The Rector’s sermon for July 14, 2019                                                                                                                                           

Amos 7:7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37


You’ve heard the phrase “there’s a fine line between genius and insanity.”  Well, there’s a fine line between many things that we talk about.   But this morning what we look at is separated not by a fine line, but by light years.  It’s the difference between believing and doing and we begin with a question:  “Lord, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”   This question shows up today and it shows up in one other place in Holy Scripture.  Remember the story of the rich young man?    He says to Jesus, “Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” and Jesus says, “Keep the commandments.”  And the man says, “I’ve done that since I was a boy.  What else is there?”   Knowing that the young man had great wealth and was very attached to it, Jesus says, “Go, sell what you have and follow me.”  The rich young man hangs his head and walks away.  He cannot give up his wealth; he doesn’t follow Jesus.   A perfect example of the light years between believing and doing.


What must I do to have eternal life?  Today we have the question with a little twist.  The question comes from a lawyer with a devious motive.  Scripture tells us that the lawyer wants to “test” Jesus.   He isn’t really interested in the answer; he simply wants to stir things up.  And Jesus responds, turning it back on the lawyer and says, “That’s a good question.  How would you answer it?”  and the lawyer spouts the answer that any good Jewish boy would have learned in the synagogue, a quote from the Old Testament, what we know as the Great Commandment:  “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.”  (Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18)   Jesus says, “You have answered rightly, and if you do this, you will live.”   So now the lawyer is trapped by his own words but he isn’t about to accept this statement at face value.  He wants a loophole, so he asks another question.  He says to Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”   The very fact that he asks another question—and that question in particular—suggests that he probably isn’t loving his neighbor and of course is looking for that loophole…the light years between believing and doing.  And how does Jesus answer?   He launches into the parable of the Good Samaritan.


Now this parable is not just a story of three men who respond to an uncomfortable situation in very different ways.  It’s a story of receiving unwelcome answers to questions or situations.  It’s a story of that place between believing and doing.   For example, you have a time-consuming task to do, one that you don’t enjoy.   So you stall and procrastinate, hoping that if you wait long enough, someone else will do it.  Or maybe you go to the doctor because you haven’t been feeling well, hoping that he’ll give you a pill and you’ll feel better.  Instead he says:  “Your cholesterol is a little high; take off a couple of pounds, and start an exercise program!”   There it is; the place between knowing, believing and doing.


There is a story of a small discussion group in a neighborhood church.   A woman in the class with financial problems, was living at home with her mother, and she was telling the group about the difficulties she was having with her living arrangement, especially because her mother was so demanding.   Different people in the group offered suggestions, and to each suggestion, the young woman responded by saying, “Yes, but that won’t work because…”  Finally after responding this way five or six times, the group leader asked her, “Are you sure you want to solve this problem?”  What an insightful question!  This woman was living in that giant chasm between believing that things could be better and actually doing something to make it happen.


And this woman’s story isn’t new.  We all do the same thing much of the time, don’t we.  God says, “Love your neighbor,” and when the needy person who isn’t like us crosses our path, we say ‘I don’t want to get involved… I really don’t have the time… they come from the wrong side of town…’   We make excuses for our behavior, for failing to live up to our Christian ideals, for not doing what we claim to believe, for not responding with a resounding “yes, Lord,” when he speaks.  Several weeks ago when Barbara McCarthy asked me about a sewing camp for kids.  Now…look around on any given Sunday…this had to have come from God, because we have no kids for such a camp!  But God had a plan, and Barbara heard it, and with the help of others among us, funds were provided, sewing machines appeared, a newspaper article produced the participants, and it was a rousing success…all because there were those who went from believing to doing!


While there are times when we truly don’t know how to proceed to solve some problems in life, there are many other times when we really do know what to do; we just don’t like the answer.   Like the lawyer asking Jesus whom he should consider his neighbor, we hope that if we stall and play dumb, some other option will result that will let us off the hook.


This parable tells us a lot about being a Christian.  It affirms that how we act is an indication of how deep our beliefs go.  The first question the lawyer asks Jesus is:  “What must I do…” and after Jesus has the man answer his own question, Jesus says:  “Which one of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  The lawyer responds:  “The one who showed him mercy.  The one who acted on what he knew was right.”  Then Jesus says:  “Go and do likewise.”


Doing is important.   In one of his books, the late E. Stanley Jones, a missionary to India, told of an encounter with a Chinese engineer who had been in America for some years.  In a conversation about religion, the engineer said,  “I don’t believe in Confucius.  I don’t believe in Jesus as God.  I am a man without faith, and none of the Christian churches will take me in.”  Jones asked him about his understanding of Jesus.  The man replied, “I think that Jesus is the best man that ever lived.”  “So Jesus is your ideal?” said Jones.   “Yes, he is,” said the man.   Then Jones said, “If Jesus is the best of men and he is your ideal, you should take out of your life everything that contradicts that ideal.”   The man said, “That isn’t easy.”   “I didn’t say it would be easy,” replied Jones, “but that is what is necessary to follow your ideal.  If you are willing to do that, God will teach you his will for you.”   The man’s face lit up, and he said, “Everybody else has said I had to believe something first, but you said if I were willing to do, I would then know.”  The man began to do as Jones suggested, and within a short time, a faith and assurance developed and he came to know that Jesus was his Lord and God. (1)


 Abraham Lincoln once said, “It isn’t what I don’t understand in the Bible that troubles me; it is what I do understand.”  When opportunities come before you to do what you know… when circumstance arise and you find yourself light years from a decision… remember the unnamed man in the gutter who himself was helped by another throw-away man, a Samaritan.   May we all have the courage to do what we know, and to be like that Samaritan.