Saturday, July 9, 2016

Sermon: HOW ABOUT YOUR GOOD NEIGHBORS ?... The Good Samaritan... Luke 10:25-37

When the average person is asked what  story best describes the way Jesus wants his followers to behave, this story from the rich creative mind of the Gospel of Luke's author is most likely cited. This story is potentially the most powerful presentation ever of the highest practical meaning of the Christian religion. What makes many scholars rightly wonder if Jesus actually told this story is that it is missing in the two gospels written before Luke. The thinking is that if it had been around in the older oral traditions Mark and Matthew would have included it as well. This does not lower the authority of the story as an expression of the kind of teaching Jesus did and the emphasis he surely made.  

Most  likely as the writer reflected on what he wanted people to understand most about Jesus this story was inspired. A tragedìy is the more often a story is repeated the more likely people begin to hear it with the attitude, “ O that again. I've heard it a thousand times. 'Been there done that.' Yet few are so bold to say they have even come near being the kind of neighbor this story holds up as a spiritual hero. The story has made many people say how different the world would be if the majority had the attitude toward other people that the Good Samaritan is described as having.
Amie Morot   1880

We can be confident that this story was not told to seduce people to despise either priests or Levites. But to note that humans tend to be so focused on their own plans that we often walk through the world as if with blinders, that keep us from noticing what is happening to people who are suffering more than us and in need of a good neighbor's helping hand. Yet it likely does  intentionally warn that it is  those who claim to be religious that are most at risk of this this blatant hypocrisy, putting one's religious exercises and meetings above the call of a suffering world.

After Jesus states that the 'greatest command' is  to, 'love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself', a listener asks, “ And who is my neighbor?” Usually we have then focused on who should I consider the person(s) to go out of my way to assist and support? We likely don't let this story challenge us well when we primarily think of our own kindnesses to others. Even the sourest of persons can give a long list of truly nice things they have done for others.

 Honestly, I no longer think of myself at all as like this good Samaritan or aspire to it. This example is just too over the top. I am often stopped and asked directions as I take my walks in our village. I feel good when I can help the person reorient themselves and be on their way. It is a good thing I've done. I find my chaplain work very rewarding. It involves 'helping' people who are sick to feel better and not worse about their ordeal.  I also get paid for the work.  I share the vegetables in my garden with others. Making such lists most of us can whisper to ourselves, “ Hey this is what that story is about. I'm a good Samaritan” And maybe to an extent  it is. If it at least gets us to want to be welcoming and  helpful to others it has done some good through us. 

But have I ever put a bleeding unknown person, of very different ethnicity and religion and at the point of death, in my car and taken them to the ER , and told the desk clerk , “ If this person does not have insurance, I will pay for their bill. Here is my contact number.”? Now unquestionably there are repeated times of unique need when persons have literally been the Good Samaritan to a stranger, maybe in times of war and other survival human situations. Maybe the Dallas policemen who shielded the citizens who were protesting, and died as a result. So does this mean we may be a good Samaritan only at some one heroic moment? Why Just one of these 'taking the homeless person to the hospital and paying the bill' would bankrupt most any of us. I think our practical question is how can ordinary persons best be motivated to be a good neighbor as a ongoing life style? How can we today in a realistic and consistent way carry the spirit of the Good Samaritan in a natural non heroic way?

Jesus asks , ' Who is the neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?” That answer is best answered not by us but by the man who had been assaulted. He may have never have learned who Samaritan the was. But we can well imagine he knew he had been royally treated as a neighbor in the highest meaning of that word. So we may do well if we would forget for awhile any neighbor we might have helped and ask ourselves , “ What about my neighbors, those who have been good neighbors to me?” What or who has helped and nurtured  my life for as far back as I can recall? Who has helped me when I could not help myself? What or who has opened doors for me that I could not have opened myself. Who or what has seemed like a part of a plan to help my life survive and unfold right up this present moment. ? It is so easy for us to forget who has neighbored us. And when we do forget we are at high risk of becoming unhappy, cynical , grudge holding, blaming, spiteful human beings. And the older I get the more I know I do not want to go out like that... complaining and angry about my one opportunity to live this life.

To use the story to ask this question can go a long way to keep me from being a reasonably cared for angry white man which there seem to be too many of these days. What a long list of good neighbors I must confess gratefully I've had. Neighbors who had enough going for themselves that they could also choose to assist me. (Don't forget the Samaritan had some financial  resources and clout.)  I had parents that loved and took care of me for a good many years. They gave me some religious teachings that I would finally at midlife have to explore and redo but that did not keep them from being excellent neighbors to me. My mother died when I was ten and that gave me something to work on most of my life . I had six older brothers who treated me so well, good neighbors. Then time and again I had needs I could not meet by myself alone. School teachers, Doctors, lawyers, public servants were there for me. Good neighbors. Local and national governments were wonderful neighbors to me. I could not had much of a life without them.

Everywhere I've lived there has been clean water, roads and sidewalks, sewers, first responders, farmers, manufacturers.. on and on...Good neighbors. The national Science Foundation granted me a fully paid opportunity to study at AZ State to receive a Masters degree which helped me be a better teacher and receive more income. My wife and my children have molded the meaning of my life.. being excellent neighbors. I've had a few most timely best friends who helped me find my way. Medicare and a Teachers' Pension make my life  economically comfortable now. I, like so many others, also found the church to be a good neighbor in supporting my spiritual life and in being a place of mutual friendships. On and on it goes , only by the presence and action of good neighbors have I been able to have a life at all.

 You can likely do this very same thing I've done. When we do it makes us old timers say again and again... neighbors have been good to me and I so want the younger ones coming up to have good neighbors also. It naturally leads one to want to give something back.. or to be in ones own natural personal way an unglamorized Good Samaritan. To be a good neighbor because you see so clearly and strongly you have been upheld and sustained yourself by good neighbors.
Civil Rights Legislation    1968

That is my sermon. But I feel I should make something very clear or we could stumble terribly in our desire to carry the spirit of the Good Samaritan. Life simply does not always bring good neighbors to people; or if any not enough with enough power to hold at bay horrendous unmerciful human suffering. So never should we count our good neighbors as I have done and forget that some truly can't do that for themselves or their loved ones. I realize some persons who could better remember the good neighbors they've had but just don't and so become tragically cynical and complaining . But some have lived their whole life in war , people trying to kill them and their families, and dealing with the wounds and results of war. Some have been in situations where they have been continuously abused , diminished and discounted.

Sometimes those without good neighbors are individuals and sometimes they are groups. Some ethnic groups have been victims of hate and abuse with no Good Samaritans coming to the rescue. This includes at times and places Jewish people, Islamic people, Black Americans. It included the Samaritans in Jesus day. Jesus own people considered them as unworthy dogs, less than human. It has been women without strong neighbors for most of the last three thousand years. It has been Gay and Lesbian people who , even in our land, have been singled out often for physical and social punishments. It has been poor or neglected children, single mothers, people who have become addicted to chemicals.

This list of human suffering and woundedness, not attended by a good neighbor, is real and present and goes on just as our list of good neighbors did. So to carry the spirit of  the Good Samaritan we need to be consciously aware of the physical and psychological suffering of fellow human travelers , much of it by the hands and systems of humans abusing their power, failing to be good neighbors.

There is only so much that any individual can do.  And it seems essential for us to see that we must act as communities and governments to defy this undue suffering. We must organize and work together to relieve hunger, poverty and discrimination. To vote in our land to have better health care for all our citizens, to vote for policies that are purposely planned to help all citizens have access to legal protections, and to receive a fair share of the earth's fruits of food, clothing and safe shelter. These are nature's gift to all persons. The good Samaritan can't be only a 'me' activity but in our day it must be a “we” if the effects of this story are to be realized in our world

So Jesus says 'go and do likewise' . He is saying to us , “ Always be recalling those persons and institutions that have been good neighbors to you  and  cultivate in yourself that desire, that longing, that all humans , even all creatures of the earth,  also have also good neighbors  so they can  thrive and fulfill the image of God that slumbers in each one.” From remembering our own neighbors and yearning for others to a have good neighbors it becomes possible that the story of the Good Samaritan can become the story of the nation and world.

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