I Will Never Again Pass Them By

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A Sermon Given on the 6th Sunday After Pentecost

In today’s collect we pray:

…grant that we may know and understand what things we ought to do…

Figuring out “what we ought to do” feels just as pressing as ever. I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that many of us have been asking the question: “how do I show up in the midst of….ALL OF THIS.” (move hands)

In just the last two months, we have borne witness to at least five, highly-publicized mass shootings. And dozens more that didn’t make national news.

In that same time frame, our nation’s highest court made decisions that, whether we agree with them or not, have seemed to bring further ideological division to our communities.

On top of that, we are dealing with our own health crises, family emergencies, and grief.

And, all of this has taken place against a backdrop of continuing racial violence, a global refugee crisis, war in Ukraine, economic uncertainty, and a pandemic that just won’t go away. 

What are we supposed to do?

Fortunately for us, our Old and New Testament readings get right to the point…

God’s fiery justice in Amos and the Samaritan’s unlikely compassion work together to show us how God shows up, and how we should show up in the face of the world’s suffering and injustice. 

Both readings remind us that the People of God are called to not pass anyone by.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells the story of a man who is beat up, robbed, and left for dead on the roadside. 

When two men from the same religious and ethnic heritage as him, see him, they pass by the suffering man. They are afraid for their own safety, or perhaps even concerned that being near this dirty and bleeding man will harm their religious commitments, to ritual purity.

And then, something really unexpected happens. Another man is so overwhelmed with compassion for this total stranger that he shows up, and he stays. He carefully cleans the man’s wounds.

Then, sparing no expense, he uses his own funds to purchase a hotel stay until the man can recover. Here, the wounded and traumatized man can begin to heal.

This story is one of Jesus’ parables. The characters are not real people, but they are representations of real problems in Jesus’ society.

The first two men who passed by represent respected religious leaders in the community. 

The Samaritan, however, came from a group that Jesus’ listeners likely hated. The Samaritan people had different religious beliefs and different political ideologies. In fact, some of the Samaritans were known to cause trouble for Jesus himself.

So, when Jesus makes the Samaritan the good guy in the story, he is actually doing something pretty radical. He is challenging his listeners to completely reconsider their prejudices. And he is showing what it means to see the good in people, even people he had a reason to avoid.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we learn how WE should show up in the face of injustice: When we see a person in need in front of us, we should not pass them by. 

…Even if their circumstances are a burden. Even if we have nothing in common, and see the world in different ways. The Good Samaritan shows us that there IS an antidote to the world’s suffering. It’s a hard thing that looks like a simple thing…

We don’t let worldly divisions and learned prejudices keep us from caring for one another. Instead, we show up for one another. 

We don’t pass anyone by.

But, we do NOT do this work by ourselves.

In our Amos passage, there’s a curious turn of phrase that connects our action and God’s action in the world…

But first, a little background on Amos. Amos prophesied during a time of immense economic prosperity and political power in Israel. The nation was as big as it was ever going to be.

And yet, Amos prophecies that the nation is in moral failure. The people of God aren’t acting much like the people of God. They have abandoned their care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant. 

They are ignoring profound acts of violence and injustice in their society. And all the while, they have extravagant religious events that look more like political parades than acts of worship. 

By this time, God has shown mercy over and over again, but nothing has changed. God is fed up.

So, in the passage we read today, an angry God issues a decree: 

“See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by.”

Now, in many translations of that passage I just read, the phrase, “I will never again pass them by” is simplified to say something like, “I will never again forgive them.” But that’s not really what the Hebrew text says. 

The word, AVAR, which means “to pass by” in Hebrew, is almost exclusively used to describe God’s powerful intervention in human activity. 

There’s this idea that God’s simple presence is so bright, rich, and awe-inspiring that people must usually be protected from it. For instance, when God passes by Moses on the mountaintop, Moses’ face is so blindingly bright from that brief encounter, that the Israelites ask him to cover it up until it begins to fade with time. 

When God “passes by,” that means that God is making sure that the Divine presence doesn’t totally overpower the person God is interacting with. Most people can’t handle a God who shows up, and stays.

But, in Amos, when God says, “I will never again pass them by,” God is saying, “I won’t turn away from this madness. I won’t pass by those who suffer. I will show up.” And when God shows up, injustice has nowhere to hide. The world MUST reckon with the suffering it has caused.

Like the Good Samaritan, God’s refusal to pass by injustice is fundamentally an act of compassion. God stays here, with us, in this chaos.

God’s presence is uncomfortable, precisely because it uncovers everything: the horrors of human action and human sin. But that is exactly what we need in times like these. Because the suffering is too great to ignore.

So, when we consider our Old and New Testament readings together, we see that the full context of “not passing by” means to show up and stay with our communities. We care for each other by expecting both love and accountability, and by offering the same.

But…when we attempt to show up for others, it can feel like such a small thing. 

It can feel like our desire to be in real relationship with one another is never grand enough to remedy the world’s suffering and pain. For every small way we tend to others, there are a thousand new terrors, and a thousand new things to grieve. 

But, God knows this. God knows that we can’t possibly dig ourselves out of this mess alone. And God also knows that the first step toward healing is to reach across profound difference in order to show up and stay with one another, just as the Good Samaritan did. 

This world wears us down. People and circumstances will enrage and horrify us, push us to uncomfortable places, and even cause us to question our good intentions. 

Doing what we know we ought to do can isolate us from our ideological camps. It can make people question our sanity. It can lead us to places we never thought we’d go. 

But, God promises to never pass us by. Because of that, we can know without a doubt that God is present in every circumstance that reveals injustice. God speaks in every word that declares the Truth. God’s power is greater than a gun, a court, an army, or a border. Greater, even, than death.

It is our job to uphold THESE truths, and to love one another in defiance of all the world throws at us.

We, the People of God, carry God’s powerful presence with us when we DARE not to pass anyone by. Amen.

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