Sermon 10th July 2022, The Good Samaritan

The reaidngs for today were Luke 10, 25-37 and Colossians 1, 1-14


Living on Sark, or visiting Sark is rather special. The island is unique, beautiful, and hosts a plethora of flora and fauna that we can revel in and enjoy. I don’t need to tell you that, it’s why many of you are on this island.

But as you come to or leave Sark, there’s another special thing that we often see, the presence of dolphins, and almost without exception, everyone wants to see them as they travel to or from Guernsey.

For some reason I’ve been very unlucky, never having seen them in travelling, yet everyone else seemed to have done so. It wasn’t until a trip with George and Morgan on their boat that I finally found myself amongst a large pod.

What is it about dolphins that is so special, I wonder? I knew they were out there, and wanted to see them, but until I had been amongst them, witnessed their playing, their interaction with the boat, the young amongst them, until then I had not experienced that indescribable and unexplainable feeling of joy and happiness that came over me which obviously other’s experience too, when they see dolphins.

There is a great difference between knowing something and experiencing it. Being in love with someone is something we can tell others about, but if that person themselves has never really been in love, then they are not going to truly understand what you’re telling them, really understand. They might trust what you have told them to be true, but they don’t really know what you mean, if they have not experienced it in some way.

In many respects, I think Jesus’ use of parables to explain his teaching tries to cash in on human experience to try to help others understand what are deep, but simple truths.

“Who is my neighbour” the expert in the law asked of Jesus when he himself recited the two great commandments. He wanted to justify himself, perhaps limit the definition of neighbour, like any good lawyer, to specifics. To limit those whom he needed to love, perhaps.

Jesus blew such specifics out of the water with his parable. Not only was the good Samaritan exactly the sort of person the Jewish law expert would want to avoid usually, but the ones he’d expect to love and respect, and who one would expect to obey the law, the Priest and Levite, were the one’s demonstrably not obeying this law of loving their neighbour. And the teacher of the law has the revelation, through the story to know, to truly know what the meaning of that law, love thy neighbour, really means.

There’s a sense of this in our Colossians reading “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all wisdom and understanding the Spirit gives”. The Colossians are doing well, their little band of Christians is living out and telling the gospel to others, and Paul wants to encourage them to continue, to really know what they have learnt, to continually experience it deep within their being, through the Holy Spirit.

Paul knows that without that true faith, that real knowing, that experience of God’s love, that their mission, their witness will be meaningless. Only then, he says will they “live a life worthy of the Lord, bearing fruit, being strengthened in power and growing in knowledge of God”. And Paul and his fellow missionaries encourage the Colossians by reminding them that these things are being prayed for, by them.

There is a sense in that the church (and I speak of the whole church of God worldwide) can be like both the expert in the law Jesus spoke to and, at the same time, like the Colossians.

Certainly, the church needs continual prayer for its deeper knowledge of God, God’s will and purpose, God’s infinite love and compassion, God’s forgiveness and yet judgement, God’s mercy and grace. But at the same time, it perhaps is sometimes guilty of wanting to qualify its role in the world, qualify sometimes who it might call neighbour. In the past it has been much less inclusive than it is now, but it still it has a long way to go before being fully inclusive, to actually regard everyone as a neighbour, even those with who they would not normally agree or even are of different religious, ethnic, sexual or gender identities. To actually love all people as we love ourselves. And to be a good neighbour to them.

We even struggle, within and between our church denominations, to truly know who are neighbour is, instead of to simply know who our neighbour should be.

But there’s something else in Paul’s letter. This new church was a tiny bunch of Christians living in the successful and bustling commercial Roman town famous for its rich red cloth colossinum which bore its name. This new church was struggling against a Roman rule governed by the insane Nero (who had had Paul imprisoned) and with competing theologies from competing religions and sects. Paul wanted to encourage them with the real truth of the Gospel, that real knowledge of which we spoke a few sentences ago. But he also wants to encourage a church which may have felt beleaguered by all around with a  powerful sense of what they were part of. They are “qualified to share in the inheritance of God’s holy people in the kingdom of light”.

They are not an insignificant bunch of Christians, they are part of something cosmic, beyond understanding, greater than anything in this world. They are part of, and heralds of the kingdom of God.

When we meet each Sunday, when there are sometimes just a few of us, do we feel beleaguered by the secular world all around us? Do we feel that we are battling an overwhelming apathy to faith, or even a negative attitude to God and the church? Do we sometimes even struggle to really know, in the sense I was speaking of earlier, to deeply experience and live out what our faith means, instead of simply “knowing” what it should mean.

Because if we do, we also should be encouraged by Paul’s words. This church, the churches on Sark are not ours, they are God’s, and they are part of something far greater than we can imagine, something cosmic, infinite, unimaginable to us mere humans, they are part of, and heralds of, the Kingdom of God.

And we know that, we really know that, we experience it in our love for God, our faith, that true knowledge of God we can tell people about, but until they are able to experience it for themselves, they will fail to truly know. And it is our job to help reveal that truth to them.

Let’s pray that we may find the modern parables, share the lived experiences, the ways to encourage in others that true understanding, and as we love our neighbour, all our neighbours, as also we humbly but truly love ourselves, may those we live and work amongst come to know, to really know the love of God, in Christ, through us. Amen.