Sunday, July 31, 2016

Prayer 1286

Holy One, we gather around your altars with all your saints, free to worship You with joy and thanksgiving. 

Forgive us our sins, O God, and draw us back into paths of holiness, we humbly pray. 

Lord, lead us to a deeper faith in You and each other, that we may love more generously, renouncing the politics of division. Let us remember that we are called into unity through Christ, who sustains all things in his mercy and charity. Let us walk in mercy and love, as Christ called us to follow him. 

Place your hand of blessing over all those in need, anxiety, or trouble, we humbly pray.


Saturday, July 30, 2016

Prayer 1285- Praise to the Creator

The Lord is our light and our salvation: let us praise God with joyful hearts! 

Holy One, you are as close to me as my own breath which God has given me: let me praise You forever. 
With each beat of my heart may I remember God's goodness and mercy to me: let me praise You forever. 
With each move that I make may I remember God leading me in wisdom and justice: let me praise You forever! 

We are all your children, Lord, wonderfully made in your image: let us praise You and turn to You in hope and trust forever! 

Have mercy upon us and grant us your blessing, especially upon those we now name.


Friday, July 29, 2016

Prayer 1284

The final full day of Camp Phoenix includes a celebration of the Eucharis near the lake.

(based on the Beatitudes) 
Let us gather to worship the God of Peace and Lord of Life, proclaiming our love and devotion! 

Lord Jesus, you called us to live by the values of love, honor, and mercy, as you proclaimed from mountaintop, sea, and valley. Inspire us to remember that the way of blessing is the way of honoring and loving the oppressed, sorrowing, and humble. Open our hearts to proclaim your good news of salvation and peace in every action we take, we pray. 

Let us comfort the suffering and stand with those who endure injustice or oppression. Give us the grace to proclaim your righteousness, mercy, and compassion, O God, as our Savior taught us. Give us healing hands and hearts for those who suffer in body or spirit, and pour out your blessing upon those we now name.


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Prayer 1283

Lord of Life and Light, we give thanks for the dawn of another day, and ask your blessing as we laugh, love, learn, and pray together. You call us to transformation and compassion as hearers and doers of your Word: guide us in learning paths of peace and unity. 

May the day be filled with joy and may we care for each other and take delight in each other. May we remembering the love you share through creating and sustaining this beautiful world you have made our home. 

Help us to be hands of healing and care, loving each other as You always love us. Bend near, Lord Christ; place the kiss of your blessing upon us, and upon those for whom we pray.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Prayer 1282

A typically glorious sunset at Camp Phoenix from last year.

Blessed Jesus, may we rise like the morning mist off the lake to give you thanks and praise for this day. May we hear the song of birds, and join our voices in the chorus of praise to God throughout creation. 

We thank you for the lives of saints who live among us, and ask your help in living as witnesses to your grace and truth. Be with all who suffer fear or pain this day, O God, and watch over and welcome those whose lives are in distress. Holy One, guide the hands and hearts of the healers, especially the doctors, nurses and social workers who tend the sick. 

We ask your favor to rest especially upon those for whom we now pray.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Who do you love? Speaking to the Soul, July 26, 2016

In one of my favorite movies, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, there’s a pivotal scene involving Ferris’s friend Cameron finally venting the anger he feels at his parents for never placing their priorities upon him, their only child. Cameron looks upon his father’s prized possession, a highly expensive classic sports car that his father has painstakingly restored, and suddenly begins to kick the incredibly expensive shiny chrome fender, lashing out as he never could against his actual father, screaming “Who do you love? Who do you love? You love a car!” And he kicks it over and over again, until finally, it ends up accidentally being propelled out of the garage in which it sits with the motor running, and is destroyed.

Who do you love?

This Sunday’s gospel reading confronts head-on the questions of power and privilege that loom so large over our social and political lives today. We need to be careful that we maintain the balance between security for ourselves and driving others to the brink of disaster. Perhaps we need to ponder the idea that my rights end where they begin to put others at real risk of harm.

Wealth and privilege can sometimes actually create more problems than solutions. Instea of sharing in their good fortune, the two brothers in this Sunday’s gospel end up fighting over the apportionment of it, and asking Jesus to mediate the dispute. Jesus ends up putting forth the same question Cameron asked, and although not in anger, the questions still apply to us today: What, really, are we striving for? Security? Vanity? Admiration?

Who do you love?

In our gospel for Sunday, one brother claims that the other brother is not sharing the inheritance left by their parents. The brother who is here wants Jesus to respond and mediate the dispute with his brother over the family inheritance. Here Jesus refuses to take sides, although he uses the opportunity to teach about the dangers of selfishness and greed.

The rich man sees the abundant produce as a problem, since he has no place big enough to store it. Now the question arises: why would he need to store it for such a long time that he is thinking about building new barns? It seems he has no intention of selling or sharing his abundance, but instead is going to store it for himself. This abundance is going to provide him with security to now relax, and “eat, drink, and be merry” --echoing the more famous, fuller phrase from Isaiah 22:13, which added the happy phrase “…for tomorrow we die.”

There is a parallel to the storehouses used in Egypt to store grain against time of famine in the story of Joseph in Genesis chapter 41. Yet the rich man in our story from Luke is not storing his grain up for the good of others, but so that he can demand top dollar later on when others are in want. His surplus only becomes valuable later on if others end up with not enough to feed themselves. The rich man will be perfectly positioned to demand any price he wants for his grain if a time of famine strikes, because this rich man will have the only source of grain around. The greed of this rich man damages all of the bonds of society.

Notice how many times the rich man in the story uses the words “I” and “my”—as if he planted, and reaped, and built all by himself. This is self-delusion as well as selfishness. This grain is not just the product of one person and his labor, but of dozens if not hundreds of people and their labor. He worries about how to store the grain because he has more than he can possibly ever use for himself—which very much implies others are going without so that he can have this “problem.” The rich man is not going to get to enjoy the abundance he is so eager to hoard, for that very night his life is going to be demanded of him. He will not actually get to kick back and relax, but instead, Jesus makes clear, he will be called to account for his lack of piety and generosity.

It is rather, the way of generosity and concern for our neighbor that is the better path, one that provides peace of mind in our gospel this Sunday. Our gospel calls us to be more concerned with what we do with our resources than with how we can think we serve ourselves by hoarding them. A few weeks ago, we were reminded that our neighbors are those to whom we show mercy and for whom we care. Loving our neighbor is placed alongside loving God as the sum of all the law and the prophets, and is, ironically, yes, two sides of the same coin. When we try to build ourselves up at the expense of our neighbor, we paradoxically make ourselves weaker and more vulnerable. Jesus is calling us to be aware of those times when we shower things with the love that should only be accorded to people.

Who do you love?

(This was originally published on the Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul on July 26, 2016)

Prayer 1281- for the second day of Camp Phoenix

Pray without ceasing.

Almighty God, Holy One: You have graciously brought us in peace to this new day, and awakened us to the glory of your morning. Bless us, O Lord, and help us to be a blessing in the world you have placed us within. Help us to be joyful and reverent at play in your glorious creation; help us to gentle and patient with each other when tired. Abide with us as we work and play and pray, as we sing our praises to You, O Precious Lord. We ask your blessing especially on those whom we now remember before You.


Monday, July 25, 2016

Prayer 1280

The first full day of Camp Phoenix dawns, and I remembered this sunrise from last year. I will miss it this year!

Almighty God, we thank You for watching us through the storms of the night, and for bringing us in safety to this new day. 

Bless us and keep us, that we may fill our hearts with your love for the tasks that await us as we do your will. You are our strength and our stronghold, O God: may we see your glory throughout creation and rejoice! May we walk gently among each other and upon this beautiful earth, our home. 

Tend to the sick and the weary, Lord Christ, and give us the strength to love them and comfort them in your Name. We pray especially for those commended to us in their need, and ask your blessing upon them.


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Prayer 1279- Tenth Sunday After Pentecost

"Ask, and you shall receive." Window at Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis.

(inspired by Luke 11:1-13)
Almighty God, may your Name be holy throughout the world: we lift our prayers and thanksgvings before You in faith. 

May we seek to honor You with our lives and our words, our hearts dedicated to love. May your kingdom be established on Earth, and the world know we are yours by our love and charity for all. 

Feed us with the bread of hope and the cup of salvation, this day and every day, we pray. 

Forgive us our sins, and, forgiven, may we remember to enact the mercy we receive with those who hurt us. 

From trials too great to endure, Lord God, deliver us and shield us; yet we know You are always with us. 

Holy One, we ask for your Spirit to cover us with her wings: gather within your mercy all those for whom we pray.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Prayer 1278

Camp Phoenix in the Diocese of Missouri opens tomorrow! Prayers for the campers and staff!

Holy One, we rise before you, grateful for rest and hopeful for peace this day. Breathe on us, Breath of God, and inspire us to new devotion to love and brotherhood, as Christ taught us to live. Let us hold fast to the gospel of peace and justice, and to each other, beloveds of God, one and all. 

Lord, we lift up prayers especially for the healers and workers of justice and shalom, for all who seek to heal the hurting. Gather to you all the hurting and sorrowful, encircling them in your unfailing care and grace. We pray to you especially for all whose needs have been made known to us.


Friday, July 22, 2016

Prayer 1277- for the courage to love

Petitioning Christ for healing; window at Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis.

In humility and awe, we come before our God, who welcomes us and fills us with blessing and calls us to courage. 

Lord Jesus, lead us into wisdom and compassion, renouncing the foolishness and hatred that divides us. 
Make us beacons of peace and justice, renouncing the hopelessness, fear and vengeance that causes us to hurt each other. 
Help us follow in your footsteps of mercy and healing, proclaiming the peace of God and love of Christ in every moment. 

Give us faith in your creation and your image in each other, remembering that you formed us in love to be Spirit-filled people. Gather us to your embrace, O Holy One, and extend the shade of your blessing to those we now name.


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Prayer 1276

In gratitude, we rise up from our beds, giving thanks to You, O God, for all You have done to bless us. 

We thank You for your lovingkindness, new every morning, steadfast through the night as You have cared for us. For the love of the Lord our God never sleeps: God's eye is on the greatest and the least throughout creation. 

Direct us, we pray, to make no war upon anyone, but also make no peace with oppression or injustice anywhere. Let us make common cause with the oppressed, defensesless, and hurting, and work to heal ourselves of division. 

Forgive us our failures to work for mercy and compassion, for judging our brothers and sisters while privileging ourselves. Renew a right spirit within us: guide us by your Spirit to open our hearts rather than close our minds. 

We open our hearts to seek your blessing, Lord Christ, and ask your hand to rest upon the hearts of those we now name.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Prayer 1275

Jesus washes the apostles' feet

Blessed Savior, bend near to us, in joy and need, that we may rest within the embrace of your mercy. Holy One, may we open the eyes of our hearts to see You clearly, and follow in your ways. 

Whatever is loving, compassionate, and merciful-- may we do these in the name of Christ, who shows us the way of life. Whatever is fear-driven, divisive, or oppressive to others-- may we renounce these in the hope of salvation before God.

May we treat this good as earth as heaven under our feet, filled with awe at the wonders of God. 

May we honor the divine imprint in each other, as all are children of the Most High, and love each other as Christ loves us. 

Lord Jesus, fill us with the power of the Spirit, and accept our prayers as we lay our cares before you.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Prayer 1274- answering God's call to return

Holy One, we kneel before You, worshipping You, 
and giving You thanks and praise. 
We thank You, O God, 
for your abundant compassion and mercy, 
abiding with us in joy as well as trial. 

Repeatedly, You call us to return 
to the path of peace, compassion, healing, and justice 
you exemplified in Christ our Savior. 
Lord, may we hear, 
and answer You in faithfulness. 
May we be brought back to our faith and to our hearts, 
grounded in your Love which never fails. 

As You have Loved us without fail, O God, 
let us love You and each other with all our hearts. 
Let us drive out all our wrong desires 
and acknowledge our failures 
to love as You would have us love- without fail. 

Let us be hands and hearts of healing, 
working for the repair of the world You made 
and we have abused. 
Remembering our own sins and failures, 
let us have mercy on others, 
as You O God have repeatedly had mercy on us. 
Have mercy, Lord, on all who call upon You, 
and bless and keep those for whom we pray.


Monday, July 18, 2016

Prayer 1273- for the fallen in Baton Rouge

Lord God, the night has passed, and we turn to You in your steadfast lovingkindness and strength. 

Let us move from weeping to action, from sorrow to determination, to fight the evil that enslaves us. Help us to put our trust not in things, but in You, O Holy One, and in each other, who reflect your image into the world. Open our hearts to peace and justice, that we may reject the sins of pride and hatred that rend us apart. 

Even now Christ's love seeks a home within our hearts; let us renounce all that separates us from welcoming the love of God. Let us honor the fallen by sowing peace and compassion within our communities, remembering that we are one. Give us faith that we may act for good, empowered by the gospel that teaches us to always act in hope and courage. 

Be with us, who have watched and waited and mourned throughout the night, we pray. Purify our hearts, O God, and bless and keep those for whom we pray.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Prayer 1272- Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Most Merciful God, You have brought us to this new day: let us worship You in thanksgiving and in holiness. 
Let us offer all that we have and all that we are to You, Lord, to be consecrated to your service and love. 
For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, redeem our rebellious hearts: help us to turn away from sin and division. 
Let us remember your love even in times of trial, and bear it into the world rejoicing. 
By power of the Holy Spirit, help us heal the wounds that plague our souls and our communities. 
Rest your hand upon us and bless us, we pray, and press the kiss of thy blessing upon those we now name.


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Prayer 1271- for repentance and renewal in violent times

Cross scultpure, Osage Monastery Forest of Peace, Sand Springs, Okahoma

Holy One, arise and shine in our hearts and minds, that we may with joy give you thanks, and be animated by your love alone. 

Forgive us our manifold sins and failures to love, for the times we have put our own wants before others' needs. 
Drive far from us all hardness of heart, and awaken in us the compassion of Christ, Our Lord and Teacher. 
Guide us to gentle our words and deeds, that we exemplify and embody the way of Christ, bearing light into the darkness. 

Encompass within your mighty embrace those who weep, worry, mourn, or suffer, and grant them your peace and protection. Spirit of Peace and Healing, rest upon us and make us thy own, and comfort those for whom we now pray.


Friday, July 15, 2016

Prayer 1270- for the victims of the attack in Nice

Holy One, make our hearts your dwelling place; fill us with the power of your Holy Spirit as we seek your will. 

Accept our prayers of gratitude for all our blessings, for You are the Source of Life and Light. 
Forgive us our sins and aggressions against your peace, O Merciful One, for we are quick to stray from your goodness. 
Transform our hearts and minds that we seek to love each other as Christ loves us. 
Bend near to those whose hearts cry out to You, O Lord, especially those who have lost loved ones to senseless violence. 

Lord Jesus, you modelled for us the way we are called to live: may we be converted to follow and rejoice. Blessed Savior, hear the call of your lost sheep, and bless us through your abounding mercy as we pray.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Prayer 1269: Inspired by Micah 6:8

Wildflower, Telluride, Colorado

Based on Micah 6:8 

Lord God, Who Creates, Saves, and Empowers All, hear our prayers and praises as we bow the knee of our hearts before You. Guide our footsteps in the way of peace, that we may know and walk in the way of Christ. 

Let us transform our hardness of heart into doing justice, which is compassion and respect caught fire. 
Let us love mercy, remembering our own manifold sins and faults, and thy grace which we receive through abounding love. 
Let us walk humbly before You and each other and upon this fragile Earth You made, O God, for love of Christ. 

Let us proclaim in our actions as well as our words the wonders that God has done in our lives, mercies without end. 
Let us renounce enmity, hatred, envy, resentment, and turn instead to building up the kingdom of heaven as your servants. 

Holy One, you know our hearts even before we turn to You: even in our unworthiness be with us now, Lord Christ, and with those whom we love.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Prayer 1268: inspired by Matthew 25:31-46

Jesus, our Brother and Teacher, let us remember that you are always in our midst, and welcome you into our hearts and our lives. 

May we see Christ in each hungry person, man, woman, or child, and feed them as Jesus fed the multitudes. 
May we love Christ in each person who thirsts, and give them something to drink, as Jesus is the wellspring of life. 
May we welcome Christ in each person who is a stranger to us, as Jesus welcomes the outcast and lost. 
May we know Christ in each naked person, and clothe and honor them, as Jesus clothes us in wisdom and compassion. 
May we adore Christ in each person who is ill, and tenderly care for them, as Jesus heals us through everlasting love. 
May we be with Christ in each person who is imprisoned, and be with them, as Jesus forgives and bears all our own brokenness. 

Holy One, you call us to the path of life modelled by your great love and tenderness: grant us the grace to do your will. Help us to tear down our barriers and open our hearts to Love Incarnate that seeks to live within us. Stretch out your hand of blessing and peace upon all who turn to You, O Savior, especially those we now name.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Prayer, day 1267: for reconciliation

Icon of the Risen Christ, written by Evan Smith, St. Paul's, Carondelet

O Lord, You are our strength and our shield: have mercy upon us and guide us into wisdom. Let your Word revive our spirits, and may our hope be fed by your never-failing care. 

Protect us, O Rock, from the slings and arrows of those who do not understand us, and let us always root our actions in love. Teach us compassion and diligence in inscribing your commandments upon our hearts. 

Comfort us when we mourn for what we have left behind, and be healed of the pain in our pasts. Help us be present in each moment as a gift from You, remembering that faith is grounded in hope. 

Shine the light of your countenance upon us, O Loving One, and hear our prayers that we raise to You.



Monday, July 11, 2016

Prayer 1266

Detail from a table at St. Augustine's Chapel, Vanderbilt University

Most Merciful God, we thank You for your care of us as we have rested: gather us within your hand and guide us, we pray. 

For our hardness of heart against You and each other, we humbly ask your forgiveness and mercy. 

Let us sing a new song, a song of peace, whose melody is rooted in the music our Savior taught us in all his ways. 
Let us shine forth with the glory of our God, proclaiming grace through our lives, O Incarnation of Love Divine. 
Let us put healing hands and hearts toward the divisions that hurt us, and vow to live and work for the cause of love. 

Fill us with the power and beauty of the Holy Spirit, O Creator God, and shelter and bless those for whom we pray.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Prayer 1265- 8th Sunday After Pentecost, Year C

Icon of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37

Holy, Holy Lord, we gather in worship with praise and thanks: unite us through your love, that we may embody your ways. 

On bended knee we lift our hearts to You: purify us and renew in us a spirit of gentleness and compassion, we pray.
Let us reach out in love to the fallen, the homeless, the vulnerable, and see our own face in the face of the stranger. 
Let us renounce the path of violence and division, to embody the mercy and reconciliation we have received through thy grace. 

In your tender compassion lead us to healing, Lord Christ, and anoint with your blessing all those we now name. 


Saturday, July 9, 2016

Prayer 1264

Cairn, Osage Monastery Forest of Peace, Sand Springs, OK

Lord Jesus, we thank you for watching over us through the night. Lord, we turn to you in a day of trouble. 

Forgive us for abandoning the work you have called us to do: to love you, and to love each other. Awaken us to overcome our refusal to see your face in each other.

Help us to denounce the violence done in our name, O God of Peace. Strengthen us to work to heal the wounds in our society rather than inflict new ones. Bless and comfort all those who are hurting, who are mourning, who are afraid. 

Holy One, we need You more than ever: shine the light of your countenance upon us, and upon those we now name.


Friday, July 8, 2016

Prayer 1263- for the killed and wounded in Dallas

Jesus heals the blind man

Most merciful God, bend near, and place the balm of your spirit upon this turbulent world we have made. Let us hear again your call to live as children of light, justice, healing, and peace. 

Lord, let us be children of light. When we stumble blindly in the storms of sin and destruction, let us be filled with and reflect the light of your love. 

Let us be for laborers for justice. Let us seek to not live by the sword, but by the wisdom and grace of your Word. 

Let us be for agents of healing. Let us seek reconciliation and repentance, not retribution, for one wound cannot be healed by another. 

Lord, let us be for peace. Let us unclench the fists of our hearts, renouncing all that separate us from each other. 

 Lord, let our cry come to You from the depths as we pray in your mercy.


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Prayer 1262- for Alton Sterling and Philando Castile

Almighty God, in silence our souls wait before You. Forgive us our violence, fed by our fear, distrust, and hatred and for all the ways we seek to hurt each other. Forgive us for celebrating violence as a way of life rather than a way of death. You, Lord, called us to life, light, love, and compassion: awaken us to the call of your gospel to turn our hearts to peace. Give justice to the oppressed, and bring the oppressor to repentance. Guide us, O Jesus, and heal the wounds of our hearts, comforting the cries of those who mourn. Send your Spirit upon all who watch, wait, or weep this day, to comfort those who cry is to you.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Prayer 1261

Holy One, we rise to kneel before you in thanksgiving and in praise: You are our God, and we are your children. 

Guide us by your precious gospel, Precious Savior, that we may sing a tune of love and grace to the world. We hunger for your compassionate wisdom in our lives, Lord Jesus: lead us to the banquet you lay before us. Feed us in our hearts that we may transform our lives in word and deed, we pray. Strengthen us to be worthy disciples, walking in the way of Christ, that your light may shine from our faces and hearts. 

Shine the light of your countenance upon all who call upon you in joy or in anxiety, especially as we pray in your holy name.


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Go and Do Likewise: Speaking to the Soul, July 5, 2016

Homeless man and friend, Barcelona

Luke 10:25-37

Our gospel story this coming story begins with a lawyer—one learned in the Law, and thus one of those who have just been criticized for not being able to see what Jesus’s message is about—questioning Jesus. Thus this story is used to reinforce the point that those who follow the gospel are judged to be fools or child-like, in a time when neither was respected.

Luke carefully constructs this pericope. The lawyer (his motive to test Jesus and possibly trap him) asks Jesus a question: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Remember, in Luke, those who call Jesus “Teacher” are those who resist Jesus’s teachings and status as the Messiah. Possibly sensing that the lawyer is being manipulative, given that as a lawyer he should know the Law, Jesus answers the questions with a question. The fact that the lawyer answers immediately is telling. The answer has a two part requirement: Love God with all of your being, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.

We have seen a similar questioning from a lawyer in Matthew 22.34-40: When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ 37He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’  Notice in Matthew’s version, Jesus straightforwardly answers the lawyer’s question and explains the significance.

In Mark 12.28-34, a scribe asks the question and engages in conversation with Jesus about it: One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ 29Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” 31The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ 32Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other”; 33and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength”, and “to love one’s neighbor as oneself”,—this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.’ 34When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that no one dared to ask him any question.  In this case, the scribe’s question and Jesus’s answer brings the scribe into willingness to consider the truth of Jesus’s message.

But in Luke, the lawyer then immediately follows up with another question: Who is my neighbor? Now, normally that question could be defined rather narrowly in the cultural context of the time of Jesus. Your neighbor would be those in actual physical proximity to your home, or perhaps it could be extended to your tribe, or at the very most your nation—Israel. Jesus is going to extend this boundary, and in Luke the person who is depicted well is, once again, NOT the Jewish authorities but an outsider. But once again, Jesus does not answer directly but uses a teaching story, which has become known to as “The Good Samaritan.”

There are two Samaritans mentioned specifically in the Gospels. One is the Samaritan man who was the good neighbor in this story. The other is the Samaritan woman in John 4.7-42, to whom Jesus speaks at the well. We will hear the story of that second Samaritan in this Sunday’s gospel.

Let’s remember that after we get familiar with most stories, we sometimes forget what was meant by the words in them at the time they were being used, just as we now forget that “the Prodigal Son” doesn’t mean “lost son,” but “spendthrift son.” “Good Samaritan” would have sounded strange indeed to the original hearers of Jesus’s story. The two words were not considered to go together, and were oxymoronic to good Jews. It would be like “honest politician” or “trustworthy liar.”  Samaritans were those had intermarried with non-Jews during the Assyrian conquest and who had  begun following practices that were considered heretical, such as worshipping on their own mountain, Mount Gerazim, rather than the Temple in Jerusalem. Good Jews considered them to be outside the Law. That’s what makes the Samaritan’s action all the more striking. He is outside the Law, a follower of unclean practices, and yet he follows the intent of the Law better than the priest or the Levite, with no hope of compensation. He does what is right for its own sake.

Yet, we are letting ourselves off the hook if we do not realize that the impulses of the priest and Levite certainly live within us as much as the impulse of the Samaritan. We have all been each of the four people in the story—including the man who had been beaten, robbed, and left for dead by robbers and by the passersby. The man lying beside the road could have been a robber himself pretending to be hurt so that he could ensnare someone trying to help him. If he had been dead, the priest and the Levite would have been ritually unclean and unable to perform their duties according to the Law, and they would not have been able to help him. Also, remember that a denarius was a day’s full wage. The Samaritan spent TWO of them, and promised to pay more if necessary.

 Further, if the man who had fallen among thieves was a Jew, the Samaritan has done his deed for someone who could be considered his enemy. Thus this story makes it clear that we owe kindness and concern for everyone—even, or maybe especially, those we consider to be outsiders or even enemies. The boundaries of blood, race, religion, tribe—Jesus calls us to transcend all of these and to treat others as we would want to be treated—with mercy and kindness—even if we think they are outside of our own group, even if our first impulse is to blame them for their misfortune. This is an important story for this, the day after Independence Day, a day in which some of us may have been tempted to believe that our country is especially favored by God. It is good to be reminded that we are to love our neighbors, especially when they are NOT just like us. Our refugee neighbors. Our LGBTQ neighbors. Our Muslim neighbors. Our Jewish neighbors. Our homeless neighbors. Our “huddled masses, yearning to breathe free” neighbors, as the words on the Statue of Liberty reminds us.

This is truly a parable for our own times, as our society argues over who deserves rights and who deserves asylum and who deserves justice and who deserves mercy. I myself live in a city that has law enforcement officials who criticize those who feed the hungry.

The joining together of the two commands—to love God and love others—is a command not for what we need to understand but what we need to do. This is the perfect summary of the Law and Prophets. That is why Jesus tells the lawyer, “Go, and do likewise.”

It’s that simple.

It’s that difficult.

(This was first published on Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul on July 5, 2015)