Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | July 11, 2010

2010.07.11 “A Story To Remember Every Day” Luke 10: 25 – 37

Central United Methodist Church

“A Story To Remember Every Day”

July 11th, 2010

Luke 10: 25 – 37

Pastor David L. Haley

     “Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”

       He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”

       He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence — and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

       “Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”

       Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define “neighbor’?”

       Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead.  Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side.  Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

       “A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him.  He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable.  In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill — I’ll pay you on my way back.’

       “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”

       “The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.

       Jesus said, “Go and do the same.” – Luke 10: 36 – 37, The Message

     My family, I think, has gotten used to it. They know that when we head out on a trip, there are likely unplanned adventures along the way.

For example, in June 2003, in Dublin, Ireland, we were walking across a bridge over the River Liffy, on our way to dinner. Suddenly there was a commotion, with people yelling and pointing.  In the river were two men, one a rescuer to the other, both in danger of drowning. Like a good fireman, I headed into the middle of it.  For a moment, my way was blocked by a Dublin police officer, attempting to keep the crowd back. I said, “I’m a firefighter/medic.”  He said, “You go.”

The pier was covered in slime, quite slippery, and about three feet above the surface of the river.  Every time the rescuer tried to raise the victim up, they both went under.

      I joined a couple of police officers to form a chain, all of us holding the belt of the person in front of us, so that the officer in front could hoist up the victim without being pulled in.  In this way, we pulled out first the victim, and then the rescuer.  I returned to my family, ready for dinner, only a little wet and muddy.

      In the Himalayas, it was a young German woman with ankle blisters, now, at 11,000 feet, barely able to walk. In Florida, it was a young woman who ran over herself jet-skiing.  Once on the way to Champaign, taking my son back to school, we stopped to aid a family whose car was on fire.

      I don’t tell you these stories to brag, but to tell you I consider it my duty to help people in such ways.  When I was a child I saw my father do it, and I hope by watching me, my children will do it too. I’m sure it had something to do with why I became a Pastor, and along the way, a Firefighter/Paramedic.

      But another reason I try to help people has its roots in a story I learned long ago, our Gospel for today, the Parable of the Good Samaritan. I think of the story of the Good Samaritan almost every day.

      I realized this a couple years ago when I heard John Buchanan, Pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, say it, in reference to his walk to work. Those of you who work or go downtown will appreciate what Rev. Buchanan says when he says:

      ”I suppose I think about the story of the Good Samaritan almost every day of my life. After all, it is not possible to walk down Michigan Avenue, something I do every day, without encountering human need in its variegated expressions: the Streetwise salesman on the corner of Michigan and Delaware . . . the amputee sitting on the sidewalk with his hand-lettered sign and tin cup; the children selling M&Ms to support their basketball or baseball team . . . the dignified Asian American gentleman seated on a folding chair playing J. S. Bach’s Double Violin Concerto with his granddaughter . . .  the homeless woman, lost in some world that exists only in her head, thoroughly focused on the task of rummaging through the trash basket in search of breakfast.”

      Says Buchanan: “To negotiate that on a daily basis requires a set of urban skills: finesse, discipline, focus, not to mention physical dexterity. You can’t, after all, respond to every need. Besides, who knows which of those needs is authentic? And is there really a basketball team somewhere that benefits from the daily sale of M&Ms?  Besides, I support my church and my church has a social service center and skilled staff persons, and I support United Way and a shelter for the homeless, and I pay my taxes. And besides, I’m on my way to work and can’t afford to stop and deal with each person who needs my help or I’d never make it to the office.”

      “So,” says Buchanan, “I do what you do.  I do what we all do.  I pass by on the other side, which is why this 2000-year-old story is one of the best, maybe the best story anyone ever told, and it is why I think about it more than anything else in the Bible. (John Buchanan, “Doing What Needs to Be Done”, The Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago, July 15, 2001)

      Even if you didn’t grow up in Sunday School, you likely know the reference. You know what it means when you read about “Good Samaritans” helping strangers. You know there are laws, “Good Samaritan Laws”, protecting would-be Good Samaritans from liability when they render assistance. You just may not have known that it comes from a story told by Jesus.

      Some have compared the story to a kind of verbal, theological, tennis match, Jesus versus the Lawyer, each after the other returning the ball to the other’s court.

      The opening serve, prompting Jesus to tell the story of the Good Samaritan, was in response to a question by a scribe, a kind of religious lawyer: “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?” 

      It’s a good question; one that we all ask.  But isn’t it interesting Jesus didn’t answer the way we think he might, or at least as others have led us to believe?  Jesus didn’t tell him to be born again, as he did Nicodemus; he didn’t ask him to go and sell all he had and come and follow him, as he had the Rich Young Ruler, he didn’t ask him to pray the Four Spiritual Laws or accept Jesus into his heart. No, what Jesus said was, “You’re a lawyer.” “You tell me.” (Pat – back into his court)

      So the lawyer says, “You shall love the Lord your God with heart, soul, strength, and mind – and your neighbor as yourself.” (Pat)

      “Good answer!” says Jesus. “Do that and you will live.”  (Pat)

      In a follow-up, the lawyer asks another question:  “But who exactly is my neighbor?” Doesn’t it remind you of those students who ask the teacher what’s going to be on the test, so they only have to study that, and no more?

      In response, Jesus tells the story, maybe his best:  A man was walking the treacherous seventeen-mile road from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by bandits, robbed, beaten, stripped naked, and left to die by the side of the road.  A priest, walking the road, saw him and passed by on the other side.  A Levite, an assistant in the temple, did the same: saw the poor man and stepped around him. Couldn’t they at least stop and see if the man was dead or alive? 

      Certainly, our hearing of the story may depend upon where we see ourselves in it.  If you’ve ever been a victim, lying injured, fearful, and helpless by the side of a road, this story likely evokes great emotion.  If you ever been or attempted to be a Good Samaritan, this story may charge you with adrenaline and fill you with resolve.  But more likely, this story fills us with guilt, for at some time or another, we’ve been the priest or the Levite, the ones who passed by.

      The excuses the priest and Levite might give are undoubtedly the same ones we might give. “What if I’m being conned?”  “What if it’s a trap?”  “What if the person has AIDS?”  “What if I get sued?”  “What if I get in over my head?”  “What if?”

      Obviously, in real situations, there is a need for caution and common sense. There are dangers and risks involved.  Sometimes rescuers wind up as victims themselves, and make things worse. This happened, for example, last Thursday in Maywood, when Christopher Scotland – seeing a black Honda stopped at the curb – did something he had never done before: he pulled over to help — and unwittingly touched off a tragic chain of events ending in a crash that killed three people, two of whom were innocent victims. Among professional rescuers, the saying is, “If you become a victim, not only do you not help your victim, you add to the problem.”  

      In fact, as many of us have learned from experience, often when you do try to help, the problem will be more complicated than we think, will take more time and money than we thought, and there will be a price to pay. As Clare Boothe Luce once put it, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

      For example, a few years ago in the Christian Century magazine, Peter Hawkins, Professor of Religion at Boston College, told about the night he and a friend were in New York City to see the one-man performance of The Gospel according to Mark, by Alec McGowan.  They were on their way home when the door of a bar opened and a drunk stumbled out, too drunk too walk, much less get home.  Should they leave this foul-mouthed drunk alone, as he asked them to do, or take him home?  What Would Jesus Do? 

      With the Gospel of Mark still ringing in their ears, and the Parable of the Good Samaritan palpable in the air, they escorted him home. What they hadn’t counted on was that the man they rescued and took back to his Upper Eastside townhouse was not the least interested in the kingdom coming; he only wanted a drink and a smoke and didn’t care if he burned the whole building down to get it. There was nothing to do but flush away the matches, drain the Scotch, allow him to pass out in exhaustion and keep watch until dawn.  When they tiptoed out, they left their name and telephone number. “Please call if you would like to talk.”  He never did.  Nor did they receive a letter of thanks nor the Neighbor of the Year award from the Upper Eastside block association. (“The Samaritan Spends the Night,” Christian Century, June 20-27, 2001).

      So it would have been in the parable.  If the priest stops and touches the man and the man is dead, the priest is ceremonially unclean. He has no choice but to turn around, go back to Jerusalem, purchase a red heifer, arrange for it to be sacrificed and reduced to ashes, and stand outside the East Gate of the city wall with other sinners for one week.  Only then can he resume his journey. As for the Levite, he’s probably on his way to a very important meeting.  (Once, when I was a pastor in Chicago, as I walked to church on the Sunday morning I had to preach this text, I had to step over a drunk passed out on the sidewalk. Cruel!)

      But the brilliance of the story is not just that the potential rescuers act like we do, it is also in the identities of “Who” rescues “Whom,” turning on its head our usual “good guy/bad guy” way of looking at the world. The story should be about a good Jew who stops to help a hated, racially and religiously inferior Samaritan.  Everybody would understand and nod in agreement.  But a “Good Samaritan?” For 700 years these people had been trouble: an obstinate bunch of racial half-breeds with a watered-down form of religion and their own substitute temple.  To the Jews there was no such thing as a “Good Samaritan”.

      So now, (pat), when Jesus asks the lawyer, who was the good neighbor?  The lawyer – trapped by this overhead lob – has to say, “The one who showed mercy — the Samaritan.”

      Jesus’ words still reverberate, do they not, in a world still filled with religious, political, and racial hatred: not just Jews & Samaritans anymore, but Jews and Palestinians, Christians and Muslims, Protestants and Catholics, Blacks & Whites.

      Is Jesus questioning our conventional moral wisdom, suggesting that even those we hate, might be better than us?  Is he suggesting that the way back, not only to civility, but to the most basic humanity and religion, is to break the cycle of hatred by reaching out in compassion to those we most fear or hate? Is Jesus suggesting that finally it is not in our orthodoxy (our right beliefs) — but in our orthopraxy (our actual deeds) — wherein lies our salvation?

      What started out as a discussion of how to get to heaven, detours, by Jesus’ leading, not only into defining the neighbor we must love, but into the practice of actually being a neighbor. Even then, it’s not so much about being “do-gooders”, as it is about moving from religious belief to practice; from abstraction to action, from standing on the sidelines, speculating, to hands-on doing what we know: “Do this, and you will live.” No matter where we are in our spiritual journey: our greatest challenge is not that we don’t know enough; our greatest challenge is that we don’t do what we know.

      At my last church, they had a homeless shelter which met in the church, on Thursday nights, October through May.  It was sponsored by DuPage P.A.D.S., an acronym standing for People Acting To Deliver Shelter.  But one of my young, more precocious confirmands — who later served in the Philippines in the Peace Corps and is now in law school — called it, perceptibly, “People Actually Doing Something.”  That’s the kind of Christian I want to be.  You too?

      Yes, like John Buchanan, I think of Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan almost every day.   Because it reminds me, as it does us all, to practice what we preach, to do what we know, to be alert for every opportunity to help others, in ways great and small.

      It’s a small story, but it’s an eloquent vision of the kingdom of God, in which all are welcome, all are included, all are loved and cared for; and in which finally, eternal life — abundant life — is given to those who love and give their lives away.

      Go and do the same.   Amen.

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