Get lost!

It’s not every day you hear a bishop tell you to ‘Get lost!’

So, we paid attention. Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Shori of the Episcopal Church in the United States quoted in her address to the Joint Assembly a retired New York bishop dismissing the people at the end of Holy Communion; instead of saying, ‘Go in peace and serve the Lord!’ he said: “Get up! Get out! Get lost!”

Get up. Get out. Get lost. … Excuse me?

Instinctively the Gospel story (Luke 10:25-37) asks us to relate to the Samaritan in each of us – the part of us that wants to care for another, to show mercy.

But we seek clarification, more specific instruction. On whom should we focus our caring? We may echo the lawyer’s question: Who is, then my neighbor?

Get up and get out, yes. But on condition: To show mercy to my loved ones. To those I choose to help, on my terms, according to my schedule and beliefs, to those who are like-minded and belong to my church?

But then aren’t we really behaving like the priest and the Levite in the story? For all we can tell, they could have been on their way to performing some great act of kindness to family members, to members of their religious community. They may have been called to a pastoral emergency. They may have just received word that a loved one was taken ill, or dying.

Whatever the case, the priest and the Levite were walking down that road between Jerusalem and Jericho – a dangerous road by all accounts – with purpose and intent. Whether they were motivated by self-preservation or a private, personal mission – they missed something.

It’s not just about showing mercy, but about showing mercy in a particular way and circumstance that pulls us beyond our selfish preoccupations.

At the Joint Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada, both churches confessed that the church is facing challenging times in fulfilling its mission. How can the church not only survive, but thrive, moving forward into a very complex future and social reality?

A theologian from South India teaching now in the United States, Rev. Dr. Christopher Duraisingh, challenged the Joint Assembly to consider a reversal of thinking. He said that normally we think first of the church; that is, taking care of the church – its institution, its maintenance, its membership. And we believe that if we take care first of the church – then we will discover our mission; that is, what it is we are supposed to do.

But, Duraisingh said, it’s got to be the other way around: First, we do mission. And when we take the risk to engage God’s mission in the world, then we will find the church. Very challenging and prophetic words, I find. First, we look to what God is doing and calling us to do out there – and do it. And when we do, we will discover not only the church, but a reinvigorated, revitalized and renewed church.

Part of the difficulty of appreciating this notion of the church (i.e. being first concerned about mission to the world) is that we miss the emphasis in the Bible on social justice. You see, many of the first hearers of these stories that were later written down, were persecuted people themselves – the poor, the marginalized, the persecuted, the enslaved. They could relate in a way privileged societies couldn’t.

That’s why it’s so important for us who seek renewal, both in our personal lives but also in the church, to focus our attention ‘out there’. And befriend those who are poor. They may have something to teach us.

We ‘get up’ from our complacency and denial and avoidance of the issues facing our lives. We begin to see fresh possibilities and dream big dreams of God’s kingdom on earth.

Then, we ‘get out’ of the comfortable pew. We courageously and boldly step out of our comfort zones to go places we never thought possible to care for those who interrupt our self-preoccupied lives.

And, then, we ‘get lost’. Get lost?

In order to show mercy, we must also be willing and open to receive mercy. And that mercy, according to this most famous story of the New Testament, comes from a most unexpected person. The part of us that is the man coming down from Jerusalem – likely a Jew, then – who is attacked by robbers, stripped bear and vulnerable, and left to die by the side of the road …

From where does mercy come to him? Jews and Samaritans hated each other, embroiled in a doctrinal conflict over where to worship God; Jews upheld the Jerusalem temple, while Samaritans did not.

Mercy comes from an enemy. Mercy and grace come from the least likely person we would imagine to help us. That is why this story is so radical, so cutting edge, so uncomfortable. This is not just about being nice to people. This story is about challenging each one of us in our presuppositions about who is in and who is not.

Grace and mercy is offered to us even when we have the courage to see God’s presence in the least expected places in our lives.

So, let’s “Get lost!” Get lost to our self-centered, self-righteous selves. Let’s “Get lost!” to the pretense that we are always right. Let’s let go to let God show us what God is up to and the grace and mercy God wants to show us from people we would least expect it to come from.

Get up! Get out! Get lost!