I am writing a sermon.
This week’s lectionary scripture (for Sunday July 10, 2016) is from Luke… The story of the Good Samaritan.
It does not go unnoticed: I remember with vivid recall the last time I preached this verse. The Lectionary is on a three year cycle, so the last time I was preparing a sermon with this text was for Sunday July 14, 2013. I am reminded of this because on the evening of July 13th, I let a tight 3-point sermon drop to the floor, papers scattering, when I hear the news come in: the verdict of the Zimmerman trial, “not guilty.” In the wake of that news, I had to put my well-laid sermon aside to address the timeliness of a text about being neighbors. This is what we preachers do.
I was reviewing that 2013 sermon today, reminded that I spoke about the body laying on the side of the road, the one we cannot pass by. In that sermon, I spoke about “them” as a four letter word (as in “he’s one of them”), the dirtiest word in our Christian vocabulary. I was advocating for us to eradicate that word if we want to act as the Samaritan does, if we want to know who our neighbors really are. I was reading through just this part when the hashtag started to come through my feed… #altonsterling #blacklivesmatter #icantbreathe.
There is no coincidence here.
When I say I believe in the Bible as the living Word, scriptures that speaks a prophetic witness to our everyday lives, this is what I am talking about.
As pastors all over the country start to prepare their lectionary meditations for this week, the scriptures are screaming at us again: “… There is a body lying on the roadside… Who will be his neighbor?” This is not a poetic question snuggled into comforting parable; this is the inerrant word of God begging us to not continue to walk on by. And that word is so loud and so clear to me that I am no longer writing.
Because writing a sermon entitled “Afflicting Mercy” seems so inadequate. Instead, I am hugging my child with the fierciest grip I can muster, and I am reading the words … “ you cannot be yourself, beautiful son, beautiful daughter, I cannot protect you” … And the truth of that sucker punches me in the throat so hard it is true, I really cannot breathe. Even with all the white privilege I carry, I cannot protect my son from the skin he lives in every day. That beautiful black skin and the brilliance that goes with it is somehow a threat to the entire world.
And as I hold him I wonder who it will be that passes by, when it is his body in the street. (Yes, I say when. “If” is a luxury I cannot afford. I learned thst from all the Black women who bear so much more pain than I.)
Because that’s what we do – we, the privileged, refined, cul-de-sac Christians – we walk right passed. We want to know our neighbors, but don’t ask us to help. We are too important to stop, or too scared. So we pass on by, on the other side of the street. We are not the Samaritan in this story; not even the man who was robbed. We are the priest, we are the Levite. We are the lawyer, justifying why mercy really doesn’t extend to everyone. (after all, he had a record, right?)
But the message is loud and clear.
There are bodies lying in the streets.
And I am writing a sermon about it.