Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
October 23, 2016
“What and Who Really Matters”
Luke 10: 25-37 – Common English Bible
A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?”
26 Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?”
27 He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”[a]
28 Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
29 But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. 31 Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. 32 Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. 33 A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion.34 The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’ 36 What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”
37 Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Advisors to Martin Luther King, Jr., asked him, “Why them? Why bother with the garbage men of Memphis?” They argued he shouldn’t get involved in the local struggle of striking sanitation workers. They told him to focus on the bigger picture. And you should focus on more sympathetic characters, like elderly women beaten on the bridge in Selma or the little children bitten by dogs in Birmingham or teens slammed against buildings by the power of fire hoses. Or white people. Scenes of white people being clubbed at lunch counters in North Carolina or standing outside burned out busses in Georgia. That’s what gives the movement sympathy. When he “veered” off into opposition to the Vietnam War, he really angered supporters who felt he had gone way too far off message.
Why were striking garbage men in Memphis of such importance to Dr. King? Well, the back story started when white residents in Memphis objected to seeing garbage men eat their lunch outside their trucks (or ‘picnicking’ as those who objected called it). So the workers were told to eat in their truck – but the cab wouldn’t accommodate a crew of four people. One rainy afternoon, two of the workers sat in the protection of the back of the truck to eat their sandwiches. Some kind of malfunction caused the truck’s huge crushing arms to come down, killing them in the back of the truck. Because residents objected to the mere sight of the garbage men eating. That was just one in a long string of indignities too many.
It was the night before Dr. King was assassinated that he explained “Why Memphis. Why them?” He answered by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. Who is my neighbor?
When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in February, 1942 – on the 18th, Japanese Americans were our neighbors. On the 19th, they weren’t. Neighbor was set against neighbor. An elderly woman told how when she was a little girl she played and went to school with all different kinds of friends, but one day she came home and watched as the Army posted signs that gave her family 48 hours to pack up. They were to be transported to internment, or rather, concentration camps throughout the west. Her neighbors said nothing. But her neighbors weren’t set on edge on February 18th. Years of anti-Asian propaganda by newspapers and politicians fueled fears. Legalized prejudice by such measures as the Asian Exclusion Act in 1924 made 1942 possible. Who is my neighbor?
In sharp contrast, Colorado Governor Ralph Carr stood out for his fierce defense of Americans of Japanese descent, calling them “fellow citizens” and refusing to allow internment camps in the state, protecting Japanese Coloradans, defying widespread fear mongering, ignorance, and scapegoating. He promptly lost his next election. But, he asked, and answered, who is my neighbor?
You’ve probably heard of Oskar Schlindler, a member of the Nazi party, who spent his own fortune to save 1,200 Jews from the gas chambers in Auschwitz. And maybe even Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat, who saved more than 100,000 Jews by giving them false passports. You might not have heard of Chiune Sugihara. He was a Japanese Orthodox Christian who spoke Russian and served in Finland and China. As a diplomat at his post in Lithuania, he signed over 300 visas a day, saving 6,000 Polish Jews. There were many smaller examples: Corrie Ten Boom and her Christian family hid Jews in a counterfeit room in their house, just as Miep Gies, an Austrian woman, hid Anne Frank and her family in an Amsterdam apartment. And just who is my neighbor?
Meanwhile, anti-Semites in the US succeeded in limiting Jewish immigration just as they were being placed in ghettos, leading up to camps and gas chambers. Such sentiment was fueled by demagogues like the radio priest Father Charles Coughlin who talked about Jewish bankers and their efforts to seize control of the world; a poll in 1939 found that more than half of those interviewed agreed with the statement "Jews are different and should be restricted," an early example of encouraging a “complete shutdown until we know what the hell is going on.”
With that kind of pressure, Congress in 1939 refused to raise immigration quotas to admit 20,000 Jewish children fleeing the Nazis. The wife of the U.S. Commissioner of Immigration remarked at a cocktail party, "20,000 children would all too soon grow up to be 20,000 ugly adults."
And just who is my neighbor?
Pastor Martin Niemöller famously said,
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Love in theory is lovely. You shall love the Lord your God, blah, blah, blah. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Blah, blah, blah. Or as they would say on Seinfeld – yada, yada, yada. Sweet tender nothings. High flowery, flowing rhetoric.
Love in theory is lovely. But love in action is dangerous. And costly. Yet love in action is exactly what matters. The guy in the story Jesus told wants clarification, maybe to be let off the hook, maybe not, so he asks “And just who is my neighbor?” Jesus said, “Your neighbor is exactly who you don’t want to be your neighbor.” Love them.
There are plenty of contemporary examples. But it occurs to me that love won’t be love until Democrats love Donald Trump and love won’t really be love until Republicans love Hillary Clinton. Impossible? The Samaritan was one of the most reviled and difficult examples Jesus could possibly have used.
What really matters isn’t who our next president is. We will survive no matter who it is. The bigger concern is how our nation will heal from the beating and bashing we have endured for so many months. No matter who wins, more hate won’t heal us. Only love can do that. Difficult as it is, can we love one another? Who is my neighbor? Can we avoid gloating, berating, vilifying, and stereotyping the “other.” And it isn’t just something the other guy must do.
Who was the hero in the story of the Good One? In your own life, who can you immediately picture? The one with whom you emphatically will not speak. The one whose side you simply cannot accept. The cousin, the co-worker, the neighbor down the street – the one person you absolutely cannot stand will be the one who comes to your rescue.
Dr. King said love won’t be love until garbage men are our neighbors. Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenburg and Corrie Ten Boom and Miep Gies said love won’t be love until Jews are our neighbors. And when it comes to love, that’s all that matters.
Not the theory but the actions. Jesus said, Love your neighbor as yourself. And in every age we must keep asking “But just who is our neighbor?”
It matters that our music ministry not only sings and plays for our own enjoyment in worship but that they sing and play for the elderly residents of Dayton Place and clients and community of the Denver Inner City Parish. Love for our neighbors, as much as for ourselves.
It matters that our youth ministry not only gathers to talk about faith and have fun bowling and navigating a corn maze but that they go far out of their comfort zone to be present to the realities on American Indian reservations. Love for our neighbors, as much as for ourselves.
It matters that we don’t just collect money for someone else to serve our neighbors who are homeless but that we ourselves offer food and shelter here in our own building. And our Fair Trade Gift Market matters because it serves the people and organizations in Denver and around the world for whom that economic uplift makes a difference in having a place to live. Love for our neighbors, as much as ourselves.
It matters that our prayers include not just our friends and loved ones, and our own needs, but that we name and pray for Syrian refugees, and Palestinian Christians, and undocumented immigrants, and people living with mental health challenges. Those we fear the most, those most in the shadows… Throughout scripture, to God, they are the ones, our neighbors, that matter the most. Who is my neighbor?
For the last couple of weeks we have been asking and posting the hashtag #WhatReallyMatters. The answers to what really matters to me @ParkHillUCC have included:
Remarkably, they articulate exactly the point: Who is my neighbor? And they state What Really Matters. Which, I submit, means Park Hill Congregational UCC really matters. You matter. I matter. Who we are and what we do together really matters – having a vision of and living the embodiment of Christ’s love.
So as a church community earlier this year we committed to a vision of:
1) Forming the lives of children and youth into a faith of compassionate Christianity. That really matters.
2) Practicing justice as a religious expression – social, economic, racial justice. That really matters.
3) Finding a place for everyone to participate in ministry. That really matters.
4) And the faithful stewardship of all our resources – from our building to our people to our future, a strong foundations so that our kids are still serving our neighbors. That really matters.
And so that is why we are invited today to invest in that vision, to love our neighbors together as the church of Jesus Christ. Not only in words but in our deeds. Not only in lovely theory but in costly action –
Because it really matters.
 Richard Lischer, “The View from the Ditch,” Duke Divinity School, February 7, 2011
 For more on the context, http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_memphis_sanitation_workers_strike_1968
 Steve Yamaguchi, “Who is My Neighbor,” www.day1.org, July 15, 2001
 Steve Yamaguchi