Sunday, July 14, 2013

Trayvon, Malala, the Good Samaritan and Christ's Message of Liberating Love

So after hearing the news of George Zimmerman's acquittal last night, I realized I needed to write a whole new sermon for this evening at Saint Peter's where I'm serving for a few more weeks as Vicar... What follows is what I came up with, based on the gospel reading for the day, Saint Luke 10: 25 - 37.  I'd love to hear what you think!

It’s been an odd sort of week in the life in our nation … As many of us returned from a long holiday celebrating our freedom with friends and family, we also returned to an odd sort of news environment… comprehensive immigration reform maybe happening, maybe not… all the CIA leak and NSA spying stuff… Congress failing to do anything about student loan interest rates rising, a farm bill that leaves out funding for food stamps… geesh. It’s been an odd sort of week, and of course, it was capped off by the truly disappointing, saddening and even outraging news last night that the friends and family of Trayvon Martin will not be able to rest at least a little easier anytime soon. No, my sisters and brothers, Trayvon’s parents Tracy and Sybrina did not lay down to sleep in the reassuring arms of justice last night. And people of color throughout this nation went to bed not only knowing that the simple act of going out to get a snack could get one killed, but furthermore that such a murder may go unpunished. And we all sought sleep last night racked by the painful reminder that the long held burden of racial fear and hatred still weighs heavily upon this country, and that at least for now, that burden ain’t getting any lighter. My sisters and brother, these sorrows must be voiced. These sorrows must be mourned. And these sorrows must be changed. And may we all do the difficult work of keeping everyone affected in our prayers, including those holding different views from our own and even Trayvon’s killer himself.

Through the uncertainty and sadness of the news this past week though, there was at least one shining ray of light as well. Perhaps amidst all the trial coverage you were able to pick up on it… This past Friday morning, a young, now sixteen year old woman named Malala Yousafzai stepped up to the podium at the United Nations and gave a rousing, defiant address, speaking truth to power that all women and children, that all people in fact, have a basic right to education. In a world where nearly sixty million children still do not attend primary school, many of whom disproportionately are girls, Malala’s message is not only direly needed, but delivered with great risk. For you see, in her home area of the Swat Valley in Pakistan this past October, Malala was shot in the head at point blank range by the Taliban on her way to school for boldly proclaiming the prophetic message that all girls deserve an education. They shot Malala’s friends too. And while the Taliban failed to silence Malala this past October, they have vowed to try again.

So, you may be wondering what all of this has to do with today’s Gospel story… with the well-known but often misunderstood story of the Good Samaritan. Well, especially since Malala specifically cites not only the Prophet of her own faith, Muhammad, but Jesus Christ as well as a source of inspiration, I imagine she’s certainly heard this parable before and taken its true message to heart. For while Malala’s speech this past Friday was about education for all, it wasn’t about education for the sake of winning, for the sake of getting ahead or individually climbing a social ladder. No, Malala instead put forward a collective vision of society. She said, “We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.” And she prophetically proclaimed, “Our words can change the whole world, because we are united together for the cause of education.” And it is the quite similar collective vision, a vision of liberating love in community with God and community with each other, which Jesus puts forward in his story of the Good Samaritan.

All too often this parable is misunderstood and mis-preached. All too often the final line of “Go and do likewise” is taken as the central thesis of the story, rather than only a necessary consequence of it true message… Let me repeat that… “Go and do likewise” is taken as the central thesis of the story, rather than only a necessary consequence of its true message. Go and do likewise is taken to mean go out and be perfect… go out and be nice and polite, follow the rules, and whether its explicitly stated or not, go out and show the world and show God how great and pious and holy you are! You doing great champ, just keep on doing what you’re doing and you’ll end up on top! Now, such a message might sound nice at first, but all too quickly such hyper-individualistic notions only lead to one of two possible outcomes… First, we might end up living a life of hate, a life of hate that in its extreme form sounds something like, “Wow, I’m so good and so pious that I can take the law into my own hands. Look at me, look at me, I’m gonna save the day… I can stalk folks I deem dangerous, and if something goes wrong, no matter, I’m strapped and the law is on my side so I’ll just stand my ground.” The other possibility is that such hyper-individualism leads us to a life of fear, that in its extreme form sounds something like, “There are only winners and losers in this world, so I better make sure folks that look like me and act like me end up winning. I just gotta take and take as much of this world’s limited resources as I can to protect myself, my friends and my family… and well, everyone else will just need to fend for themselves... to hell with em!”

My sisters and brothers, the lawyer that tests Jesus in today’s Gospel story was plagued by just such a sense of hyper-individualism. The lawyer exclaims, “What must I do? What must I do? May I further clarify rabbi, in order to justify myself?” And the way Jesus responds, is absolutely brilliant… Jesus says to the elite young man, bro, you aren’t even asking the right question. Stop worrying, just for a second, about who you’re suppose to serve and think about who’s acting like a neighbor to you… check your ego at the door because the fact is that you need some help too… because despite the fact that it seems like you’re in charge, you can’t do it on your own no matter how hard you try! The lawyer, the priest and the Levite… the “winners” in today’s gospel story, would likely do quite well in today’s society… a society that through the politics of racism, and sexism, and classism and a wide variety of “isms” preaches a message to fear folks that are different, because they’re only going to take what’s yours… and a society that preaches hate folks that are different, because they’re nothing next to your perfect, high-achieving, polished self.

My sisters and brother, in today’s Gospel story Jesus presents the elite lawyer and in fact all of us in this time, in this place, in this city with the difficult but profoundly good news that its not about what you, or me, or any other person for that matter is doing at all… it’s about God’s act of liberating love in Christ. For despite the powers hate and fear’s best attempts to kill Christ’s message of liberating love, a message much like Malala’s that no matter how hard we try, we cannot do it on our own, Christ rose. Yes, Christ lives… Christ lives in this time, in this place, in this city, freeing us from all the varied forms of hate and fear, freeing us from our very selves, freeing us from whatever may oppress us into the hope of restored community, into the hope in a beautifully interwoven tapestry of mutuality with God and with one another. Amen. 

Dustin currently serves as Vicar at the Lutheran Office for World Community and Saint Peter's Church in Manhattan, having recently completed his second year of a Masters of Divinity program at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. While seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice in de-centralized faith communities unencumbered by a traditional church building. In his free time, Dustin likes playing frisbee, hiking and pretending to know how to sing.


  1. This is really great Dustin! I'm glad I got your sermon even though I didn't make it to the service. I really like your points about community vs individual and how you connected these events. I think it's a very astute observation that people tend to do the right thing, help others, follow the rules etc in an attempt to get a leg up, so to speak.

    I have been seeing this capitalistic theme of one winner and many losers coming up in many areas. For instance, I think this connects to some of the fundamental disagreements we see on health care reform. More specifically, I believe the US has been dealing with mental health issues in a way that emphasizes individual responsibility and ignores the group responsibility. There is no sense of collective responsibility to make sure these people get help. In the instance of the Newtown school shooting we see the blame placed on the mother. From this and many other instances like it, a rhetoric has been growing about invisible mental health services. There seems to be a lacking collective responsibility for one another. I notice this particularly in comparison to countries like Germany where there is more of an engrained understanding of community, reflective in the tax rates they pay for essentially maintaining certain standards for the entire population. Let's remember: a rising tide raises all boats.

    One of the areas I would like to understand more is how democracy and capitalism attempt to coexist and function together in the U.S. There seem to be some fundamentally different perspectives coming from each of these on the role of the individual in society. Capitalism: winners and losers. Democracy: equality, every vote counts (although, we know thats a drastic overstatement **cough cough SCOTUS Voting Rights Act cough**)

    I could blab forever on this. Thanks for getting me thinking! hope it went well!

  2. Malala Yousafzai has inspired many Pakistani young girls to get education and to struggle for it. She is a hope