#ThatElement is the Podcast for July 10, 2016. Is Spirituality about self improvement and personal satisfaction? What happens when gun violence comes to your community through a church carnival? How does that have anything to do with being a Christian? Listen here in this reflection: Download it into your phone. #MSAWordfortheDay # MySpiritualAdvisor #Sermon #GunViolence #DeIndustrialization #UrbanRenewal #MunsterIN #Chicago
That Element: Luke 10:25-37
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For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 7/10/2016 The 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Luke 10:25-37.
Spirituality is meant to get Christians to love the world because the Father in Heaven loves the world.
Most of the time, when I preach, or record a podcast, I try to think of ways that the Scripture lessons assigned for that Sunday speak to us today with some general example. I usually don’t get too specific because I want the illustration to reach into our daily lives and challenge us to accept the Father in Heaven’s love, be touched by His love, and be motivated by His love. Usually, the example is far away, or in the national news. But today, I have to report something that is happening in my own community that illustrates a point of the parable of the Good Samaritan.
In late June of this year, there was a carnival at St. Thomas More Church here in Munster. After the carnival, there was a shooting in the parking lot of the grocery store across the street from the church. The people involved in the shooting were participants at the carnival. Apparently, the people who were involved were not from Munster, IN where the carnival was held.
As you can imagine, there are now demands from some residents of Munster, IN to deny a permit for the church carnival next year. This is the second incident in three years that has arisen around the carnival. In the reporting on the incident, which I have posted a link at MySpiritualAdvisor.com, there is a word that is used for the people and what is happening at the carnival. Often, the town board member quoted and the people who are expressing concern about the carnival use the word “element.” We don’t want that “element” in our town, they say. The implication is that there are people who are not like us and are bad. They are an “element”, whatever that means. Apparently, we don’t want that “element” in our town, even though the carnival is meant to draw people from all over to get their money. It is perfectly acceptable to get people’s money through a carnival.
What is interesting is that the word “element” could have been used for Jesus by the lawyer testing Jesus. The story from the Gospel of Luke has Jesus also linking himself with people that Jews considered “elements”. Of course, I am talking about Samaritans, who considered themselves worshiping the same God as the Jews, but the Jews wanted nothing to do with them. They were considered “elements” of the community to be avoided. Samaritans were the “hated enemy” of the Jews, as scholar Luke Timothy Johnson points out so well.
In the story that Jesus tells to the lawyer of the Jewish Law, Johnson says, “It is the hated enemy who is the hero with the human heart.” Additionally, Johnson points out that Jesus is accusing trusted religious leaders, a priest and a Levite. He is saying that these religious leaders would “allow considerations of personal safety or even concern for ritual purity to justify their not even crossing the road to look,” at a man beaten and in need of immediate help. The priest and the Levite would rather let a man die than have to be inconvenienced by the requirements to be separate from the community for seven days to fulfill ritual purity laws.
For those of us who are followers of that “element” Jesus Christ, the message should be clear: Sometimes following the commandments means you need to break the commandments. Mercy should be the guide. Love should be the principle of all our actions. Mercy and love were the guiding principle of the Samaritan, who was considered the “element.” Mercy and Love should be the guiding principle of our actions as Christians, even if it means that we are going to get dirty or violate our own laws of holiness.
Munster, IN is a suburb of Chicago AND a suburb of Gary, IN. It is part of what I call the “fertile crescent” that seems to gather around all deindustrialized cities. Detroit, Newark, Gary, parts of Chicago, etc. all have these suburbs that are pristine, have money, get good city/town services, etc. They do so not realizing that they are part of the entire area. The Chicago Metropolitan Area covers Gary, IN AND Munster, IN. Mark Martinez, of Hammond, IN, the shooter in the after carnival shooting, is from a community whose border is less that a mile from church. How do we propose that we keep “the element” out of Munster, IN?
If I were the priest of the parish in consideration, I would seize this as an opportunity to build bridges with the community in which we find “the element.” As a Christian, who lives in this community that I am using as a sermon/homily illustration, I have an obligation to now stand up and propose that we reach out to the “element”. As I read the newspaper article, I was moved by the Holy Spirit to be the voice of the One who calls for unity, mercy, and love. Why did Mark Martinez feel compelled to use a gun to solve his problems? Why did Mark Martinez feel compelled to even argue about something in a grocery store parking lot? Why would Mark Martinez be so angry? What are his living circumstances? What is there about the relationship of Munster and Hammond, IN that would foster people to think it is OK to use guns to solve problems? Does the solution always have to be to stop an acceptable activity because we are ignoring what are potentially larger issues about how we live with one another?
I am sure that if I go to the town board meeting and attempt to make this point, I will be booed. I will be told that people moved to Munster, IN to avoid that “element” and not have to cross the road to the other side to tend to the needs of a man beaten by robbers and left for dead.
For our purposes today, my point is that being spiritual, being a Christian, is not a sedentary activity. As Archbishop Craig Bates of the Charismatic Episcopal Church said recently, “The Gospel is not a self-help manual.” The Gospel is a call to live life “on Earth as it is in heaven.” In heaven, there are no people who live in Munster, Hammond, Israel, or Samaria. Spirituality is meant to get Christians involved in the world that God loves. Spirituality is meant to get Christians to love the world because the Father in Heaven loves the world. Christianity is meant for us to cross the boundaries of personal safety, personal religiosity, and personal gratification, to help others in a way that reflects the love of God for all humanity.
For me, this reading of the passage of the Good Samaritan means that I need to be at the Town Board meeting next month. It means that I will have to take a risk at speaking out. What is Jesus saying to you through this parable today? Whatever it is, do it. Amen.
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