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The Good Samaritan
A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Gale Davis on July 14, 2013

Proper 10 C - July 14, 2013

Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Psalm 25:1-9; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37

A few weeks ago a parishioner asked me about the final blessing that I sometimes give, particularly the part about “those you have trouble loving”, and he said “you should preach on that sometime!” And so for the second time in two weeks, the first being a Wednesday morning, I have the opportunity to do just that.

I must begin by saying that preaching, for me, is not a 10- to 20-minute affair on Sunday morning. It begins usually on Monday morning, by looking at the lessons for the following Sunday. In the Episcopal church, like many of the liturgical churches, we do not choose the lessons we get to preach on. They are decided by an ecumenical group of theologians -- or “were” decided several years ago, would be more accurate -- for the rotation does not change often, and if it does, only when agreed upon by several denominations together. The lectionary that we all use covers most of scripture over a three-year period.  This year is year C, and we are using the gospel of Luke. Year A is Matthew, Year B is Mark, and the gospel of John is heard each year during the Easter season. So sometimes, amazingly in fact, more often than not, the lessons seem spot on, and as if they were chosen for what is going on in the world. And other times they really miss the mark. But our task as preachers is the same even if they do not match -- to preach what we are given -- and alas, not ever or rarely anyway, what we would choose to preach upon.

So, again amazingly, the lessons for today, as did the lessons a week ago for Independence Day, speak to me of the trouble I have with loving some people.

The other thing you need to know about me is that as I study, pray about, read commentaries and reflect on the lessons, it is usually the thing in them that is hardest for me that I end up preaching on, not because I think you need to think about it, but because I do. So you could say that I really only ever preach to myself, and hope that some of you also need to think about or pray about whatever it is that is niggling at me too. 

So, it is a happy coincidence when a question one of you asks coincides with the lessons AND something that I too have been reflecting about...and it shows up on Sunday morning!

The Good Samaritan is a story we have all heard since childhood. We have all thought about who our neighbors are. And we all know that when Jesus asked the rich young man who he thought the neighbor was in the parable, there was only one right answer -- the Samaritan!

So what is there left to say about this story? You know it, I have preached it -- at least 18 times -- how can we mine it for yet more?  Yet, that is the gift of scripture. It keeps on giving, keeps on challenging, and is always as relevant today as it was when first spoken, as it has been every year in between.

In the preparatory reading that I did this week, I came across a blog by Laura Sarrell (whom I do not know and have never read before and in truth can’t find again!). She reversed my thinking  about this familiar story by asking questions from the viewpoint of the person who was beaten and left for dead. ”Suppose,” she suggested, “for a minute, just suppose you are the one lying on the ground.” And further, suppose that the person who finally comes along and rescues you is someone who has been a thorn in our side? Or someone who belongs to a political group you find abhorrent? Or who really is an enemy of yours? In other words, “what if the person who chooses to pick you up from the side of the road is someone you have trouble loving?” 

It is not so farfetched a question. For as you know, one person’s enemy is another person’s child. God loves them -- and you and me -- equally. So it behooves us to think of even those who are most difficult for us in a kindly way. It behooves us to expand our own concept of neighbor, not just to those who are geographically close or geographically far away but to those who are spiritually, socially, ethnically, politically and in every other way most different from us...even repellant to us.

And we need to strive to do it, not because we might be that poor beaten person on the road without a cell phone, wallet or iPad unable to get help, left for dead in the desert. We need to do it because we are followers of Jesus Christ, who taught us that God loves even the most unlovable unconditionally, and if we are truly followers then we will do our best to do the same.

I hope none of us are ever in a position where we have to allow one of those we “have trouble loving” to rescue us in the desert. In fact, seriously, I doubt that any of us will. Unless....unless we start thinking of this whole story metaphorically, and then, my guess is that we will encounter our need of “those we have trouble loving” every day. Indeed it is probably not our physical need of such “neighbors” but our moral, social, and most importantly, spiritual need of them that we will be faced with regularly.

When we disagree with those we have trouble loving about “how something should be done”,  or “how money should be spent”, or “what services should be provided to needy people” or “what constitutes marriage and what does not,” or “if people should carry concealed weapons”, or “when life begins, (conception or at birth)”,  or “what ‘choice’ means”, or even ”if Yankees fans are human,” then we have the chance to put into practice the art of “loving those we have trouble loving.“

For it seems to me that being a good Samaritan is what we have to worry about the most. Not who our neighbor is or even who those are that we “have trouble loving”, but how we as Christian believers, how we act toward people -- all people -- the ones who think like us and act like us, as well as the ones who are (to quote my beloved, late father) “so dunder-headed they think like crazy people.”  For in truth, WE may be the crazy ones, and God -- in God’s wisdom -- from God’s vantage point, sees us all in the same light and loves us equally.

And there is the off chance that those folks might own a piece of the truth that we will never know or see if we do not love them as God does, and stop by the side of the road to help them or even more daringly, allow them to help us.  If we do not listen, see and consider those formerly not understood as OUR neighbors’ viewpoints and life experience and wisdom, we are missing out on a life-changing, healing potential. 

Do I think there can be big changes overnight in bringing divergent viewpoints together? No -- alas, not in this world the way it is today --when division is the rule, and compromise and working together is not valued in our culture as much as winning and being right. But I do believe that there is great and powerful -- even godly, graceful and spirit-filled -- life waiting for all of us when we allow ourselves to think of ourselves as neighborly people and see those on the opposite side of the fence as the beloved ones, our true neighbors. 

It is hard to cross to the other side of the road or bury one’s self in righteousness when looking into the eyes of someone who would rescue us from our own hubris or give us a hand when we are down.

I have spent the week thinking about those whom I have trouble loving and trying to see them as neighbors, and I admit it is not easy for me sometimes. As, I imagine, for each of you, there are people that have hurt me badly or with whom I so vehemently disagree that I have a difficult time being civil to them, let alone truly engaging and listening to, let alone compromising with them. But such as these have been on the top of my “loving my neighbor as myself” list this week.

And I am determined that this has not been just a temporary exercise for me, but a genuine desire to listen to those I have discounted in the past and a hope and desire to reach out toward those with whom I differ.

In all honesty, it has been sometimes fruitful and sometimes a disappointing, even heartbreaking, experience. But the sense of peace that such changed thinking, and therefore behavior on my part, has given to me has provided me with a place I want to live more often, a way I want to be and an approach to others I want to keep in my life.

I invite you to try it out too. With God, may we all bless, honor, listen to, and reach a hand toward those we have trouble loving. And may we in humility and trust, accept their hand when it reaches toward us.  Amen.

Last Published: July 30, 2013 12:58 PM