Before I preach I want to offer some words that will provide some background on me but more importantly, provide direction for our ministry together. I have prayed over these words for several weeks that they would be the right ones for this first Sunday with you. I’m originally from Richmond, Virginia where my parents and sister still reside. I came to Nashville to study at Vanderbilt Divinity School and began serving at Belmont UMC in 2009. I graduated in 2012, took appointments with Belmont UMC and the United Methodist Campus Ministry at Belmont University, and was commissioned as an elder in 2013. I’ve primarily served as a pastor of mission and outreach and as a pastor for a southeastern Asian refugee community.
I met Keeli in 2010 and we married in early April of 2014. She is from Fairview, TN where grandparents, parents, and her sister’s family still reside. She is a graduate of TN Tech with a degree in Marine Biology and currently works at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Clinical Cancer Research. I consider it a great privilege to have a supportive spouse who walks this road with me, especially when the life of ministry is demanding.
I’m excited that as part of my vocation and itinerant ministry in this conference that I have the privilege, joy, and sacred task of being your pastor. I’ve heard that the past year was difficult for you and that families have left. I’m sure that hurt feelings and wounds have not healed yet. We have great days ahead of us, days of fruitful and faithful ministry that will embody the love of God in the world for this community.
We will worship well together. We will celebrate everything that the grace of God has done in this community and in our lives. With the grace of God, we will do unimaginable things in mission and care for this community. We will share the highest moments of joy as a community and weep with one another when suffering and loss occur.
As your pastor, I will lead and equip you to live out your baptismal and membership vows. I will teach and encourage you in this life of faith as we seek to reflect Jesus Christ to our community. I will be at this altar in celebrations of baptism and marriage, at your hospital bedsides in time of suffering, and at gravesides when this life is over. There will be days when you are delighted and proud to call me your pastor for leading you well. Other days I will disappoint you or make you angry with a decision or a mistake. And by the grace of God, we can reconcile our relationships because that’s the life of faith in Jesus Christ.
For the next 90 days, I believe we have important work to do. I want to meet with every person in this room, whether it be in my office, at Skyking for coffee, in group meetings at homes, in committee meetings that I often refer to as ministry teams, or some other venue. And there are others who have left this faith community or are sitting on the sidelines. I’d like you to connect me with them as well. I want to know how you’ve experienced God’s grace in your life, what brought you into this community of faith, what this community of faith is proud that it has done to serve its neighbors, and what could be ahead of us as we celebrate God’s grace at work in this place. It’s gonna take some time for me to learn who is who but please don’t stop introducing yourself, your family, and reaching out to meet with me so that I can learn your stories. On the way out this morning, make sure to take one of my business cards so you know some good ways to contact me. You have already welcomed me so warmly since the appointment was announced in April and I’m thankful for your ongoing support in his transition. Don’t forget we have a lunch for the congregation after worship and the cottage will be open so that you can see the fruit of the Trustees work in preparing that space.
Before I preach let us pray: Almighty God, pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here in this place and on these words that they bear witness to your love and grace at work in the world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
For this Sunday and for the next three Sundays, I am preaching a series called ‘Healing and Wholeness’ that is based on lectionary gospel readings from Luke. For the remainder of the year, most of my preaching texts are from the Gospel of Luke. In this series, I’ll also focus on the Healing of the Centurion’s Servant, the Raising of Jairus’ daughter, and the Healing of the Woman on the Sabbath.
This morning’s text, a familiar one to many, is the story of the Good Samaritan, the individual who ventures to offer aid to the victim of a robbery when others passed by on the other side of the road. I can imagine that many of you have heard countless sermons on this text, first learned the plot of the story in Sunday school or Vacation Bible School, and could tell the story mostly from memory if asked. Seeing a familiar text in a new way can be challenging.
One afternoon, about rush hour time, my wife, Keeli called me excited and distraught telling me the story about her experience at a drive thru at a local Walgreens.
On the way home, Keeli pulled through the parking lot of the Walgreens and in the corner of her eye noticed that a halfclothed adolescent male with his skateboard and backpack nearby was sprawled out unconscious by the dumpster. She didn’t go in the store but called 911 when it was apparent that the young man was not coming around and rising to his feet. She stayed by the young man until firefighters and paramedics arrived to treat him and transport him to a local hospital. As she wrapped up her recollection of this distressing situation, these words pierced my ears: ‘Adam, when I was on the phone with 911 people kept looping through the drive thru, they’d look at the guy, and keep driving. Why didn’t anyone else stop to help him?’
Then a lawyer caught the attention of Jesus to ask a pressing question about life eternal. A lofty question indeed. Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus invites the man in with a question of his own. What is written in the law? The lawyer, with deep knowledge of the Mosaic commands, quotes the Shema from Deuteronomy affirming the instruction to love God with heart, soul, strength, and mind. He then goes a bit further in his answer with the instruction to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. In this answer, is the path to life in the presence of God but the lawyer isn’t done with the exchange quite yet.
In this tussle of knowledge over the requirements and instructions of Mosaic law, it seems the lawyer wants to prove himself superior to Jesus. Or he could earnestly be seeking an answer to the question of where the boundary is between who is a neighbor and who isn’t a neighbor. If Jesus responds that a neighbor is only from one’s own race, religious community, or political persuasion, then neighborly love only extends that far. That would be a much easier way of life, only loving one’s own people but that is not the way of Jesus the Christ.
On the road down from Jerusalem to Jericho a man is robbed, severely injured, and left for dead in the ditch. His cell phone is out of reach, there is no next of kin, EMT’s are not in the vicinity, and it’s a dangerous stretch of road, the kind of place where you just don’t pull over. This is a nightmare for the beaten man, a situation he will not likely survive. The first person to come across this accident is a religious official, who upon seeing the situation, speeds off quickly. The second person on the scene, another religious and political official, sees the situation and makes haste to get far away. Since they have witnessed the suffering of the man they are culpable but choose inaction all the same.
The third person upon the scene doesn’t have the correct religious and ethnic background to be the hero in this story. The Samaritan is detestable in a Jewish community. For reasons of religion and race, there was a deep fracture between Jews and Samaritans. It would be outlandish and outrageous for the Samaritan to save the presumed half dead Jewish man in the ditch.
The Samaritan is moved with compassion. This is not, ‘I’m so sorry to hear that’ but the gut churning kind of compassion that compels you to act when words ring hollow and platitudes don’t alleviate the pain. Almost every time that Jesus heals someone in the four gospels, the Greek indicates that his feelings of compassion stir his insides, his stomach to such a point that he is compelled to alleviate the suffering in his presence. So it is with the Samaritan.
In the telling of this story, its center of gravity is what comes next. There is more focus given to this portion of the situation than the lawyer’s question and the inaction of the first two religious officials. The Samaritan begins to treat the trauma of the man, covering the wound with oil to soothe the pain and the wine to cleanse it, before moving the man to safer conditions, and entrusting him to the care of the innkeeper.
To settle the question of neighborliness, Jesus asks the lawyer a multiple choice question in order that he could identify the exemplar course of action. The lawyer rightly chooses the third man as the full expression of the commandment to love God and neighbor but due to his own prejudice and detest for this outsider, he is unable to say: the Samaritan. He opts for, the one who showed mercy.
Go and do likewise.
One evening, on prime time television a doctor is on her way to work, running late for surgical rounds, and happens upon a car accident in which the car has jumped the curb and has a pedestrian pinned to the ground. She slams the brakes, jumps out of the driver’s seat, and rushes to the pinned pedestrian while others continuing their stroll down the sidewalk or standing aback stunned at the situation. The doctor strains to lift the car off the pedestrian and in utter frustration yells: ‘Why isn’t anyone else helping?’ Onlookers then begin to timidly move closer until a concerted effort lifts the car off the pinned pedestrian.
It might be a rare thing in the course of our journey to act as the Good Samaritan, to give up self interest and safety, cross prejudicial, racial, and religious boundaries to bring someone back from the border of death in near selfless heroic form. It makes for good television and some careers and vocational practice more regularly encounter grave situations. But remember, the audacity of the story doesn’t come from a friend helping a friend that’s respectable and expected behavior. The power of the story comes from an individual from a group that you most despise or fear intervening in your life in such a tender way as to nurture your soul and body into long term healing. From the perspective of the ditch, the Good Samaritan is a healer and the full expression of the two commandments to love God and neighbor.
From start to finish, the ministry of Jesus the Christ is one that heals at times it is curative, but it is always healing. It restored the individuals he encountered to right relationship with God, right relationship among families, and right relationship with the wider community. At times, it was the pronouncement of forgiveness to a woman whose inner life was troubled, a man’s mind freed from illness and isolation from his hometown and family, or sight given to a man who was blind.
I know that the word ‘healing’ in just its utterance may give you pause. In more recent times, the church hasn’t had a good time representing or explaining ministries of healing. Sometimes this means that healing has been misrepresented by televangelists for personal prestige or the church’s ministry seems incompatible with treatment regimens of the medical community. I wish it were not so for we have lost one of the most important facets of our faith life together. From the perspective of the ditch, the experience of healing is being cared for by another human being, in the midst of physical and emotional suffering. If only all who suffer so deeply had a Samaritan who accompanied them through the most difficult days of grief, depression, or illness.
From the ministry of Jesus, I see healing as the restoration of relationships in the midst or wake of pain and suffering. It is an experience for the whole person not just compartmentalized to body, soul, or mind. It’s all of them and more. Healing is a form of ministry that the church inherited from Jesus the Christ and shared through the earliest followers of Jesus. It is still ours to share in this community and beyond it has not been relegated to the pages of history.
As I come to learn your stories and know your families, it is apparent many of you and your families are burdened by illness, terminal and chronic, deep woundedness in your life together, grief over relationships and lives that have ended, and earnestly want God’s grace to touch this pain in the midst of your life to bind up wounds that are open. And as I awoke to the news on Friday of the murders of police officers in Dallas, Texas, I’m keenly aware that entire communities yearn for an end to violence and collective wounds inflicted by distrust, prejudice, and racism. In the fine words of the Dallas Police Chief, “We as a city, we as a country, must come together, lock arms and heal the wounds that we all feel from time to time.” The world is begging for healing grace and the church can point to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
The gospel of Jesus Christ gives us clear demonstrations of the grace of God at work tending to the suffering that is rife in the world. And so it should be with the church for we have inherited this calling to be the one who showed mercy to heal the sick, bind up the brokenhearted, and comfort the grieving. Go and do likewise. Bless you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.