Wild Goose July 2016 – Final Worship – Cláudio Carvalhaes
SERMON: What story? Whose story?
10:25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
10:26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”
10:27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
10:28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
10:29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
10:30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.
10:31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
10:32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
10:33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.
10:34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
10:35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’
10:36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
10:37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
This is the word of God to the people of God!
May the peace of Christ be with you!
Thank you for being here today! Thanks to the conference leaders for inviting me, I am very grateful! So glad to be here with you all! I can only imagine how filled you must be after these days at this place. This mountaintop experience can do wonders to us as we go back to our daily lives and our mix of troubles and mundane events, like a story that keeps building its argument with the argument itself being the daily climax of our lives. But I bring not so good news from down below where we live. Our cities are burning. We are at the point of being stretched too much and to thin. As we worship this morning, I hope we can think, and pray and celebrate Jesus meal in order to get prepared to go back and be agents of God’s love and transformation. But before we go there, let us pause a bit about this text for today.
The gospel story we just read is about an obvious question that needs to be highlighted because some truths hide in plain sight. Throughout the gospel there are two people who ask Jesus the same question which shows its importance. A lawyer and a rich man come to Jesus with the same question: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
On both accounts we don’t see any change. Jesus turns both questions back to them to look into their own lives. For the rich man, the secret of eternal life was to give away everything he had to follow Jesus. For the lawyer, the secret of eternal life was to move away or let go of his tightly held rules to show mercy. The rich man leaves his conversation with Jesus very frustrated for he was too rich! and as for the lawyer, we simply don’t know what happened to him.
On both stories, Jesus challenged their perspectives entirely! Jesus didn’t try to be nice. Jesus didn’t say “believe how you want.” Instead, Jesus the need for conversion. More, Jesus proposed a metanoia of beliefs, ways of being and relating. Jesus takes one question and expands its focus into a larger circularity of connections, relations, affections and social possibilities.
The question lingers for us today: “what is eternal life? And how do we get it?” How can we write a story about eternal life today? In Jesus ministry, Eternal life has to do with the past, present and future: right here, right now! For the lawyer to understand what eternal life meant, he had to be like the Samaritan and reshape his present entirely. Only by changing his present he could understand past and future: eternal life.
Eternal life for Jesus is about what we do with people we encounter! Eternal life, like the gospel, creates the conditions of the possibilities for new thinking, new sharing and living that is not yet known to us. Right now! Eternally!
Since eternal life is a shared experience, the individual is always-in-relation to and never a private, self-contained property. This connectivity questions the ways our social structures allows us to feel and experience somebody else. Thus, in any encounter between Jesus and somebody else you cannot tell where the heart of a person is without knowing their social location.
You cannot tell a person’s background story without naming the social limits of this person’s life. And you cannot talk about the social limits of someone’s life if you don’t talk about the economic reality where that someone is found. And you cannot talk about the economic reality of anyone if you don’t perceive what is at stake for them. In all of that, an expanded movement of rhizomes, fostering ways to create new forms of life and living together, new plots of collective life, new channels of connection and possible transformations. Eternal life in the future is only possible if life matters here, right now!
That is why to read the gospel, to read Jesus’ eternal stories makes us ask: Which story? Whose story? What is eternal about it?
This is what is happening in this text.
This text-parable is a fantastic, well-crafted eternal story. God’s eternal purposes are held in the story of one wounded man and three others who passed by the road where this man is wounded and is left to die. No dogmatic theology here! Life in its fullness here. Do you want to know what eternal life is about in this story? Simply put: care for somebody else! Feel for somebody else! Get involved in somebody else’s story! Turn your own story into somebody else’s story! That’s how you get eternal life. With God! So when somebody asks you to tell your story of salvation you can say: I am here because God loved me through somebody else and that is how I got eternal life!
Eternal life through freedom! Yes this text-parable points to freedom.
Because freedom in Jesus’ ministry does NOT carry a petty sense of free personal choice, or the historical theological account of personal free will. The Samaritan didn’t act because he had free individual will to do that! Instead, freedom in Jesus’ ministry is about gaining the ability to recognize that which imposes itself on us as necessary.
Again, freedom is the ability to recognize that which imposes itself on us as necessary. Every question Jesus poses has to do with a larger project of a kin-dom of freedom, freedom that demands from us that we become aware of what we must do with the life we have received from God and the lives near us.
Jesus’ sense of freedom is about living our lives into the contradictions, complexities, paradoxes, ambivalences within us, ambiguities of power, powerlessness and potential meaninglessness of our existence, with a very critical mind that makes sensible and ethical choices in relation to somebody else to figure out every day why we must continue to live. And to love.
To be free is to be bound to somebody else.
For us today in our modern world, Jesus’ ministry is about doing away with the individual as a unique center force in society. In this country we understand the individual in a capitalistic way, the individual as a property, which means we treat ourselves as commodities! This view of the individual as a property not only sets us free from the demands of caring for somebody else but worse; it turns us into profit, a commodity to be used or thrown away; and it frames our living as a competitive race against others. A race in which I must survive and thrive while others get out of my way!
Thus, everything is about the protection of our selves, our individuality and our private belongings. My story, my space, my condition, my situation, my skills, my ability, my gospel, my faith, my church, my job, my family, my needs, my house, my likes, my dislikes, my views, my food, my health insurance, my ministry, my beliefs, my country, my well being and all because this is the way we roll and so on.
So either this gospel serves my individual life, soothes my capitalistic soul, confirms my private properties and avows my individual choices, I have nothing to do with it.
But see, the problem is that the gospel says exactly the opposite! The gospel strengthens the SELF, the self as the one who connects and lives for somebody else. In our story we have a stark contrast between the individual and the self. The individual “me me me” in this story is about the priest and the Levite. The Self is about the Samaritan. The individual and the self are in conflict everywhere in the gospel and in this story too.
The individual possesses things, the self is self-possessed.
The individual looks to be served, the self looks to serve.
The individual imposes demands on others, the self sees what are the demands imposed by the collective living.
The individual is a prisoner of his insecurity and narcissism which makes him a prey of the market. The Self is renewed by the desire of her heart and desires God and the fulfillment of one who is in need.
The individual hoards Jesus. The self gives Jesus away.
The individual is always at the tail gate of history and need others to write his-story. The self is the subject and author of her own story.
The individual wants eternal life in his own terms. The self seeks eternal life in negotiated terms, but for all!
The Samaritan offers a new way of seeing one self. A self as a subject and not as a private individual. A sense of self that is established not by any kind of self-serving perspective but rather, it is established by serving somebody else’s life.
This is what Jesus does! Jesus shifts the focus of the person from the individual to the subject. The individual needs to conquer things, and needs the recognition of others for his own success. As for the subject, she does not need to conquer anything but she finds her value in herself and in the fact that God lives in her. Her recognition and ultimate value come from God and not from others.
Thus the main question of this parable that lies underneath the life eternal is: who is free in this story? Who are the individuals and who are the selves?
Clearly the Priest and the Levite are individuals that need to protect what gives them meaning. These two men are in charge of the proper care for the temple, carrying out daily prayers, preserving the purity of the sacrifices, and following all the rules that define their ministries. These two men are shackled to their beliefs, their rites and their rules. They could not attend this half dead man because he had blood in his body and caring for him would put their religious rules at risk. It is the sanctity of their religion and their sense of righteousness that drive their desires and their ethical choices.
That only free person in Jesus parable was the Samaritan which by the way was considered the enemy to Jesus’ listeners. The Samaritan which is the socially defined enemy, recognized a demand or a need imposed on him and acted as a free self responding to God’s love, and not as an individual who is more concerned about preserving religious rules than about God’s life.
While the two religious people went by the side of the wounded man, the Samaritan instead looked at him and said: my goodness this man is part of me! I cannot let him stay here. And he poured out himself into this man. He touched a stranger, dealt with his wounds and used his own provisions of oil and wine to care for him. What he had he gave.
He then searched for a safe place for this wounded man to rest and heal and paid the innkeeper for all his expenses and even offered to pay for more.
What moves him is a desire for mercy. His desire was the potency to use his freedom to do what was necessary.
If we look at our society, we are taught daily to pass by the afflicted and the main issues that are wounding us.
We pass by the poor and say: it is not about me! We pass by the dominance of men over women and we say: It is not about me! We pass by sexism and hetero-normativity and say: It is not about me! We pass by abuse of immigrants and say: It is not about me! We pass by uneven salaries among ourselves and say: It is not about me! We pass by militarism and say: It is not about me! We pass by the ecological disasters and over-exploitation of nature and say: It is not about me! We pass by the utter destruction of indigenous people and we say: it is not about me!
We pass by Philando Castile, we pass by Alton Sterling; we pass by Trayvon Martin; We pass by Sandra Bland; We pass by Sean Bell; We pass by Eric Garner; We pass by Rakia Boyd; We pass by Mike Brown; We pass by Tamir Rice; We pass by Freddie Gray… And there is no conviction to their murderers. WE pass by all of those wounded on the ground of our country and we say: it is not about me!
The death of the police cops in Dallas is so sad. It is a consequence of frustration, exhaustion and feeling unprotected.
That is not to condone the killing of these precious police officers. We must pray with and for them. But let us not forget that the killing of the Black people has a long historical systemic social, cultural, economic and religious structure that keeps a steady process of segregation and exclusion. This structure goes from counting black kids dropping off from middle school in order to build a proper number of cells in jails, to financial systems of exclusion, from segregation in cities and abandonment of poor neighborhoods to government policies and austerity budge cuts that provides for the rich; from the pervasion of our imaginary with fears of black people to the protection of white wealth by private sectors. Everything screams, “black lives are disposable!”
Racism has structural and linguistic powerful tools. One of these tools is to say that “all lives matter.” Well, yes indeed! But right now black lives matter much more! Along with the immigrants and the indigenous people! So why do we say black lives matter and not all lives matter. Because of this: Imagine we say “the Rain forest matters.” And then somebody shouts “no! all forests matter.” And we reply yes all forests matter BUT RIGHT NOW the rain forest matters more.
The rain forest is burning!
The rain forest is having all of its threes shopped off!
The rain forest is being put in shackles and imprisoned!
The rain forest has been taken by land grabbers and private companies!
The rain forest is losing its diversity!
The rain forest has been decimated!
The rain forest is hurting way too deep!
The rain forest is in fact disappearing!
Thus, Black Lives DOES matter now! Like we say: God’s love is for all humankind. But as liberation theologies reminds us: God’s preferential love is clearly for the poor.
We are all afraid in this country. We are all angry. But we have to listen to the anger of black people! As James Baldwin says: “to be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” We have never paid attention to the stories and the anger of the indigenous people, black people, immigrant people. No wonder this country is a time-bomb, ready to explode at any moment.
But what is the way out?
Perhaps the way out is to implicate our own stories into the wounds of this country, into the wounds of those who are hurting and to breath their stories in our stories, together, so we can say: we can all breathe! We must create a fabric of stories woven into many folds of existence, each one as a part of each other. To implicate our stories with one another is to listen and share, but it is more, it is to have an equal sense of value. Unless the very sense of the Imago Dei abides in every story of every black kid, we will continue to pass by those in need.
In 1964 Ella Baker said: “Until the killing of black men, black mother’s sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens. “
Going back to the beginning: if freedom is to recognize that which imposes itself on us as necessary, what is necessary now is to listen to the black people, it is to get to know the history of rampant racism and segregation of blacks, indigenous, immigrant and queer people in this country. That is our freedom now, to recognize these people as fundamental to our own selves, to our churches, to our cities, to our country.
Do you see the circularity of emotions in the Samaritan story? personal and social affections, all of them interconnected. The Samaritan circulates new forms of feelings. He breaks the signal of death exposed by the “robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.”
This story shifts the personal story into a larger scheme of problems: there is a black person wounded on the floor and she in my way. What should I do? What this has to do with eternal life? What does the gospel tells me about my freedom right here right now in the face of this national suffering?
As we ponder about eternal life…
If we start to see our faith as a collective event, made of shared stories and not as individual voluntarism.
If we start to see that our freedom is not to authenticate our individual choices but rather, to recognize that we have a demand to care for the hurting ones.
If we start to see that our eternal life is not a set of me me me values but collective ones like universal health insurance, workers rights, women’s rights, immigrant rights, economic rights!
If we start to understand that the demands of this gospel is to care for others and especially for the black people, we can see that potentially, this gospel can change an entire society, and that is why we go about telling God’s stories!
If we start to see the illusion of the individual, or the notion of the private self trapped as a capitalistic commodity… and see that our selves have a fate in the selves of black, immigrant, indigenous and queer people.
Then, next time I sing “This is my story, this is my song,” I will remember that my story is also about somebody else’s story, my song is also somebody else’s song! That black precious kid is as much as mine as my own kids!
So let us thank God for all we have received here at this place: the challenges to see the world differently. God in Jesus gave us a totally new story plot that will keep unfolding, and the Holy Spirit is God’s ink that lives within us as we continue to write our stories… with the stories of black people, indigenous people, immigrant people.
Let us remember that a story that is not crossed by somebody else’s story is like a pond that has no irrigation and connection to other streams of water and therefore, will eventually dry out and become a desert. Let us remember that we are rivers that begin in the river found in the city of God where all the stories can be found! Every story comes already wet by the waters of our baptism and the waters of other rivers God is sending our way so we may swim in them.
Go to the world with a pen and a notebook in your pocket, or just your cell phone. Take with you a glass of water and some bread. And go about writing wet stories of desire, life, miracles, justice and wonders in our daily lives. Take your sources to places that need visibility, love and costly grace. Do not cross to the other side of the road! Stick to it, like the Samaritan did.
Now, let us turn back to the obvious question of our story: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
In order to respond that, let us do an exercise: Let us get together in groups of 5 people and create a story about “How will you now live this gift of eternal life?” You have 5 minutes.