July 21,  9:30 a.m.

Pentecost 5, Proper 10C 7-14-19                                                     St. John's Church

Rev'd Jennifer Phillips                                    Amos 7:7-17; Col.1:1-14; Lk 10:25-37

The state of mind of war simplifies reality into two camps- ally and enemy, us and them. It is almost restful, dangerously so: the world divided into this and that to be loved or annihilated. We are so used to this frame of mind that sometimes we forget that we have constructed it by choice!

Luke's Gospel spins a parable into a story. It is so familiar to those of us who grew up in the church or a christianized society where 'good samaritan' becomes a catchphrase. The old bible commentaries uninformed by real conversation with Judaism liked to inform us that the priest (called cohanim, men surnamed Cohen) were the hereditary families that served the Temple in Jerusalem...maybe before that the mountain shrines of the God of Israel. The Levites (from the hereditary families named Levi) were rather like our canon lawyers - specialized in the study and application of the religious laws and precepts - also clustered around the Temple. This is accurate. Then the commentaries speculate that the priest and Levite crossing the road apparently to avoid the injured and maybe already-dead man in the ditch were doing this to avoid becoming ritually impure and unable therefore to assist in Temple worship that day, by contact with a corpse - that they were too scrupulous to risk compassion. This is inaccurate. Beyond that, it is a mean portrayal of Jewish practice. The Torah always put a priority on assisting the injured - even an ox fallen into a hole should be rescued by laboring on the Sabbath since preservation of life - even animal life -takes precedence over the rules of keeping the Sabbath. How much more an injured person. Contact with ritually impure things could be remedied by the proper rituals of washing and prayer. And besides, the story says these two men were coming from Jerusalem down to Jericho on the dangerous and wild Jericho Road, not going up to the Temple!

What Jews can add to our understanding of the story is that in their tradition of story-telling there is always a triad of characters. Think of our joke-telling pattern: "A Protestant minister, a priest, and a rabbi went into a bar..." In a Jewish story it would be "A Priest, a Levite, and an Israelite" (think: 'a priest, a deacon, and a parishioner,' in our religious world). So when the audience hears "A Priest, a Levite..." their minds are already supplying "and an Israelite", when...surprise!...a Samaritan turns up instead. Remember that Samaritans were the despised other for Jews; the religious cousins who had flown the nest, broken away and set up their own Temple on Mount Gerazin, used their own somewhat different text of the Torah, had their own clergy and ritual practices and did not mix or marry with Jews. No enemy is as bitterly despised as those arising from one's own country!

Notice that this story of Jesus's - while it seems to unfold from the perspective of an observer of the scene - really skews us hearers to take the part of the poor guy in the ditch, robbed and beaten within an inch of his life by thugs on a remote stretch of road. We are right with him...maybe squinting out of one swollen eye to see the first passer-by keep on going on the far side of the road. Moaning a bit hoping to convince the second guy that we are still alive and needing help and not just a bloody corpse. No luck. Maybe a long time passes under the scorching sun, barely conscious.

And suddenly there is the shadow of someone bending over us. There are gentle hands and our wounds are being washed. An ally has come and we are safe and bandaged and lifted onto horseback and maybe only then we realize that the stranger who has done this mitzvah- this kindness- for us is a Samaritan! An enemy!

We don't know how the injured one figured this out - it is possible there was a difference in clothing, or more likely his  accent when the man spoke...or maybe he just told him where he was from. But somehow there came the realization and with it the complete reframing of expectations. The enemy had saved his life. And then we consider that as the Samaritan had paid for the wounded one's hotel room for the night, and bought him a meal, before going on his way, the wounded one had a long while to reflect on what had happened to him, on how differently the Samaritan had acted - perhaps than he himself might have acted were their roles reversed. The categories of ally and enemy fall apart, and there remains only the particularity of the helper and the helped - two human beings doing the right and decent thing - so that neither of them will think of the other's group so dismissively, so angrily, as they likely did before the encounter.

Kindness changes the world. It is both immensely simple - the flow of love from person to person; and immensely complex - a careful perception of what the need is and who has it, of what would be the suitable response, what would really help in this specific case - not just 'the thing to do' but the right thing to do: just, moral, considerate and fitting, under the circumstances. It is no kindness to cut someone's finger off rather than treat a wound in it. But it may be a great kindness to amputate that same finger if gas gangrene has set in and the person is otherwise certain to die rapidly.

Back to the frame of Luke's story. A young Jewish lawyer (maybe himself a Levite!) cheerfully poses the rabbi Jesus a question for religious debate. This is how Jewish scholars then and now learn and teach and relish their tradition- by juicy debate. "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" At first the question seems to have a quick answer. Follow the law: "Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. So says the Torah's Great Commandment in Deuteronomy and Leviticus - as the questioner, like every Jew, well knows.

The real question lies elsewhere. How shall love be enacted in the world and with whom? Jesus is reminding the young man, and anyone else listening,  by means of the story that practicing love is difficult, particularly when it is an enemy - a feared stranger, a foreigner - who is in need of love. And maybe even more when we have need to receive love from that enemy and it comes to us unexpectedly. That is the moment of the choice of our character: shall we be deeply bitterly resentful and angry of those we dislike but need? Or humble and grateful that someone we thought of as our enemy is saving our life? Love redefines the neighborhood! And practicing the giving and receiving of love remakes us. we put on, through this practice- the likeness of Christ, as we Christians say. And as the Jews Jesus, Luke, and the young lawyer in the story say, we inherit eternal life. This should not drag us listeners into a debate about faith and works and whether one earns eternal life. Enough to realize that when love is given and received in such a way that it takes down dividing walls and makes neighbors out of enemies and saves livers, eternal life is already being tasted and experienced. We are living into our resurrection life, as we Christians say. So Go and do likewise!


WEEKLY SCHEDULE                          

Sunday Summer Worship: 9:30 a.m. 
Wednesday Eucharist: 10:15 a.m 

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This is St. John's Episcopal Church, Westwood MA

Want to check on the readings for a particular Sunday or other day?  Click below to go to the Lectionary page...  all readings available for 2018:

Rev. Dr. Jennifer M. Phillips

Sunday, July 21, 9:30 a.m.
Holy Eucharist

Wednesday, July 25, 10:15 a.m.:
Holy Eucharist

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July 31- August 1, 2, and 5: our new B-SAFE summer program dates!
We will serve lunch to roughly 85 kids, counselors, and teachers on the 31st, 1st and 5th, and offer a field trip to the Capron Park Zoo on Friday the 2nd.

This is loads of fun, and a wonderful enrichment program for children who live in the neighborhood of our partner parish, Church of the Holy Spirit, Mattapan. Sign up in the narthex to help out --- there are many different ways to participate! 

Summer Changes To Note!

On Sunday July 7 we will begin our summer schedule with the service at 9:30am through July and August up through Labor Day weekend. 
As you arrive, expect that you may be called on at the door to help as a reader, intercessor, greeter, or chalice-bearer. This is a great opportunity for those who haven't done these things before or regularly to step up and take a turn. Instruction is always available if you ask. Youth are welcome in any of these roles! And anyone who might like to help as an acolyte carrying a torch and helping the priest prepare and clear the Communion Table is always welcome, as there is no summer rota. 

If you can bring a couple of bottles of iced tea and juice and some cheese and cookies or fruit for those who might linger for conversation, this is much appreciated in the summer when there are no formal coffee hour hosts signed up. If you'd like to bring a bouquet from your garden for the altar, this is also most welcome...and after church you could take these to someone shut-in or ill and unable to attend. Please join in the hymns bravely, no matter your voice or ability, as we sing unaccompanied this season - remember song is part of our shared prayer.

Calling all Artists!
Painters, Photographers, Potters, Quilters, Poets, Fiction Writers, Musicians and More--
We need your talents for the St John's Harvest Moon Arts Night next September. Plans are in the very early stage.  We envision an art exhibit in the Narthex, a poetry reading with open mic signup, maybe dance, instrumental music, song, finger food and wine and sparkling cider, and a silent auction of donated art, from paintings to poetry books. We also need volunteers to  design  a flyer and poster,  handle publicity on social media and in local news outlets, help with planning, managing and organizing the art, to do setting up and breaking down of the exhibit, to organize the silent auction, to help with the food and drink, and to do cleanup.
If you are an artist, let me know about your talent. If you are a master organizer, or helper, we need you, too. Many hands will make light work!

Lynne Viti
cell 781 248 5020

Christian Discipleship in Action via St. John’s

Come join in:

Oasis Ministrieswe cook and serve a monthly hot chicken dinner to about 100 homeless neighbors in downtown Boston on 2nd Mondays.

Ecclesia outreachwe invite homeless and poor neighbors from Boston to Hale Reservation for a summer picnic and for a Spring bowling afternoon in Norwood. This year's picnic will be on Saturday, June 22.

Tutoring after-school reading and homework help for city children at Church of the Holy Spirit, Mattapan on Tuesday afternoons.
Pantry support for the Westwood Food Pantry and the Center for Life elderly housing complex in Mattapan – bring non-perishable groceries to church year round.

Habitat for Humanity home buildcoming soon, a St. John’s team to help build an affordable home in Westwood.

Prayer Shawlsknitting group prayerfully makes shawls for people facing illness or crisis.

Urban Promise Honduras missioners from St. John’s & CHS travel to learn and work with children at a school in Copan every few years. We are beginning plans for a service trip with our partner parish, CHS Mattapan, for June 2020!

Boston B-SAFE summer program our team works during a July week each year to provide meals and a field trip & picnic for this large city children’s program. St. John's week this year is July 29 - August 2.

Eucharistic Visiting members are trained and take the Sacrament, offer healing prayer, and make friendly visits to people who are homebound, in hospital, or other institutional settings.

Speak to Rev. Jennifer if you’d like to put your discipleship to work in one or more of these parish ministries!