—LUKE 10:27


And you’re through… whew, indeed! Good job everybody.

Congratulations to all of you. Memorizing all that’s been required of you this year is not easy. I’ve been leading chapel services quite some time and over the years I’ve seen lots of 3rd graders, maybe some of your older brothers and sisters, working through the Ten Commandments, the 23rd Psalm, the Beatitudes. My son and his classmates recited these same verses on these very steps. I know how hard you’ve worked on this all year long. So all of you deserve the praise and admiration that your parents, family and friends will give to you on this day.

In just a few minutes, Dr. Evertsberg will present each of you with a shiny new Bible embossed with your name. All year long, we’ve talked about so many of the stories that are found in this book. I think one of the cool things about this book is that, through its stories, we can see how to live our lives the way God wants us to live.

One of the most famous and recognizable stories found in the gospels is the parable of the Good Samaritan. You remember that one don’t you? A guy on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho is robbed, beaten and left for dead. First a priest and then a Levite happen upon the half-dead man. Back when Jesus was telling this parable, all the people hearing Jesus speak would have known that these were important men in their society, leaders, men to admire. And what does each of them do? They ignore the beaten man, looking away and slipping by on the other side of the road. What?

Back in March, when I talked to you about this parable in chapel, I said that I had a hard time condemning the priest and the Levite for avoiding this man. If one of us saw a man lying on the ground down an alley off some street in Chicago, with the sun going down and the shadows long, it’s not hard to imagine that we’d turn away too.

But then another man comes along, a Samaritan. And what does he do? Luke tells us that this man “was moved with pity”. This is the man that stops, bandages the man’s wounds, takes him to an inn, takes money out of his own pocket to pay the innkeeper to keep caring for this man. Jesus asks, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” And the lawyer Jesus was talking to replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

We have to remember that to folks that were listening to Jesus that day, a Samaritan was the last person that they might have thought could be the hero of the story. Jesus’ fellow Jews despised Samaritans. They worshiped differently, had different beliefs. I think a good comparison for today’s world might be a Muslim, perhaps an undocumented immigrant, or a Syrian refugee. This outsider, this stranger, this is the man that stops and offers healing love.

When we think about this parable, I think we like to think of ourselves as the Samaritan, the hero of the story. We all recognize that to stop and help someone who is hurt is the right thing to do. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind that day. I think it’s better to think that we are the ones in the ditch, we are the ones desperately in need of help, of salvation. We are the ones in need of God’s healing love. All of us here today are fortunate enough to have large roofs over our heads, abundantly filled pantries and refrigerators, many of the best goodies in life. We do our best to shield all of you from a world that can be ugly and violent. But all of us, at one time or another, succumb to temptations that can lead us astray. None of us are immune, either in our own lives or in the lives of those we treasure, from injury, illness and death.

And then, as we lay in the gutter beaten and bloodied by life and our own sometimes questionable choices, passed by those we might have thought could help, we see an outsider on the horizon with a different way and a different message. The despised, radically different, crucified and resurrected Jesus comes and offers his hand to us, to lift us up and deliver us to a place of healing. If we take his hand and go where he leads, our lives are saved.

So when you get home today and as you grow up, open these Bibles that you are about to receive and read its stories. These are the stories of ordinary men and women. Shepherds and slaves, kings and revolutionaries. All of them human, all of them sinners like us. But all of them loved by the God who created them. All of them forgiven by God’s own son, who came here to earth to look us in the eye and tell us face to face—God Loves You. God Loves You. And You and You and You and all of us here today.

Back in March, I said that Jesus challenges us to do more. I said that accepting God’s love and living the way God wants us to live can be tough, that it can be risky. But this book of love that you are about to receive tells us that if we love God and do the hard and challenging work of loving our neighbors, Jesus will reach out to us, lift us up, and deliver us into God’s loving embrace.

So enough talking! Pastor Katie, Dr. Evertsberg… let’s award some Bibles!