One of the fist memories I have is when I was four years old. My mother and I were leaving her soon to be ex-husband and heading home to her parents. We were on a Greyhound bus and the trip time with layovers was about 15 hours.  While on the bus I remember telling mom that I was hungry. She quietly reminded me she didn’t’ have any money, she had spent it on the bus tickets and I would have to wait till we got to Grandma’s.

The bus stopped for about an hour layover in some town I don’t even remember. As we stood out there beside the bus so mom could smoke a cigarette, a young man – maybe 30 years old and black came over to her and handed her five dollars and said to use it to get us both something to eat. I remember my mother saying that she couldn’t accept it and that we would be fine.  He smiled and walked away. Five dollars was a lot of money in 1973.

Moses in our first reading today is reminding the Israelites God is right there beside them. All they have to do is listen and follow. He speaks these words to his people, the Israelites, but they are true for us too, as the people of God, the living Church. That God is not in some far off place that we need to send someone to fetch him to us. He’s not so high above the sky that we cannot reach him or know his will.  His will, His Law, His Love, is written in our hearts.

Jesus echoes this in the Gospel. Love the Lord your God with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.  Jesus then tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. Now remember, the Samaritans were viewed as heathens, unclean, and for the most part, less than human by the Jews because they worshipped God where they lived and not in Jerusalem (one reason).

We know this story very well, we know that the hero of this parable is the Good Samaritan that stopped to help an Israelite that had been robbed and beaten and left for dead. Even passed over by his own people. Yet a stranger, a heathen, someone viewed as unclean stopped to help him and take care of him. We know that the real neighbor in this story is the Good Samaritan.

This man stopped, took care of this wounded man, even used his own money to pay the inn keeper for his room and board and told him he would be back to settle the rest. Why? Surely it wasn’t because he wanted to be reconciled with the Jewish people. He knew the history between them.

He did it out of love. His love for God motivated him to show love and compassion for someone who could be considered an enemy. His love for God would not let him pass this wounded man by without offering some kind of assistance. His love of God mandated that he do all that he could to make sure this man recovered.

If the love of God isn’t our motivation, then we become like the two that passed the wounded man by. We become those people that only do for those that can return the favor, or pay us back in some way. If the love of God isn’t our motivation, then our faith is empty.  If the love of God isn’t our motivation, then we truly need to stop and go home and not pretend that we care.

Harsh words, I know. But truthful.

Bishop Joseph has mentioned a few times that Liturgy should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Our Gospel message today does that very thing.  It gives us comfort to know that we are so loved by God, yet it afflicts us with the message that we must do something with that love that was freely given to us.

There has been so much violence these past couple of months. And yes, I know this is nothing new. But we know that violence begets violence, hate begets hate. Our only weapon, and the only weapon that works is love. Love begets love.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

These quotes were made by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Over the course of all these years, I’ve never forgotten that man at the bus station. We never knew his name. Never saw him again. But he showed love and compassion for two strangers. He gave out of his own heart and asked nothing in return.

That is our call today. We are called to love unconditionally, give without counting the cost, and to do it because we love God. And when I say give, I am not necessarily meaning money. We need to give of our time, our strength, our compassion.  Perhaps that is just being a good listener for someone that has no one to talk to, or who needs an advocate to speak on their behalf. There are many ways of giving.

We come together around the table of the Word and Eucharist to give God thanks and praise for all the many blessings he has given to us. Especially his undeserved love and compassion. We give him praise even in our need. And because of what we freely receive here we have a duty.

It is your duty and mine to stand up in love for any that we see in need. 

We preach love and peace, now it is time to take it from within the Church out into a world that so desperately needs it.

 

Stand up and be the voice of love and peace in a heated discussion. Point out prejudice and hate no matter where it comes from. Be the voice of the wounded, the suffering. Butt into conversations to remind people that we are all sinners and only God has the right to judge. Be love and compassion for the bullied, the hated, the outcast. Stand up and speak the words of love people need to hear today.

One final quote from Dr. King:

 

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

Homily for the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

 

I remember when I was in freshman English Composition class in college.  The reading list, the essays, the lectures were all designed not only to teach us composition and grammar, but also to allow us to come to know ourselves in a deeper more authentic way. Through short stories like “I Stand Here Ironing,” and Dr.  King’s “Letters from a Birmingham Jail,” we were faced with looking at ourselves and defining ourselves, perhaps even re-defining ourselves from how our parents and our preachers taught us and how we now see the world.

In the letter to the Galatians Paul reminds us that we are the Body of Christ, children of God, baptized into the one faith. We are no longer male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free. We are no longer who we were. We are now one in Christ. This is a different way of thinking about ourselves and those around us. It requires us to think, to care for, to take care of those around us. It is no longer me, or even me and you. It is now us and we. And that we have become children of the promise. Children of Abraham and Sarah.

Paul’s words make us search our hearts and see where we are at on this journey of self-realization and acceptance.

The Gospel reading reaches down even deeper into our inmost being and forces us to ask ourselves who do we say that Jesus is, and yes, who am I?

In my mind I can picture Jesus apart from the large crowd that was always around him.  He is off alone with the disciples and he’s sitting there in prayer.  He looks up at his friends and asks them very simply, “Who do they say I am?” as he points over his shoulder at the crowd. Oh well, some say you are John the Baptist, others Elijah come back, some think you are one of the other prophets.

He then asks, “But who do you say that I am?”

This question is two-fold.  They are being asked straight forward, who do you think Jesus really is. And they are being asked deep down who they are as well.  They are confronted with their own thoughts, hopes, dreams, and fears. Who is this man? I’ve seen him heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. I know what the prophets taught, I have listened to the rabbi’s. I’ve met his mother and she has cooked for us.  But what do I believe, who am I and how do I fit in to all of this.?

Peter, bless his heart, jumps up and says, “You are the Christ of God!”

To paraphrase, Jesus then says that we are to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily and follow him. And that anyone who loses his life for his sake will save it.  We know that cross by many names: suffering, pain, anguish, loneliness, fear. We know that we were never promised any easy road. Just hat he would be with us every step of the way.

But there is more to it than that.  We are to deny ourselves, because as we learned from Paul, there is no longer a me or a you. There is only us. Deny ourselves and become the us.  And that cross is more than just suffering and pain, or fear. 

That cross is also love and forgiveness. Love without counting the cost. Love without fear of not being loved in return. Love because we are all one in Christ. Forgive because we are forgiven. Forgive because we too must always beg forgiveness and how can we be forgiven if we can’t forgive?  And sometimes that means forgiving ourselves. 

Daily take up that cross of love and carry it wherever you go.  We don’t have far to look to see hatred, violence, or intolerance in our world.

But Jesus hung on that cross of love because of love.  He hung on that cross that we might love as he loves – unconditionally, freely, with all our being.

That gift of love is present when we gather in thanksgiving around this table and share in his body and blood, soul and divinity.

We then take that cross with us, out there.

Look deeply within yourself and ask “who do I say that Jesus is?” Then take up your cross because someone out there needs to know about this message of love and forgiveness. They will hear it when they see how you love.