It’s good to back here in Winslow. As some of you may know, last weekend I was away at General Synod. Some of you have asked ‘what is General Synod like?’ Well, I suppose the best answer I can give is that is like a five day rolling PCC meeting! Last Sunday I worshipped alongside many members of General Synod at York Minster. The Archbishop of Canterbury preached and he preached for an awfully long time. I promise to be much shorter as I am aware that the cricket world cup final is about to start; as I say, its good to be back in Winslow, back in my spiritual home.
The reading we have heard from Paul’s letter to the Colossians starts with the phrase ‘Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God’ and then moves on to say ‘grace to you and peace from God our Father.’ These, of course, are akin to the opening words of the liturgy and are suggestive of the fact that right at the core of our Christian life must be both an acceptance of grace and a sense of peace, where peace means the willingness and ability to live as people committed to the whole of human flourishing and good and godly relationships between all people. We are to live as people of peace, cultivating that sense of peace through our prayer life which leads to what Paul describes as ‘the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom.’
The Parable of the Good Samaritan is often, and rightly, considered as an exemplar of the Christian virtue of charity, but I think that I would want to argue that the Samaritan is only able to act as he does because he understands, and has appropriated for himself, grace – the idea that all goodness is essentially a gift, or divine gift, and peace, the imperative to live a life characterised by good and godly relationships between all people.
The tragedy in the parable is that the Priest and Levite are more concerned with protocol than peace and that they are therefore incapable of enacting the greatest of all virtues - charity, or love. With all their religious and legal training they are unable to answer the most basic of all questions: ‘who is my neighbour?’ I have no doubt that they would both claim to be people who feel that they ‘love the Lord their God, with all their heart, soul, mind and strength,’ but have failed to realise that the way that this is worked out in the here and now is through the way that they relate to their neighbour, and especially their neighbour in distress.
Both the Priest and the Levite fail they apostolic test (of being sent of ‘going in peace to love and serve the Lord) because they have little or no understanding that their role is to raise up the bruised, hurting, brutalised and victimised. This lack of recognition, as the parable reminds us, is to have eternal consequences; the story begins after all with the question ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
The Parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us that living in grace and peace must necessarily lead to an active spirituality. From grace and peace must flow, as the Book of Common Prayer puts it, ‘all good works.’
Two more thoughts: first, the only reward we might legitimately expect from a life lived underpinned by grace, secured through peace and animated by charity, or love of neighbour, is eternal life. The fate of the Good Samaritan is to remain unnamed in this life. The story is therefore a calling to humility, a story that at the end of the day it is how God regards us that counts; true, eternal, esteem can only come from God. The eternal crown is the one worth wearing, all other crowns are mere trinkets. Secondly, the story talks to our aspiration to be an hospitable community. The injured man is taken by the Good Samaritan to a place of refuge. The church must always be a place of refuge, a hospital for the injured, excluded, rejected and distressed. How we welcome and esteem those who nobody else cares about – those who are brought to us by modern day Good Samaritans, is the only true test of our hospitality.
Can I ask that you take away with you the pew sheet and reflect this week on our readings allowing the virtues of grace and peace to embed themselves in your heart so that ‘all good works,’ may (again the words of the Book of Common Prayer) ‘proceed’ through a radical commitment to humility, inclusivity, charity and hospitality; for grace, peace, humility, inclusivity, charity and hospitality really are the very stuff of eternal life; yours and mine.
I hope I was sufficiently concise!