11 July 2010/Proper 10C - Psalm 82: 3-4 Luke 10:25-37
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, St. Peter's at Ellicott Mills
The Reverend Robert Bonner was a mentor of mine - taught me much of what I know about Stewardship and Parish Ministry. He often told a story about his son Bruce. Bruce was a football player in Texas where they take football mighty seriously. In the off-season the coach required his players to be on the track team for conditioning. Bruce's high school was not all that big, and as they were handing out track team roles, they got to High Jump and Bruce was the one boy left - so High Jump it was! Now as a football player Bruce was not exactly built like a high jumper - long and lean - but was rather shorter and stout. Nevertheless, every night when Bob came home, there was Bruce in the backyard with a broom handle suspended between two jury-rigged poles. They call those poles "standards" - two standards hold the high jump bar. Bob would ask Bruce at dinner every night, "How high can you jump, son?" And Bruce would hold his hand just below his shoulders and say, "This high!"
Along came the day for the first track meet. Bruce was anxious about the high jump. Bob said, "Bruce, just do your best. That's all any of us can do." Off Bruce went. Bob had to do some work for the church that day and so could not attend the track meet. When he came home he asked," Bruce, how did the High Jump go today?"
"Well," said Bruce, "remember I told you I could jump this high?" pointing to just below his shoulders. "Yes," said this Father. "Well, today they started with the bar this high," he said, pointing just below his chin." "That's OK, son, all that matters is you tried your best....I am proud of you just the same." God is like that - sets the bar high and forgives us the difference.
A lawyer comes to Jesus and asks, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" That is, what are the standards - what does God expect from us? Jesus says, "There are two standards," just like the high jump. " You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself." In fact those two standards are so basic to following Jesus that the Church used to begin the Eucharist every week with just those words of Jesus: you shall love God and love your neighbor. We call this The Great Commandment, the cornerstone of Great Command Christianity.
When asked, "And who is my neighbor?" and just what does this love look like? Jesus answers with a story. It is about a man who is mugged on the side of the road. A priest and a Levite, we are told, pass him by without offering any assistance. This suggests to me that whoever compiled Luke was not all that familiar with life in Israel since the priests are Levites, but that is for another day. As we all know, a Samaritan comes by and helps the man - thus the expression, Good Samaritan. Not only does he help the man, but provides money for extended care. For the lawyer, probably a Pharisee, to say the Samaritan was the only one who showed mercy is quite surprising - since Samaritans were considered unclean, unspiritual enemies of Israel because they refused to worship in Jerusalem with everyone else.
The point of the story, of course, is that the person you least likely expect to be your neighbor is your neighbor and you are meant to love them just the same as Aunt Sally and Grandpa Joe.
That is, Jesus sets the bar pretty high. Not at the height we are used to living at, but always just a little bit higher. This is where God's mercy, or forgiveness comes in. Later Jesus says, "I want you to be perfect just like God is perfect." Whoa, Nelly! That is setting the bar pretty high! But along with that comes a promise - for those who try to jump over the bar but miss, I will forgive them the difference, as long as they love God and love their neighbor - all neighbors, always and everywhere. I am proud of you just the same.
Back around 1993 my friend and mentor Bob developed a malignant brain tumor. It was a difficult time for Bob and his family. One Saturday as I was rattling about the parish office, the phone rang. I confess I don't always answer the phone on Saturday, but this time something within me said to answer that call. It was Bob. I was shocked. He said most days he could not really talk much, but on good days he liked to call his friends and was thinking of me. I was truly humbled. Then he said, "Do you want to hear the rest of the story about Bruce?" "Of course! I said.
Well, says Bob, Bruce is dyslexic, so he was in high school an extra year and was ineligible to play football, but come fall Bob saw Bruce going to practices every day. He asked him why? Bruce said, "Well, I know that if I don't do something with discipline I'm going to get myself in trouble, so I do it for myself. But also, I am bigger and stronger than most of the team, so I figure if I go out there and push them around it is better for the team as well."
I do it for myself, and I do it for the team. That is what the Big Command Christianity is all about: doing something that is good for yourself and good for the team - God's team that is.
Standards. They hold the bar high inviting us, challenging us, to do better than we think we can. Mercy. God in Christ stands ready to forgive us if only we will try our best to love God and love neighbor. Do it for yourself, and do it for the team. You will be glad you did.
Thank you Bob, and keep jumping Bruce, now a priest in the Episcopal Church. Amen.
Love the Lord with all your heart
With all your Soul
And all your mind
Love your neighbor as yourself
All of the time
Jump as high
As you can jump
Look as far
As you can see
Don't give up
And you will find
You are the person
God wants you to be
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