MARY LEE TALBOT – STAFF WRITER
“I just bought my family’s old house in South Philadelphia, and I am learning to be a neighbor. My family has been in the Point Breeze neighborhood for 70 years,” Lisa Sharon Harper said. “What does it mean to be a neighbor in an area that is gentrifying, with people who have lived there for 50 or 60 years, or the new guard, who are looking for an affordable place to live?”
Harper preached at the 9 a.m. worship service Monday, Aug. 9 in the Amphitheater. Her sermon title was “The Neighbor You’ll Never Know.” The Scripture reading was Luke 10: 25-27.
She asked the congregation, “How do we find ways to be neighbors in a world that is shifting? And, as I will do every day, we need to remember the first people here, the Seneca and Erie people and the six nations of the Iroquois Confederation. We need to thank them for being good stewards of the land.”
Jesus was standing in his own land with his own people, their own houses and own history, but they were conquered by the Romans. A lawyer, a young student, asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked him what was written in the law. The student told Jesus the law said to love God and your neighbor.
“Jesus told him he answered rightly,” Harper said. “Then the student wanted to go a step further and asked, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ It was a legitimate question, but Jesus never answered it.”
She asked, “Is the man on the dangerous road a neighbor? Is the priest who passes by a neighbor? Was the Levite a neighbor? But the Samaritan went across the road. But the Samaritan bandaged the man and put antiseptic on his wounds. But the Samaritan used his own gas to get the man to an inn and took care of him. But the Samaritan gave the innkeeper two days’ wages and said he would be back to cover the expenses if the innkeeper spent more.”
Jesus flipped the script on the lawyer, Harper said. “The lawyer was trying to find out who he could put off his ‘need to love’ list. Jesus asked, who was the neighbor to the injured man? What does it mean to be a neighbor?”
Who was the man who was going down the dangerous road from Jerusalem to Jericho? Was he using this dangerous road so he did not have to go into Samaria, the enemy of the Jewish people?
“The Samaritan is the neighbor. The student of the law was trying to X people off his ‘need to love list,’ ” she said. “Jesus told the lawyer that love without limits would let him inherit eternal life.”
She asked the congregation: What does it mean to love without limits? “It means to renounce our fear of our neighbor’s needs. It means knowing their names and listening to their stories and talking regularly. How do we love the neighbors we will never know? With respect for the image of God in them and acknowledging they have the ability to exercise dominion in the world.”
Harper asked, what if those in power did not structure their lives so they never had to meet these neighbors?
“Would they go and not bring solutions, but listen to people’s stories and find solutions together?” she asked. “Would they not turn away, but stop the bleeding and make the world as it should be? ‘Justice’ is when things are as they should be.”
Those who are at the bottom are there because our government put them there, Harper asserted. “They have brought us to this place where we allow our neighbors to lie bleeding.”
As an example, she cited the 48 states that are trying to suppress voting rights for people of color, women, the elderly and college students. They are grabbing at power, she said, because they are afraid.
“If we wanted to love our neighbors in these 48 states, we would end the filibuster, pass HR1, restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act, help the nonpartisan Poor People’s Campaign and raise the minimum wage,” she told the congregation.
She continued, “Can you walk through today without X-ing anyone off your ‘need to love’ list? Will you choose to love the neighbor you will never know? If you have one step to take today, may you take that step, and find Jesus on that road.”
The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, vice president of religion and senior pastor at Chautauqua Institution, presided. The Rev. Paul Womack, interim pastor of Hurlbut Memorial Community United Methodist Church, read the Scripture. Joshua Stafford, who holds the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist and is director of sacred music, played “Andante con moto e poco rubato,” from “Three Preludes” by George Gershwin. Members of the Motet Choir sang “Ubi Caritas,” with music by Maurice Duruflé and words by Paulinus of Aquileia. The postlude was “Allegro ben ritmato e deciso,” from “Three Preludes” by George Gershwin. The Alison and Craig Marthinsen Endowment for the Department of Religion provides support for this week’s services and chaplain.