Friday, September 24, 2010

Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
September 26, 2010

As most of you know last Sunday morning my mother and father received news of the death of Virginia Foxworth Jacks. Virginia was killed in an automobile accident following the Auburn/Clemson football game last Saturday night; some friends were giving her a ride back to her car and she died less than a mile from getting there. She was the daughter of Kevin and Ginger Jacks and older sister to two brothers. Her grandmother is Patty Williams who is my godmother and high school classmate of my parents. Earlier this spring Patty’s husband, Jesse died of a massive stroke, and she also lost her brother Jim about a month ago. One can’t help but be left with questions such as, “How much more can this family take?” “Why was Virginia’s life seemingly cut so short?” “Where is God in all of this?”

If we’re truly human, I’m certain that there have been times when we’ve encountered a situation in which questions like these and others come to mind, and we ultimately have to wrestle with life as we are called to live it.

On my way home from church last Sunday morning, I called Virginia’s uncle Kirby, one of my high school classmates, fraternity brother, and good friend to let him know that we were thinking of him and his family and to be assured of our prayers. He told me that he had spoken to some of Virginia’s friends who had been with her at the game, and she was beaming with excitement at just being there and how perfect the day was. However, she said that the day would have been complete if she could have been sharing it with her grandfather, Jesse. Wow! As was her way, Virginia was always exulting in others. She didn’t want to just enjoy the football game, she wanted to share that joy with someone else, someone she loved and adored, her grandfather that she said goodbye to earlier this year.

In our Gospel lesson we hear those hard words from Jesus where he admonishes us all, “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” To be honest, those are perhaps the hardest words from the Gospel to hear because they cut us all completely to the chase. No one is exempt from the sin of pride, and C. S. Lewis says quite clearly in Mere Christianity:

There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people except Christians ever imagine that they are guilty themselves….There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.

Well, that just about cut me down to size!

If I were in a courtroom standing before the judge right now, and that accusation were leveled against me, all I could do is hang my head in shame, and mutter the words, “Guilty as charged, your honor.”

Catholic philosopher, Peter Kreeft puts it this way, “Pride is the greatest sin. It comes not from the world or the flesh but from the Devil. It comes from hell. It was the Devil’s original sin, perhaps the only sin possible for a pure spirit. (Hell’s work is purely spiritual, you know; Hell cannot produce a single atom of that blessed creation of God, matter.)”

In our service of Holy Baptism, the first question asked of the parents and godparents is this, “Dost thou, therefore, in the name of this Child, renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the sinful desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow, nor be led by them?” To which the answer, “I renounce them all; and, by God’s help, will endeavor not to follow, nor be led by them,” is given.

Before the blessing of the water, we offer the following prayer, “Grant that he may have power and strength to have victory, and to triumph, against the devil, the world, and the flesh.”

After the candidate is baptized, he is signed with the cross and the following words, “WE receive this Child (or person) into the congregation of Christ’s flock; and do *sign him with the sign of the Cross, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto his life’s end.”

Holy Scripture declares that the Devil is the Father of Lies, and his whopper is the sin of pride that finds its way into each of our lives. Pride is chief of vices because it dislodges God from His rightful place and attempts to elevate Man to a place he is not destined to be. It attempts to undo the first commandment.
So what is our remedy? How do we confront this demonic influence that affects all, and discriminates against none?

One place to turn is the fifth chapter of St. Matthew in which we hear the following words, “JESUS seeing the multitudes, went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: and he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for their's is the kingdom of heaven.” Each of the beatitudes can be seen as an antidote or rather, an antithesis of the seven deadly sins. How fitting that the greatest vice is confronted by the first virtue mentioned by our Lord – humility. We are not to understand poverty in spirit to mean empty, void, vacuous, but rather in the sense that the only source for their filing is God alone. It is the complete recognition that we are incapable of effecting the very change we wish to enact. We are stuck and we cannot do it on our own. As we pray in the Season of Lent, “ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Our daily activity must be the constant pleading for the indwelling of God’s Spirit that we might be given the weapons to withstand the assaults that come our way.

In reading the wonderful words that many have written in the days since Virginia’s death, it certainly seems like this was a prayer that she prayed every day.

“Thank you for being an example of Christ. I now see what it’s like to have pure joy.” McCoy E.

“I told someone about you last night. It was the first time I had ever mentioned Christ to a stranger.” Avery D.

“I know it is kind of late to leave you a message but oh well. I didn't know you very well, but that doesn't mean I have not cried my eyes out during the past few days. Your death has taught me so much. I have never understood how God could be glorified through unreasonable death, however I get it now. Virginia, you are ...the prime example of what a Christian should be. You shined with Christ and set a perfect example to everyone with just your smile. My life has been changed for the better in the past few days and I have only God's example through you to thank. I love you so much and cannot wait for the day when we are both in heaven praising our Father.” Sarrah W.

“This morning, at about 4:45, I turned over in my bed and something woke me. It was the moon. But it wasn't the was so bright and full of life...just like you. And as I layed there I started thinking, this was you watching over us. The moon was so beautiful and so bright it couldn't just be normal. You haven't left my mind a second this week, and I doubt you ever will. Thanks for watching over us as we slept last night. Love and miss you always.” Brett C.

Finally, in Virginia’s own words that she penned not too long ago, "I have to remind myself all the time, that God is the only thing that will make me happy! It's so important that we strive everyday to have a closer and deeper relationship with the Lord."

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. May we have such a poverty of spirit, filled with God’s grace, mercy, and abundance, that we might know blessings of God’s kingdom both now and ever more. Amen.

******Quotations are from the facebook page of Virginia Jacks or In Memory of Virginia Jacks*******

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
September 19, 2010

Leave me alone, I’m having a pity party!

You can take your pity somewhere else, I certainly don’t need it!

What a pity about John.

Whenever we think of the word pity, it almost always has connotations such as these. It seems like we have turned the notion of pity into something to be avoided. Even in instances where we speak of pity from a compassionate perspective there is a hollowness there, and it almost seems like we use that word when we don’t have anything else to say.

This is one of those situations where the use of a word needs to be defined further in order for us to understand its meaning within a particular context. Let me give you another example.

One of the most familiar collects in the Prayer Book is one that I use frequently when opening vestry meetings, classes, etc. I know that many other priests use these words as well, “Direct us, O LORD, in all our doings with thy most gracious favor.” You could probably finish the collect with me because its beauty speaks so clearly and sets such a wonderful tone for any gathering of the church. However, in the original version of the collect instead of the word ‘Direct’ the word ‘Prevent’ was used to begin. If you look in your Prayer Book the collect for next Sunday will use that same word again in speaking of God’s grace. In this context the word ‘prevent’ means to precede or go ahead of. That makes total sense when you look at both of those instances because we should pray that God’s mercy should go ahead of us like a light unto our path or that God should precede us in all that we do.

We certainly encounter a similar situation when we come across the word pity in this morning’s collect. It doesn’t seem logical that a word like pity makes sense when speaking of cleansing and defending the Church. However, the ancient Church knew what she was doing when she used the word pity in the collect for today that was penned many centuries ago.

First, I thank that we actually need to grasp the notion of pity used here. It is not something condescending or belittling. There is a tremendous depth here that might otherwise go unnoticed. The prayer itself is actually seeking the Lord’s pity. It is something that we are to actually long for and eagerly await. In those few sentences at the beginning of the sermon, pity as we know it is the last thing that we would ever want or actually pray for. Yet, here we are asking for that very thing.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the phrase “miserable offenders” was removed from the General Confession in Morning and Evening Prayer in the ’79 Prayer Book. What a tragedy because the root of the word miserable has a link to the word mercy, and what could be longed for and sought after more than the grace and mercy of Almighty God? Our acknowledgment of our true condition before God as miserable offenders is the recognition that we need and therefore seek God’s forgiveness and mercy.

The exact same thing is happening here in our petition to God for pity. As we think of pity, it is purely an emotion in most cases. Certainly there are times when pity leads us to some sort of action, but most times it is purely on an emotional level. With God, asking for pity in not just a plea for sympathy but it always leads to action. It does so because of this posture begins to get the order correct – we are in dire need of pity and God’s pity is the only thing that leads to life and hope. It whittles away at the very corrupt nature that we’ve all inherited and is part of the process known as sanctification or the striving toward holiness.

Our Epistle and Gospel lessons both bear this out.

St. Paul in his Epistle to the Ephesians exhorts them not to faint or despair or lose heart because of the persecution that he is enduring on account of the Gospel. In essence he is telling them that I don’t want your pity in a 21st Century context, but rather, he urges them to exalt in the glory that this theirs whenever the same befalls them. And befall them it certainly will.

That same persecution is going to come our way as well. We too are going to be ridiculed and admonished by this world for daring to proclaim as Lord the Eternal Word of God, Jesus Christ. Relative truths are the norm today, and the slings and arrows of narrow-mindedness and being called unenlightened are coming our way, and you’d better bet your life on it.

Who are we to have the audacity to say that someone else is wrong? After all, aren’t we all fraught with our own besetting sins and weaknesses? Yes, we are, but I hope and pray that every day of our lives we fall on our knees and beg God for His pity as we seek to serve and follow him.

After all, our Lord was never afraid to call people to task for who they were, and the way they were living their lives. The word that Jesus used was metanoia, and it literally means to turn around and go in another direction. Our life, “following the devices and desires of our own hearts,” is a dead end trail, and that is why our humble confession is a plea for help in turning around and going about things in a different manner.

Our Gospel lesson is the tells the story of the widow of Nain who has lost her only son, and now finds herself in the desperate position of widow with no male children to attend to her welfare. As our Lord encounters the funeral procession we hear that he has compassion on her, touches the bier, the procession stands still and her son is raised to new life. A few weeks ago we encountered that same word used here for compassion, and this is the type of emotion that leads to action. It lead our Lord to action in the healing of the only son of a widowed woman. It should be the same thing that leads us to action as well.

The same pity that we seek from Almighty God for the cleansing and defense of the Church should be what drives us into His service as well. We don’t simply profess a passive faith that requires no work, but rather a living and active faith that leaves us forever changed, empowered for service and work for the Spread of our Lord’s Kingdom.

The Epistle of St. James declares with clarity, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

How appropriate that these words from St. James might be used to accompany our lesson from St. Luke concerning the healing of a widow’s son. He sees this as essential work because we are commanded to ensure that those who are the most vulnerable hear the Good News and that they are not left as a people without hope. The fundamental message of the Gospel is that we are all vulnerable, we are all in need of that sense of compassion from Jesus Christ, and we need to hear and proclaim those self-same words every day of our lives. For we all share in the same fundamental need to receive and then to share the pity the both cleanses and defends the very Church that our Lord gave his very body to redeem and purchase for his own. May we hear and do that which our Lord commands.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
September 5, 2010

There are four hymns in the 1940 Hymnal attributed to poet William Cowper. Cowper lived in England all of his life in the eighteenth century, and was a contemporary of John Newton, the author of the hymn Amazing Grace. In looking at the three hymns of Cowper’s in the 1982 Hymnal, I realized that even though I had heard his name before, I didn’t recognize any of them as ones I had ever sung. I’ll try and rectify that since his poetry is so beautiful and the lyrics quite powerful. However, neither the 1940 nor the 1982 hymnals contained the following hymn that bears a striking resemblance, most notably the last verse or chorus, with our collect for this morning.

No strength of nature can suffice
To serve the Lord aright
And what she has, she misapplies,
For want of clearer light.

How long beneath the Law I lay
In bondage and distress
I toiled the precept to obey,
But toiled without success.

Then to abstain from outward sin
Was more than I could do
Now if I feel its power within
I feel I hate it too.

Then all my servile works were done,
A righteousness to raise
Now, freely chosen in the Son,
I freely choose His ways.

What shall I do was then the word,
That I may worthier grow?
What shall I render to the Lord?
Is my inquiry now.
Chorus: To see the Law by Christ fulfilled,
To hear His pardoning voice,
Changes a slave into a child
And duty into choice.

If you look at page 209 of the Prayer Book I think you’ll see what I’m talking about. Our collect, which almost seems more suited for the Sunday before Lent when we hear the 13th Chapter of I Corinthians as our Epistle Lesson, begins with an appeal to God for an increase in faith, hope, and charity. This ancient collect does not draw any distinction between the three cardinal virtues, and seeks God’s gift of an abundance and increase of all three. As you recall from St. Paul, he says that the greatest of the three is charity, which of course true. St. John declares with conviction and clarity that God is love, and that above all else love of God and love of neighbor encapsulates the Gospel mandate of sharing the Good News throughout the whole world. It’s no mistake or coincidence that we would hear these words just one week after we heard the story of the Good Samaritan preceded by the Summary of the Law. It was with great care and precision that the early church framed the lectionary as you see printed in your Prayer Book. This sequence tells the story year-after-year in an ordered and concise fashion.

The collect’s petition that we seek is one that starts a sequence in motion for the ordering and living of our lives as disciples of Christ. For after we seek, and through prayer and supplication we begin to receive an increase of faith, hope, and charity, two things can begin to happen. First, we begin to receive a heart that is forever changed, and as William Cowper proclaimed in his hymn, “To see the Law by Christ fulfilled, To hear His pardoning voice, Changes a slave into a child And duty into choice.” No longer are we called slaves but sons of God, and what is seen as duty is transformed into choice. Second, we begin to comprehend the mysteries that lie ahead of us as we await the promises that God intends for us to enjoy. The nice thing about this second piece is that it isn’t just something we wait for on the other side of eternity. If that were so, our Lord would never had told to us to pray for our Father’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. There are pieces of those promises that are ours to enjoy in this life.

What makes this collect and the words of William Cowper so hard to comprehend is the thought of making obedience to the Law something to be enjoyed rather than a burden. This doesn’t make sense. Rules are supposed to be oppressive and something we hate aren’t they? I know for an absolute fact that school zones are the bane of my very existence. I’m sorry, and I hate to admit it, but I have somewhere I need to be, and school zones, and school buses with lights flashing brings out the exact opposite of charity in my mind. I realize this is an overly simplistic example, but it is one in which the law is seen as a burden rather than an opportunity. I could more appropriately use that time as an opportunity to give thanks for the children who will have or have had the opportunity to learn, for the teachers who give selflessly of themselves to teach, to the drivers who make sure that our children arrive at school and get back home safely each and every day. That would be an example of charity breeding charity. A simple change on my part would lead to an opportunity for prayer and thanksgiving, which would in turn lead to an increase of charity. The law that I would originally despise becomes a vehicle for prayer.

What are the areas in our own lives in which the law is continued to be seen as a barrier to charity? It is certainly something to ponder.

With this in mind, how might our Gospel lesson of the healing of the ten lepers bear this out? We heard a few moments ago a familiar story of the healing of a group of ten lepers who were considered the outcasts of society. A leper in that day and age could not come anywhere near someone who was “clean” and they lived their entire lives with a label as they would go through the streets crying out for all to hear that they were “unclean.” This was to ensure that those who were not afflicted with this skin disease would not inadvertently get to close and contract it. The only comfort a leper could enjoy would be the company of other lepers with whom they could congregate and commiserate. A group of lepers encounter Jesus as he was journeying toward Jerusalem and make a simple cry for mercy. We certainly don’t know what kind of mercy they hoped to receive, but if nothing else, they cried out for the very thing that they and we need to seek each day of our lives. They asked for and received mercy. In our collect, their simple cry was an embodiment of the first two theological virtues – faith and hope. They had some sense of faith and hope that calling out to Jesus, Master, something might just happen. They went out on a limb as we are called to do.

Then Jesus does something most remarkable. He doesn’t enter into a discussion with them; he doesn’t touch them; he doesn’t tell them they are healed; he tells them to go and show themselves to the priest. He has just interjected a portion of the law. Only a priest could examine someone who was ritually unclean and issue a proclamation that they were now considered clean and could return to the fellowship of society. Why does he do this? This seems so out of place and strange.

I believe he does this to show that the keeping of the law is still important; it is still a part of our lives as his disciples. He wants us to make sure that we don’t think that we can simply bask in God’s grace without understanding its depths and implications. It’s almost like the adage that says, “I like to sin, and God likes to forgive, that seems like a pretty good arrangement to me!” It doesn’t work that way.

So Jesus sends these lepers away to go and show themselves to the priest. The Scripture even says that they went away and as they went they were cleansed. What faith and hope that they would not question what they were asked to do. Not exactly the same as when Naaman was asked to bathe in the Jordan River seven times by Elisha.

Then we come to the portion of this story when duty becomes a choice, and something for which we rejoice rather than wish to reject. One leper, a Samaritan, who recognizes what has just happened turns back and falls on his face in thanksgiving and adoration for the gift he had just received. In some way, this Samaritan who was already the outcast of outcasts, returns in a spirit of joy to our Lord and thanks him for the gift he had just received. In actuality, he received two gifts if not more that day. In a physical sense he was given his life back. At a deeper level though he was given the opportunity to worship God as a changed person. Going to show himself to the priest wasn’t a burden, but a joy. He wasn’t going to be admonished for his condition as an outcast, but to receive the proclamation that he had received healing.

Oh that we might come in that same manner to our Lord’s Table. That is why the Confession of Sin and priestly absolution are where they are in the service, and why they are there at all. Hopefully we approach that part of the service like the lepers with the only appropriate words on our lips, Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. Then, and only then, can we fully appreciate and understand the words, “have mercy on you, pardon and deliver you from all your sins, confirm and strengthen you in all goodness.” These words ring hollow if we fail to understand the words grace and mercy.

The message of the Gospel should first reduce us to “jelly” as Dr. Paul Zahl once said. The 1979 Prayer Book removed the words, “miserable offenders” from the Confession in Morning and Evening Prayer. What a terrible omission because the only way that we can ever come to grips with what grace and mercy mean is if we come to recognize who we are in that light. Only when we have been reduced to jelly can we then begin to lift up our heads and cry out to Jesus our Master and say have mercy on me. We have received the promise that when we come in a posture such as this that our Lord does show us both His grace and mercy.

That showering of grace and mercy then begins a process that is called sanctification. It is where we see pleasing God as something that we look forward to out of profound thanks for what he gives to us. Only when we ask for an increase of faith, hope, and charity can we begin to see this change begin to take shape. When this change begins, the cycle continues moving us closer and closer to the person that we were created to be. And then as William Cowper declares, “To see the Law by Christ fulfilled, To hear His pardoning voice, Changes a slave into a child And duty into choice.” Lord Jesus our Master, have mercy on us, and help us to see our duty to serve and follow you as a choice that we willingly embrace, and strive to embody each and every day of our lives.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
August 29, 2010

Over the summer we took some time in our adult forums to look at some of the Church Fathers who helped shaped the theology, doctrine, and dogmas that we continue to uphold as catholic Christians even to this day. Even though we didn’t have a great deal of time to investigate each Father in detail, or study their works with care and precision, we did at least familiarize ourselves with these stalwarts of the faith, many of whom died for their belief in Jesus Christ. It was important work that we did in studying our history and where we came from, and some of that instruction continues with the parable we just heard.

With the exception of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the parable of the Good Samaritan is equally as well known and preached upon. The two parables share a common thread in that Luke is the only Gospel writer to contain them. All three Synoptics contain the discourse which precedes the parable with the lawyer’s question. There is a noticeable difference in the lawyer’s question in Luke’s Gospel as opposed to the account in Matthew and Mark. As we heard a few moments ago, the lawyer stands up and asks Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Our Lord then proceeds ask the man a question to which he replies with the summary of the law which we repeat at each and every celebration of the Holy Eucharist. In Matthew and Mark we have the man ask Jesus directly in somewhat different fashions, “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus is asked a direct question, and he answers it. Do you see the difference in what we heard from the lawyer this morning? Jesus in typical Jesus fashion doesn’t answer the man’s question with an answer, but rather, answers his question with another direct question, “What is written in the law? How readest thou?” Jesus throws the question back on itself, and he wants the lawyer to search for the answer, because in actuality, the man knew the answer. However, the problem comes in the narrative that Luke supplies, “the man wanted to justify himself.”

OUCH! That stings because it certainly hits home for me and I’m sure does with you as well. How often does the sin of pride take hold, and we wish to justify ourselves before others? How often does the temptation to make ourselves look self-righteous, morally just, and Pharisaic in our keeping of the law? After all, isn’t this the parish which condemns the current social ills which plague our denomination and our nation as a whole? Aren’t we the church that takes a stand and says that abortion is sinful and abhorrent in the eyes of God; aren’t we the church that says that sexual activity outside the bond and covenant of Holy Matrimony is sinful and abhorrent in the eyes of God; aren’t we the church that dares to point out the inconsistencies in theology in the 1979 Prayer Book and seek to return to orthodox Anglican faith and worship in the use and propagation of the historic book as espoused in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer? Isn’t this the church that stands alongside a limited number of other parishes in calling out our bishop for his vote to confirm a partnered lesbian to be bishop in Los Angeles? Yes, we are that parish. But with that title comes the temptation to wish to justify ourselves and proclaim that our stands on certain positions are what define the Christian faith and life.

Certainly those points above are markers, and signs of the fruit that comes from our proclamation of the Gospel. The lawyer in our Gospel makes the same false assumption that we might be tempted to make when we think that resting on our laurels is all that matters. This man thought that all he had to do was live in some isolated state of obedience in which he never had to get his hands dirty, never had to come in contact with those whose lives were wracked with sin, never deal with those hurting, or lost, or without hope. Jesus then tells a parable in which he declares that that is not what the Saviour of the world came to do. The Messiah had come to seek and to save that which was lost, in every sense of the word lost.

I now come to the point to tie in of our study of the Church Fathers. I don’t believe that I had heard this explanation offered by Origen before as an interpretation of the Good Samaritan. Certainly Origen has been criticized for some of the things he taught, however, I believe his insight into this parable is most helpful and a splendid exposition of the Scriptures.

One important thing to keep in mind regarding parables, they are not allegories. The point of a parable is not to simply offer a one-for-one comparison. The word parable literally means to lie along side. There is a truth or multiple aspects of the truth that is being highlighted. That’s why in most cases, there is more than meets the eye when looking at a parable.

In one of his homilies, Origen puts forward the following.

"A certain one of the Elders, interpreting the parable, said that the man who went down is Adam; that Jerusalem means Paradise; Jericho, the world; the robbers, the enemy powers; the Priest stood for the Law; the Levite for the Prophets; the Samaritan for Christ. The wounds stand for our disobedience. The beast, the Body of the Lord. The common house (Pandochium), that is, the inn, which receives all who wish to enter it, is interpreted as the Church. Furthermore, the two denarii are understood are understood to mean the Father and the Son: the innkeeper, the Head of the Church, to whom the plan of the redemption and its means has been entrusted. And concerning that which the Samaritan promises at his return, this was a figure of the Second Coming of the Saviour."

I hope this helps us see the multitude of layers of interpretation that lie behind what at first glance seems fairly straightforward. One thing about this parable is the fact that it could be read quite literally, and tells a poignant story while standing on its own merit. I found new insights from this interpretation that opens areas for us to ponder as well.

Jesus is saying that setting our hope on the rote keeping of the law, and the admonitions of the prophets is not enough. There’s more to the Christian faith and life than just “walking the straight and narrow.” After all, even the Pharisees and Scribes did that, and I believe that Jesus didn’t have allot of use for their moralism, and disdain for their neighbor. That’s exactly why the posturing of the lawyer is so dangerous because it entrenches an attitude of us vs. them. It fosters the thought that there are others who fall outside the grace and mercy of God. It leaves us with the false sense of security that manifests itself in statements like, “at least I’m not like those folks” or “look at how pure, pristine, and holy I am.”

This is not Universalism by the way. There are those who will end up outside and find themselves spending eternity in hell. In C. S. Lewis’s work The Great Divorce, those who take the bus ride from hell to heaven choose to get back on the bus for the return ride. They are given a glimpse at paradise, and for each individual, the decision is not to stay, but return to the hell that they have made for themselves – the place where they can go and attempt to justify themselves. The people who fall outside the grace and mercy of God are those who outright reject it, and declare that they have no need of it; these are the folk who falsely declare that they have no need of a Saviour, and have no reason to change who they are or where they are heading.

Twice in the exchange between Jesus and the lawyer, he uses the word “do.” When the lawyer rightly answers and recites the passages from Deuteronomy and Leviticus, which make up the Summary of the Law, he is told that he has answered correctly and do those two things. At the end of the parable when the lawyer again correctly answers Jesus’ question, he is commanded to do as the Samaritan had done and show mercy to his neighbor. There is another command at this point in the story. Jesus says to Go, and do likewise. The keeping of the Summary of the Law pertains to the individual, and his own being. The showing of mercy requires action beyond the self. It means we have to go out into the highways and byways, as the master of the banquet declares, and seek to bring others into the feast. As with that same story the admonition is not to be overlooked. We are required to be wearing the garment fit for those in attendance. This is cyclical, and neither can be done in isolation. Showing mercy to others means binding up their wounds, bearing their burdens, and bringing them to the cross. It means meditating on the Summary of the Law, and how that is lived out here in Moultrie. It means continuing to be the beacon and witness of the Truth, and inviting others to join in that witness. It is an invitation to newness of life, in recognition that the Good Samaritan continues to have compassion upon us who still fall among thieves and robbers, who lie half-dead upon the way, who stoops down when others have passed by to clean our wounds by pouring on oil and wine, who bears us upon his back and helps us get inside Holy Mother Church telling the innkeeper to do whatever is necessary to return us to health and spare no expense, because if it costs more, I will be returning and whatever you spend, I will repay. That is a message of hope, and it is a message that needs to be heard by us, as much as it needs to be shared.