Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity, 2013
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, Lebanon

Let us Pray:
Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever.
Amen.

 

How many times each week are we asked to prove our identities? Well, if we live in small towns where everyone knows us, not too often. But if we travel, even short distances from home, we may need to verify our identities pretty often. If we have the misfortune to be stopped for speeding, verification may be uncomfortable, even embarrassing. But it is hard to escape the fact that we are who we are; the picture on the driver's license really is me.

When we travel through airports or cross international boundaries, we are challenged to identify ourselves and state our purpose. When we travel a lot, we get used to this chore and generally have our drivers licenses and passports at the ready. If we receive more than the briefest of glances from the official delegated to perform the identity check, it is somewhat unusual. Having a conversation is impossible; it is simply not the way that game is played. Several years ago, as we were again on a trip to Canada, we stopped at the border. Ljuba, Colin and I handed over our identification, answered a few basic questions and prepared to enter Maple Leaf Territory. But there was one more question. "Sir, are you carrying any firearms." I hadn't remembered hearing that question before. It took me by surprise. I thought about what an unusual question this was. I thought about it for several seconds. Too long. At least it seemed too long for the other people in the car. I received a wifely nudge. Colin whispered urgently, "Dad?" And the border security agent narrowed his eyes and fixed me with a very accusatory stare. All that prompting got my attention. I said very quickly, "No." The narrowed eyes bore into me, but we were allowed to enter Canada anyway. I had a brief moment of anxiety where I thought that phone calls were being made. "Watch out for a Honda Accord driven by the guy with the beard. Looks suspicious." We have to be careful how we identify ourselves. Otherwise, it may raise uncomfortable questions.

This event might have been forgotten. But now and again, in an unguarded moment, my son, Colin, will turn to me and ask: "hey, Dad, carrying any firearms?"

People we know very well have no need to prove who they are. We know them. We have no need to see their drivers licenses or their passports. Such items are designed to prove identity to others. To strangers.

The parable of the Good Samaritan has to do with identity. A certain lawyer stood up to ask a question. His question raised suspicions. It was not a kind question, particularly his follow-up question: "who is my neighbor?" The lawyer was a bright guy, practiced in the arts of argument and debate. He was used to winning his battles. He could see his way forward. After all, he knows the law. He can recite the essence of the law to Jesus. And Jesus gives him good grades for this. But the lawyer pushes it; he pushes it a little too far. "Who is my neighbor," he asks.

Jesus does not demolish this lawyer with overwhelming power or force. Rather, he demonstrates God's supreme knowledge of the law through a simple story that pierces to the heart of the Law. Jesus does what he so often does; he tells a story. He tells the story of an injured traveler, left for dead on the side of the road. A priest and a Levite pass by without offering any assistance. Finally, a Samaritan stops and assists the wounded traveler. And that is the basic story.

But who is this Samaritan? Most believe that the Samaritan is Jesus. Jesus appears in the role of a Samaritan, an outsider; Jesus the Pharisee, a Jew from Galilee, casts himself as the stranger who takes upon himself the task of healing the injured man – an injured man who belongs to the people of Judea. Jesus the Pharisee coming to the injured people of Abraham in the guise of a Samaritan. What a remarkable thing.

In this parable, Jesus holds up the mirror to the lawyer. And if he looks closely, this lawyer, he will see that it is he himself who is the injured man, a man who is not helped by any of his own kinsmen. And the neighbor, of course, is Jesus.

The lawyer argues from a narrow interpretation of the Law. The healing power can come only from God. The lawyer missed an important point. He didn't bother to do a simple identity check; he didn't recognize that Jesus was indeed God incarnate; he didn't recognize that the one standing in front of him was the neighbor who would show him mercy when the rest of the world would greet his spiritual injuries with indifference. Or perhaps not even recognize them as injuries at all.

Jesus calls us to be healed, truly healed, truly brought into life everlasting. We cannot do this by following the Law only. We must apply the Law to our lives. And that means recognizing who we are and who God is.

If we were to take out of our wallets and our purses a little identity card, the card given to us by God, what would it look like? This particular and very special card given to us by God. Perhaps it would look a little like this. It would have our picture on it, a child of God made in my image. It would include our name, the name given to us in our baptism. And perhaps it would also include the name that God calls us, a very special name that God has for each of us.

But this card would have one other thing printed on it. You turn the card over. On the back are written these words: "this identification card is given to you not so that others will recognize you, but that you will recognize me. Look at it often. Know that it stands for the mercy shown by a neighbor toward one who has need of spiritual healing. And who will always be with you."

 

Let us pray:
Almighty and everlasting God, give unto us the increase in faith, hope and charity; and, that we may obtain that which thou dost promise, make us to love that which thou dost command; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.