Just over a half-decade ago I served my year of seminary internship in Dallas, Texas, at Christ Lutheran Church, about five miles north of downtown. We didn’t fulfill much ministry in the epicenter of the city, so I didn’t spend much time there, but my most vivid memory still to this day is this white “X” on a road. It marked the spot where John F. Kennedy was shot over fifty years ago now. And that “X” came back to mind as I read of the accounts from many of those Dallas church members on social media Thursday night.
Because on November 22, 1963, America felt violated. This youthful, hope-filled, energizing, optimistic, American-dream President instilled a vibrancy at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue that was never experienced before. And then, all of a sudden, literally, in the blink of an eye, a shooter completely annihilated everything. He violated an entire nation that day, and Americans could do absolutely nothing but watch on television, and hear the words from Walter Cronkite, having to hold back tears, that the President of so much incredible potential had indeed died.
Nearly fifty-three years later, Dallas endured yet another horrifying nightmare on a scale well beyond the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, as a shooter, yet again, violated not just a city, but an entire nation. Even with all the violence our country has witnessed far too often in recent years, what happened Thursday night ravaged a sense of decency and civility that we hoped deep down we still had in the midst of all the hatred. We felt violated, to be sure.
Come to think of it there was plenty of fear over fifty years ago as well. People were frightened of nuclear missile launches and Communism and racial tensions running high across America. President Kennedy brought a sense of empowering stability in spite of all the worries that kept Americans up at night during those tumultuous times. And yet evidently that didn’t matter to Lee Harvey Oswald. Hatred had already won him over.
Over half a century after the Dallas police department endured the undeniable worst-case scenario brought to life before their very eyes; since then they have developed a reputation in the city of being this empowering stability in spite of all the worries across the nation. They had been specially trained in allowing peaceful protests to take place in the city for decades, including for Thursday night. Evidently the shooter didn’t care about that. Hatred had already won him over.
I know this is a sensitive subject. I know we have plenty of connections with law enforcement in church. I also recognize we would be lying to ourselves if we were to say we are part of a racially diverse denomination, let alone congregation. I know tensions run high in Berrien County with Benton Harbor, and I must recognize that I have not faced any kind of life-altering experience to understand what police officers go through, or different races or social classes.
So I can only hope to at least find some Good News in the Gospel this morning, a story that has gradually lost its stinging power in the church over the generations. We’ve turned it into a nice, warm-fuzzy feely story about this Good Samaritan. But when Jesus told the parable, it would have infuriated his Jewish sisters and brothers. Samaritans were not to be trusted. They were despised. They were seen as sub-human in comparison to the vastly superior Jews. It was racial tension. It was religious admonishment.
Nevertheless, Jesus is telling them this story about the ones they would trust the least with their life, and the Samaritans end up being the ones who save the Jews, God’s chosen ones, when they are beaten and left for dead. The hated-Samaritans save their enemy’s life. But Jesus isn’t telling this parable for public safety or for the betterment of a community or an entire nation. We’re still struggling with that mindset in America: that this country belongs to us and not them. But of course for God this isn’t about African Americans, or European Americans, or Native Americans being here first, or an influx of Latin Americans. God was here long before all of humanity. God claimed this land as good long before any human being took control for its resources. This isn’t about us. This is first and foremost about God, who makes us all neighbors in the grand scheme of this entire Creation and the eternal Kingdom of God.
In the end, this story of the Good Samaritan is meant to drive us nuts. It’s supposed to make us feel uncomfortable, as much as the news has for years now. But Good News still comes nonetheless. On Friday, an African American girl invaded the fear-filled headlines by simply taking flowers to police officers in Seattle. That same day, after the hideous rampage in Dallas, people of all different races and social classes and ages came to join hands together near the epicenter of tragedy, completely wiping away the hopes of racial triumph for the gunman the night before. And when it comes to the Good Samaritan story the best part is actually not part of the parable at all; but the fact that Jesus Christ loved all the characters just the same, and would go all the way to the cross for the Jews, for the Samaritans, for the Gentiles, for every skin color that God has ever seen throughout eternity, for every working class that has ever come to be.
Nothing, absolutely nothing that happens in all of Creation can separate us and all of God’s children, from that love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Hatred will lose again not just from this past weekend, but for eternity because of a violent cross that no longer holds a body, and a decaying tomb that couldn’t withhold a Savior from the world. Jesus has already won. No gunman can stop that. No violence can stem that tide of hope. God will most certainly save us from ourselves then, now, and forevermore. And for that, we give thanks to God indeed! Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Dennis Smith, Interim Pastor
Office: Tue - Fri: 9 a.m. - Noon