A Couple of Eggs

July 14, 2013
Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Luke 10:25-37

I want to start this morning by thanking you for the opportunity to come before you both as a member of this community and as a pastoral candidate with hopes of serving in a more focused and intentional way in the coming years.  It is truly the grace of God that has brought each of us in our journeys together to join in the collective story that has become and will continue to grow as Hyattsville Mennonite Church.  One of the things I love about Hyattsville Mennonite is that it is a community that chooses to step into the joys and struggles of seeking what it means to love God with heart, soul, strength and mind.  This practice of loving the Lord God with all one’s heart, soul, strength, and mind is repeatedly offered throughout the stories of God’s people as the foundation of aligning themselves with God and each other.  It is heard in their trials, tribulations, and celebrations during their time wandering in the wilderness and beyond.  It was affirmed again by Jesus as the greatest commandment when tested by scholars of the law in his own time.  And in our time it remains central to the call of living out a life of faith.


To choose to live a life of faith is to choose to live in active relationship with God and each other.  Relationships are dynamic, requiring energy, and attention and they come in all shapes and sizes.  One example of the diversity of relationship within a community was offered to me after I graduated from high school when I spent the summer working for the Virginia Department of Transportation as a flagger – that is the technical name for those folks who stand with stop signs at either end of a construction zone and manage the traffic flow.  I was assigned to a state road crew that was based just outside of Harrisonburg Va., the town in which I was born and raised.  I had grown up within the Mennonite community of Harrisonburg, and while I had exposure to parts of the broader Harrisonburg community during my public schooling in elementary and middle school, I had spent four years at Eastern Mennonite High school and had apparently been well sheltered from the “secular” world right around me.  When I walked into the VDOT maintenance shop my first day on the job, I felt like I had stepped into a whole new world.  The 10 crew men and one other woman flagger with whom I would spend the next three months were characters unlike any I had met before and yet they too had lived in the same geographic area as me for the previous 18 years.


That summer I learned things from those folks that my own subset group of Mennonites would probably not have thought to explicitly teach me, but they were things that were a part of their communities’ understandings of the ways of life.  I spent the first several weeks of employment there in a form of culture shock and I can’t say that I was very good at blatantly sharing my communities’ beliefs with them but was more likely seen as an awkward silent teenager.  However, as the summer passed by, we continued to relate to each other through work and conversations over lunch and water breaks and little by little I was welcomed into the fold of their community because my own communities’ teachings had encouraged me to treat each person as valuable and take the time to listen and learn from them and they respected me for that.  When we parted ways at the end of the summer for me to head back into the Mennonite fold at Eastern Mennonite University, it was with an open heart of new awareness of my neighbors and an assured pep talk that if the college thing didn’t work out I would always have a place with them.


New awareness of neighbors is what the scripture in Luke is all about today.  The passage starts with a lawyer (or scribe) standing up to test Jesus on his knowledge and interpretation of the law – asking of Jesus – “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus turns the question back to him, making use of the lawyer’s context as an educated person of the law, Jesus simply asks – “what is written in the law?  What do you read there?”  And in the response we find that core statement of faith again “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 here is also added to the command…”And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  This addendum of loving neighbor is not a new attachment to the hopes and expectations of God for humanity.  This commandment was set forth in Leviticus 19:18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the children of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.  What makes this commandment new in this moment is the ensuing parable, which breaks open the definition of neighbor and alters the underlying assumption of who is in community.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is offered by Jesus in response to the lawyer pushing his test of Jesus one step further – Jesus has just agreed that the key to life is Loving the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and loving your neighbor as yourself – so the lawyer digs deeper asking “And who is my neighbor?”  The answer he gets is a story.  A story that speaks of a poor unfortunate soul left beaten and broken by the side of the road and in need of some neighborly care.  Jesus is speaking here to a Jewish audience and very clearly demonstrates that the one who stops and offers that neighborly care is not a member of the Jewish community at all, but a Samaritan, a member of a community at odds with the Jewish community and a person with whom the broken man himself may not have chosen to interact with if he were well.


It is the outsider, the other, that Jesus names neighbor with this story.  No longer is this command to love your neighbor as yourself only aimed towards the children of your own people as the Leviticus command reads, it is a redefining of neighbor to include everyone.  Wow – community and relationship just got a lot more complex.  No longer is it acceptable to take care of those only within your circles, you are now also responsible for those in other circles.  No longer is it acceptable to say we are different and so we will keep away, we are now expected to engage in relationship and caretaking regardless of our differences.  No longer should we expect only our own to care for us, we must now also be open to being cared for by others.


To care and be cared for is at the core of being a neighbor.  Caretaking takes many shapes, some of them seemingly mundane and simple and others powerful and grand.  When Becky and I lived in Minnesota we lived across the hall from a young girl and her grandmother.  They had a precarious relationship, made evident to us through our overhearing some very challenging moments of yelling and other heart-warming moment of raucous laughter.  One day the young girl came to our door and asked if she could borrow a couple of eggs.  I was delighted – this is the supreme act of neighborliness is it not – borrowing/loaning eggs?!  I invited her in to our living room as I went to the kitchen and got some eggs out of the fridge to give her.  As she was turning and walking to the door with her newly acquired eggs I asked her, out of friendly curiosity, so what are you making?  Oh, I just wanted to make some eggs she said as she closed the door behind her.  I stood in shock for a moment at what felt like the absurdity of it – she came to borrow eggs because she was in the mood to eat eggs?  This seemed to me odd – like you might be in the mood for meatloaf and you go and knock on your neighbor’s door and ask them if they happen to have meatloaf on hand.  For some reason the thought of loaning a neighbor partial ingredients for a meal was more expected than the thought of giving my neighbor a whole meal.  In that moment I learned that it wasn’t about what was being asked of me, it was that there was a need that I was able to help meet and I stepped up and met it.


This is what the Samaritan does in the story.  The Samaritan steps in and meets the needs of the beaten man on the side of the road.  Stepping in isn’t always easy and may not be what you expect.  Sometimes it is as simple as loaning a couple of eggs and at other times much more is asked of those who have the courage to step into a situation of need.  Stepping in may mean taking on accountability and obligation that one would otherwise be free of.  Sometimes the potential of the unknown outcome and obligation can create apprehension and fear that may cause folks to go out of their way to pass by on the other side of the road, even if their intentions and desires are rooted in a good way.  So how do we learn to overcome our fears and act out in courage to step in and be a neighbor when there is a need?


The passage in Deuteronomy 30 helps guide us on this quest.  This is part of one of Moses’ last pep talks to the people of Israel before handing the reigns of leadership over to Joshua.  This is a message given to a group of people who have wandered in the wilderness for years and are on the verge of entering into the Promised Land.  These are a people who know what it is to live out the full spectrum of human relationship with God, from times of easily drawing near to God, to times of distraction, to times of turning away from God.  What this passage reminds us is that God is ready and waiting to help us live in the fullness of life when we choose to Love God with all of our heart, soul and strength.


Verses 9-10 state: For the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, just as the Lord delighted in prospering your ancestors, when you obey the voice of the Lord your God by observing the Lord’s commandments and decrees that are written in this book of Law because you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. When one seeks to love God with heart, soul, strength and mind, God is delighted and, like a courageous neighbor, steps into our lives.  Fear eases, choices become clear, and taking action becomes a natural outpouring of that love to both God and neighbor.


In the Luke story, the Samaritan was moved with pity to step in and help the one in need.  The task involved physical care of the injured man’s wounds, inconvenience in having to walk to the next inn because the sick man was riding his animal, time spent caring and resting with him at the inn and then monetary responsibility when the time came that he needed to be off and the wounded man was not fully recovered.  This is love of God in action.  One person taking care of another, stepping into a situation of need, taking a stand and doing what needs to be done to bring about healing and hope for the oppressed.


Hyattsville Mennonite Church, as a community has, and takes, opportunities to step in as neighbors in a multitude of ways.  We share the outpouring of God’s love by serving others in the local community through Community Café, Warm Nights, Jubilee Association, and the International Guest house.  We stand in prayer with communities all around our country where there are expressions of violence and injustice.  In particular this week we will hold the families and communities of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman in our prayers as the outcome and impact of the trial verdict continues to unfold.  We voice our concerns and preference for actions of peace and justice both at home and around the world to those in positions of power within our government.  We support our neighbors around the world with fair trade purchases and support of Ten Thousand Villages and in our relationship with our sister church, Remanso de Paz.  We continue to show up at the table of relationship with Allegheny Mennonite Conference, in the midst of theological and practical differences, because we are all still seeking to understand how the love of God will help us continue to be neighbors with each other.  And we step in as neighbors, sharing the love of God in every day ways, in communities around Maryland, DC, and Virginia where each of us, as individuals spend the rest of our weeks in work, school, witness, and play.


We will continue to love our neighbors as long as we keep choosing to step into the joys and struggles of seeking what it means to love God with heart, soul, strength and mind.  For neighborliness is a natural expression when we love God in the feelings of our hearts, in the swirling of our spirits, in the movement of our bodies and in the thoughts of our minds.  And in those moments when being a neighbor, or having a neighbor, may feel overwhelming Deuteronomy 30:14 reminds us that God is with us in the journey; the word is very near: It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.