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Sunday Sermon, 10 July 2016 – The Good Samaritan

Reading: Luke 10: 25-37

Sermon

Nearly 20 years ago – on a Saturday night – a car crashed in a tunnel in Paris. The occupants were severely injured. But the photographers who recorded the scene for the world press did nothing to help. Three out of four people died, including Princess Diana.

Ironically, France is one of the few countries which had a law – a Good Samarian Law – that makes it a crime not to help people in need.

Since that accident, the law has been revisited around the world. One state in Australia – the Northern Territory – has such a law. Very few people have been prosecuted under it – so it seems. Some US states have a similar law – but the argument against it, amongst many arguments is that it infringes on individual liberties. And of course people don’t want to be sued if their help harms people inadvertently.

Although in one survey it was found that more people would help someone in need because they were legally obligated than for moral or ethical reasons.

The issue has become much more prominent since then. It turns up in interesting places. For example – have a look at this scene from the final in the series of the American series Seinfeld – which I hasten to add I never did watch. The humour is unpalatable – and as you will see the background knowledge of the writers dodgy. I think it makes the point though.

Have a look.

If you think that’s bad, you should read some of the comments made about this. One person wrote this:

MegaSoldier64 1 month ago – The good Samaritan law is modeled after great Britain’s good Samaritan law, it became law when the queen of England had a heart attack and all those paparazzi just stood there and took pictures instead of helping her…

This lawyer in Luke’s gospel is also an interesting character. “What must I do?” is a great question about obligations. In this case its “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” that gets Jesus into “teaching by story” mode. Jesus’ response is straightforward – it’s one of those “haven’t you read your Bible” kind of responses:

Luk 10:26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

Luk 10:27 He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'”

Luk 10:28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

The legal eagle is not satisfied. Maybe he wanted controversy – more of a debate – maybe he was trying to trick Jesus.

He certainly opened up a new can of worms for those of us who like to be passive observers along the road of life.

Luke says he wanted to justify himself. I’m glad he did – as we get one of the two greatest stories of the bible – as a result of his probing. The other more famous one they say is the prodigal son. You can decide which is the top one.

It’s not unusual for stories to have three characters. Dig deep into your literary knowledge and you will find some – Goldilocks and the three bears, the three little pigs. I am sure you know what I mean. It’s all about story technique.

Jesus’ listeners would be listening out for the third character in the tale.

They would have wanted the hero to be one of them. Not a fancy Levite or indifferent priest. They are the bad guys in the tale.

They would have been waiting for the third person – a good guy who shows up the others – one of them – ordinary folk with some moral backbone.

They listen carefully – here it comes. “a Samaritan…”

  • “What?”
  • Gasp!
  • “no way Jesus! One of the enemy???”

He’s not mentioned as a “good” Samaritan. That has become a title added on by us.

  • He’s more than good though.
  • He’s extravagant! Remarkably generous.
  • It’s an absurd story.
  • It’s not about who is our neighbour.
  • It’s about who we are neighbours to. It’s about action.

It’s another variant of “love your enemies.” The wounded man is bound to be Jewish. And the hatred was mutual.

LET’S DO THE PLAY NOW

Let’s choose characters to play based on who you identify with the most.

When you ask kids to do this – and probably adults – not many people want to be the half dead guy.

The boys love being the robbers!

Perhaps we don’t want to think about what it’s like to be needy.

I don’t think we can get into those shoes very easily. Unless you’ve been attacked and beaten up perhaps.

How would you do as the lawyer?

Note that he can’t even say the word “Samaritan”. Jesus asks him this question at the end: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

He can only say this: “The one who had mercy on him.”

“Go and do likewise” says Jesus.

WHAT IS THE IMPORTANT THING TO TAKE HOME?

This is not a moral or legal story primarily. It’s not that we are to decide to be “good Samaritans” either because it’s the right thing to do or because we might be prosecuted.

It’s really about what motivated the Samaritan in the tale.

What did he have? Pity – is the word in the NIV in verse 33. Most better translations use the word “compassion” – that word we talked about a couple of weeks ago – that involves the inner parts, heart, stomach, the lot. It was the feeling Jesus had in Luke 7 towards the widow of Nain that caused him to stop the funeral procession – and raise the woman’s only son.

It’s the word in Luke 15:20 we are still to get to, that the Father has for the Prodigal son.

Its appears in passages referring to Jesus and God the Father.

And there is a strong argument that the Samaritan here is functioning as God’s agent.

After all, the lawyer identifies the man as showing “mercy” – another word which throughout Luke is associated either with an act of God or God’s agent (Luke 1:47-50, 54, 72, 78; 17:13; 18:38-39; the only exception is when Father Abraham refuses to show the rich man “mercy” [16:24], an exception which ultimately proves the rule that in Luke’s Gospel only God and Jesus show mercy).

That makes the story more startling.

Jesus is seen in the Samaritan. The Samaritan is a Christ figure.

Who is it that stops to help – that binds up our wounds and anoints us with the oil of gladness – that pays for our safe haven – if not Jesus?

This is not an “example” story that we are to be Good Samaritans.

We are younger siblings of our elder brother Jesus in God’s family.

We are the body of Christ – we are Jesus in the world – stopping to help out of compassion and because of his mercy.

MUCH OF THE WORLD MAY WELL BE HALF DEAD AND IN A DITCH

We can relish our own security and purity if we like – or take the chance – the risk – of showing mercy at a cost of our time and money – to reach the broken ones of this generation.

And if we don’t have compassion – then we need some loving ourselves to soften our hearts.

In any case – it was the Samaritans that did not welcome Jesus, that James and John wanted to turn into toast by calling fire down from heaven.

It was one of them who got it right – the enemy models love. Must have been a son of peace – I would say.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 14 July – There’s more than one neighbour in the street

Reading: Luke 10:25-37

Message:

Okay this is an easy one today! Early tea – more time to chat and then go shopping.

I mean what’s to discuss – the guy got it right!

  • Love God
  • Love Neighbour
  • end of story!

The simplest explanation is the easiest – that everyone in need is in fact your neighbour.

Not that people – Christians – necessarily get involved in helping people in need. We do walk on by quite a bit. Like walking through a bazaar or market –or in a shopping centre – we dare not make eye contact with someone trying to sell us something. You can’t get away from a sales pitch that easily.

We easily look away from those in need.

So reminder number one today is simple. If you’re making notes:

1. Note to self – anyone in need is my neighbour.

Love God and love your neighbour go together.

Of course it’s a three way street!

God  <———->   Us    ————–>   Neighbour

Knowing the love of God – experiencing it – sharing Jesus compassion (read Tuesday’s sermon on line for those who didn’t make it) – having a message and commodity of peace with God to trade with (for that read last Sunday’s sermon on line!) means that we are actually empowered to do this!

2. Note to self – the Samaritan was an unexpected neighbour to the half-dead mugged neighbour.

God   ———————> Samaritan  —————————->    mugged man

3. Note to self – Jesus speaks about prejudice, anger, rage and things that separate us here.

Add another layer and it gets interesting:

God

Samaritan        ————————–>     mugged man/Jew

Samaritans    <———————–>    (not good)  < ———————->      Jews

Jews and Samaritans clearly did not get on!

I found this poem by a famous Israeli poet this week which really helped me on this one. Frederick Buechner posted this on his website – his articles and books are profound. Here it is:

The Place Where We Are Right

Yehuda Amichai

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood. 

It’s about hard hearts versus soft hearts really!

Something was happening in the Samaritan that smacked of a real faith and compassion – but the Jewish listeners would have hated the idea of a Samaritan being a hero – because their theology was wrong – their racial mix wrong – their temple wrong.

Sound familiar?

1. Note to self – anyone in need is my neighbour.

2. Note to self – the Samaritan was an unexpected neighbour to the half-dead mugged neighbour.

3. Note to self – Jesus speaks about prejudice, anger, rage and things that separate us here.

Of course the lawyer’s response is accurate – as you are when you deal with law. Listen again:

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise. (Luke 10:36-37)

How are we doing so far?

Will you remember this?

Oh of course – you know this already.

David Lose suggests and alternative reading to this text altogether.

This really spoke to me. Listen to what he says: But then Jesus goes and does something different, right at the end. He doesn’t ask who was the Samaritan’s neighbour; rather, he asks, who acted like a neighbour. The answer, of course, is obvious to the lawyer and to us: it is the Samaritan, the one who went out of his way to help another. But do you notice how this changes things? Suddenly the neighbour isn’t simply the one in need, but rather the one who provides for our need, the one who takes care of us.

He goes on. Listen carefully: Which raises an interesting – and often uncomfortable – question: who has been our neighbour by caring for us of late? This is uncomfortable because we spend so much of our time, energy, and money trying to be invulnerable, trying precisely to need as little as possible from those around us. Perhaps it’s a fear of being a burden, or a concern about “owing” others, or that we are just afraid of being vulnerable because if we show our need that need may not be met. Whatever the reason, however, so many of us are absolutely mortified by the idea of showing our deepest needs to others and have a hard time receiving a compliment let alone serious aid or help.

4. Note to self – I need to let people be a neighbour to me too

In my own life I have had to learn to let people be a neighbour to me as well. I am telling you this because I know that some of you are also like me. You don’t want to be vulnerable. You sometimes think that you have to manage – cope – be tough. I am learning to depend more on others.

Being dependent on others is not easy for most of us. And as we get older it gets harder.

Nothing is worse than feeling that it’s all out of control – when simple becomes impossible and normal a mystery.

I have learnt that I need to let people be a neighbour to me.

That does not mean I will deliberately make myself vulnerable.

Not at all.

But the point is – that we are created for community and we do need each other.

I am so grateful for the people who are supporting me at this time – especially Sheilagh, my wife, and our staff here.

Listen again to the extract from David Lose – the question is:

(Which raises an interesting – and often uncomfortable – question) –  who has been our neighbour by caring for us of late? This is uncomfortable because

  • we spend so much of our time, energy, and money trying to be invulnerable, trying precisely to need as little as possible from those around us.
  • Perhaps it’s a fear of being a burden, or a concern about “owing” others, or that we are just afraid of being vulnerable because if we show our need that need may not be met.
  • Whatever the reason, however, so many of us are absolutely mortified by the idea of showing our deepest needs to others and have a hard time receiving a compliment let alone serious aid or help.

 Paul – speaking about his thorn in the flesh – writes these words in 2 Corinthians 12:9 and 10

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Okay personally I think that he overstates things here. I am not really thrilled with “insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.” I am less than thrilled. Delight is a strong word here. Sometime when I have the energy I will investigate the root of the word “delight” here and hopefully it will make more sense. (If you were here on Tuesday you will remember that words studies can be fun – Jesus when moved with compassion – well the word is to do with a bowel sensation. Tricky but it makes the point of a deep feeling!)

So let’s go back to our diagram then. There are various directions that the arrows point.

What travels along those lines? Love, blessing, thanksgiving, encouragement, worship and praise – in a dynamic relationship. Compassion and help clearly apply along the human continuum.

God <———————————–>Us  <————————— >  Neighbour

There are various possibilities where hard hearts need to be softened so that life can appear. Look at the list:

Us                 <—————————>            Neighbour

Samaritan           <—————————>           Jew

Black             <—————————>                 white

Male                <—————————>               female

Old                      <—————————>              young

Friend                <—————————>             stranger

Pastor                   <—————————>           parishioner

The list goes on!

So to recap… Somewhere in this list something applies to each of us:

1. Note to self – anyone in need is my neighbour.

2. Note to self – the Samaritan was an unexpected neighbour to the half-dead mugged neighbour.

3. Note to self – Jesus speaks about prejudice, anger, rage and things that separate us here.

Clearly love here means wanting the best for them – not that we are in love with them or even like them! Jesus’ compassion for the world of people is our foundational principal here.

Cleary we have work to do about our attitudes!

But this last one is a word in season really:

4. Note to self – I need to let people be a neighbour to me too

Don’t be afraid of depending on others – asking for help – asking for prayer – asking for counselling – asking for a lift – asking for a friend.

Mentoring others – journeying with them is the most crucial thing.

Pride is a killer.

One of my struggles here – as a leader – is that a lot of people are proud. They’ve made up their mind on things that are really important – and they are not necessarily allowing the Lord to work in their lives.

I reckon it would be good to sit in on the conversation between the recovered Jewish victim and the compassionate and generous Samaritan – if you can use your imagination.

It’s the kind of inspiration that comes from the pictures of amazing people in our generation:

There are plenty of other examples.

And there are those of you who really do care for your neighbours in every possible way – here in this place and community.

So much happens behind the scenes – following Jesus’ recipe for giving in general: But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing (Matthew 6:3)

So a gentle reminder:

4. Note to self – I need to let people be a neighbour to me too

It’s okay to be vulnerable. We are cursed by self-help schemes. They don’t work in the same department as faith, trust, and dependence, all of which are Christian virtues and blessings.

The basic framework for all of this is GRACE – the undeserved gift of salvation, new life, the new creation, a new heart, a renewed mind –unmerited favour shown in Jesus.

And – to put in a word for what is in fact a foundational belief I have – we make ourselves vulnerable and receive the love of neighbours especially in our home groups – where we allow them to be places of life and not just theoretical knowledge. It requires honesty – integrity – and openness to grow as people. That is God’s will for us. Amen!

PS – here’s a great summary in a visual form. We need to be the solid citizens – doing the stuff that the solid line indicates!

good-samaritan-cartoon