S. Pentecost 5.19 “Who’s My Neighbor?” Luke 10:25-37
So I know how often you’ve heard me lament going to pastor’s conferences. Well, this week the two vicars and I were at a conference with other pastors. And I want to tell you: it was… excellent! I tell you (too often?) about the bad, so let me tell you about the good. Strictly speaking, this was not a pastor’s conference—a Southeastern District mandated meeting of the local or regional pastors. Those are rarely good, mostly because our current district leadership generally hates Lutheranism and aims to stamp it out like Smokey the Bear does with forest fires.
This one was not that. It was continuing education for pastors, voluntary, not compulsory. It was a 3 day intensive seminary class with Prof. Naomichi Masaki of the Ft. Wayne Seminary. There were about 8 or 9 of us studying Luther’s Galatians Commentary with Prof. Masaki (who happens to love Lutheranism because it is the best currently available form of biblical and apostolic Christianity). Prof. Masaki loves the old liturgy because it delivers the Gospel to us free and pure. So we began each day with Matins together in the lovely sanctuary of Augustana Hickory where Pastor Gaven Mize was our gracious host. There is a bond that forms in a group gathered around the old liturgies and hymns of the church catholic. Where two or three gather in His Name Jesus promises to be there with us and He’s keeps that Promise. For a little bit, heaven brushes our earth…
Then Prof. Masaki led us through the Epistle to the Galatians with some help from Dr. Luther. We all dived in with translations from the Greek and questions and comments and a most lively and delightful conversation of brothers in Christ ensued. I really wish you all could have been there. It made me realize how the Scriptures are meant to be heard: together!: discussed, debated, delighted in together. Passages I thought I knew took on new life and meaning. I realized my recent taste in reading could be greatly improved. We debated and ribbed each other and laughed with (and at) each other. It was a relief to admit you didn’t really understand a particular verse, to not have to be the expert in the room was awesome. To sit and learn from a master teacher (which Dr. Masaki certainly is) made me feel like a kid again and remember the considerable joys of my student days.
Old friendships deepened. New ones formed. And the bond was Christ active in His Word, doing His gentle admonishing, forgiving, renewing, redeeming thing with us all through Paul’s and Luther’s words. It’s the inside jokes that wouldn’t make a lot of sense that flew fast and furious and made the time fly by. It happens all the time in our Sunday morning bible study and Wednesday evening and Tuesday morning. But it was nice to be sitting in the pew (as it were) and not having to wonder whether to dive down the rabbit hole or not.
I was invited to preach with 10 minutes notice at Matins Friday morning (we made Vicar Steffen preach Saturday morning with the same notice as a little friendly fraternity hazing. He passed with flying colors and is preaching right now down in Southern Pines for a pastor on vacation). I chose the Gospel for us this morning because the other guys had to write sermons on it too and throwing out a few ideas to see if anything sticks is usually well received.
The sessions with Prof. Masaki reminded me of a time 20 years ago (maybe more) in a class with my friend Dr. Arthur Just—a professor at Ft Wayne and expert on Luke. We were going over this very Gospel with a small group of pastors and seminary students just like we were with Prof. Masaki last week.
I have to be honest. I never really got this parable. It’s in the Gospel but it always seemed like all law to me! A lawyer asks what he has to do to inherit eternal life (which seems like an odd question for a lawyer, who should know: the only way you get an inheritance is for someone to write you into their will and then die. The only thing you can do to speed the process is to kill the one who wrote you into their will (which is illegal in most states and generally frowned upon by the Almighty. You would think a lawyer would know that. Right?) Anyway, Jesus turns the question back on the lawyer: “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” The lawyer says: “Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus says “Great answer! Do this and you will live.” And the lawyer, (with a sly follow-up) goes “Oh, but who is my neighbor?”
And Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan which you all know and just heard again so I won’t repeat. It’s the end of the story that always threw me. Jesus asks: in the story, which guy is True neighbor? The lawyer goes: “He who showed mercy on the half-dead guy”. And Jesus says “Go and do likewise.” And I always thought (with most of the rest of Christendom) that meant we have to go out and help every poor slob we see, and empty our pockets for every beggar or kiss heaven goodby, baby!..!!!
Which got me down. Because I couldn’t do that, hard as I might try. I couldn’t figure out why this is Gospel because the news to me seemed all bad…
Dr. Just said, “No! You’re missing the point. Jesus is the Good Samaritan and no one else! Jesus is the only One who sees everyone who is half-dead (and all-the-way dead!) and pours on the oil and wine of His Gospel Word and Sacraments, Who pays the price for our failure, puts us up in a 5 star hotel and gives literally all He has for our redemption! The lawyer was clear what he had to do was love God and neighbor. His question was: “Who is my Neighbor I have to love?” And Jesus’ answer is: “I AM! I, the Lord Christ am both God and Neighbor to you—the only One who shows mercy, love, to all; Who lays down His life for the sheep, Who raises the half-dead and all-the-way dead!” Jesus is God and Neighbor!!! The Love required is one-stop shopping! When you love Jesus, you love both God and Neighbor. You’re in the club!
And it was like the gates of heaven swung open wide for me that day, back in ’94 or ’95 I think it was. Jesus is calling me to do what He’s done for me! I love Him because He first loved me. How can you not love Someone who saves you from death all for free and smiling? How can you not love the One who wrote you into His divine will (which is infinite wealth!) and then let you kill Him and rose victorious to say “It’s OK! I did it for you and would do it again! I died to write your name in My will with My own blood!”
In our class, Prof. Masaki reminded us of Luther’s words: faith is not formed by our love for God, but love is formed by faith— which is to say it’s all Jesus’ doing, all His Gift: Jesus believes when I doubt—Jesus gifts faith always to us poor, half-dead souls by the water of Baptism going over your head, the very Word going in your ear right now, the Body and Blood going into your mouth, in a sec. Just so, the gates of heaven swing wide open for you, for me, here, now, all free. Taste and see and inherit eternal life all over again; and the Peace surpassing all understanding guards your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.