“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

A Sermon Preached on The Fourth Sunday after Trinity
at The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete
July 14, 2019 11:00 am

One of the nice things about living in a small village in Crete is that we have the opportunity of getting to know our neighbours. I know by name the folks on either side of the house in Gavalohori, and the folks I meet along the roads all seem to know me. This is such a difference from any decent sized city where people are anonymous and our relationships are so often merely transactional, where a bank teller is indistinguishable from an ATM. In multidimensional relationships we know people as living, breathing human beings, and we go beyond the instrumental. We get together not just to achieve ends, but simply to enjoy each other’s presence. It was like this in the town I grew up in, in Quebec, and it was like this in the small island parish I worked in when I was in my thirties. The bank teller was not just a source of money, but the parent of a child who was friends with my kids, nd someone involved in the community choir with me, and I knew where she lived and who her parents were. It was like this back home for many of you, I know, and I imagine many of you live here in the villages of Apokoronas for just that reason.

Capernaum

Capernaum

It was the same in Jesus’s time. In the villages of Galilee everyone knew each other. But there were outsiders: the Greek-speaking settlers of the empire that were set up in the twons founded by Herod Antipas, Sepphoris and Tiberias. There were the people down from Jerusalem, the scribes and the pharisees sent by the Jewish rulers in Judea to ensure their influence over the peasants of Galilee. And it was one of those who approached Jesus in today’s gospel reading, a lawyer, not as we might understand a barrister or a solicitor, but someone trained in the Law of Moses as understood by the Pharisees.

Was it a serious question? “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” “And who is my neighbor?” Was he trying to find out whether Jesus was orthodox? Was he trying to find a way to trap Jesus? We do not know. Jesus responds by telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan:

 

But what is most interesting is how, at the end, Jesus turns the question around from, “Who is my neighbour?”, to “What kind of neighbour are you?” And just as the two commandments, to love God and to love our neighbor are connected, so the lawyer’s failure to know who his neighbor is, suggests that he did not really know who his God was, either. In the parable Jesus suggests:

  • True neighbourliness jumps in the ditch to be with the wounded.
  • True neighbourliness is sacrificial, offering to pay the cost without expectation of recompense.
  • A true neighbor is not valued in terms of money, but by what they will do from compassion and concern.
  • A true neighbor breaches the apparently major difference between a Samaritan and a Jew.
  • A true neighbor lets go of their positions of privilege – even if they are a priest or a Levite – to help another.
  • In the end, a true neighbor is someone like Jesus, who in his self-giving discloses to us the nature of God.

 

We are not always good neighbours, of course. The power of darkness and the kingdom of this world is so very seductive. It tells us that the other is dirty and diseased and will distract us from our real work or God. It fills us with fear of our neighbours, so that we no longer see a common bond but rather something different and alien from us.

The worst situation is when the ways of the world overcome otherwise good people, so that they think they are doing God’s work when in fact they are simply justifying abuse and even genocide with theology.

  • My dissertation on the Indian Residential Schools deals with just this issue, and names seven ways in which Christian theologies were used to justify the taking of land and power from indigenous peoples and then used again to try and eradicate them through assimilation or death.
  • We submit to the idol of nationalism, fearing our neighbours rather than getting to know them, much less helping.
  • We become more focused on our own security and comfort rather than the needs of others, or deny that we have any responsibility towards anyone else. The heresy of libertarianism raises the value of property and self so high that the other is nothing but a threat.

Of course, some Christians are like this. They follow a gospel that is all about fear. Jesus is not like this. As the American pastor John Pavlovitz recently said, his Jesus is

  • the one who touched the hand of the leper,
  • the one who fed a starving hillside multitude
  • the one whose family fled political genocide soon after he was born,
  • the one who said he and the forgotten prisoner were one in the same,
  • the one who dined with both priest and with prostitute,
  • the one who lived off the kindness of those he met as he traveled,
  • the one who said our neighbors and enemies, deserve the same love we give our families and ourselves,
  • the one who preached the scandalous goodness of a despised Samaritan.

 

The love of God works in us to give us faith, and it is so great that it cannot help but continue to pour out of us.

We hear the words of the psalm:

3 Save the weak and the orphan; * defend the humble and needy;
4 Rescue the weak and the poor; deliver them from the power of the wicked.

And our faith, inspired by love, responds with works of love, and through these works we come to know eternal life, the divine life, a Christ-shaped life, in this very broken and fragile world.

As we heard from Colosians, it bears fruit among us from the day we heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God.

So, as Jesus says, “Go and do likewise,” – may we hear and be doers of the word.

 

 

About Bruce Bryant-Scott

Canadian. Husband. Father. Christian. Recovering Settler. A priest of the Church of England, Diocese in Europe, on the island of Crete in Greece.
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1 Response to “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

  1. Jean Mertzanakis says:

    Happy to have met you at Agia Filothea House in Athens recently, Bruce. Love this sermon, based on your own experiences and not shying away from reference to the misuse of theology when you refer to the treatment of indigenous peoples. Is there any way to access your dissertation? Best wishes to you and all at St. Thomas. Have a good summer. Jean Mertzanakis – St. Paul’s, Athens.

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