Sermon preached on 7/21/13 at Friendship Presbyterian Church
based on Luke 10:25-37
So the Good Samaritan story. Now here is a story that all of us have figured out … and I don’t just mean the people in this room — looking up some of the things that exist in life outside of the church tell us just what the Good Samaritan story is all about, right? I mean, we have Good Samaritan laws that protect people who help other people. There are Good Samaritan hospitals where people can go for healing and even help with paying for their treatments. Those things sound familiar to the text we just read, right? Even as I was typing this sermon … microsoft word kept underlining the words “good” and “Samaritan” … even my autocorrect was telling me that this story was so important and that I needed to capitalize both of the words in order to validate it!
We know the Good Samaritan story.
Well, at least I thought I did. Until these past couple of weeks.
When Shawna asked me to preach this morning, she gave me free range as far as biblical passages were concerned. Then when she mentioned that she had switched last week’s lectionary … I took the opportunity to preach on Luke’s version of the Good Samaritan story. From the very beginning of looking at this text in preparation for this morning … I thought I had a pretty good handle about what my points would be and how I might go about getting to them and sharing them with you all. I had it pretty figured out.
I thought I would come here and share with you that the Good Samaritan story was about how Luke wanted us to ponder the question, “Who is our neighbor?” I would share with you that in this parable, Jesus challenged the social norms of the day by changing the question from “Who is our neighbor?” to “Who proved to be a neighbor?” I would share with you how we could minister *to* people we see in need. I would share with you the inclusiveness that Jesus shared with the lawyer in this story. I would share that when the lawyer asked Jesus all of these questions — the lawyer was really asking Jesus to tell him a story that included him … and when Jesus complied with this request — he didn’t tell a story where the lawyer was a hero, but rather the hero was the very person he previously considered the enemy.
I would have unpacked all of that with you this morning and shared with you how we could prove to be neighbors to our communities.
I would have told you a story that I thought you wanted to hear.
But then something changed.
I imagine God had something to do with it.
This week while I was researching all kinds of background information about the Good Samaritan, I was presented with an article from More Light Presbyterians’ website. One of my collegues, Alex Wirth, was interiewed by the More Light Presbyterians group about his current ministry at Lakeview Presbyterian Church called Cafe Pride. Cafe Pride is held every Friday night at Lakeview Pres and provides a hot meal and a safe space for LGBTQ youth.
Now, I was familiar with Alex’s ministry with Cafe Pride, as Logan and I have helped to serve meals there … and I was reading the article more for the excitement that a colleague I knew was being interviewed than for any new informational purposes.
Then I got to the last paragraph of the interview … and something hit me. In retrospect, I would call this the Holy Spirit … but at the time, it seemed more accurately described as a ton of bricks.
I want to quote from this last paragraph of the article… Alex says,
“The good Samaritan story is in the lectionary this week. I see the story a little bit differently. We as a church are the ones beaten up at the side of the road because we’ve denied the fullness of community to these LGBTQ youth and ourselves. When they come into our space, they show us the fullness of community and the fullness of God.
They bind our wounds.”
Take a moment to let that sink in.
Is this possible?
Traditionally, and in line with what I thought I was going to originally share with you this morning, we have interpreted this Good Samaritan story with ourselves as the Good Samaritan. We have told ourselves that if we act well and kind to those around us … then surely we are acting the part of the Good Samaritan.
We are like the lawyer in this passage. We have asked God to tell us a story about ourselves. Except when we have asked for the story … we have expected that we will be the heroes in the story. We have expected to see ourselves as the Good Samaritan.
Is it possible that we might be someone else in this story?
Alex indentified the church as the man who was beaten up on the road. Could this be true?
I invite you to sit with this story for a moment. Take a second and think about where you fall in this story.
Are you the priest or the Levite who crossed to the other side of the road upon seeing the beaten man … knowing that stopping to help could be a deadly trap for yourself? Knowing that by touching the man’s body in order to help him would have meant you would have been considered unclean by your own community? Feeling the tension of what you have been taught is right and what is practical? While none of these things excuse the fact that the priest and the Levite didn’t stop to help … it does help to explain it.
Are you the beaten man lying on the road … waiting for someone to help guide you out of your pain? Not knowing if you are going to spend your last days along a deserted path …. longing for some of the footsteps that you think you hear nearby to stop and help heal your wounds? Are you crying out about your struggles only to find that no one can hear your plea? Are you feeling the brunt of the inconsistency you have experienced between the brutal hatred of your attackers and the overwhelming mercy and grace shown by the Samaritan?
Or are you the Good Samaritan in this story? Have you been outcast because of who you are? Have you been judged by others based on your race or ethnicity? Have you been considered unclean by the rest of society because of who you love or by what causes you support? Have your religious beliefs been deemed heretical by the religious leaders? and with all of this … have you still found the strength to show love and compassion to someone in need?
Who are you in this story?
After some reflection, I’m not sure who I am in this story. I see myself as different people in different stages in my life. Sometimes I have indentified more with the priest and Levite while at other times I have felt a strong connection with the Samaritan or the beaten man.
So what does all of this mean?
These categories don’t seem so clear cut to me anymore.
It seems that characters, and especially heroes, are more complicated than we expect them to be. People are more complicated than we expect them to be.
The lawyer asked a tough question in this story — “Who is my neighbor?”
Jesus saw his question and raised him another — “Who proved to be a neighbor?”
Our job, then, is to live into this question asking ourselves not only “Who are our neighbors …. but who is showing us neighborly love? Who are the people who are showing us God’s mercy and grace when we don’t deserve it? Who are the people reflecting love back to us through their actions? Who are the people telling us the story of love?
When I think of examples of such neighborly love … I think of Fred Rogers from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. When asked about how to deal with all of the violence in the world … Mr. Rogers said that when bad things happened, he always looked for the helpers. This allowed him to see that even in the midst of pain and sadness — there is love. When the Boston marathon bombs exploded — there were people running into the chaos in order to help people. When there are senseless murders and violence in this city we live in — there are also people who are advocating against violence and reaching out to the violent communities. When LGBTQ youth are kicked out of their homes because of who they are — there are people like Alex Wirth and those from Friendship who volunteer at The Crib striving to make safe spaces for young people to express themselves freely. Where there are helpers — there is grace and love.
The Good Samaritan showed love and mercy to the stranger, and thus reflected the love of God. The beaten man showed openness to this love of God. Whether we are the Samaritan, the priest, or the beaten person in this story …. we have opportunities to share God’s love with those around us. We can not only look for the helpers among us …. but we can be the helpers in order to facilitate change. Let us not only strive to prove to be a neighbor …. let us also allow others to show us what it means to be a neighbor. When we learn from one another and reflect love to one another— we become closer to being a more whole people. Let us be open to all instruments of peace and love in this world. Amen.