Sermon July 14th, Judith Jenkins
I was reminded this week in reading our gospel lesson of all the literature concerning tales of the road. Like Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, or Cervantes, Don Quixote, Homer's Odyssey, or Jack Kerouac, On the Road….Jesus too, is traveling along; he leads his disciples upon a series of travel adventures, telling them tales-- parables: this one about traveling along the Jericho Road.
Luke supplies us with the setting for the story, which is essential to understanding its meaning. To see this parable as merely an illustration of ethical living,- a story of the one who gets the Good Neighbor Award for the Year, is to miss some of the implications that run much deeper.
This road between Jericho and Jerusalem was an exceedingly dangerous one in Jesus time. Today, Jericho lies on the West Bank of the Palestinian Territories, and sadly, the seeds of Distrust, Bigotry, sometimes even hatred for one's fellow travelers, haven't really changed all that much.
Martin Luther King said this: "We must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway."
The Jericho Road is a symbol of where we meet God----And where we recognize God in One Another!!! We live in a world that continues to experience much violence—where too many of us have sought to preserve only our own limited belief system.
The Jericho Road runs straight through the church, as through each of our lives, giving us the opportunity as we meet, to see the other travelers in the guise of the "Good Samaritan.” That is -- when we are willing to part with all of our old ways by not allowing our "separateness" to keep us from one another.
John Philip Newell tells about how he and his wife Ali were lost in one of the Middle Eastern cities while searching for St. John's tomb. In his words:
"My wife and I wandered by mistake into the garden courtyard of a mosque. The Imam welcomed us and asked about our visit to the Middle East. When he learned that I was a minister, HE BOWED TO ME.
'You are a minister of Christ,' he said. He then invited us into the mosque, where we exchanged blessings. It was the Imam then, who showed us the burial place of St. John, just up the hill from the mosque."
Philip goes on to say: "As I climbed toward the tomb, I could not stop thinking about the humility of this teacher who had bowed to me. It was the SAME POSTURE OF SOUL that I had encountered years earlier in the old Cree Elder from Saskachewan, that Native American Elder who said to me…'We pray for you, and for your people.' "My people," thought Philip, "who had so wronged his people!"
As Philip reflected on the Imam, he realized that the humility of spirit of both these spiritual leaders had in no sense suggested a betrayal of any of their religious convictions. Quite the opposite, it was the truest mark of spirituality. They were inviting Philip to be true to the heart of his own Christian tradition.
We honor Christ not because he embodies an exclusive truth, a truth that pertains only to him: we bow to Christ because he reveals the most inclusive of truths, the truth that the whole universe, all of us, comes directly from God's being. That is the sound of the heartbeat in the Good Samaritan!
Carl Jung says, and I paraphrase: Only to the extent that we are in touch with our own brokenness, both individually and collectively, will we be a strong presence of healing for others. Only to the extent that we know that the wounds we treat in others are part of our own woundedness, will we ever be truly whole.
I wish that we could all take a trip to New Harmony, Indiana, to visit THE CHURCH WITH NO ROOF: a place of vision which was built after the Second World War -- built with the hope that it might become a sacred place to face the brokenness and woundedness of one another.
Three statues were erected in this sacred space:
The First: The Descent of the Spirit (by Jacob Lipchiz), depicts the Spirit descending to an abstract womb about to give birth. Lipchiz was declaring that everything in the universe is conceived by God:
The Second: The Pieta (by Stephen de Staebla), depicts the form of a primitive naked woman standing with her breast split open: within her breast appears the head of Jesus. This sculpture creates a strong emotion, especially in those mothers and fathers who have known the loss of a child. It is seeing in the Palms of Her Hands, Her Feet, and in Her sides, the nail marks of crucifixion!
She is every mother or father who has lost a child. She is the mother of those 19 firefighters, of those boys just found at Quemado Lake. The pain and brokenness comes from the very heart of her being!
In the commissioning of this incredibly beautiful statue, The Pieta, was the hope that we might all find a way forward, together, in our own lives and world, hearing the SACREDNESS of ALL OUR CRIES!
But there are three statues:
The Third is called The Polish Memorial (by Eva Sygulka). It is of God the Father, behind his son, arms are outstretched, and reminding those who experienced the pain of Poland under Nazi occupation -- that the EVERLASTING and SUPPORTING ARMS of God the Father WERE and ARE-- always present.
How do we each walk our Jericho Road hearing the sacredness of all our cries? Is it easy? No – but that’s what we are called to do.
What if we could experience what happened to Thomas Merton on 4th and Walnut in Louisville? --- Merton was suddenly overwhelmed, standing there in the shopping district, with the realization that he loved all these strangers.
"Then it was," he said, "as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts, where neither sin nor desire, nor self knowledge, can reach,….instead I saw for a moment the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God's eyes. If only” (he said) “they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time.”
To limit our existence, our journeys along the Jericho Road by allowing contact with only those whom we choose, or by limiting our knowledge to only what we already know, does indeed blind us to the mystery and wonder of how we are all divinely intertwined with our Creator.
This story is told about Jane Addams, who co-founded the Hull House in Chicago in 1889. One night, the last in the office to leave, Jane left alone to walk home through a rather questionable area. Not long after she left, she heard footsteps behind her, and when she turned she recognized one of the troubled young men from the settlement. This young man had a history of trouble and for a moment fear touched Jane. Then, instead of quickening her pace, she stopped, turned, and faced the young man.
“I’m so glad to see you”, and she called him by name. “I am a little concerned about walking through this area at night alone and I wonder if you would walk with me? I’d feel much safer.”
For a moment, neither of them moved, and then as if realizing that she was seeing him in a different light than he would have thought possible, he moved forward, giving her the assurance that he would accompany her through the area.
In that moment, did the young man see himself as God sees him thru the eyes of Jane?
Mark Nepo says: "With each trouble that stalls us, and each wonder that lifts us, we are asked to put down our conclusions and our assumptions and to feel and to think in a new way….This involves holding our opinions and our identity lightly so that we can be touched by those who are different. It means loosening our fist-like hold on how we see the world, so that other views can reach us, and expand us."
WHO ARE WE GOING TO MEET ON OUR JERICHO ROAD as we travel today: praying for the grace to see ourselves and to enable those we meet to see themselves as God sees us all.