All My Children
(Luke 10: 27-37)
I grew up in a small town several miles west of Syracuse, New York. Our family was pretty much plain vanilla except for the Ukrainian side which added a certain ethnic flavor. My grandmother and her family came over sometime just before the Russian revolution and were a part of the mass of immigrants from Eastern Europe. Their main goal was to settle down, raise families and assimilate into the American culture and be just like everyone else. I loved Syracuse because not only did it have Ukrainians, it had Germans, Poles, Italians, Irish and many other ethnic and racial groups. It seemed like every month we were celebrating some sort of ethnic group’s heritage out at the state fair grounds where I would go and enjoy the food, beverages and music. Of course, in the old country some of these groups didn’t mix well. Then I moved to Houston and got a job as a police officer and was introduced to the Hispanic culture. It wasn’t just Mexicans. It was Cubans, Guatemalans, and folks from other parts of South America. We also had the influx of Vietnamese who had been hurriedly evacuated from South Vietnam. We also had a large African American population. I enjoyed patrolling these different areas because, just like in Syracuse, they all settled into neighborhoods where people just like them lived. Eventually, we moved up to the Pacific Northwest so we could stalk our grandchildren. I love going to Peder and Eva’s school in Edmonds. It’s like the United Nations. I was told there are at least 22 different languages spoken there. What I love about it is watching the kids all playing with each other because they haven’t learned that they are different yet. We were asking Peder about one of his friends one day and he wasn’t sure who we were talking about, so we said, you know, the Asian one. His response was, what’s Asian? All God’s children, created in the image of God.
It wasn’t always that way which is one of the reasons Jesus had to come to earth to help straighten this mess out. The Old Testament is a pretty violent read. Somebody is always getting invaded, killed or carried off by someone else. Country invaded country and tribe warred against tribe. Some centuries-old grudge was always being avenged. Some king, as kings are prone to do, wants more territory, more slaves, or more stuff so off to war they go, and the average guy or gal pays the price.
In 722 BC the king of Assyria invaded Israel. After conquering Samaria, he deported the Israelites to Assyria bringing in people from Cuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim to live amongst the poorest Jews who had been left behind. Eventually, you ended up with a mixed race of people known as Samaritans. Now, for no good reason, the pure-bred Jews hated these half-breeds who were inhabiting their land and the Samaritans, in return, hated the Jews with equal passion. Tensions and dislike was so palpable that Jewish travelers going from Galilee in the north to Judea in the south or vice versa, would refuse to travel the direct route through Samaria and would take the longer scenic route.
Jesus’ disciples were Jewish so there is little doubt that they all harbored some degree of animosity towards the Samaritans. After all, that’s how they were brought up. Those Samaritans were different. They ate different food, talked funny, dressed weird, were half-breeds, and didn’t worship God like they did. It’s just best not to associate with them. Knowing this, Jesus uses Samaritans on more than one occasion to make a point. We’re familiar with the story of the woman at the well where Jesus and his disciples were traveling from Judea to Galilee. They must have been in a hurry because they went through Samaria rather than going the long way around. When the disciples went into town to find food they left Jesus at a well where he struck up a conversation with a Samaritan woman who he asked for a drink of water. She was taken aback and responded, “you are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” When the disciples returned they were shocked to see him talking to this woman. Jesus ended up using it as an opportunity to break the barrier. He taught them that the gospel is for every person, no matter what his or her race, social position, or past sins may be.
In Acts 1: 8, Jesus commanded them to go out into Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth to preach the gospel. Even to places you don’t want to go where people you don’t like or even hate live. He specifically mentioned Samaria, and in Acts 8, that is exactly where Philip went where he preached the gospel resulting in great joy in the city.
In our scripture for today, Jesus again uses a Samaritan to make his point. A man going from Jerusalem to Jericho was robbed by some thieves who beat and stripped him, leaving him for dead, by the side of the road. He was ignored by a priest and a Levite only to be assisted by a passing Samaritan who took pity on him. We are led to believe that the injured man was Jewish and that he was ignored by a priest and a Levite, his own people. It was a Samaritan who saw him as a human being and went to his aid, no questions asked. The point Jesus was trying to make is that our neighbor is anyone of any race, creed, or social background who is in need.
John Wesley was especially concerned that we care for those we might not initially think of as neighbors, those beyond our immediate neighborhood, people of different faiths or ethnic backgrounds. Wesley said, let us renounce that bigotry and party-zeal which would contract our hearts into an insensibility for all the human race, but a small number whose sentiments and practices are so much our own, that our love to them is but self-love reflected. With an honest openness of mind, let us always remember the kindred between man and man; and cultivate that happy instinct whereby, in the original constitution of our nature, God has strongly bound us to each other.
Paragraph 162 of our Book of Discipline, The Social Community says, the rights and privileges a society bestows upon or withholds from those who comprise it indicate the relative esteem in which that society holds particular persons and groups of persons. We affirm all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God. We therefore work toward societies in which each person’s value is recognized, maintained, and strengthened. We support the basic rights of all persons to equal access to housing, education, communication, employment, medical care, legal redress for grievances, and physical protection. We deplore acts of hate or violence against groups or persons based on race, color, national origin, ethnicity, age, gender identity, or religious affiliation. Our respect for the inherent dignity of all persons leads us to call for the recognition, protection, and implementation of the principles of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights so that communities and individuals may claim and enjoy their universal, indivisible, and inalienable rights.
As Wesleyans, we believe God has bound together all people, no matter how different, by creating each of us in God’s image. As Christians and followers of Jesus Christ, we must be prepared to share the gospel of Jesus Christ at any time and in any place to all of God’s children. Jesus crossed all barriers to share the gospel, and we who follow him, must do no less.
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and merciful God, open our hearts and minds so that we may see others as you see them, as your blessed children created in your image. Remove from us the fear of the other, the fear of the person we do not know or understand. Help us to see the similarities we share with others rather than the differences. Move us to see that all persons are equally valuable in the sight of God. Engage us to work toward societies in which each person’s value is recognized, maintained, and strengthened. May we be a church that actively supports the basic rights of all persons to equal access to housing, education, communication, employment, medical care, legal redress for grievances, and physical protection. May we be a church that deplores acts of hate or violence against groups or persons based on race, color, national origin, ethnicity, age, gender, disability, status, economic condition, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious affiliation. In the name of your precious Son, who loves us all as brothers and sisters, we pray, amen.