The Joy of Easter and the Cost of Discipleship

Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN + Fifth Sunday of Easter + May 14, 2017

Readings: Acts 7:55-60; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14


What words or images come to mind when I say the word “Easter”?

I’m sure at least a few of you immediately thought, “Bunny!” — and that’s ok. But what else comes to mind? An empty tomb? A resurrected body? Joy and lilies and the promise of new life? Maybe that old song, “Victory in Jesus…”

I’ll hazard the guess that none of you quietly whispered, “Martyrdom,” or “Jesus’s last night on earth.” And yet, this morning, five weeks into the Easter season, in which we especially celebrate Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, these are the Bible readings we are given: the killing of the very first martyr, Stephen, and a brief sound bite from Jesus’s last words to his disciples before being arrested and executed. Weird, right? Yet for some reason, within the last few decades a bunch of bishops and pastors and scholars got together and decided that every three years our churches should read these stories during the Easter season. Why might that be?

Well, your guess is as good as mine: which is to say, you can probably reflect on what these readings have to teach us about living in the time after Jesus’s resurrection and come up with some pretty great thoughts of your own. But for me, the fact that these readings come during the Easter season kind of shocked me into thinking about what we expect from God because of Jesus’s resurrection. What do we expect the Christian life to be like? What does it mean for us that Jesus has won the victory over sin and death? Hows does the resurrection affect our lives?

It can be tempting to focus on the parts of the Easter message that we really want to hear: You are saved! Death is defeated! The victory is won! It can be tempting to think that those messages are the whole of Christianity, and then turn the gospel into something like, “Now we can take it easy, because Jesus did it all.” Or “God will give you so much happiness and success.” Preachers have been getting away with that stuff for a long time.

Today’s readings remind us that part of the meaning of Christ’s resurrection is that we are raised up to be the Body of Christ. Jesus ascended to the Father; we — the church — are here to represent him, to be his presence for one another and for the world, to continue his mission. The reading from 1 Peter tells us this with some metaphors about being living stones “built into a spiritual house.” In the gospel reading, Jesus says it a bit more straightforwardly: “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

And the story of Stephen’s martyrdom in particular reminds us of something that it is easy for us to forget in the comfortable times of our lives as American Christians: if we are the Body of Christ, then we are a crucified body. We are a body who has faced ridicule, persecution, and violence for speaking truth, for staying faithful to our God, for caring for those whom others would rather push away.

Jesus’s first disciples could not have forgotten that, even if they’d tried. Even prior to the crucifixion, they knew they were walking a dangerous path with Jesus. And then after the resurrection they faced trouble and persecution, and almost all of them died martyrs’ deaths. And yes, they preached about all that Jesus gave them: peace, healing, power, hope, a sense of mission, forgiveness, love, a more intimate knowledge of God. But they also did not shy away from the fact that being a follower of Jesus cost them dearly, too, in life and in death.

We don’t hear that preached on too often — at least not so starkly; we usually don’t bring that up when we talk about what being a Christian means to us; we hardly ever sing about it. Yet in the last ELCA hymnal — the green one — there was this beautiful, haunting song that captured that truth perfectly:

They cast their nets in Galilee

Just off the hills of brown

Such happy simple fisherfolk

Before the Lord came down

 

Contented peaceful fishermen

Before they ever knew

The peace of God That fill’d their hearts

Brimful and broke them too.

 

Young John who trimmed the flapping sail,

Homeless, in Patmos died.

Peter, who hauled the teeming net,

Head-down was crucified.

 

The peace of God, it is no peace,

But strife closed in the sod,

Yet let us pray for but one thing–

The marvelous peace of God.[1]

Being people of the resurrection means that God comes into our lives with peace and with purpose. It means that God messes up our lives by making us part of God’s plan and God’s work in the world — which sometimes means we will have to set aside our own comfortableness or our own desires; which calls us to give more and love more and sacrifice more; and yes, sometimes, this may get risky or painful or even dangerous.

Those first disciples — the ones who kept this whole “Jesus” thing going — knew this well. They were hurt. They were imprisoned. They were killed. And yet through it all they continued to call Jesus their savior. They continued to talk about “the peace of God which passes all understanding.” They waxed poetic about their personal experiences of the love and grace of God in their lives. Something about following Jesus made all their sacrifices worth it.

I’ll confess that even though I’ve thought about this weird phenomemon of the Easter joy and the Easter call to sacrifice  a lot (especially in these last few days, as I’ve tried to come up with a nice pretty bow to tie on to the end of this sermon for you), and even though I often feel a sense of joy in the moments where I have felt called to sacrifice as part of my discipleship…despite all of that, what it is about following Jesus that makes sacrifice worth it is hard to put words to. It’s something of a mystery, by which I mean — something I know to be true, but also unexplainable.

Another martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, tried to make sense of that tension between the experience of the gift of grace and the simultaneous experience of the cost of following Jesus in this way:

“Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘Ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”[2]

The closest I can come to explaining it, is that it must have something to do with love. I mean, it almost makes sense to us when a mother sacrifices for her children, because of her love for them.

Maybe, in a similar way, it is the love of God for us and our love for God that fills us with all those wonderful Easter blessings: love, joy, peace, meaning, life — and that same love that makes us part of the crucified Body of Christ, and makes us more willing to do what God asks of us, even when it is difficult. Maybe there is not a contradiction there, between the gifts of God and the call to sacrifice — maybe it is just part of the mystery of love…that same mystery of love that caused God to take on flesh and sacrifice for us.

Let us pray. Holy God, in the times where we feel mostly clearly your blessings and in the times when we feel most clearly the cost of following you, may we always know your love, your joy, and your peace. In the name of Jesus Christ, our way, our truth, and our life. Amen.


[1] William Alexander Percy, “They Cast Their Nets in Galillee” (1924), Lutheran Book of Worship, #449.

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship.

To See the Kingdom of God

Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN + Second Sunday in Lent + March 12, 2017

Scripture Reading: John 3:1-17


It was nighttime in ancient Jerusalem, in the days before streetlights or lit-up signs. Nicodemus the Pharisee made his way through the dark streets to find Jesus. This teacher from Galilee had been in the capital city for only a few days, but already he had caused enough trouble to make a bad name for himself: he had stormed the Holy Temple itself with a whip, driving out the animals being sold, grabbing sacks of coins from the moneylenders and pouring them out on the floor, flipping over tables while yelling things about “his father’s house.” Many of the people, many of the other Pharisees, and many of the powerful leaders in the Temple called Jesus dangerous, a troublemaker, a rioter. But Nicodemus couldn’t stop thinking about the signs and miracles this Jesus was doing; he had to speak with him. Still, with Jesus’s reputation, better to do it under the cover of night.

Jesus immediately turned their conversation to the kingdom of God: how to see it, how to be a part of it. “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above,” he said to Nicodemus. “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”

Those two statements bring up a lot of questions. Nicodemus focused on the physical questions: How can an adult be born again? That doesn’t make any biological sense. But for me the big questions are: What is the kingdom of God? Why is it so hard for us to see and to be a part of? What keeps us from seeing it and joining in? If we can understand the answers to those questions, maybe we can get a better idea of what Jesus means when he says we need to be reborn in a new way.

I had those questions in my head while I was watching one of my favorite science-fiction shows this week. The episode followed a soldier named Stripe on his first real mission. His team’s main job is to find and kill what they call “roaches,” and we hear about these creatures little by little. They steal food from towns; they commit other crimes; they spread disease; they carry mental and physical problems that are bad for the gene pool; they are the enemy. After all that build-up, we finally we see these roaches: Stripe is searching a suspicious house and pulls back a hanging sheet to discover a group of humanoid creatures with weird, pale skin, sharp teeth, discolored eyes. They shriek in alien sounds and leap out at him, and one of them keeps pointing something that looks like a high-tech pen (or maybe a sonic screwdriver or one of those Men-in-Black memory-wiping-sticks) in Stripe’s face. When he’s taken them all out, Stripe picks up the pen-thing, pushes a button, and an intense green light flashes. He blinks, drops it to the ground, and returns to his troop.

When Stripe goes out on his second mission a few days later, he experiences everything differently. And I mean everything. The colors of nature are brighter: the green of the trees, the blue of the sky. He picks up handfuls of grass and holds it up to his nose, breathing in deeply as he realizes he hasn’t smelled something like that in a long time. The other soldiers wonder if he’s going crazy.

Suddenly his team is under attack. Stripe and one other solider, Raiman, are the only ones left standing. They run for cover, then they head into a farmhouse to find their attackers — and Stripe is shocked when Raiman starts taking out bystanding civilians. Stripe knocks out Raiman and escapes with a woman and her child. When they reach a safe place, the woman, with a mix of fear and hope, asks Stripe, “You can see me as I really am? You don’t see a roach?”[1]

Slowly Stripe discovers that he and the other soldiers have all been implanted with devices that change the way they perceive the world. These devices are supposed to lessen the the trauma of combat: they can’t smell the awful smells of war; they literally see and hear enemies as monsters. The flash of green light from the pen had broken Stripe’s device, changing the way he perceived everything and everyone, turning upside-down the way he understood himself and his job and his world. To use the metaphors of today’s gospel reading, Stripe had been reborn.

 

eye_dilate

By Greyson Orlando, via Wikimedia Commons

Jesus said that we need to be “born from above” or (in other translations) “born again” or “born anew” in order to even be able to perceive the kingdom of God. The gospels talk about the kingdom of God in a few different ways: in some ways, it is already around us; but it is also still coming, getting closer, growing; and one day it will arrive in fullness. But, Jesus said in today’s reading, we can’t just naturally see that. We can’t see the kingdom as it already is around or as its time of fullness is drawing near without being born anew. Maybe that’s because we can’t automatically see the world as it really is, as God sees it. Like the device implanted in Stripe’s brain, there is something in us and around us that keeps us from seeing as God sees.

The writings in the Bible offer us some ideas about how God sees the world and about what God’s kingdom looks like and will look like. Over and over in the prophets, in the great Old Testament stories, in the song of Mary, and the words of Jesus, we hear that God cares for everyone, desires everyone to have enough, to thrive, to experience the blessings and love of God and others. That means that God and God’s messengers often speak up on behalf of those suffering or being oppressed, the overlooked and the avoided and the misunderstood.

The Bible also tells of a kingdom of God which will be made up of all nations. Rob Bell elaborates: “That’s everybody. That’s all those different skin colors, languages, dialects, and accents; all those kinds of food and music; all those customs, habits, patterns, clothing, traditions, and ways of celebrating — multiethnic, multisensory, multieverything.”[3] All those things we see as foreign and maybe uncomfortable…all of it looks familiar to the God who created all people and dwells with all people.

And then, trying to get an idea about the kingdom of God, we might think not only of the way God sees the world but also the way God works in the world. As Christians we believe that God works with a justice that understands all sides, a justice rooted in love and concern for all people. We believe in a God who chooses to be merciful without end, a God of radical grace. We believe in a God who forgives things we could never forgive and loves people even in the midst of their sin. We believe in a God who is bringing both justice and grace to fruition all around us.

And all of that sounds wonderful when we’re hearing it from our pews on Sunday morning. But when God’s kingdom takes to the streets, it can be hard for us to handle, hard for us to see as something coming from God. That’s why Nicodemus went to see Jesus at night: because so many people — especially the people with power or good social standing — couldn’t see the kingdom of God in what Jesus was doing. Wreaking havoc in the Holy Temple? Spending time with prostitutes, with scammers, with obvious sinners? Hanging around lepers and other sick people? Speaking publicly against the ways the government and the religious institution mistreated those in need? Sometimes the kingdom of God comes off as offensive.

So what prevents us humans from seeing the kingdom of God when it’s happening around us? Why do we sometimes just not notice it; why are we — like some of the Pharisees of Jesus times — offended instead of joyful? What keeps us from seeing the world as God sees it?

The Bible talks about sin, about having hard hearts. I think part of it is just that we humans are limited beings. The way we see and understand the world is bound by so many factors, some of them outside of our control; the time and place and culture where we grow up and where we live our lives (think of how often we say, “Of course that person thought that way; they were just a product of their times!”). Our perception is affected by the things other people have taught us, through word and example. Our perception is affected by what we have opportunity to learn and experience. Our perception is affected by our own needs and desires: whether they are for basic things like safety and security or our more selfish wants. So how could we possibly see like the God who is beyond all of our situations and knowledge and limitations?

And yet Jesus says we can, if we are born again, born anew, born from above. If we are born of water and the Spirit.

It was that “being born of water and the Spirit” that Martin Luther relied on so heavily in problems like this. He was the king of saying, “We can’t do anything good on our own” — maybe even to a sort of unhealthy extent. But I can imagine Luther reading this conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus and saying, “Well, of course I can’t see or enter the kingdom of God on my own!” But Luther believed that the Holy Spirit works within us to transform us into saints who can see and participate in the kingdom of God. Our rebirth — our baptism, the gift of the Holy Spirit — works in us daily to remove the things within us that keep us from God and the kingdom, and our rebirth works in us daily to grow our faith, our understanding, our goodness.

The Holy Spirit works in us as we read Scripture, helping us to see the world more like God sees it. The Holy Spirit works in us as we realize God’s love for us, and we share that love with other people. The Holy Spirit works in us as we meet others and try to see the image of God in them. The Holy Spirit moves us to grow in our own understanding, mercy, and love. I see all of these things in this congregation every day, and it helps me believe the Holy Spirit truly is working in us all, helping us to see God’s kingdom more clearly, helping us to enter that kingdom and be part of its work in our world.


[1] Charlie Brooker, “Men Against Fire,” Black Mirror, season 3, episode 5, directed by Jakob Verbruggen, (Netflix: October 21, 2016). Note: This show contains “adult situations,” and some episodes contain more potentially offensive content than others. Use discretion if you decide to check it out…and maybe skip season 1, episode 1.

[3] Rob Bell, Love Wins, (New York: HarperOne, 2011), p. 34.

Come and See

Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN + 2nd Sunday After Epiphany + January 15, 2017

Readings: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42


Being in my twenties means that at any given moment at least half of my friends are working on some kind of major life decision. We are all in the midst of graduating or going back to school, choosing careers and finding jobs, starting relationships and families, and maybe ending relationships or quitting jobs or moving across the country. I think I talk with at least three friends a week who are trying to make these huge decisions.

One night this past week a friend seemed to be going through everything at once: She was preparing for an interview for her dream job in her dream city — only was it still her dream job? It comes with a pay cut, compared the unexciting job she’d already settled for. And did she really want to move away from all the friends she’d made? And could she even do that job anyway? And oh, she wished she could talk to that old boyfriend about the whole situation, but that seemed like a really bad idea…

Making major life decisions seems to happen especially a lot during our young-adult years, as we are first trying to settle into our own adult lives. But as you all well know, those major transitions don’t just stop once you get your first job and a place to live and maybe a nice partner to marry and some children. Big decisions come again and again: because our desires change, or because the economy shifts under us, or because something happens in our family, or because of illness or injury, or because a new opportunity arises. All of a sudden we find ourselves looking at our lives and thinking, “OK, this is big. What’s the right decision here? What should I do?”

It makes me think of a famous quote: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”[1] It’s frustrating and inescapable: we want to know and understand now, to make wise decisions for our future…but we only become wise (especially about those specific life situations) by making choices, moving forward, and then looking back.

The same is true when it comes to our faith. We want to know all the answers: What are the right things to believe? What’s the right way to behave? What does God want me to do in my life? What does God want in our church? But — almost always — we aren’t given certainty to help us as we live our lives forward. We only find our way through the questions by prayer, by seeking the guidance of God’s Word through scripture and conversation, and then by moving forward in faith. Then we look back, and maybe we can see more clearly how God was at work. We ask our questions, and we most often hear in reply: “Come and see.”

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that when I was a teenager, I thought I had the answers to all of those big questions about God and life and truth. Especially when you know that I grew up in denominations that were very certain that they did have all the answers. And there was something very comforting and secure in that sense of certainty.

But then it broke.

In college I discovered that my church’s black-and-white teachings broke down under all the layers and complexities of real-life dilemmas. And I made Christian friends whose faith was different from what I’d been taught was the only way to believe in Jesus. And I did that dangerous thing of starting to take religion classes, where I learned that Christians have all sorts of beliefs about how salvation worked, and how to understand the Bible, and how God wanted us to behave…and they can back them up with the Bible and church tradition. With all that going on, I had to start thinking: maybe my church didn’t have THE answers after all. Maybe everything was way more complicated than I’d be told. And that thought was world-shattering for me. How could I know how to be faithful now that everything seemed less certain, less how I’d expected it to be?

I wonder if John the Baptist and Jesus’s disciples felt a similar sense of shock when the messiah actually showed up in their lives. A similar sense of “this is not as simple as I expected it would be.”

In today’s reading from the Gospel of John, John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and said, “That’s him! That’s the Lamb of God!”  Andrew and another man heard this and started following Jesus around. Jesus saw them out of the corner of his eye, turned around, and asked, “What are you looking for?”

What were they looking for? We can imagine that they all grew up on stories of the messiah: what he would be like, what he would do. Maybe they each had an image of the messiah that they carried around inside their heads. Someone that would come and save the day, like a superhero. Maybe some of them expected the messiah described in the book of Daniel: “I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven…to him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him” (Daniel 7:13-14). Maybe some were expecting to see Elijah, the prophet from the Hebrew scriptures, returning in a chariot of fire (Micah 4:5-6). When John declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” how did he picture Jesus doing that? I wonder if they expected someone sudden and shocking, or someone fierce and powerful, or someone that would change the world in an instant. Something big and obvious and certain.

Maybe they wanted answers to questions. Maybe they wanted a king who would make Israel the greatest of the nations. Maybe they wanted someone to cleanse the world of sin. What did they think when they saw a man just walking by, like any other man? No coming on the clouds of heaven, no prophets from thousands of years ago…just a man, living like they were living? A man they could doubt was the messiah, a man they would have to try and figure out?

The first question they ask of him is, “Where are you staying?” and the first answer they get from him is, “Come and see.”

That is probably the most realistic answer to all the questions we have for God — by which I mean, it’s the answer we get most often in our lives. God, what are you like? God, how should I live? God, what is the truth? God, where are you? We ask, and what we hear back is: “Come and see.”

The disciple’s life with Jesus was basically one big “come and see.” They followed him, trying to figure out what the messiah was doing: they watched him heal people; they heard his teachings; they saw the way he lived and heard his dreams for the kingdom of God, and gradually they understood more and more.

Even after Jesus had been crucified and raised from the dead, the church continued in the model of “come and see.” How do we deal with these Gentiles who want to become Christians? they wondered. And as the Jewish Christians went and saw Gentile believers, as they tested the waters of fellowship, they saw how God was working to form a new community. They gradually understood more and more.

When I ask God my questions, I feel the best and most frequent answer I get is “Come and see.” God, where are you? Come and see how the church is the Body of Christ: how the people visit one another in the hospital, how they bring food to those in need, how they challenge and support one another. “God, what do you want me to do?” Come along and see: Keep walking forward, then look over your shoulder and see how I’ve been guiding you.

 When others come to us with their questions about life and faith, maybe “come and see” is the best answer we can give, too. Come and see what inspires me. Come and see the good that my congregation does in our community. Come and see how we wrestle with scripture. Come and see how we live with both doubt and faith. Come and see, and maybe you will see God.

We often long for clear answers to our big questions: how to make decisions, how to know the truth. But God offers us something much sturdier and more long-lasting than a quick answer: God offers us experience and relationship. “Come and see” is an invitation to experience God’s presence in our lives, to see God in the new questions that come up as we grow, to see God in new ways as our understanding of the world changes. It is an invitation to relationship with a God who is just as complex as our world and our questions. It is a reminder that God is with us on our journey, even when it’s not what we thought it would be. Even when it gets confusing and frustrating and painful. Come and see.


[1]As far as I can tell, this is sort of a simplified version of Soren Kierkegaard: “Philosophy is perfectly right in saying that life must be understood backward. But then one forgets the other clause—that it must be lived forward. The more one thinks through this clause, the more one concludes that life in temporality never becomes properly understandable, simply because never at any time does one get perfect repose to take a stance—backward.” (From Journals and Papers, quoted on the blog The Bully Pulpit, https://jrbenjamin.com/tag/soren-kierkegaard/)

Making God Come Alive

Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN + Feast of Christ the King + November 20, 2016

Readings: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43


Have you ever heard of the madman who on a bright morning lit a lantern and ran to the market-place calling out over and over: “Where is God? Where is God”?

There were many people standing around who did not believe in God, and they thought this madman was ridiculous. “Why, is God lost?” one person asked. “Has God wandered away like a child?” said another. “Or is God hiding? Is God afraid of us? Has God gone off in a boat? Did God emigrate to another country?” All the people were calling out jokes and laughing.

The insane man jumped into their midst and transfixed them with his eyes. “Where is God gone?” he called out. “I’ll tell you! We have killed him, you and I! We are all his murderers. But how have we done it? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the whole horizon? What did we do when we loosened this earth from its sun? Where’s it going now? Where are we going?…Backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions? Is there still an above and below? …Do we not hear the noise of the grave-diggers who are burying God? …God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How shall we console ourselves, the most murderous of all murderers?”

…Here the madman was silent and looked again at the crowd; they were silent, too, and looked at him in surprise. At last he threw his lantern on the ground; the light went out, and the glass broke into pieces. “I came too early,” he said. “The event is still on its way, it’s coming…and yet they have done it!”1

That story is one of the most famous passages written by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. How most philosophers understand that passage — as far as I can tell, which is honestly not very far at all; my apologies in advance to anyone who, like, actually took Intro. Philosophy at some point and knows more about this than I do — is that Nietzsche was writing metaphorically about how people were coming to think about God and religion differently in the 17- and 1800s; God was, in a sense, losing the absolute place in human thinking. Or something.

But anyway, I live a strange life, and I happened to read that story for the first time this week, as I was preparing to preach on another story that talks about the death of God: today’s gospel reading. Luke’s story describes how humans killed God incarnate: executing him publicly, with torture and shame, between two criminals. With the madman’s words still echoing in the back of my mind, the craziness and absurdity of Christ’s crucifixion caught me once again: How did we kill God? “How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the whole horizon?”

So this week I’ve been reflecting on these two stories about the death of God and how they relate to this day on the church calendar: the Feast of Christ the King. At first it seems really out-of-place to be focusing on the death of Christ on the day where we celebrate Christ’s leadership in our lives. But here’s one way to make sense of it: Luke’s story reminds us of what kind of King Jesus is: the king who was an enemy of the powerful; the king who sacrificed himself, who lived and died among the outcast; the king who, in his final acts, forgave his enemies and welcomed the sinner. He was not the king the world is used to, the king that makes everything he has power over bend to his will, and he is still not. Today he still works in the world in humble ways — like through us.

The story I’m adding to the mix — the story of the madman — points to the essential role that we play in making that King real for the people around us. Whereas Luke’s story tells us that humans killed God incarnate thousands of years ago, Nietzsche’s story tells us how humans may continue to kill God, in a more spiritual sense. I’m definitely not representing Nietzsche’s viewpoints here (the man did not like Christianity very much at all), but I’m playing around with a general idea I got from reading his story: How can we — how do we — humans kill God? And, on the positive side, how do we make God come alive?

I believe very strongly that we who state publicly that we are Christians make God come alive for the world around us — or we make God seem dead for the world around us. This is not to say that God might not be doing God’s own thing, apart from us, working in people’s lives and throughout creation. But I do want to acknowledge that we Christians are our God’s representatives in a very powerful way. St. Paul frequently called the church “the Body of Christ,” recognizing that we, together, are the presence of Christ in our world. The teachings we receive from other Christians influence how we see and understand God. The way Christians act publicly proves or disproves our God for many people. What we say, and the way we live, and the way those two things match up — that is some of the best evidence people have of God. Because as we each know from our own struggles to figure out God — God is not easily seen or understood.

So today when we say “Christ is the King,” we are not stating the obvious; we are making an argument. When we look out at the world — it’s history and what’s going on today — it does not seem like the loving God that we preach is in charge. Hunger and disease haunt so many people; violence and war still plague our planet; racism and sexism pervade entire cultures; greed and fear constantly come out on top. When we read our history or look at today’s headlines, we must understand why people ask the question: “How can you believe your God is in charge?” and “What kind of God is that?”

So when we say “Christ is the King,” we are issuing a call to ourselves: Christ is our King, and we must live in a way that shows it. In the words of our baptismal promises: we must “renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God.”2 We have to struggle against the ways of this world in order to make God known, to make God alive for others. And this is not easy.

The world so often finds its wisdom in things like fear and self-protection and greed. But Christ’s wisdom focuses on hope, sacrifice, and compassion.

The world says: “Hate your enemies; stop them with violence if you need to; take revenge.” But we hear Christ say: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44) The prophets painted visions of days of peace (cf. Isaiah 11).

The world says: “Build up your borders high and strong. Push away those who are different. Protect yourselves and your people first.” But God gave laws commanding that God’s people treat native and immigrant the same (cf. Roger E. Olson’s “Biblical Injunctions Regarding Aliens in our Midst”). Jesus reminded us to love our neighbor, and then he reminded us that our neighbor includes the people from the “wrong” side of town, the “wrong” religion, the “wrong” country (Luke 10:25-37). The Holy Spirit opened the church beyond the nation of Israel to the world at large (cf. Acts 10 & 11).

When we confess Christ the King, we are being called to fight against the ways of this world. We are being called to hold ourselves to the way of Christ, to keep lifting up the world-changing values we find in Christ, in scripture, and in our tradition, and to ask every day, in every situation, both political and personal: how can we better live the Christlike life?

It’s not easy to figure out how to live our lives in the way of Christ. But here is what I do
know:

Under the wisdom of this world many people live their lives as those who are feared, those who are mistrusted, those who are pushed away. They are graffitied, and they are scarred. They lose hope of ever feeling safe and accepted.

Under the wisdom of this world many people are treated as worthless, as tools, as expendable. They are overlooked, and they are used. They lose hope that anyone else even cares about their suffering.

These people are not far away. “They” are really part of us. Sometimes, we may be one of them. So hear the good news:

Christians, we are the representatives of a king who spent his earthly life offering hope and acceptance to exactly those kinds of people: the people the world finds useless or deplorable. We are the representatives of a king who spent his earthly life speaking up on their behalf to the people with power. We are the representatives of a King who spent his final breaths asking for forgiveness for his enemies and then offering acceptance and hope to a dying criminal.

Even in all our own pain and brokenness, we are gathered up into this story; we are given the good news for our own hope and healing, and then we are made part of the life of Christ in our own time and place.

We have something to offer. We have a response to the fear and the hopelessness in our world. We have work to do.

When we hear voices speak as if fear or greed were wisdom, we need to speak up loudly with the wild wisdom of Christ’s love. When we hear the voices of those who suffer, we need to listen, and then to respond in compassion and hope.

We are called to live with Christ as our King, to make God come alive for the world around us. Let’s get to work with boldness.


1. Very closely paraphrased from Friedrich Nietzsche, The Joyful Wisdom (also called The Gay
Science), § 125.]

2. Evangelical Lutheran Worship, 235.

Degrees of Separation

Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN + 16th Sunday after Pentecost + September 4, 2016

Readings: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33


How many of you have heard of a game called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? In the game a player is given a Hollywood name — an actor, a director, whatever — and the player has to connect that person to Kevin Bacon in six moves or less. So, for instance: someone might say, “David Bowie!” and someone with a lot more movie trivia knowledge than I have would say, “David Bowie was in Labyrinth with Jennifer Connelly. Jennifer Connelly was in A Beautiful Mind with Ed Harris. Ed Harris was in Apollo 13 with Kevin Bacon.”

The game became so popular that Kevin Bacon even began to play into it. Some of you may remember a commercial from a few years back: Kevin Bacon wants to write a check to buy a book, and the cashier asks to see his ID. Bacon doesn’t have it on him, so he leaves for a moment and returns with a string of people. He says to the cashier: “Okay, I was in a movie with an extra, Eunice, whose hairdresser, Wayne, attended Sunday school with Father O’Neill, who plays racquetball with Dr. Sanjay, who recently removed the appendix of Kim, who dumped you sophomore year. So you see, we’re practically brothers.”

The game is based on the theory of “six degrees of separation.” In that theory each of us — not just Kevin Bacon — can be connected to anyone else in the world in six steps or less. As far as I know this theory hasn’t been proved to be totally reliable, but I’m sure each of us has had experiences that make it seem believable. Bernie Anderson and I went to the same college, and so did Wayne Higbe’s dad (Go Pipers!). Kaye Bradley’s niece was my boss during my time at Luther Seminary. I was once in the same room as the 14th Dalai Lama (hearing him give a lecture), and Richard Gere has met the Dalai Lama, which I think counts as a three-degree connection between me and the entire casts of Pretty Woman, Chicago, and An Officer and a Gentleman.

Connection matters. We feel differently about people because of our connection to them. We feel different levels of obligation to people based on how connected we are to them. We treat friends differently than we treat strangers, and strangers differently than we treat friends of friends, and friends of friends differently than we treat friends of influential people.

The difference that connection makes in our obligation to another person shows itself in all sorts of ways: How much time should we spend making small talk with them? How much of ourselves should we share with them? To what extent do we need to take care of them or help them?

The difference connection makes shows itself most obviously in our family relationships. We expect parents to make sacrifices for their children that we wouldn’t expect them to make for anyone else. We expect partners in marriage to support one another in ways different from even really close friendships. When friends do become especially important to us, we call them family. If someone is willing to give one of her kidneys to her brother, we’d probably think she is amazingly generous and saintly, but if she gives a kidney to a complete stranger, we might wonder if she’s crazy. There’s something deep inside of us that recognizes family relationships as special, more demanding, and more essential.

Maybe that’s why Jesus’s words in today’s gospel reading are so very disturbing: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” Jesus cut down our most primary connections. The people we are not only socially expected to put first, but the people we are naturally inclined to put first — Jesus says they are not primary in a life of discipleship. Jesus tells his disciples that if they are going to be part of his mission, they must change the way they understand connection at its most fundamental level.

If we just glance at this passage, taken apart from the rest of the gospel, it sounds like Jesus is saying the only connection that matters is between the individual disciple and Jesus. It sounds like he is saying, “The only thing you should care about is me and your relationship with me. Hate everyone else, even your own family, even your own life.”

But that interpretation doesn’t fit with Jesus’s other teachings on connecting with others. After all, this is the same man who reminded us that the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself,” is a close second to the commandment to love God, and the two may even be inseparable (Matt. 22:35-40). This is the same man who said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:43-44).

The idea that we are to love only Jesus and hate everyone else doesn’t fit with the way Jesus lived and related to people, either. Jesus built strong relationships with his twelve closest disciples. Jesus talked with and healed people he met along the road or at the local well or who interrupted him while he was teaching. Sometimes even when Jesus was trying to get away from people, maybe to find some time to be alone with God, crowds followed him, and he took the time to speak with them, heal them, and feed them (Matt. 14:13-21). Connecting with people was clearly very important to Jesus.

So with all that in mind, I don’t think that today’s gospel reading is asking us to be more individualistic or more hateful. I think it is part of Jesus’s consistent attempt to turn our understanding of our relationships and connections on its head. We are generally taught — and maybe naturally inclined — to love our families first, other people we know second, strangers not really at all, and to hate our enemies. But Jesus ripped that to shreds: If you are my disciple, your family is not your only important connection anymore. You need to care about strangers. You need to love your enemies. That is a radically different way of being in the world than what is normal, and it demands a lot more of us. That’s why Jesus made sure that those who followed him knew what discipleship demanded — he tried to make sure they were counting the cost.

I wonder if we might reason all that out for ourselves with the “six degrees of separation” theory. If as Christians our number one connection is to God, and if God loves everyone, created everyone in God’s image, then in a way we are connected to everyone by only two degrees. And if we are so closely connected, that must change our feelings about how we ought to be relating to one another and treating one another — even strangers, even enemies.

Paul’s letter to Philemon is an example of how a person’s connection to God can change his relationship to others. We don’t know any details about the situation between Paul, Philemon, and this guy Onesimus. What we do know is that Onesimus had been working for Philemon in some capacity, and then he spent time with Paul while was Paul was in prison, and then Paul wrote this letter of recommendation for Onesimus to Philemon.

We can’t be certain about the details of the relationship between Onesimus and Philemon. Maybe Onesimus was Philemon’s slave (that’s overwhelmingly the most common interpretation); maybe he was just of a lower status in the household. Maybe Onesimus ran away, or stole something, or is indebted to Philemon. Maybe Onesimus became a Christian while he was away with Paul. There are a lot of maybes. But what we can assume pretty safely is that Philemon, for whatever reason, did not treat Onesimus as a close connection.

Paul wrote to Philemon asking him to relate to Onesimus differently, to treat him differently, to love him differently. The reasons Paul gave were all based on connection: Onesimus had become like Paul’s own child, like Paul’s own heart. “So,” Paul wrote, “if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.” Perhaps even more importantly, Paul wrote that Onesimus had become a “beloved brother” to both of them in the Lord. The fact that all three of these men were disciples of Jesus formed a connection between them that overrode social status, a connection that automatically built new family ties, a connection that demanded new hospitality, love, and care.

As disciples of Jesus in the 21st century, here in Franklin (and Nashville and Spring Hill and Thompson’s Station) how can live out that radical connectedness that Jesus demands of us? Whom can we reach out to with a new degree of hospitality? Whom can we make more welcome? Whose needs can we help meet? Whom do we need to treat more like a fellow child of God? During the election season, how will we comment and debate? What opportunities do we have show the world how God sees it: as a totally connected family of beloved children of God?


Some Sources of Inspiration:

Eric Barreto. “Philemon 1:1-21 Commentary.” Working Preacher. September 4, 2016. Available online.

Larissa MacFarquhar. Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help. (New York: Penguin Press, 2015).

Kevin Bacon.

Ready for God

Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN + 12th Sunday After Pentecost + August 7, 2016

Readings: Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40


Almost every movie about teenagers at some point includes the line, “His parents are  out of town this weekend, and he’s having a huge party!” And then inevitably the party gets out of hand, the house gets trashed, and suddenly the parents pull up in the driveway, home a day early, and everyone is rushing to escape or clean up or hide all evidence of the party. (I expect some of you have more experience with these things in real life than others: as a parent or as a teenager.)

That stereotype has been popping up in my entertainment more than usual this week: in one tv show, the kids’ mad-scientist grandpa froze time so they could clean up the party mess before their parents got to the front door. (They left time frozen for six months, so they could take their time).1 In a book I read, the parents returned from vacation to find their house trashed and zombie-teenagers still slumped at their kitchen table.2

Anyway, those stories got into my head enough that as I was trying to interpret Jesus’s parable about the wedding banquet — a parable about slaves and masters and situations that don’t directly relate to our experiences — my imagination started re-writing it as a parable about one of those legendary teenage parties:

Be like those who are waiting for their parents to return from their weekend trip, so that they may open the door for them as soon as they knock. Blessed are those children whom the parents find alert when they come; truly I tell you, the parents will put on their aprons and serve their children snacks. If they come during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and find their children so, blessed are those children. […] You must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

I may not be so off-the-beaten-path in this interpretation, since a few verses later Jesus talked about one of the slaves taking advantage of his master’s absence to eat and get drunk and beat up the other slaves (Luke 12:42-48).

But, of course, there is one major difference between teenagers being ready for their parents to come home and us being ready for God. Being prepared for parents to return — or the boss to come back — requires some common sense, some responsibility, and maybe some impulse control. But what does it take for us to be ready for God? First and foremost: it takes a whole lot of faith and a whole lot of hope.

When I still lived at home, I saw my parents come and go all the time: sometimes for 20 minutes, sometimes for a couple of days. Plans might change and accidents can always happen, but I basically knew my parents would return. When I worked at Panera, I knew that if my boss said she was going on a ten-minute break, she’d be back in nine. It didn’t take faith or hope to make me prepare for her return (and to keep me from eating all the chicken salad on the sandwich line) — it was just…obvious that I should expect her.

But expecting God to show up is not obvious. Even those of us who have had very strong experiences of God speaking to us or guiding us or taking action in our own lives can probably also explain those moments away: maybe it was just a coincidence; maybe I was just taught to see God in moments like that. God tends to be invisible and intangible and — most frustrating of all — unpredictable. God is much easier to doubt — and therefore much harder to trust with anything as precious to us as our present and our future.

Consider today’s Old Testament reading: the story of God promising Abraham, an old man with no biological children, that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. Imagine yourself as Abraham. Imagine having no idea how the story turns out. Imagine that the one thing you want most in the world — something that you had long ago given up hope every happening, something you were powerless to control, something that seems impossible —imagine that thing had been promised to come to you. Even if you had the direct connection to God that Abraham had: how difficult would it be to really trust all that depth of emotion and longing to something that sounds so impossible?

Abraham trusted enough in God’s power and faithfulness that Abraham made himself vulnerable to hope and expect and plan for this promised future. And maybe it would be worth the risk of being disappointed and brokenhearted to put that kind of faith and hope in God’s promise — even for those of us who don’t hear from God so directly as Abraham — just to have hope and joyful expectation for our futures. Isn’t living that way more pleasant than living in despair, anyway — even if in the end we don’t get what we want?

But as Jesus reminds us in today’s reading, being ready for God and God’s promises demands more of us than that kind of feel-good faith and hope. In fact faith and hope themselves demand that we not only feel differently, but also see and live differently. As Jesus said: we are to be “dressed for action and have [our] lanterns lit.” Through our faith God asks us to shift our priorities and take action and make sacrifices. God asked Abraham to leave his land and his family to travel to a new land — when Abraham was 75 (Gen. 12:1-6)! Faith and hope in God are serious commitments that change not only our outlook, but also the way we live our lives every day. We are called to live with confidence that God’s promises will come to be. We are called to be ready for God.

So what does that look like? What did Jesus ask of his disciples? We could make a long list of examples, but in today’s gospel reading we hear: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return.”

This is a very different set of priorities than that which comes easily to most of us. American culture encourages us to be more like the rich man from the story Jesus told just a few verses before today’s reading, the story we read in worship last week: the rich man grows crops and accumulates and accumulates stuff and builds bigger barns to store it in, all so that he can feel safe and secure and rest easy (Luke 12:13-21). Sound like a familiar message? It even sounds reasonable.

But Jesus says that all the rich man’s work is meaningless; it comes to nothing when he dies. Instead of being rich toward himself, Jesus said, the man should have been “rich toward God.” He should have had a different set of priorities. He should not have placed his hope and faith in material wealth, but in God: and then his life would have been different, more meaningful.

In today’s gospel Jesus told his disciples to redefine what it meant to be doing well in life: what matters is not how big our barns are or how much we have stored up or even by how much safety and security we can build up. What matters is trusting that God will fulfill God’s promises to love and care for all people and living out of that trust. Not to accumulate for our own security, but to help meet the needs of others. To treasure God’s mission above treasure. When our heavenly parent pulls up in the driveway, we should be found living as if the promised kingdom of God were already here among us, prepared for God’s grace and mercy and justice to come in full. Faith and hope call us to live in God’s promises even now; to change our lives and take risks for those promises even now.

Today’s parable reminds us to be ready and waiting: to live prepared for God’s promises to arrive. We should be on the lookout for signs of God already present, already at work around us and among us. See the world through faith and hope. See where God is already bringing promises to life, and be ready to jump in and share those promises with the world.

Caspar David Friedrich

Woman Before the Rising Sun (Woman Before the Setting Sun). Caspar David Friedrich, 1774-1840. From Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.


1. [Rick and Morty. “A Rickle in Time.” Season 2, episode 1. Directed by Wes Archer. Written by Matt Roller. Adult Swim (Cartoon Network). Aired July 26, 2015. (Not recommended for children or most people.)]

2. [Charles Burns. Black Hole. (New York: Pantheon Books, 2005). (Also not recommended for children or most people.)]

Who is on the Side of the Road?

Written for Saint Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN + 8th Sunday after Pentecost + July 10, 2016

Readings: Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37 (Focus: Luke 10:25-37)


This week the parable of the Good Samaritan is too real. This week there are too many people bleeding on the side of the road, and there are too many people passing by.

“Here we are. Again.” That’s how Bishop Elizabeth Eaton began a video she released this week.“Here we are. Again. Just days apart, two African-American men were shot by police.”

Just hours after the ELCA released that video on Thursday night, news of even more violence flooded our phones, TVs, and radios: in Dallas five police officers were killed and seven wounded, two civilians were injured, and their attacker is dead.

My Facebook newsfeed has been full of reactions. Reactions of friends who are black and tired of feeling hopeless and unsafe and unheard. Reactions of friends who are white and wondering what they can do. Reactions of friends who know and love police officers and are worried for their safety.

Worst of all: these words are too familiar. They echo words from reactions to the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014 and the violent aftermath. They echo reactions from the killing of Emmett Till in 1955. They echo reactions to lynchings throughout our nation’s history.

Bishop Eaton’s message continued: “This is an all-too-frequent occurrence in our country, and I think it’s because we can’t see. We can’t see each other as fully children of God, and we tend to look at each other through the lens of suspicion and fear: communities of color wondering what an encounter with the police will bring; police and others in law enforcement automatically suspicious, it seems, of communities of color. We can’t see. And we need — we need to open our eyes.”

So maybe it’s a God-wink (as Pastor Metee would say) or a God-smack (as Marge Fottrell would say) that today’s gospel reading is the parable of the Good Samaritan. Most of the time when we hear this parable, we immediately think of acts of charity: bringing cans of soup and jars of peanut butter to a food pantry or stopping to help a stranger in need; we might think of organizations that have been named for this parable, like Samaritan’s Purse or the Good Samaritan Orphanage. And, yes, this parable does encourage us to charity and mercy. But I think its main point is to make us open our eyes and see each other differently. To see the people on the side of the road differently, for sure, but also to see ourselves differently.

Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan in response to a particular question. A lawyer had approached him and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” — but that’s not the question that prompted the story. At that point Jesus basically responded: “You’re an educated man. What’s written in the Bible about this?” Sure enough, the man quotes Deuteronomy 6.5: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength,” and then Leviticus 19.18: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus said, “Right answer! Good job.”

But the lawyer wasn’t satisfied yet. The Gospel says that, “wanting to justify himself,” he asked Jesus a follow-up question: “And who is my neighbor?” Who exactly am I obligated by God to love as myself?

Loving someone as we love ourselves is hard. It’s hard even with the people we really do love of our own accord, like our spouse or our children. And it can be even harder to love someone as we love ourselves when we have no love-feelings or family duty to them: strangers at the grocery store, or somebody who works in the same building but never really interacts with us. And then there’s the question of people we really actively dislike: people who mess up our plans, or who oppose us in debate…or war. There are people from other cultures and religions, people who are so different from us that we can hardly think of them as “us.” Surely the word “neighbor” implies more of a connection than all that. Surely there is a smaller circle of people God asks us to love as we love ourselves.

So the lawyer asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” — “a polite way of asking ‘Who’s not my neighbor?'”[1]— and Jesus responded with the story of the Good Samaritan.

But notice that at the end of the story Jesus didn’t ask, “Now do you see just who is your neighbor?” Even though that was the question the lawyer had asked, Jesus asked a different question to get to the moral of his story: “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”

It almost reads like Jesus ignored the man’s question. Couldn’t he have said something clear, like, “Everyone is your neighbor, you schmuck,” instead of telling this story and asking a backwards question?

But if Jesus had done that, the lawyer may have walked away unchanged. The lawyer asked his question from one perspective, but Jesus didn’t answer from that perspective. Jesus’s question made the lawyer see himself and the world differently.

The lawyer asked a question that sounded like he was trying to better understand God’s commands, but he was still just thinking of himself and what was good for him. He was still seeing the people around him as an extension of himself. Who is my neighbor? Who am I required to love? Who can I get away with not caring about? Who’s in my circle, and who is out? That’s not love. That’s still just self-preservation.

Jesus’s story and question made this man see things differently. The obligation was not other people’s to fall into the circle of “neighbor” or to be lovable. The obligation was the lawyer’s: you be the neighbor. You go into the world and show mercy. This is not about defining them; it’s about defining you. If you are walking in God’s way, you will be the neighbor, you will be merciful. You will see all people through eyes of mercy.

In the aftermath of politically divisive tragedies like this week’s — the murder of African-American men, the murder of police officers, violence done to innocent bystanders — we too often fall back into the lawyer’s original way of seeing the world: self-preservation mode. We hole up. We refuse to consider different opinions or to give credibility to experiences different than our own. We want to keep the pain and the danger as far away from ourselves as possible, and so we ask, “But who is my neighbor?” and try to delineate who it is, exactly, that we are obligated to love as we love ourselves: whose point of view we are obligated to understand, whom we are obligated to show mercy. Surely not everyone.

And then we deny our own fundamental belief that all lives matter when we refuse to try and understand the cry “black lives matter,” to understand that that cry comes from the side of the road and out of the experience of watching so many people pass by while suffering goes on and on and on. If the phrase “Black lives matter” bothers you, try hearing it as a question, a plea from the side of the road: don’t black lives matter, too?

Maybe all that rhetoric makes better sense on a local, personal level. The Franklin homepage published a story this week about a local African-American attorney. After this week’s tragedies, he posted on his Facebook page: “We can figure out how to act later, but I just wanted to know – do y’all care? Do you know that I identify with these men, and do you see that?”

As Christians, we are called to see. To hear the cries from the side of the road. To be the neighbor, to show mercy — generously. Abundantly. We are called to change perspectives: to leave behind the perspective of the Levite and the priest who pass by — their perspective of self-preservation that asks, “If I stop to help, what will happen to me?” and to take on the perspective of the Good Samaritan — the perspective of mercy that asks, “If I don’t stop to help, what will happen to him?” [2]

In the political sphere and in the media, people may argue: Who is right? Who is wrong? Who deserved what? Who is justified?

But for Christians, the question ought to be much simpler than that: Who is on the side of the road? How can we help? How can we show mercy?


Notes:

[1]  Amy-Jill Levine, “Go and Do Likewise,” America, September 29, 2014. Online: http://americamagazine.org/issue/go-and-do-likewise

[2] The questions of the Levite/Priest and the Samaritan are taken from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” delivered April 3, 1968, Mason Temple (Church of God in Christ Headquarters), Memphis, TN. Full text of speech available at http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkivebeentothemountaintop.htm [Quoted in Levine, “Go and Do Likewise.”]