Goodwill To All Rev Dr Durrell Watkins (Advent 3, 2015) The Isaiah reading today dares us to imagine a day past the day of difficulty, to imagine a day when restoration and healing takes place. In times of difficulty, the hope of better days can sustain us, and inspire our work toward making the vision […]
Goodwill To All
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins (Advent 3, 2015)
The Isaiah reading today dares us to imagine a day past the day of difficulty, to imagine a day when restoration and healing takes place. In times of difficulty, the hope of better days can sustain us, and inspire our work toward making the vision come to pass.
The gospel reading is a directive to do the work, to be generous, to care about those who are having a difficult time, to share what we have. In that way we will be baptized by fire, that is, we will be immersed in a passion for justice, and we will, then, be Christ in the world.
Advent is a time of waiting, an anticipation of the coming of Christ; or, we might think of it as a time of preparation, of preparing ourselves to be the presence of Christ, the body of Christ in and to the world today.
The return of Christ is symbolic of restoration, of second chances, of finally getting it right after missing the mark so many times.
The prophet Malachi said that Elijah would return; the gospel writer Matthew imagines Jesus saying that Elijah did return, in the work of John the Baptizer.
The earliest followers of Jesus thought he would return, and Luke imagines in his Pentecost narrative that Christ did return as the revived and forward moving church. Maybe Christ continues to come as we embrace the Christ Ideals.
There’s an old story about a failing monastery:
A traveling Rabbi stopped at a monastery for hospitality. The 5 brothers that lived there welcomed him, but they also were kind of apologetic for their scarce numbers.
The Rabbi told them, “I’m surprised you are struggling, since one of you is the Messiah.” The brothers asked which one, but the Rabbi would only say “one of you is the Messiah.”
A year later, the Rabbi visited the monastery again. This time, he found not 5 monks, but 15. Townspeople came to the monastery for mass. Travelers came to the monastery for rest and retreat. It was thriving!
The Rabbi asked what they did to turn it around. They answered, since they didn’t know which of them was the Messiah, they treated each monk as if he were the one. And then, more and more people were attracted to the monastery.
By offering more service, they found more people to serve. By being more compassionate and more generous with one another, they found they attracted more people who could benefit from those same gifts. By acting as if the Messiah had come, the word of the Messiah began to flourish.
Remember the story of the Good Samaritan. It’s really a story of how each of us can be Christ in the world.
A traveler was mugged and left for dead.
Temple officials pass by and see what they believe is a corpse. Deuteronomy 14 and Numbers 19 forbid the touching of dead carcasses. You see, sometimes being a biblical literalist doesn’t make one kind, and the God that is best known as Love would probably prefer kindness to legalism or literalism, or so Jesus seemed to think.
Perhaps the Temple elites would have helped the man if they thought he was alive, but he appeared dead, and to touch a dead body would render them ritualistically unclean (and they’ve got chapter and verse to prove it), so they just pass by the limp body.
But along came a Samaritan. Samaritans were reviled in Jesus’ community. They worshipped differently. They had a mixed ethnic heritage. They were looked down on by some of Jesus’ contemporaries. When Jesus suggests that there could be a GOOD Samaritan, the very notion would have been shocking to some.
But it was the Samaritan, not religious legalists, not the dogmatists, not the scriptural literalists, but the one who dared to show unconditional compassion who is the hero of Jesus’ story. The Samaritan didn’t look it up in a book first; he just showed love.
It is the Samaritan who checks to see if the victim is alive.
It is the Samaritan who offers first aid.
It is the Samaritan who finds him a place to recover.
It is the Samaritan who offers money to help the victim.
It is the Samaritan who proves to be a good neighbor, showing kindness to someone who might not have done the same for him.
It’s a parable. The event didn’t really happen, but Jesus uses the story to show what it means to be a good neighbor. Christ returns every time we choose to be a good neighbor. And the story continues to be relevant.
In the early 1900s, Roman Catholics in the US were treated with suspicion. They were slandered. They were accused of being more loyal to the Vatican than to the US. Some said their churches held weapons or protected money launderers. Some accused them of being against birth control so that they could take over the US from the inside out…just out populate the Protestants.
Catholics, especially Catholic immigrants, were dehumanized and demonized.
Even as late as 1960, well known Protestant clergy warned that if a Roman Catholic became president, it would actually be the Pope who ran our nation. They were actually trying to scare people into not voting for Kennedy.
Still, Catholics educated children, built schools and colleges and hospitals and orphanages.
Catholics were the Samaritans of the day. Jesus in 1915 would have told a story of the Good Catholic.
In the 40s, Jewish lives were in jeopardy all over Europe. They were called ugly names. Christians said they were dirty, conniving, scheming, untrustworthy. Hitler and Mussolini tortured and killed millions of Jews. Many Christians remained silent. Some shook their head in dismay as the terrible events occurred, but spoke against offering shelter to Jews fleeing for their lives.
In WW2, Jesus would have a told a story of the Good European Jew.
In the 80s, when AIDS became known and recognized as a pandemic, Jerry Falwell stood in the pulpit on television and declared AIDS to be God’s punishment against homosexuals.
But People Living with AIDS formed support groups, lobbied for help, created art, told their stories, cared for one another, volunteered as much as their health would allow, cried at funeral after funeral.
In the late 80s, Jesus would have told a story of the Good Person Living with AIDS.
The Samaritan is every person religion at its best should have helped, but instead, shunned or tormented.
Pat Robertson once blamed a hurricane on Gay Pride Flags. Even now there are raging debates about whether or not business can deny service to same-gender loving couples.
Lesbians and Gays are the Good Samaritan…often dehumanized, but living lives of integrity, hope, generosity and love anyway.
Transgender people are coming into the light more and more, and are being attacked more and more. But they tell their stories to inspire, help, and encourage others. Transgender people are today’s Samaritans.
One of my favorite stories told by an evangelical minister, a Baptist pastor, is about his favorite coffee shop in Philadelphia. He met at the coffee shop daily with a group of theologian friends. I believe their group included Jewish as well as Christian scholars. They’d discuss religion and world events and share prayer requests with each other. But the coffee shop was owned by a Muslim of Middle Eastern heritage. He was always friendly to them, gave them excellent service, and provided them a place to gather every day. He became part of their daily lives.
On 9/11, 2001, the Baptist minister heard, as did the world, about the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. He immediately thought of his friend, the coffee shop owner. He was worried that his friend would be sad that his religion had been blasphemed by the terrorists. He was worried that people out of fear and panic would blame all Muslims or all Middle Easterners for the terrible actions of a select few bad actors. And so he rushed to the coffee shop, where he found his entire group. They to a person had the same thought…let’s check on our friend. And they held him, and they prayed for him, and they cried together. The best of Christianity, the best of Judaism, the best of Islam came together in a Philadelphia coffee shop that day. Samaritans, good neighbors, came together to share unconditional love; and I promise you That which we recognize as divine by any name was mighty in their midst that day.
If we are going to follow Jesus, and if we are going to be the return of Christ, the physical manifestation of Christ in the world, then we have to reclaim the story of the Good Samaritan. Religion shouldn’t be about excluding or demonizing others. Good people are often the ones Religion said were no good, but who nevertheless showed neighborly love, sometimes to people who wouldn’t show it to them.
Being Christ in the world means being compassionate and generous; it really is a simple as that, and it is desperately needed. Maybe the angels singing in the Nativity narrative really do hit the nail on the head, as they call for peace on earth, goodwill toward ALL. Maybe, just maybe, All means all.
And this is the good news!
© Durrell Watkins 2015
I affirm God’s love for me. I affirm God’s love for all people. All means ALL! Thanks be to God.
Durrell Watkins, MA, MDiv, DMin
Senior Minister, Sunshine Cathedral