to Pr. Al and Emily for the invitation and to all of you for the warm welcome. As I do when out in the congregations of our synod, I bring greetings. Today I bring greetings from a number of people you know quite well- from Bishop Brian Maas, from your own community members and my synod staff colleagues Assistant to the Bishop Pastor Juliet Focken, Diane Harpster and Lisa Kramme, and from Bishop-elect Pastor Scott Johnson, from your Fremont Area cluster friends and neighbors up at Salem Lutheran in Fontanelle and my wife Pastor Allison Siburg, and of course from your 90,000+ siblings in Christ who with you are the Nebraska Synod. A lot of people say hi to you today, and it’s so good to be with you as we are the church together.
Digging into a familiar story
Now in thinking about our story for this day, I start with an admission. I know you know this story about a Good Samaritan and being neighbor to a neighbor in need. It’s a story we have heard time and time again, especially if you have grown up in the faith- from Sunday School to Confirmation, to years and years, and decades of living and serving as a disciple. This is a gift it’s a story we know well. But it’s also a challenge. What might God be calling us to hear and notice in a new way in such a familiar story today? What might we notice in our story? What might we wonder about in it? Through this story might we wonder about what the world needs from Sinai Lutheran in Fremont, Nebraska today?
This lawyer comes to Jesus with a question or two. It says he came to test Jesus and to justify himself. If we want to be extra kind in our living out of the eighth commandment, maybe the lawyer was more genuine in deeply wanting to know what this all might mean for him. Either way, the lawyer asks Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus turns this question around by asking the lawyer questions. “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” Questions, questions, questions. This is so Jesus. He asks way more questions than answers questions. The lawyer takes the bait, and he recites the Shema, “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.” For this Jesus says, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” I love this affirmation from Jesus. If you are like me, and perhaps know what your Enneagram type is, if you are a 1 or 3, this kind of affirmation that Jesus gives is like gold. You always want to hear that you did a good job, and that you know what you are doing. But there is more obviously below the surface here.
The lawyer knows in his head what should be true. He understands the law and Shema, including the way its described in our first lesson from Deuteronomy today like that one should “turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” But the lawyer wants to go further. So he is moving from testing Jesus to wanting to justify himself before him. As he does this, he seemingly misses the whole point of who God is and what God is up to. This lawyer is no Lutheran that’s for sure, because any good Lutheran knows that one cannot justify themselves before God. Rather, that happens through justification by grace through faith alone as pure gift of God that one could never earn or deserve. Okay, glad we cleared that up.
But the lawyer is not done. He asks another question. And this one Jesus responds to with a story. The lawyer asks, “And who is my neighbor?” Isn’t that a question we should always be asking ourselves? So in that sense, the lawyer deserves credit because he asks the right question even if not being totally genuine in doing so. The first answer to the who is neighbor question obviously is the one who showed mercy to his neighbor in need on the side of the road. The lawyer recognizes this in Jesus’ story, as we all do.
What might Jesus be up to here
In telling this story, Jesus is teaching about God’s creative, redeeming, healing, and reconciling work happening among God’s people. It wouldn’t be lost on the listener to this story, that it is in fact a Samaritan, a foreigner or “other” who is not part of the main group of power in the community to whom Jesus is teaching and preaching, who in this story sees their sibling in Christ in need, and doesn’t just see their need, he then makes the move to respond. In acting and showing up, he proves that it’s not always only the people that act, think, believe, or look like someone who help each other. But rather that all of these differences are transcended in God’s kingdom. For what is more important, is our shared identity as children of God.
Jesus tells this story too, perhaps because he knows what lies ahead. He knows that the cross looms large, and that all signs point to Jerusalem. He also knows that, the disciples aren’t yet ready to fully comprehend what this means. The lawyer as wise as he is who has found Jesus on the road, who knows the meaning of the commandments and the Shema, that, “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,” and recognizes that this sort of life is the life that leads to life eternal. But even in knowing that, he doesn’t understand how broad and deep a command this is. So Jesus tells this parable for him, for the disciples, and for all who have ears to listen.
As he does, Jesus is inviting us also to see a glimpse of God’s promises of being “for you.” Those two simple words like we might hear in the sacraments, “for you.” God does what God does, “for you.” The body and the blood are given and shed, “for you.” That is a most generous move to offer God’s self for God’s own, grounded in a love that transcends our human conceptions and capabilities to understand.
Who are we in this story, and what might God be inviting?
Jesus knows that it’s hard to comprehend all of this. So he gives us story after story, and invites us to see ourselves in them. So I wonder, who might we be in this story? Are we the man in need of care in the ditch, laying on the side of the road who has been past by, by countless others leaving us in effect to fend for ourselves? Are we the robbers who caused one to be left to die? Are we the priest in a hurry who passes by because we can’t be bothered? Are we the Levite who for fear of his own safety, can’t be bothered to get close to the man on the side of the road? Or are we the Samaritan who stops and does what he can? However we might identify, or with whomever we might identify as, Jesus invites us to imagine and to respond. To witness and to see.
As stewards we believe that God entrusts us with all that we have and all that we are. God does this as pure gift and grace, because God wants to be in relationship with us and because God wants God’s beloved to live fully and abundantly. And God in Christ invites us to be part of this life together for the sake of our neighbors and for each other as Children of God. The Samaritan in this story seems to live it. It’s real in him. The lawyer gets it, and acknowledges the Samaritan’s signs of mercy and care as being neighbor to the one in need. And to this recognition, Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.”
Go and Do Likewise
Go and do likewise! Jesus might also be saying, “Get out and Go! Go and do likewise!” Sending forth all of us in our call and work as disciples, stewards, Children of God, and neighbors to one another. Embodying the love of God, and living out Jesus’ commandment to love one another. Not to pass by on the other side when we notice another in need, but to show up. To make time. To be present. Because that is what Jesus does for you and me. Jesus shows up and not only sees God’s beloved in need, he joins them. Whether we are the Samaritan or the one in need at the side of the road God shows up for, with, in, and through us.
For the one struggling with a health challenge or difficult diagnosis. For the single parent struggling to make ends meet. For the young adult dealing with tough decisions that could well shape their entire life to come. For the older person grieving the loss of a loved one and struggling to make sense of what’s next. For the teacher who on a smaller than shoe string budget finds ways to make ends meet, and makes time for each of their students, even if it means they may not get much sleep that night. For the immigrant or refugee struggling to learn a new culture, language, and build relationships. For the farmer who is up at all hours, making sure that their fields are in good shape and doing what they can with God’s help to ensure a good harvest. For the person who isn’t given the same opportunity as others or feels that others judge them simply for their gender or the color of their skin. For the person who feels that they can’t be their full selves, because of their sexual orientation, beliefs, questions, or dreams; for fear of being looked down upon or worse, for simply being who God has created them to be. For all who are weary, exhausted, and longing to be seen, to be told that they matter, and that they are loved. For you and for me.
Jesus sees us and our neighbors. And in this sense is the Good Samaritan and then some to us. Really, that’s what God does, for you and me. It’s a life-giving, life-changing, and life-saving move. And it’s not a one-time thing either.
Jesus invites, calls, and sends us as he says, “go and do likewise.” It’s part of life in relationship with God and with our neighbors. It’s also part of living out the mantra that your congregation proclaims, “Shaping Disciples to Serve.” That’s precisely what Jesus is doing in telling this story for the lawyer and all who might have ears to hear it.
Being All In
Now there is more to this story. The Samaritan that Jesus describes is all-in for the sake of his neighbor. The Samaritan didn’t just care for the man in the moment. He stepped up and shared what he could, providing out of his financial resources for the on-going care for the man’s needs. The two denarii he provides up front is paired with his assurance that he will pay whatever is owed when he returns. He is stepping up and using what God has entrusted into his care for the sake of his neighbor in need, and demonstrating a willingness to walk with his neighbor in a longer relationship. That is faith in action. That is discipleship. That is stewardship. That is God’s mission in real time, as the kingdom of God has indeed come near. And we’re called to go and do likewise in fulfilling this call and commandment as we are called and entrusted into relationships with all of God’s children.
The Samaritan is all-in, and Jesus is calling us to be all-in too for the sake of our neighbors. Not for our own sake, but for the sake of all God’s beloved. What might it mean for you and me, to go and do likewise, and be all in?
Sinai, I know you get this. You are grounded deeply in your faith as disciples, and serve and share generously as stewards of God’s love. From your support and provision of the food pantry helping all in the Fremont area who might have need, to providing financial literacy workshops, from your continued support of Habitat for Humanity and Lutheran Family Services, to Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry including Camp Carol Joy Holling and of course your next door neighbors of Midland University. I also know this to be true through your congregation’s continued participation in mission share, which is the undesignated offering your congregation shares with the Nebraska Synod and the larger ELCA through which you do ministry that spans the globe and literally changes lives. You do so much for your neighbors. On behalf of your siblings in Christ near and far: thank you, thank you, thank you!
You are part of God in Christ’s kingdom building work. Work that is never done. To meet and walk with neighbors and all Children of God near and far. Meeting each other where they are at. Responding to each other’s needs, and growing in relationship with one another as God invites us to walk with God and one another, just as the Samaritan shows up and is all in as God invites and entrusts.
I asked you this question earlier: what does the world need from Sinai today? To keep doing what you are doing. To keep getting out and going, and going and doing likewise. And continuing to be open to new possibilities and ways to serve. Here in Fremont, perhaps that means reflecting some on the fact that Sinai is virtually the geographical center of the city. What might that mean for possibilities for ministry and mission? As a community center of service and God’s grace? As a place of inclusion and welcome to one and all- especially to those who might be struggling to see and experience the fullness of God’s love, without questions asked. Just as the Samaritan helped the man in need without asking any questions of him or whether he deserved mercy or not. He shared mercy and the neighbor in need received mercy, because that is what it means to live and serve, and embody God’s love. Period.
May we all go, get out, and do likewise. May we be all in like the Samaritan for the sake of our neighbor. May we risk for the sake of those who are in need. May we do, what may not always be easy, or received well as disciples. May we live and embody the joy of the Resurrection amid a world where the pains and anxieties of Good Friday are all too real. May we trust that God’s promises are true. For we know that what we do is part of God’s on-going work of sharing the love and Good News that God in Christ is with you, for you, and loves you. Amen.
Citations and References:
 Luke 10:25, NRSV.
 Luke 10:26, NRSV.
 Luke 10:27, NRSV.
 Luke 10:28, NRSV.
 Deuteronomy 30:10, NRSV.
 Luke 10:29, NRSV.
 Luke 10:27, NRSV; quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.
 Luke 10:37, NRSV.
 Luke 10:35, NRSV.