My Neighbors​

Preached on Sunday, July 10, 2016 from the pulpit of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Berkeley.  Offered by The Rev. Deacon Ellen L. Ekstrom

Loren Ahrens
Philandro Castile
Micah Xavier Johnson
Michael Krol
Michael Smith
Alton Sterling
Brent Thompson
Patricio Zamarripa

These are my neighbors. None of them should have died violently, whether by bullet or robot and without due process of law.

How many more will have to shed their blood in our streets and give up their lives to gun violence in this country?

All were victims of a society that has yet to learn the lessons from our recent past about racism, discrimination, and inequality. We fought the Civil War to end slavery, and a half-century ago it looked as if there was a glimmer of hope, that we would have a country truly united by a common belief and Constitutional Amendments, that all of its citizens, all, were created equal. But the bigotry and discrimination, the racism, the inequality, all of which never left Society, crept back to the surface.  This ugliness became more visible.  Unfortunately, some people chose to pretend it wasn’t there, or a problem. As long as routines, dinner hours, Saturday afternoons weren’t disturbed, bigotry and racism weren’t something to lose sleep over.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, the men murdered this past week are my neighbors.

You are my neighbors.

Our desperate times demand that we who have ears to listen, heed the lesson Jesus of Nazareth offers to us in this morning’s Gospel.

Moments ago, you heard me proclaim the Gospel of Christ according to Luke.  Today we heard the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  It begins when a lawyer confronts Jesus, and in response to a query about which of the laws is the greatest, Jesus does what he does best – he turns it into a question and throws it back, usually on its head. Jesus asks, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” The lawyer recites the Shema, a prayer that restates the first Decalogue commandment in a positive form:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and will all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

He has answered well.

This would have been the time to say thank you and walk away, but the lawyer decides to display his righteousness and right way living by asking Jesus:

“And who is my neighbor?”

Did the lawyer think Jesus was going to give him the answer he wanted?

Not so fast, Counselor, you can’t trip up Jesus.

A time-honored way to ignore what God commands is to frame it as an academic or legal argument; this is what the lawyer was trying to do.

“And who is my neighbor?”

Perhaps he was really asking, “Who is worthy of my love?” or, “Who deserves my time, talent, and attention? Who gets my billable hours?”

Maybe the lawyer was hoping to hear that the Pharisees, the Saduccees, the rich, and powerful, those with whom he worked and lived, were his neighbors.  Certainly not the poor and common folk.

Jesus answers first with the parable of the Good Samaritan, a story of how the least likely of persons, a foreigner to Judea, acts as God would have him act. He sees to the needs of a man beaten and robbed on a dangerous road between Jerusalem and Jericho, by clothing him, tending his wounds and takes the man on his horse to an inn where he pays for lodging and care and sees that his instructions are carried out.

After telling this story of a good man’s actions, Jesus then asked the question, “Who was the neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

The lawyer -maybe after a few minutes of deliberation and head and beard scratching -answered, “the one who showed compassion.” Jesus replies, “go and do likewise.”

Wait a minute!  Is he saying what I think he’s saying?  The original question was, “And who is my neighbor?”

Go and do the same, says Christ.  There are no special conditions, no rubrics, no special clauses about your neighbor.  So that means everyone.


“Go and do likewise.”

This is a story about God’s unconditional and unwavering love.

God makes no distinction in who receives love.  There is no line for deserving people and another for undeserving.  We see this in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.  God climbs down from the throne on the marble dais or wherever we’ve put God and is made real, accessible, and human in Jesus.

And in us, when we go and do likewise.

The Gospel this morning addresses exactly what has been going on in America and the World for some time.

It is not too late to turn this country around, to turn the World around.

I have faith in our neighbors that this will be so.

My hope is that we, as Americans, as Christians, toss out the notion that the norm is to respond to violence with violence.  Why is it that the only way people take notice is when something horrible occurs?

Let’s change that, shall we?

To make a real impact will require speaking loudly, boldly, living out the Gospel, until that is the norm and not the exception.

Let us make certain that our voices will be heard in the voting booths in November. Let our voices be heard in the halls of the Capitol in Washington. We can tell the NRA that they will not hold us hostage any longer; we can tell people filled with hatred and contempt for others because those ‘others’ do not fit their image, that we, all of us, all are made in the image of God.

We the people are equal.

We shall proclaim that it is not acceptable, it is not the act of a child of God, to harass and harm immigrants, nor those that espouse other faiths.

When people are presumed guilty before innocent because of the color of their skin or their economic status, we will and must speak out against that.

There is no Eleventh Commandment, ‘Hate Thy Neighbor.’

My friends, I will continue hitting that ‘send’ button with messages to legislators and leaders, to engage in conversations with them, about what needs to be done to end this cycle of racial profiling, bigotry, inequality, and discrimination. I had hoped, after witnessing the civil unrest in the Sixties, that when I was in my sixties, we would be past all that, and we would be at peace with one another.  That we would be a model of life as lived in the Gospel.

Yes, I’m a dreamer – and dreams come true.

I will continue to meet with my brothers and sisters of other faith to work for equality and love, to seek, as so many do, peace in our neighborhoods. I seek equality that is real, tangible, not just a privilege for one percent of our population. I know you do as well.

Until black lives matter, it doesn’t matter if others’ lives matter or not. And until that time, my friends, we are only waiting outside the gates the Kingdom of Heaven, peering in between the grating and bars, and not standing within it with Christ and our neighbors.

I conclude with this familiar charge, for it speaks to our life now more than ever.  Let this be your morning prayer:

Go forth into the world in peace;
be of good courage;
hold fast to that which is good;
render to no one evil for evil;
strengthen the faint-hearted;
support the weak;
help the afflicted;
honor all persons;
love and serve our God,
rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.