I will start by saying what follows is my message from this morning. It is a message on the parable of The Good Samaritan, and is a bit of a different twist on the text, but after I read the post by Emily Heath, I see that again, my lack of formal education sometimes is very obvious. You may certainly read my interpretation of the parable, or at least my message for it. But, if you want a real message that is relevant to the events of our times read the one that Emily posted at the following site: https://emilycheath.com/2016/07/10/crossing-the-road-from-safety-sermon-for-july-10-2016/#comment-12867
Now this is what I had for our congregation this morning. The scriptures used were: Luke 10:25-37 and Colossians 1:1-14; the title was “Love your Neighbor/Yourself”
You will probably get more tired or I suppose the grammatically correct wording is tireder of me talking about our little campsite than you did of the track stories, but I need to share a few more. This past Wednesday was a bit of a windstorm in Herreid. There was no major damage, but it got a few citizens freaked out about where will these pipeline workers living in campers go in case of really severe weather. Well, little did they know that there already was a discussion about that very issue on Tuesday at the city board meeting, and there is a plan in place to open the school and a couple of the churches.
But as things go in a small town there were talkers. My youngest sister, who works at the courthouse seems to get hit with the most questions, and I think by the time it was over, she pretty much felt like answering them the way the little girl in the television ad does to her Dad. The girl is sitting in a car seat in the back and the father is driving, and he asks her some sort of question, and all she can say is: “You worry about yourself” and she repeats this over and over. This is one of the few commercials that we watch and James and Paulina and I have been saying that to each other for a few months, but now I suspect that line is going to open up for use by the rest of my family. “You just worry about yourself.”
As for the campers, I finally told the city finance officer that in reality the safety of the campers should probably be the responsibility of the owners of the campsite. And I invited her to share that sentiment with the next one who complains. I guess, this pretty much means, that I am now someone who doesn’t just worry about myself. And boy last night at about 10:30 when the rain was coming down heavy, I was thinking maybe I should hop in the car and drive around that area just to take a look, but instead I was tired, and well, I kind of worried about myself.
This brings us to the story of the gospel passage today. It is essentially the parable of the Good Samaritan, but it starts out in a different way. It is a story that has all sorts of angles or as the current saying is: “it has lots of layers.” I always thought cakes have layers, and stories have twist, but that is for another time. Anyway the first angle or layer or issue perhaps with this story is the question that prompted the parable. Here is where Toni can take a nap because we talked about some of this on Wednesday at the Health Care Center.
Our gospel lesson in Luke is about when a young man, a Jewish lawyer, asked a question of Jesus about how he could gain eternal life in heaven. Now this question may have sounded innocent enough, but it was one of those questions meant to trick Jesus, into giving a wrong answer or at least a bad answer so the Jewish leaders could accuse him of blasphemy and arrest him to have him crucified, which is eventually what happened, though not because of anything Jesus did.
When the young man asked the question, Jesus responded with a question. Jesus asked the lawyer what the law says, and he answered correctly with the statement that you are to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength and mind and then to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus told him that he had the correct answer and all he had to do was carry it out, and he would be fine. But that was not enough for the young man and so he asked an additional question, the one meant to trip up Jesus. He asked who is our neighbor?” and that is where Jesus gives us the story of The Good Samaritan.
I don’t need to re-explain the parable to you; we heard it earlier during the scripture reading. Instead we will peel off the layers so to speak as we look at the various characters and who they worried about, and as we do this, let’s each sort of think about where we would place ourselves in this parable. Let’s start by seeing how the “you just worry about yourself” fits into the story. Worrying about yourself/worrying about themselves is exactly what the first three people or groups of people did as they interacted or didn’t with the man left hurt on the side of the road.
Initially we see a group of bandits. They certainly worried only about themselves as they robbed and beat this man and left him to either die or figure out for himself how to survive. Of all the characters in the story, this group seems to be talked about least, but if we think about it, they caused the whole mess and are really the most selfish in their dealings with the man. They certainly are worrying only about themselves. Hopefully none of us can relate to being so self indulged that we hurt others and walk away without a care for how they are to survive. Well, hopefully we have never accidentally done that…
Next you have the two religious leaders who hurried past the man. One did so even by crossing over to the other side of the road while the other at least stopped to look, but offered no assistance and both did what they did with the idea that it would harm their ability to be holy enough to enter the inner sanctuaries of the church. In today’s Christian age we may not need to be worried about being made unclean if we offer assistance to someone who is down and out, but I will confess to using the excuse of “how can a helpless woman like me take the chance of helping someone who might only be pretending to be hurt?”
Hopefully none of us have ever walked past or ignored someone truly in need because of “you just worry about yourself.” Yet I know I have. Normally we all “give at church” or to a reputable organization so that it is done right, but maybe we do it so that we don’t have to look at the neighbor in trouble, the one down and out. Oh it is so much easier to pack it up and hand it over to someone else to do it. When I stop to really think about it, if I just send the gift to someone else to handle, then I don’t really have to admit how much need there really is. I think my issue is that I can’t handle the idea of how much need there is.
This ability or inability to notice, to recognize, to realize the person in our vicinity, in our line of sight who needs help is part of how we “worry about ourselves.” Personally I sometimes feel like I have to be knocked on the head before I notice what is right in front of me. Maybe this is why it is so much easier to write a check or give a package of items to an organization who cares for particular “neighbors” rather than taking up the burden of doing it myself. Maybe loving the neighbor far away, the one I don’t have to see is easier for me because I don’t have to see them or deal with them personally.
This seemingly final character in this story of the Good Samaritan didn’t evade the neighbor that he found in trouble even though he had an excellent reason to walk away. If you have studied any of the relationships of Jewish people to the others around them, you might know that the term Good Samaritan was an oxymoron in Jesus’ day. According to the Jewish leaders and certainly this young man asking Jesus the question, no Samaritan could be considered good because they didn’t practice the law in exactly the right way, and someplace back in their history there is some talk about pagan worship. In truth the Samaritans are descendants of Abraham and worship the one God as the Jews do, but they are not quite as good, and so for a dirty Samaritan to be the one mentioned as the hero of the story by Jesus, well that might have been a little hard to take.
But as we read earlier in the Bible verses, the Samaritan not only checked on the man in the ditch, but he tended his wounds and carried him on his donkey and found him shelter and nursed him back to health, then when the Samaritan needed to go about his business, he left money to have the man taken care of until he could come back and check on him. It was the one that could have, the one who was expected to ignore the problem, the one who had the compassion and took the time to care for the one who was hurting. The Samaritan did not just worry about himself. The Samaritan reached out and cared for another human being, actually with no regard for himself.
We would hope that at some point in our lives that is how we act, that is what we do. And maybe it is easier when your job or business is one where you deal with people more likely to be in a hurting situation, health care perhaps, or some of the service industries like food, housing, or even a repair businesses when you see that someone is in real need, but not everyone comes upon people in real need or so we think. Maybe we just to ever have the opportunity to worry about anyone other than ourselves.
And so we come to the final character in the story, the one we have been focusing on the entire time perhaps without even realizing it: the love your neighbor as yourself part of the parable. The last layer or issue here is how we love ourselves. Do we care enough about ourselves; have we taken care of ourselves enough to be able to look away from us, from me in order to see the beaten and bleeding neighbor lying in the ditch?
The issue is not just who is our neighbor, but how do we love ourselves enough to have the strength and ability to look beyond our own issues to the issues of others. What is it about ourselves and things we have done or thought or considered that makes it easier to love those far away from us more than those living across the street or around the corner or in our own families? And there is a difference between sending our dollars, our money or our gifts off to some other place because we are not able, not physically capable of doing it ourselves, there is a difference between that and the idea of staying at home in our own little world because we can’t bear to forgive ourselves or love ourselves enough to reach out to someone else in need. That is a different, “you just worry about yourself.”
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength and mind”… we can all do that, we so all do that, if we didn’t or couldn’t we wouldn’t be sitting here today, that is a given of any faithful Christian, I am convinced of that, but… the kicker is, and Christ always throws one of those tough kickers into the mix, “love your neighbor as yourself.” God loves us and we love God in return, but now God expects us to love those others, those people we don’t want to see, don’t want to deal with, don’t want to negotiate with or wait on or talk to across the fence or even say hello to, and now we have to love them as ourselves, and well the real issue sometimes is that we frankly don’t like ourselves.
How does that work? God loves us even when it is hard to love ourselves. God forgives us, even when can’t we forgive ourselves? God loves us and keeps us and asks us repeatedly to turn ourselves toward the ways and teachings of Christ. When we do that we let God worry about us, and we then become the one who can reach out to our neighbor to love them as ourselves because we know that with God all things are possible and we will be able to do much even when it doesn’t feel like we are able. Let’s remember that this week. Amen!