The Core Week Five - "Radical Service"
This Sunday is the final installment of the sermon series that we've been working on for the past several weeks--a sermon series entitled, "The Core." This sermon series has been a re-exploration of the core values of our church--what we call the Five Things: Worship, Pray, Grow, Love and Serve.
Throughout this sermon series our conversations have been shaped by one very important truth: "We are made of what we value." And, as we've discovered, this is more than just a metaphor, it's quite literal, in fact.
At the very core of our being we are made up of trillions of atoms that are constantly exchanging energy with other things and other people. Those of us who are Christians say that the energy between us, around us, in us and through us is stamped with the very DNA of God, and is fueled by God-energy that we call the Holy Spirit.
And at this level of being---there's a load of mystery. Science can't explain everything as it turns out. Which is good news for Christians who love Science and have grown weary of people saying that Science and Faith aren't compatible. I tend to believe that there's a great deal of faith required to truly dig into the mysteries of Science. I also believe that there's so much about the mysteries of Science that can inform our faith.
So, why don't we get to it... We've got more mysteries to uncover and a final sermon in this series to share.
Today we're going to be talking about the fifth of our core values: Serve. And the overarching theme that we're going to be working with--the thread that is going to run throughout the sermon today is simply this: "Radical service isn't radical in the kingdom of God."
Now that might sound like a very church-y thing to say right off the bat, but it's the best way to describe what we're about to do. We've talked about what the kingdom of God is: a space, a place, a time, a reality where Creation is as God intended it--a place of peace, hope, joy, abundance, and endless creativity that some might call heaven.
And we get glimpses of heaven when we experiences true worship, continuous prayer, challenging growth and unconditional love. If you were paying attention, you will notice I worked in the previous four sermons right there. You noticed, I bet. You're awesome.
And in this place, the most radical act of service done in the name of Jesus---isn't radical at all. It's normal.
So here's how this is going to go...
First we're going to read a story from the Bible---one that is commonly called the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Then we're going to talk about the differences between the left and right hemispheres of your brain. Then we'll discuss a rare condition of the brain called Prosopagnosia. After that we're going to discover what happens to your God DNA when you truly see people. And then we're going to answer a question asked to Jesus, "Who is My Neighbor?"
Good Samaritan... Left Brain/Right Brain... Prosopagnosia... Seeing... and Who is My Neighbor...
Strap on your safety harnesses... Let's rock.
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”Here's the thing about stories... you always seem to find yourself in them, don't you? A good storyteller will shape a story in such a way that you can't help but find yourself in it. And sometimes if the storyteller is really, really good---you will find yourself identifying with a character or a group that you ordinarily would never identify with.
This is what Jesus did to the expert of the law who challenged him in this particular moment. He shaped the story so the man would want to identify with an unlikely character. The word "Samaritan" would have been a dirty word to this man. Jews and Samaritans hated one another. Samaritans worshipped God on their own mountain in their own temple--apart from the Jews who believed the only true way to worship God was on the Temple mount in the Temple.
The Samaritans believed God's presence was with them on their mountain--and the Jews believed God's presence was with them on their mountain. Samaritans routinely robbed and beat Jews who were traveling to and from Jerusalem through their territories. A Jewish king destroyed the Samaritan temple some one hundred and fifty years before this---in retaliation for a group of Samaritans who desecrated the Temple with dead animals.
And Jesus completely messes with this guy by making the hero of the story someone who he would have hated... The priest and the Levite in the story were constrained by the rules and regulations of the Law and could not even come near the guy--who they thought was dead.
The Samaritan isn't constrained by those same rules and regulations---he just helps the man, who we are led to believe is Jewish.
Jesus causes the expert on the law--- to rethink everything he thinks he knows.
This seems like a good moment to shift our own thinking...
Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroanatomist from Harvard.
She studies the brain.
I had no idea what that meant either...
Taylor suffered a stroke and in the midst of that stroke she was able to study her left brain and right brain functioning. When the left side of her brain started shutting down, she started losing the ability to comprehend numbers, analyze and verbalize.
But here's where this gets freaky...
As the right hemisphere of her brain began to grow stronger, Taylor discovered that her sense of individualism decreased and her relational connection to the world around her increased. She also began to experience a sense of joyous well-being, shared reality and peace.
Taylor concluded that what's happened in our culture is that we've been trained through our industrial-era educational systems to approach the world with left-brain angles. And this one-sided approach can diminish our ability to care for others and feel connected to the world around us.
Which brings me to Prosopagnosia.
Prosopagnosia is a disorder in the brain that affects a person's ability to recognize the faces of other people, and in many cases---their own face. It primarily affects the right hemisphere. Prosopagnosia is most often brought on by some kind of trauma, but can in some rare cases be congential--a mixup in genetics.
People who suffer from this disorder literally cannot recognize people they have known for their entire lives. One man, Bill Choisser, was 48 years old when he finally recognized his own reflection in the mirror. People accused him of being arrogant, aloof, and even downright hateful. He simply couldn't recognize anyone.
Losing that part of his right brain----prohibited him from truly seeing them...
My wife is one of the most loving and caring people I know. She has a way of engaging everyone she meets. Whenever we go to a restaurant she will find a way to get to know our waiter or waitress, learn their name, find out what they are doing in their life and also get their best recommendations for food. When we stay at hotels, or go on cruises she easily becomes the most popular guest. All of the stewards, concierges, wait staff... they love her and bend over backwards to joyfully serve her.
I asked her recently about this incredible trait that she possesses. She told me that she actively thinks about it every day wherever she goes--when she goes to Starbucks, the grocery store, wherever she happens to be. She said to me that what people are responding to is what she calls the "Dignity of Notice."
The Dignity of Notice.
I thought a lot about what Merideth told me. I also witnessed first hand the joy she received in the interactions she had with people she honored with the dignity of notice---people that often were overlooked, perhaps ignored...
Here's what I think. At the very core of our being where those trillions of atoms that make us us are exchanging energy with other things and other people to the tune of billions a second... At the very core of our being where we are imprinted with God's DNA...
Something happens when we actually see other people, truly see them.
I think the God DNA inside of us sings for joy--it hums with happiness. I believe that the God-energy between us, the Holy Spirit of God in Jesus, thrives on the moments where we exercise the Dignity of Notice.
Where we see our neighbor...
And now to the question that was asked of Jesus---"Who is my neighbor?" That's the question of our time, really. Especially in a world where there are so many ways and reasons to dislike one another.
Let me tell you a story.
Prior to the US invasion of Iraq following 9/11, the US military began a systemized bombardment of the country. Bombs were falling all over Iraq--in strategic areas, but also in some areas where civilians were bearing the brunt of the explosions.
At the time of the invasion, Iraq had a fairly large Christian population. A group of young-fresh-out-of-college Christian idealists from the USA journeyed to Iraq prior to the bombings to stand in solidarity with their Christian brothers and sisters.
The government ordered them out of the country, and they thought to resist. When it became clear that they needed to flee if they wanted to get out of Iraq alive, the group and drivers charged with deporting them began speeding through the back roads of the country, trying to reach the border. They were near the town of Rutba when one of the vehicles spun out of control and wrecked. Several student were injured, one of them critically.
A local doctor from Rutba took them in and treated the wounded and stabilized the critically injured student, saving his life.
An Iraqi doctor treated Americans with bombs literally falling from the sky around them.
The students were overwhelmed by the grace the doctor showed them, and begged him to tell them what they could do to repay him one day. "You own me nothing," he told them. "Just tell the world what happened in Rutba."
Tell this story...
Have we become so intent on keeping the rules and regulations---the traditions of Christianity that we can't even see other people?
Have we lost our ability to love those who are on the margins, who--according to our rules, regulations and traditions we are not supposed to hang out with, eat with and care for?
Can you see yourself in these stories? Can you see yourself in the other?
Can you so identify with someone in need that you serve them, welcome them, care for them, open your heart to them without question? Would you be willing to toss out the rulebook in order to show them the grace and mercy of God---that you yourself have been shown?
Can you be a true neighbor?
You know how to do this. It's how you were created. Your very brain is designed to not just be a huge calculator---but to be a center of empathy, connectivity and love.
When you truly see others in their need, in their brokenness... You often find that you are seeing yourself... Which isn't entirely impossible because that God DNA that you have surging through you and around you through the power of the Holy Spirit is also present... in others.
And the very core of your being--where the God DNA exists--- sings when you step outside of the lines your left brain, traditions, rules and regulations have created to radically serve people who you ordinarily would not think to serve.
When you do this... the kingdom of God--heaven---breaks through here on earth. And what you might have thought was radical service is just the way things ought to be.
Because radical service isn't radical in the kingdom of God.