Fr. Devin Rodgers
One of our favorite Sunday activities was a game I’ll jokingly refer to as
Stump the Sunday School Teacher. Perhaps you might have played
this game yourself as a child… or even now as an adult.
You try to catch the teacher in a theological or Biblical conundrum. For
example, “How did Noah get animals from places like Antarctica or
What I soon discovered, however, is that Episcopalians are good at living
in the“middle way” of nuance and curiosity. When we are at our best,
we are able to balance reasoning, our tradition, and scripture.
For this reason, the game of Stump Sunday School Teacher is no sweat for
them. You’d pose a question expecting them to say, “Some things there
are just no answers for.”
Instead, your teacher would respond by explaining how evolution fits neatly
side by side with the Creation Story in Genesis.
We tend to have this approach to many social issues as well.
Episcopalians shy away from having black and white answers to
most questions of faith. The real-life experiences of people and worship
inform our views.
This practice helps to hold together the Body of Christ and focus its
attention on what is most important, allowing God to be God while
recognizing that sin has made the world a pretty complex place.
This middle way allows room for God to speak to the Church about the
challenges of human life and follow faithfully where the Spirit guides.
I admire this about our tradition. Several years ago, I came across a book
jokingly titled “Jesus Was an Episcopalian…and You Can Be One Too!”
While I’m not sure Jesus actually wasn’t an Episcopalian, his adversaries
often tried to stump him with complex theological questions. They
expected answers that would cause him to contradict himself or go
against Torah. Jesus was never stumped. He responded with
stories…stories about real life.
Take for instance the lawyer in Luke’s Gospel. This lawyer might better
be described as an “expert of Torah.” He approaches Jesus and wants to
justify himself. He wants to prove that he is an upright and devout
“Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to
him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He
answered, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the
right answer; do this, and you will live.”
The lawyer can’t stop there, he has to really prove it for himself. Also,
as is the case with us at all times, he tries to use his own intellect to
“Well, who is my neighbor.”
Instead of digging into theology or scripture, Jesus describes where all
those beliefs and traditions find meaning. In life.
There is more to the law than what one might read. The embodiment of the
law…the intent behind the law is what matters. In other words… love
Jesus tells him a story. A man is beaten by a band of robbers. A priest
and a Levite walk by and do not stop to help the man.
There is a completely plausible explanation as to why these two didn’t
stop. Levites and Priests were concerned with ritual cleanliness. They
did not want to risk the integrity of their religious ritual.
We know the rest of the story. The Samaritan stops to help the man. He
doesn’t simply call the first-century version of 911 and call it a day. He
is deeply invested in the man’s well-being and recovery.
He puts him on his own donkey, he practices First Aid, he then takes
him to an inn, and pays for his room and board.
The Samaritan spares nothing in caring for the flourishing of this
absolute stranger, despite any apparent barrier that might exist between
the two of them. He employs his time, his money, and his skills. He
even plans to make a return trip to the inn to pick up the extra costs.
This is what love of neighbor looks like-radical, extravagant, and grounded
Neighborliness is our striving for the embodiment of Divine love.
Embodiment of love. This is who Jesus is, and so there is no stumping
The lawyer tries to justify himself in legalistic terms, and Jesus ends up
justifying a complete outsider with divine characteristics. Jesus
completely turns the lawyer’s question on its head. The complete
outsider, the other, is capable of revealing God’s nature. Jesus instructs
Go and be like this Samaritan. I’m sure this direction stumped the
If we look at this parable in our own context, we too should be stumped
because this parable is asking us to do nothing short of using our
resources, our time, our money, and our effort to “see to the flourishing and
love of neighbor” –bar none.
Think for a moment who do you know who is this difficult to love.
Now imagine the extensive list of large and small encounters we have
with these people.
Neighborhood from this perspective means ensuring that others have
what they need to live full lives capable of honoring God. This covers
everything from the way we care for the environment and conduct politics, to the way we address strangers in the grocery store. Jesus is asking us to invest in our friends and perceived enemies so that we might have a more God-like view of a flourishing human family.
Like Jesus, we are to embody love. It goes without saying…THIS IS A CHALLENGE.
If we look at this parable from a different angle, instead of viewing
ourselves as the Samaritan, what if we considered that we were the
individual beaten and left to die at the side of the road? Who would you
like to rescue you?
Striving for this love of neighbor does not mean that we are required to
drop our convictions or stand up for what is right. We still have an
obligation to follow the Gospel, speaking on behalf of justice, truth, and
human dignity. Relationship does not entail agreement, but we are
required to see our enemies as vessels for God’s presence even if that
presence is incredibly hard to find. It takes practice, lots of practice. Often, you will find yourself stumped, unsure how to move forward.
This past week, out of caring for my own sanity, I decided to limit the
amount of time spent reading the news – particularly news a la Facebook
and Instagram. Social media tends to create “bubbles of agreement” and
detachment. This unhealthy “container” allows for the dehumanization
of others through ridicule and desolating views of “the other”
Whether on social media or in real life, we have to resist this urge to live
in an “echo chamber.” Particularly when stakes are high – the safety of
our children, unilateral removal of rights, and more roadblocks to
combatting climate change, it becomes incredibly tempting to “refine
my neighborhood” to only those good upstanding neighbors that I have
easier times with.
Polarization, resorting to unilateral decision-making and separation tend
to be the easy answers that do little to reveal the kingdom of God. They
do little to “Stump the Sunday School Teacher” with rich nuance about
heavenly matters and certainly do not place us in a place to encounter
the divine in the other. In fact, this often resorts back to already agreed
upon norms typically not based on love, but based on legalism and
How do we move away from the character of the lawyer and move in the direction that Jesus calls us to in extending mercy?
First, and perhaps easily said but hard to do, we view our material
possessions, our gifts, and our resources as means to build bridges. They are tools
to enable us to see the Divine presence in “the other.” We use our
individual and shared church property for what we might think of as
total ministry. All facets of our ministry serve one missional purpose-
the announcing that God’s kingdom is close at hand- Christ Crucified
With this perspective Stewardship, Outreach, and Spiritual
transformation all go hand in hand. In the same way the. Samaritan used
his skills of healing, his money, and energy to care for
a stranger, we must also give sacrificially from all that we are blessed
with for the strengthening of those inside these walls and the benefit of those outside these walls.
But perhaps most importantly, Jesus told stories to teach because stories
are about LIFE, real possible human interactions and revelations.
Perhaps actually living, caring for one another, and seeing the holy in the
unexpected is the most impactful and radical thing we humans can do.
Turn off the noise. Emerge from your echo chamber. You don’t have to
strive for major life-changing acts. We are not even called to “bring
about the kingdom of God.” Jesus already did that. We are commanded
to show mercy and serve using all that we have and all that we are.
Life is full of nuance, beauty, and color. It is far too complex to distill
down to easy answers.
Listen and seek God where God wills to be found.
God will guide you. You won’t be stumped for long.