July 10, 2016, Pentecost 8
Grace, peace and mercy to you from God our Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ who gives us the power to become children of God and from the Holy Spirit, God’s active and generative spirit in this world. In the name of the blessed and Holy Trinity, I greet each one of you praying God’s highest and holiest intentions for your lives. Shalom.
The musician plays, “It’s a Beautiful Day in This Neighborhood,” theme from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.
Many of you will remember Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, a children’s show which aired on PBS from 1968 until 2001 And for the youngsters, who may not remember Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood was what Sesame Street, Wild Kratts, Barney and Peppa Pig is to you. Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood aired for 895 episodes. Each one started with his theme song, “It’s a Beautiful Day in This Neighborhood.” He sang as he peeled off his sports jacket, hung it in the closet and put on his zip up cardigan sweater. Taking off his shoes and tossing it from one hand to another, he continued to sing and put on sneakers.
It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?…
It’s a neighborly day in this beauty wood,
A neighborly day for a beauty.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?…
I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you.
I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.
So, let’s make the most of this beautiful day.
Since we’re together we might as well say:
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?
Won’t you please,
Won’t you please?
Please won’t you be my neighbor?
Fred McFeely Rogers, (I know McFeely…) was a Presbyterian minister and clearly a teacher. He was conveying to children a far deeper truth that we have yet to fully embrace. We are neighbors and keepers of each other. When that truth is not embraced and lived out we can expect this kind of societal disintegration. Last year I stood in front of you and preached about the McKinney pool incident in which Officer Casebolt swung a then 14-year-old child Dejerria Becton like a rag doll. One week later, I stood in this pulpit weeping that a Lutheran who was marked with the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit opted to ignore his baptism, enter an African Methodist Episcopal Church, infiltrate a Bible study and then kill nine fellow Christians all because they were African American. A little more than one year later, here I am again, preaching in light of the past Worst. Week. Ever.
In the course of two days, two black men have become hashtags in deadly officer involved shootings.
#AltonSterling was killed by an officer of the Baton Rouge Police Department for selling bootleg CDs. Unlawful. Indeed. Worthy of death, no. At the very worst, he should have been arrested without incident.
#PhilandoCastile was killed by a St. Anthony, MN police officer. This community is not too far from Luther Seminary. It was a police stop which should have never escalated to the point of death.
Philando Castile was shot dead in front of his girlfriend and their four-year-old child. Another citizen dead but this time in front of his girlfriend and their
Not only did Mr. Castile die but a four-year old little girl’s innocence died along with him that day. Imagine the trauma, that child will continue to process well into adulthood. No child should bear that burden.
Both deadly officer involved shootings caught on camera. This horrific footage is circulating on social media. Then Thursday July 8th came and rip through the collective soul of Dallas. There was a Black Lives Matter demonstration to decry these officer involved shootings which are becoming commonplace. Overall, the demonstration was peaceful. There are mixed reports of some demonstrators taking selfies with law enforcement officers and some reported incidents antagonism. A word about Black lives matter: This phrase should not be inflammatory. To say Black lives matter is not to say only Black lives matter. It is an affirmation of Black and brown life in the face of that which would deny our humanity. Somehow, we lost our way because the world would have us believe if I celebrate my humanity then yours is diminished. When the truth is when I celebrate my humanity, I can take delight in yours. I want to believe that my life matters to you. Your does to me. After all, Jesus said, love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Every once in awhile someone says to me, “I don’t see color.” I see color in all its vitality! God has gifted humanity with diversity and a multiplicity of cultures. One of my colleagues insisted God does not see color.
I said, “Yes, God does.”
He said, “No God doesn’t!” We went back in forth until I finally said, “Oh yeah? Why God made flowers.”
But then a sniper Micah Xavier Johnson, in the same spirit of Dylann Roof, the spirit of rank hatred shot 12 law enforcement officers leaving seven injured and five dead—five new hashtags created by hatred:
#Officer Brent Thompson
#Officer Patrick Zamarripa
#Officer Michael Krol
#Sergeant Michael Smith
#Sr. Corporeal Lorne Ahrens
Policing is a noble and honorable profession. And those who kill police officers must be brought to justice. Much in the same way, police officers who kill citizens must be brought to justice. Lives were lost. Families are fractured. To say Black lives matter does not say Blue lives do not matter. When we do that we engage in the Oppression Olympics. Nobody wins. In fact, the Oppression Olympics distract us from the real work of reconciliation. Its tough work but it is healing work. It does not happen overnight either.
I am numb. I am afraid that if I give myself over to the sorrow, I will never stop crying. My soul is grieved as I am certain yours is over all of this.
We know the story of the Good Samaritan. Why do we call the Samaritan “good” in the story? Because Samaritan were highly despised among Jews. The bigotry of the Jews against the Samaritans was blistering. So in their minds ALL Samaritans were bad. Samaritans were of Jewish and pagan ancestry. They were therefore “impure.” They were different on quite a few fronts except their worship of God. Jews looked down on Samaritans. So good Samaritan was a scandal.
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 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.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
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. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 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. 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.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
The persons or people you least expect or even like are our neighbors.
What? You mean that police officer is my neighbor? You mean that black person is my neighbor? The ones that I think the least of? The one I would call the “good” Black person because I know the majority of them are bad is my neighbor? You mean the one that I would call the “good” police officer because the majority of them are no good is my neighbor? Blech!
You see the lawyer was looking for the loophole. He’s not alone. Love my neighbor? But “whoooooo” exactly is my neighbor? Jesus takes the question from him by basically saying, the one you can’t stand is your neighbor. In fact, they can be a blessing to you. In other words, like it or not every one of us are neighbors.
Neighbors, the days ahead are going to be rough because it is easier to give ourselves over to our base instincts to be immobilized by this general zeitgeist or communal spirit of fear, distrust and despair. Resist and do not give yourself over to it. Remember who we are we are. We are God’s people made one in the waters of our baptism in Christ. Our baptisms not only make us one. It makes us family to each other and neighbors in this world. We are equipped to repair this tremendous chasm of our own creation.
Unlike the lawyer in the gospel text trying to figure out who is the neighbor so he would know who is in or out of the bounds of acceptability. Let’s be like Mr. Roger. Let’s embrace this world looking for our neighbors. Can you see yourself asking the one who differs from you in every way?
Would me mine?
Could you be mine?
Won’t be my neighbor?
Won’t you please?
Won’t you please be my neighbor?