Sermon: “Who Is My Neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-37) [7/20/2022]

“Just then, a lawyer stands up to test him.  ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’”  As he is wont to do, Jesus answers the question with another question:  ‘What is written in the law?’”  The lawyer says, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus says, “You’ve given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

That should be the end of it, right?  The man asks a question, Jesus shows him he already knows the answer, and tells him to act on what he knows.  “Do this, and you will live.”  But the lawyer, “wanting to justify himself”….perhaps because, though he knew the law, he wasn’t acting on it?…the lawyer asks:  “Who is my neighbor?”

This time Jesus responds with a story, a story about a Samaritan who helps a person assaulted and robbed on the road to Jericho.  When he sees the man, a priest walks right by and doesn’t help.  A Levite does the same thing.  It’s the Samaritan who helps the man.

A word about Samaritans.  Samaritans lived north of Jerusalem.  Jewish people who’d stayed in that area intermarried with the locals who weren’t Jewish.  Their intermarrying also had led to the Samaritans having different worship practices.  For these reasons, at that time in history, Samaritans were treated as second class citizens by the Jewish people who lived in and around Jerusalem.  This story often is called the story of the Good Samaritan.  The assumption in calling this Samaritan “good,” is that Samaritans, in general, weren’t good.

After telling the story, Jesus asks the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

We could spend all day speculating as to why the priest and the Levite–people who knew the law backwards and forwards–didn’t “go and do likewise.”  But here’s what I want to know.  Why did the Samaritan help?  Why did he take so much of his time and pay money out of his own pocket to see that the man was cared for?

It’s not complicated, is it?  The Samaritan saw that man on the road as a human being, as his neighbor.  In his mind, he didn’t have a thick line drawn between us and them.  For him, there was only “us.”  And when one of us is in distress, it’s our job–it’s our privilege–to help our fellow human being.  Here’s a song–based on actual events–that illustrates what I’m talking about.  (Song:  Guinevere and the Fire)

[Verse 1]

My grandmother was born in nineteen hundred

On a farm in New South Wales

She wed a dairyman

Who liked to raise a pint of ale

The first child came when she was twenty

Five more babes in seven years

That first daughter was my mother

They called her Guinevere

[Verse 2]

Little Gwen would play beneath the willow

“Yes the Queen would love some tea”

Helped with chores that never ended

Tried to mind, tried to please

Sometimes she heard the music

Wild and strange in the summer night

“They’re dirty people” warned her mother

“Never go near their campfire light”


“Stay away from the camp of the blackfellas

Little white girls have disappeared

They drink and dance when the moon is red

Better never let ’em see your golden hair”

[Verse 3]

Came the winter of ’27

So cold the milk froze in the pail

Her mum hung the nappies by the hearth

Her dad in town for a round of ale

A spark leapt from the fire that night

Wrapped her mother in a gown of flame

Flailing dancing in a frenzy

Falling down in voiceless pain

[Verse 4]

Stillness and the stench of burning

Then so soft ’twas like a ghost

“Fetch the Cunninghams” she whispered

“Bring me aid or I am lost”

The Cunningham house was not two miles away

And they the nearest whites

Past the camp of the Aboriginals

Past the demons of the night


“Stay away from the camp of the blackfellas

Little white girls have disappeared

They drink and dance when the moon is red

Better never let ’em see your golden hair”

[Verse 5]

“I will run to save my mother

I must go now, I must fly”

Still she heard her mother’s tales

Of the Devil’s drums and the evil eye

Her mother’s breathing ever fainter

Gwen frozen in her fright

Seven hours ’til dawn she waited

For the safety of the light


Now she runs till her feet are bleeding

To the house upon the hill

Now comes the doctor’s wagon speeding

To her mother cold and still

[Verse 6]

They laid her down in the Nowra graveyard

From the Bible read a verse

Children sent to aunts and uncles

Some to Melbourne, some to Perth

Gwen packed her canvas satchel

Could not hold the salt tears back

Turned to leave her home forever

Faced a woman gnarled and black

[Verse 7]

“Child our hearts are heavy

Grieving for your loss

We live so close by you

Why did you not come to us?

We have salves to heal the burning

We have herbs to stop the pain

We could have helped had we but known

To make your mother whole again”


“Stay away from the camp of the blackfellas

Little white girls have disappeared

They drink and dance when the moon is red

Better never let ’em see your golden hair”

That Aboriginal woman got it, didn’t she?  She knew that there is only us.  I know I’m preaching to the choir here.  Of course, the story of the Samaritan is about treating every human being as if they are a beautiful creation of the divine, which they absolutely are.  That’s nothing here I need to convince you about.

The challenge of this story isn’t to convince us of anything.  The challenge of this story is to LIVE what we know, to “go and do likewise.”  That’s not always easy.

Tomorrow, I’ll be leaving to participate in two continuing ed retreats.  The first one will be at Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman, Alabama.  That’s one Allen and I will do together.  The second one is at Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, Indiana.  

The theme of the second retreat is “Building Inclusive Communities.”  It will be led by a woman from my Women Touched by Grace cohort, Yolande, her sister, Deidre, who just finished her Women Touched by Grace program, and another speaker.  All three women are Black.

Here’s how the retreat came about.  Last year, Yolande, Deirdre, and 20 more of us attended a retreat at the monastery.  In one of the sessions, it became clear that the women who were Black and the women who were white were having very different experiences of what was being discussed.  The conversation became, not so much heated, as intense.

In the midst of the conversation, I related a story from the first session of our Women Touched by Grace cohort in 2008.  Toward the end of that first retreat, Yolande–who was one of two Black women in our group of 20–said, “When I first arrived, I asked myself, ‘What am I doing here with all these white women?’”  

I had been having a wonderful time.  Spending ten days with 19 other clergywomen being doted on by some really fun nuns?  It was heaven.  Yolande’s words brought me up short.  I hadn’t realized how different our experiences of the retreat were.  I was having a grand time, mostly, because I felt safe.  Surrounded by so many white people–and so few people who looked like her–Yolande didn’t feel the sense of safety that I did.

As I told this story in our session last summer, I identified that as the moment I realized I was white, that people with Black skin have a different experience in our country than I do.

When I finished the story, Yolande said, surprise on her face, “Kim, I never knew you felt that way.”  When I see her week after next, I plan to ask her what she meant when she said that.  I took it to mean that she hadn’t known I was supportive of her as a Black woman.  We had known each other for 13 years.  How could she not know I was supportive?  Yolande, her sister, and one other Black clergywoman will be leading this retreat.  That’s a lot of why I want to go.  I still have a lot to learn from Yolande.  I’m going to this retreat to listen and learn.

It’s easy for us progressive, liberal Christians to think we’re as inclusive as we could possibly be.  “We say we welcome everyone…and we mean it!”  And I know that’s our intention.  But welcoming others isn’t just a decision we make.  The lawyer, the priest, and the Levite all would have said, “Look!  It’s right here in the Torah– ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  It’s right there, plain as day!”

Welcoming others isn’t a toggle switch–we don’t welcome everyone, now we do welcome everyone, end of story.  Welcoming others is a journey, a journey built on relationship, rooted in empathy and concern for our fellow human beings.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.  UCT was among the earliest UCC congregations to vote to become Open and Affirming.  In September, we’ll celebrate the 31st anniversary of our signing our ONA covenant.  That was in 1991.  

In light of all the laws being considered and passed by state legislatures that limit the care trans children are able to receive, the UCC is inviting all ONA churches–especially those whose covenant was written a long time ago, like ours–to revise their ONA covenants to include people who are trans and non-binary.

Our first thought was simply to add “trans” and “non-binary” to the covenant.  We soon realized that we probably need to spend some time reflecting on what it means truly to welcome people who are trans or nonbinary.  Yes, yes, of course, we welcome folks who are trans and nonbinary…but what does that welcome look like?  What does it mean truly to welcome someone who is trans?  How will people who are trans know they are welcome here at UCT?  It breaks my heart that Yolande didn’t know for 13 years that I am supportive of her and see her struggle trying to negotiate life as a woman who is Black.  My welcome of Yolande stayed in my head.  But it wasn’t doing much to change the world just hanging out in my head, right?

Extending an actual welcome to people means getting to know them, right?  How can we welcome people when we don’t know what will make them feel welcome?

When asked what one thing people can do to make a difference in the world, author Paul Born tells them, “That’s simple.  Bring chicken soup to your neighbor.”  “Really? [That’s it?]” is the typical response.  Born says yes, then adds:  “‘The answer is simple.  But the act of bringing soup?  That takes work.’

“How so?  It requires that you know your neighbor.  It requires that you know whether they are vegetarian and whether they like soup.  It requires that you know them well enough and communicate regularly enough to know they are sick.  Once you know they are sick, you must feel compelled to want to help and to make this a priority among the many calls on your time and energy.  Your neighbor must know you well enough to feel comfortable in receiving your help.  And you must have enough of a relationship to know what they prefer when they are sick, whether it is chicken soup, pho, chana masala, or even ice cream.  So, you see, the work takes place long before you perform the act of bringing soup.” (Deepening Community, Paul Born)

A church I served in Georgia formed a relationship with a Mosque.  Our communities worked together to serve participants in a temporary housing program called Family Promise.  On the Sunday the Ahmadiyya community came to our worship service, I told this story about bringing soup to a neighbor in the sermon.  During prayer time after the sermon, my friend, Mahmooda, said with a smile on her face:  “I like soup!”

We know what is written in the law:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  If we do this, we will live.  If we do this, others will live, too.  If we do this, we will help to heal the world.  And so, let us go and do likewise.

In the name of our God, who creates us, sustains us, redeems us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©2022

About reallifepastor

I'm a pastor who's working out her faith...just like everyone else.
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