Loving Our Enemies

I have a problem with the Gospel.

My problem is this:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-44, ESV)

I find these words disconcerting.  More than that, I find them somewhat terrifying.  I read them and I want to run the other way.  

You see, the past few months have been a challenge for me.  I suspect they have been for a number of people.  Some of my core beliefs were challenged over the course of the 2016 Election season.  Both my wife and I have been the target of verbal attacks due to our opposition of Donald Trump’s candidacy, and we were some of the lucky ones.  We’ve seen good people of faith, people like Rachel Held Evans, and John Pavlovitz,  come under an almost constant barrage of vitriol and hate for acting as a voice of conscience.  As a country, we’ve witnessed the rise of hate groups like the alt-right, and witnessed the re-emergence of men like former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke .  We’ve seen mosques desecrated and churches burned.  We’ve seen women denigrated and abused.  Perhaps even worse, we’ve seen many in our country give overt and tacit approval to these behaviors.  

After the election, I found myself shaken.  My mind reeled with a mix of anger and grief.  I felt consumed by anger and a creeping sense of despair.  

I decided to read the sermons of Martin Luther King, Jr.  I confess that I embarked on the reading in an effort to bolster my own sense of righteous indignation.  Instead, I found myself being challenged.  Not because of my anger.  Feeling anger in the face of injustice is necessary.  I felt challenged because I found myself saying, “I won’t pray for Donald Trump.  I could never pray for David Duke.  These are bad people.  They do terrible things.”

A deep, corrosive bitterness clung to me.  As this feeling grew, I read these words by Dr. King:

“…love men, not because they are likeable, but because God loves them.  You look at every man and you love him because you know God loves him.  And he might be the worst person you’ve ever seen.” (Martin Luther King Jr., A Knock at Midnight, from the sermon Loving Our Enemies)

King went on to say that loving our enemy does not mean that you like them or what they do.

“…he does not say, ‘Like your enemy.’  Like is a sentimental something, an affectionate something.  There are a lot of people I find it difficult to like.  I don’t like what they do to me.  I don’t like what they say about me and other people.  I don’t like their attitudes.  I don’t like some of the things they’re doing.  I don’t like them, but Jesus says love them.” (ibid)

This is a terrifying command.  It is counterintuitive.  It goes against our basic survival instincts, but Jesus commands it.

Later, King discussed the practical reasons for loving your enemy.

“…hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe…It never ends.  Somebody must have religion enough and morality enough to cut if off and inject within the very structure of the universe that very strong and powerful element of love. (ibid)

Beyond this, King explains that hate distorts the personality of the hater.  I could feel this growing in myself.  My feelings of anger and bitterness were seeping into every aspect of my life.  I felt restless and anti-social around others.  I grew irritable at home.  I grasped tightly to that feeling of hatred and let it take control.

After reading King’s sermon, I felt convicted.  I decided then and there that I would pray for these people.  I would pray for Donald Trump.  I would pray for men like Richard Spencer and David Duke.  I would pray for those who attacked me and others.  I would love them because God loves them.  God loves them enough to die that he became flesh and died for them.  

When I tried it, I felt something break.  That great, creeping negativity began to wash away.  

Let me be clear.  Their actions.  Their words.  Their attitudes still upset me.  I still feel anger and still wrestle with those feelings of bitterness and spite.  I still have a problem with this command, because I am broken and imperfect.

The choice to love our enemies is not a one time event.  I will also continue to oppose their hatred.  I will oppose injustice, but I will do it with love.  I will do it while praying for them.  I believe this is our only choice.

In the final analysis, I agree with Dr. King:

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together like fools.”

Ron Glass, Firefly, and the Gospel

I am a geek.  

I have always been a geek, and I will always be a geek.

Fortunately, there are plenty of intersections between geek culture and the Gospel, even if they aren’t always intentional.  JRR Tolkien considered the Lord of the Rings to be a profoundly Catholic work.  The Harry Potter stories follow a struggle between good and evil that *spoiler alert* ends with the main character offering his own life to save the lives of all others.  Much of science fiction follows a similar arc, what Joseph Campbell referred to as the hero cycle.  Fans of Star Wars and the Matrix are familiar with the concept of a “chosen one” who will restore order to the universe.  A character is called to a quest, goes on a journey which eventually leads through a world of death and darkness, before rising in triumph.  I think these things speak to us because we are, each of us, made for glory.  

All of this is a preamble.  A proof of concept if you will.  The Apostle Paul said, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8).  

In short, we can chat about the Gospel through the lens of a science fiction television show.  If that seems preposterous, please re-read the previous paragraphs.  

On Saturday, November 25, the world lost actor Ron Glass.  I first encountered Glass as Shepherd Darriel Book in the cult classic “Firefly”.  I loved his character.  Glass brought a sense of warmth, humor, and emotional complexity to the role.

A Shepherd, in the Firefly Universe, is a pastor.  Shepherd Book takes up with the nomadic crew of the spaceship Serenity and travels with them.  He remains even after he learns that they are smugglers.  Over the course of the show Book struggles with questions of morality, of legalism and grace, as he interacts with mercenaries, prostitutes, rebel soldiers, and other rogues.  

After learning of Ron Glass’s death I began revisiting scenes from the show.  Something in the first episode struck me.  

When we first see Shepherd Book, he is wandering through a spaceport, looking for a ship to travel on.  A character named Kaylee, the mechanic on the Serenity, approaches and convinces him to travel on their ship.  Over the course of their conversation, Book states that he is not concerned with where the ship is travelling.

“How come you don’t care where you’re going?” she asks.

“Because how you get there is the worthier part,” he responds.

shepherd-book-and-kaylee

The statement struck me as message that more Christians could stand to embrace.

There is a common belief among many Christians that Heaven is the only concern of a Christian life.  Jesus came to die and be resurrected, giving us a free pass to Heaven if we accept it.  In this view of the Christian faith, the teachings of Jesus are interesting, but sort of beside the point.    

The Bible seems to disagree.

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 NIV)

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27 NIV)

“ ‘What should we do then?’ The crowd asked.  John answered, ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.’  Even tax collectors came to be baptized.  ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘what should we do?’ ‘Don’t collect any more than you are required to,’ he told them.  Then some soldiers asked him, ‘And what should we do?’ He replied, ‘Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely-be content with your pay.’ ” (Luke 3:10-15)

“Not everyone who calls out to me ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Only those who actually do the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21 NIV)

A few chapters later, Jesus explains how we do the will of God.

“ ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’ ” (Matthew 22:36-40 NIV)

If we take these verses seriously, then we have to start thinking that Heaven isn’t the main goal for a Christian.  Maybe, as Shepherd book said, how we get there is the worthier part.

Don’t get me wrong.  We are all completely dependent on grace.  All the good works in the world won’t gain us God’s love.  God loved us completely before we were born.  God accepts us, knowing that we are broken and prone to sin.

In theology, this is referred to as prevenient grace.  It is grace that God gave us before any decision on our part.   Grace that works independent of us.  It is absolutely essential, but God doesn’t stop there.  God is not done with us.  As John wrote in Revelations:

“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ ”  (Revelations 21:5 NIV)

This is where Sanctifying grace comes into play,  Sanctifying grace transforms us into who God wants us to be.  Unlike prevenient grace, we play an active role in this process.   God works in us and through us.  We are called to act as God’s hands and feet, to play an active role in making all things new.  

Perhaps Jesus’s ultimate goal was not to give us a ticket to a magic, faraway paradise, but to restore the world to the way that God intended it to be from the beginning.  

All of this brings me back to the show Firefly and the character of Shepherd Book.  

His character has struggles and triumphs over the course of the show and subsequent movie.  Travelling with the crew of Serenity, he is given the chance to care for the wounded and suffering, to minister to those experiencing doubt and despair, and to develop deep and abiding relationships.  He experiences tragedy and heartbreak.   He struggles with his faith at times, but ultimately makes a profound difference in the lives of those around him. *spoiler alert*  Even in death he works to make a difference, imploring the character of Malcolm Reynolds to find and hold on to something to believe.  His dedication and belief play no small part in the eventual victory over the dark, insidious forces of the Alliance.

Imagine if he had only been concerned with his destination?

What would have been lost?  

What do we lose in this world by concerning ourselves only with the next world?

God is making all things new and wants us to help.  God expects us to help.

Thank you Ron Glass.  Thank you for your work.  It taught me more than you’d imagine.

shepherd-book

For folks who are interested in honoring Ron Glass’s memory, you can contribute to the charitable organization he worked with: The Wooten Center http://www.wootencenter.org/

Building Bridges Instead of Walls

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Every day we see and read stories that remind us of the deep divisions that exist between people in the modern world.  In the United States, we have seen an increase in hate crimes and a sense of political animosity unparalleled in recent memory.  A general feeling of unease and distrust seems to permeate the air, seeping into every nook and cranny of our lives.  At times it can seem overwhelming, but I suspect that community is closer than we think.      

A few weeks ago my family and I had the good fortune to attend a community barbeque hosted by the Valley Ranch Islamic Center (www.valleyranchmasjid.org).  Hundreds of our Islamic neighbors came to the event, grilling chicken, chatting at picnic tables, jumping in bounce houses, and gleefully soaking members of the community in a dunk tank.  

Members of my family’s church, First United Methodist Church of Coppell  (www.fumccoppell.org ), and my parents’ church, the 3rd Ward of Coppell’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints ( www.lds.org ), also attended the event.  We’d been invited by Imam Yaser Birjas with the mutual hope of building interfaith community in our little town.

I first met Yaser while working on a story about VRIC for the newspaper.  I’d interviewed him at the masjid and been given a tour.   Yaser even invited me to watch as he led afternoon prayers.  I stood in the back of the room and watched as members of VRIC filtered in and found a place to pray.  I was struck by how familiar everything felt.  Families snuck in late, and children fidgeted with opened the eyes during prayer.  It looked just like a church on Sunday morning.  The words were different, but the sense of holy community felt the same.

At the barbeque, the members of VRIC went out of their way to make us feel at home.  They supplied us with free tickets for food and games.  We were introduced to members of the masjid and Yaser gave us a tour, answering questions about the community and the Islamic faith.

After the barbeque, a member of FUMC Coppell mentioned that he learned more about Islam during our tour than he had learned in his entire life.  His daughters attended the event with him and he told us that before bed one of them asked him about Islamophobia.

“They were so nice,” she said. “Why would people want them to leave?”

I felt a rush of joy when he told me the story.  In that instant, with that simple question, it became clear that a bridge had been built.  A human connection had been made that spanned the superficial chasms that we as humans work so hard to create.  Even if it only lasted for a brief moment, this young girl no longer saw a distinction between us and them.  She had entered into an “I-Thou” relationship with the members of VRIC.

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Jewish philosopher Martin Buber describes two fundamental types of relationships that exist in the world.  The first is an “I-It” relationship.  This exists when we view something or someone only in terms of how we can use or experience it.  The other relationship is an “I-Thou” relationship.  An “I-Thou” relationship occurs when our whole sacred being connects with another’s whole sacred being in genuine relationship.  An essay on www.communicationtheory.org/i-and-thou  describes it like this:

The I –Thou relationship is a two sided affair, when both the individuals enter into the conversation with their unique whole being…An I –Thou relationship makes one completely human by building up our wholeness and encompasses a world of personal acquaintance. In this relationship there is close bonding…”

Buber says this about an “I-Thou” relationship:

“When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.” (Martin Buber, I and Thou)

I think that Christian author C.S. Lewis understood something of this reality when he wrote:

“There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.” (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

Our world is in desperate need of “I-Thou” relationships.  When we view each other with suspicion and fear, when we look at others through the lens of how they will benefit or hurt us, we reduce others to an “It”.  They are no longer a whole, complete being, but a thing that affects our life for better or worse.  

We overcome this by making connections, by going out of our comfort zones and meeting new people.  We must expand our sense of community and recognize the God given relationships between us, relationships that transcend race, class, and religion.  

It isn’t as hard as it sounds.  

The connection that my friend’s daughter made did not require weighty philosophical or theological understanding.  She simply showed up to a barbeque.  She played with someone new.  

This is how God changes the world.  He gives us relationships.  He leads us into making connections.

May we be open to the voice of God guiding us into deeper and deeper community.

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The God Who Notices

There is a this moment in the Gospel of Luke that I love.  Jesus is eating dinner with a Pharisee.  During dinner, a woman labelled a sinner begins anointing Jesus’s feet with oil.

Then one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to eat with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. When a sinful woman from that town learned that Jesus was dining there, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind Him at His feet weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears and wipe them with her hair. Then she kissed His feet and anointed them with the perfume.

When the Pharisee who had invited Jesus saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, He would know who this is and what kind of woman is touching Him—for she is a sinner!” (Luke 7: 36-39)

Jesus then tells the story of a moneylender forgiving debts.  He explains that the debtor with the greatest sum forgiven will be the most grateful.

A few verses later Jesus looks at the woman and says this:

“And turning to the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman?” (Luke 7:44)

It’s an interesting question.  Obviously Simon can see her.  She is standing right in front of him. But then, there are different kinds of seeing aren’t there?  How often do we look at people and not really see them?  When Simon looked at the woman, did he see her or just her sin?   

The world is full of people longing to be seen.

In the brilliant book “Tattoos on the Heart” Father Gregory Boyle talks about his work with gang members in Los Angeles.  In one chapter he says this:

“All throughout scripture and history, the principal suffering of the poor is not that they can’t pay their rent on time or that they are three dollars short of a package of Pampers.  As Jesus scholar Marcus Borg points out, the principal suffering of the poor is shame and disgrace.  It is a toxic shame- a global sense of failure of the whole self.  This shame can seep so deep down.” (Tattoos on the Heart, Gregory Boyle)

Boyle talks about the impact that calling these gang members by name had on their lives.  Somewhere deep inside they had a fundamental longing to be recognized as someone of inherent worth.

It reminds me of a story one of my friend tolds me.  For the purposes of the story I’ll call him Steve.

Steve worked in South Ft. Worth, one of the poorer areas in town.  Nearby houses had boarded up windows, gas stations had bullet holes in the windows, and stray dogs roamed the streets.  A nearby hospital with a psychiatric facility regularly discharged patients who then simply began wandering the streets.  The area also had a staggering homeless population.

Despite this, Steve liked to take walks on his lunch break.  He had two encounters that he shared with me.

The first came when an African American man approached him.  He had a large scar across his forehead and came asking for money.  He explained to Steve that the scar was from a bullet.

Steve invited the man to join him for lunch and the two walked to a nearby burger joint.  The man asked if he could order two hamburgers and save one for later.  Steve said yes, and then the man asked for a couple dollars to buy orange juice and pay his bus fare.  Steve again happily acquiesced.  Then something happened.

The man began to cry.  Not just a few tears, but great heaving sobs.

“I ain’t never met anyone like you,” The man said. “I ain’t never met anyone like you.  Are you Jesus?  If you’re Jesus you have to tell me don’t you?  Are you?”

Steve said he was taken aback.  He assured the man that he was just a friend and that he was happy to help.  The two parted ways shortly after and as Steve walked away the man stood on the sidewalk shouting “I love you!”

“I just couldn’t imagine how lonely you would have to be,” Steve said.  “How forgotten do you have to feel that when someone buys you a burger you think they are Jesus?”

A few weeks later he had a similar experience.  While walking down the street he saw a man walking toward the hospital.  He said hello to the man who began to share his story.

“I’m an alcoholic and my wife took off with the kids,” the man said.  “I don’t have anything anymore.”

In a moment of inspiration, Steve took out a sheet of paper and wrote the words “God Still Loves You” and handed it over to the man.  After reading it, the man shrugged.

“Yeah I know,” he said.

“Don’t forget,” Steve said.  “No matter what, God still loves you.”

The man began to cry and suddenly wrapped Steve up in an embrace.  The two stood by the side of the road for several minutes while the man cried on his shoulder.  Then, the man asked a question.

“Are you an angel?” he said.

Again, Steve said that he was just a friend and the man went on his way.  Steve told me that the encounters left him with the impression that people were desperate to be noticed and told that they matter.

As Christians, we worship a God who notices.  In Jesus, God noticed humanity and took on flesh to be one of us.  He noticed us in our brokenness and loved us anyway.  He didn’t love us from a distance.  He took up residence with us.  

To be a Christian, we are called to be little Christs.  We are called to notice those that the world forgets.  

Let us be believers who notice.


 

What is the Christian Response to Refugees?

This weekend, news channels and social media accounts across the United States were fixated on Donald Trump’s tweets about the Broadway musical Hamilton and Saturday Night Live.  At the same time, the BBC reported that the hospitals in Aleppo are no longer functional (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38039282).  A series of bombardments by the Syrian government have crippled their ability to give medical care.  

In an article on CNN, a resident of Aleppo described the city as “a holocaust”, with reports that barrel bombs containing chlorine gas have been dropped on neighborhoods, killing men, women, and children.  (http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/20/middleeast/syria-aleppo-airstrikes/index.html)  The bombardment has been described as the heaviest since the war in Syria began five years ago.

The past year has seen a multitude of devastating images arise from Syria.  In late 2015, the world was shocked by the photograph of 3 year old Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body washed up on a beach.  The young, Syrian refugee drowned while trying to reach Europe.

In August of 2016, the world again reacted in horror to the image of a five year old Syrian boy named Omran Daqneesh coated in ash and blood.  The image was taken shortly after medics pulled Omran from the rubble of a building in Aleppo.  

The United Nations estimates that there are now over four million Syrian refugees, with an additional 7 million displaced but still residing within the country.  The numbers are the largest recorded by the UN since a 1992 exodus of Afghanistan generated 4.2 million refugees.

The subject of refugees and migrants became a hot topic in the United States over the course of the Presidential election.  President Elect Donald Trump referred to the refugees as a “Trojan Horse” that threatens our nation’s security.  Earlier in the year, Donald Trump Jr. compared refugees to Skittles, suggesting that you wouldn’t eat from a bowl of Skittles if you knew that even a few were poisoned.  

Beyond the Trump family, more than half of the governors in the United States have stated that they oppose resettlement of Syrian refugees in their states.

As a Christian, I find this troubling.

As a child, Jesus and his family fled from their home to escape religious persecution.  The Gospel of Matthew says that the Holy Family fled in the night to avoid the murderous wrath of Herod:

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

who is to shepherd my people Israel.”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod.” (Matthew 2:1-14)

I try to imagine what would have happened had Jesus arrived in Egypt only to be told that he was not welcome there or that his family’s presence represented a liability for the nation.

When we look at Syrian refugees, we should see the face of our Savior because Jesus literally lived the life of a refugee.  

As Christians, we have been given explicit instructions on how we are to treat the poor, the downcast, and the refugee.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ (Matthew 25:34-43)

According to the scripture, when we see a child like Alan Kurdi or Omran Daqneesh, we are looking at the face of Jesus.  When we reject them or ignore the opportunity to help them out of fear or indifference, we are rejecting our Savior.    

May we have the courage to see Jesus in the faces of those suffering around the world.  May we not ignore Him as He calls for our help.

A Dangerous Faith

Something happened.

I don’t know how or when, but something changed.

Approximately 2000 years ago a young rabbi from an obscure middle eastern village began travelling the countryside to teach.  Along the way he embraced the untouchable and infuriated the religious.  He lifted up the downtrodden and unsettled the comfortable.  

Detractors labeled him a heretic.  Others called him a lunatic who performed miracles by the power of the devil.  He struck fear in the hearts of religious and political leaders who rightly believed that his teaching would turn the world upside down.  In a desperate attempt to protect the status quo they arrested the rabbi like a common criminal and publicly executed him.

Tradition teaches that many of his earliest followers met a similar fate.  They were beaten and jailed, pursued and executed.  In its earliest form, to be Christian meant abandoning comfort and security.  In a very real way, it meant putting your life on the line.

Then something happened.  Somewhere along the line Christianity became safe.  Maybe it started with Emperor Constantine.  When faith meets empire the allure of power and influence can easily draw us away from a life spent with those on the margins.

Whatever the case, much of modern Christianity and particularly Western Christianity, has become domesticated.  We have tamed the radical teachings of Jesus and transformed them into something safe and comfortable.  Belonging to a church has become akin to visiting a spa.  We go to receive personal comfort, to be refreshed.  Then we return to our real lives.

Put another way, Jesus called us to walk upon the waves of a raging ocean and we tried to meet him in the wading pool.

I’d like to think that I am an exception to this attitude, but I’d be lying to myself.  I live in lavish wealth compared to the majority of the world’s population.  I give occasional time and money to my favorite causes, but not too much.  After all, if I give everything away what would be left for me?  I spend the majority of my life surrounded by people who look and sound like me.  I attend church on Sunday and say prayers before meals and bed.  I don’t risk much.

The problem is that Jesus demands more.  When asked the greatest commandment, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.  The second is this, love your neighbor as yourself.  No other commandment is greater than these.”  (Mark 12:30).  When asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responded with the story of the Good Samaritan:

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.  So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.  He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’   Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”  He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” – Luke 10:30-37

In a 1967 sermon titled “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life” Martin Luther King Jr. discussed this parable.

“It’s possible that these men passed by on the other side because they were afraid.  You know, the Jericho Road is a dangerous road….it’s a winding, curving, meandering road, very conducive for robbery….During the days of Jesus that road came to the point of being known as the “Bloody Path.”…The first question that the Levite asked was “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?  But the Good Samaritan came by and he reversed the question.  Not “What will happen to me if I stop to help this man?” but “What will happen to this man if I do not stop to help him?” (from “A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.)

To be a Christian is to live like the Good Samaritan.  To do that we must be on the Jericho Road, ready to help those who have been broken along the way.  We must be willing to ask, “What will happen if I do not stop to help?”  We cannot be safe.

May God protect us from a faith that is safe.