WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR

Thanks for the comments. Please keep them coming.  Here is a sermon from last year. Friday, I will have some comments on celebrities.

 

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?

LUKE 10: 25-37 JULY 14, 2019

WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT IS THIS STORY ALL ABOUT

Sometimes people state what is painfully obvious; like these Something went wrong in jet crash, experts say. Miners refuse to work after death. War dims hope for peace. If strike isn’t settled quickly, it may last a while. Cold wave linked to temperatures.

And sometimes headlines don’t really mean what they say and are misunderstood; like these. Eye drops off shelf. Red tape holds up new bridge. Hospitals sued by 7 foot doctors. Prostitutes appeal to Pope.

The story of the Good Samaritan could be painfully obvious. We have heard it so many times before. We can assume that we know what the moral of the story is all about. Bu it may also not mean just what it seems to say.

It is always interesting to think about which character we are in the story. An expert on the Bible asks Jesus a question, not to learn but to try to discredit him. Jesus answers him with a story. You know the story. So ask yourself who are you in the story. Are you one of the two religious people who pass by without stopping to help?  Before you condemn them we should remember that they were busy. Many of us are on tight schedules. We know what it’s like to have to be at the Temple by 11:00. We understand their natural self-preoccupation. They were afraid that they would be made ritually unclean if they came near. And they would have put themselves in danger because the same robbers might still be around. Or maybe you are the Samaritan who stopped to help. We all would like to think that we would be kind and help this poor man who was truly helpless.

I’d like to tell you about a time when I thought I was being the Samaritan. It was during a youth group event. We were having a scavenger hunt. We broke up into teams in cars of adult helpers. The first one back to the church would win. My team was doing well. Then we came around the corner and an older lady flagged us down. Her husband was having a heart attack. We stopped and I told one of the boys to go to the house near-by and call 911. This was before cell phones. We waited there with her until the medics arrived. When we got back to church we were the last to finish. The other kids were mocking the slow preacher’s car. That night I changed the lesson to this story of the Good Samaritan. But it is not a parallel to this parable. It was just a game. It cost me nothing to stop.  It posed no danger to me.  It was not the kind of thing Jesus was getting at in the story.

KINDNESS AS IF

Maybe the headline here would be, “Jesus tells a story about being kind.”  There is some that in the story. It may contain a moral teaching about being kind to others. I am coming to the conclusion more and more that kindness is the missing element in the world that causes so much Whether it is in the interaction of nations or the way governments treat people in their own nation or the way neighbors treat their neighbors. Think of how much good would be achieved if kindness ruled all of our behavior.

But this story is about a special form of kindness. It is an extravagant form of kindness. We may all be willing to show costly or even dangerous kindness for the people that we love. But what about the stranger? We don’t have any children at the border. Why should we be concerned about conditions there?  They are not even American citizens. Why should we help them? It’s because when Jesus said to help whoever needs help, he didn’t limit it to citizenship or race. In fact that was his answer to the Bible expert’s question.  There are NO LIMITS to the call to care and to help, even if it is costly or dangerous. Jesus destroys any parochial understanding of our mission.

Fred Rogers was one of the best examples of teaching kindness to children. His message got through to many of us as adults as well. One child said, “Mr. Rogers talks to us like we are Another said, “Mr. Rogers is kind to me even though he doesn’t know me.” And still another child said, “He talks to us like we matter.”  He asked us all to be his neighbor.  The law expert got his answer to his question, “Who is my neighbor?” It is anyone who shows kindness to me. Kindness is love in action. Kindness is love with its work gloves on. Love is not an emotion. It is an action.

But what about our neighbors that we don’t love? Maybe like the Samaritan in the story? Kurt Vonnegut had a character asked that question of an older friend in one of his novels.  “What should I do about the likes of him? He don’t deserve my help?” And the old man said, “For God’s sake, Joe, be kind!” Even the secular world catches on sometimes. I think Mr. Rogers would say, “Behave as if you DO love them and you will make them your neighbor.

The Samaritan would have been one of those people that the lawyer and the crowd of Jews listening to Jesus would have They were descended from Jews who had not gone off in exile. They intermarried with other races in the area. They rejected the Temple in Jerusalem and built their own Temple on Mr. Gerizim. They were rejected and despised by Jews in the days of Jesus. And Jesus shocks them all by making a Samaritan the hero of the story.

Do you know any Samaritans? So who would a modern parallel to the despised and rejected? Who would Jesus make the hero of the story that would shock us and be a scandal to us? Clarence Jordon wrote a version of Luke set in the Jim Crow south. It’s called the Cotton Patch Version. In his version the Samaritan who stops to help is black. Amy Levine said that after 911, Jesus might have made the hero a Muslim or even Al Qaeda.

Will Willimon wrote about a time his car broke down at night in South Carolina. Several cars went by without stopping to help. Then a car stopped and two big old southern boys got out. Neither was wearing a shirt. They were both were heavily tattooed. They flew a Confederate flag from the antennae. They were both drinking beer. They said, “You all having trouble?” And Willimon thought, “I’m having trouble But they got under the hood of his car and had it started in about 15 minutes. Then they rode off; maybe back to Samaria Georgia.

I remember a great example of shattering categories of who is my neighbor from the news. It was during the protests in There was a skin head lying on the sidewalk bleeding badly. Over him was a nurse who was dressing his wound and giving him water and calling 911 on her cell phone; She happened to be black. Who is my neighbor?

EXTRAVAGANT LOVE OF GOD AND NEIGHBOR

If this parable was primarily about being kind to others, we should remember that it calls for extravagant and costly love. It calls for kindness to those who would probably not have done the same for us. The lawyer asks how he can save himself. And sometimes we try to do that by doing some unselfish Maybe we give a little to the poor. Or we volunteer a little time for a good cause.  But that is not the kind of love that Jesus is talking about in his parable.

We thought about which character we would be in the story. But we didn’t mention one of the characters; the VICTIM. The victim is anyone in need who can’t help themselves. Has that ever been you? I am guessing that every one of us has been there at one time or another. Maybe you have even been like Blanche Dubois in Street Car Named Desire who had to depend on the kindness of strangers at some point.

But in another sense we ALL need the help of one who was despised and rejected. You see, I think the central point of the story is to identify JESUS as the SAMARITAN. The lawyer wants to know how to save himself. And in his answer Jesus says, “You can’t save yourself” Salvation is a free gift from the one who was set upon and beaten and left for dead on a cross. This, like most of the New Testament is a story about grace.  Willimon says this about Jesus. “Remember that this whole argument with the lawyer is preceded by the observation that, ‘This one receives sinner and eats with them. This one welcomes back prodigals. This one forgives adulterous women. This one admits thieves into heaven. This one says, Father forgive them. This one’s love is so extravagant and costly that it makes our charity look miserly.’”

This one, despised and rejected is the one who saves us from the ditch where we have been left for dead. So, for God’s sake, Christian, be kind.

 

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