- July 10, 2016
The Rev. Robert P. Travis
8th Sunday after Pentecost Sermon – 9:00am Church of the Ascension, Wakefield RI
RCL Year C Proper 10
Scripture Text: Deuteronomy 30:9-14
The story of the Good Samaritan seems so familiar
because we use the term Good Samaritan
all the time.
We think we all know this story by heart,
and so it can seem difficult
to find the good news in it.
But as I was looking at the text
to prepare for this morning
I found that it is much deeper than I expected,
and offers much to those
who are willing to listen to it.
If we’re honest with ourselves,
it is much easier for most of us
to identify with the priest
and the Levite in the story,
Than it is with the Samaritan.
In fact, being a priest standing before you today,
it is pretty embarrassing to see how Jesus portrays
the two religious characters in the story.
If we want to take their side we could say
“hey, maybe the priest was on his way to the temple
to perform some righteous service,
or maybe the Levite was coming from a place
where he already provided aid to someone
and he just couldn’t handle anymore.”
While we identify with the priest and Levite,
and probably have been in that situation ourselves
as we encounter people who need help sometimes,
that is not what this parable is about.
It is not about how people avoid helping others.
Take a look at the lawyer
Who is asking the question of Jesus.
The gospel says he asks the question
“who is my neighbor” to justify himself.
He thinks he knows the answer,
And he wants Jesus to tell him
that he has already fulfilled
The requirements of the law.
But his motives are self-centered and goal oriented.
“What shall I do? How can I inherit eternal life?”
Jesus turns the question right back to him,
And as one familiar with the Law,
the Lawyer is quickly able to answer about
Loving God completely
and Loving your neighbor as yourself.
That reminds me of that saying
“A friend in need is a friend indeed.”
And we might change that in the context of this parable
to say “a stranger in need is a neighbor indeed.”
But again, that is not how Jesus puts it.
As Jesus often does in his answers,
he looks deeply into the motives
of the one asking, and turns the question on its head.
Now listen to this,
because this twist is very significant.
Jesus asks at the end of the story
Who “proved neighbor to the man,”
who proved neighbor to the man who needed help?
The lawyer was asking who his neighbor was,
probably not assuming
that he was the one who needed help.
Jesus comes from completely the other direction,
And says that the person offering the mercy
Proves himself to be the neighbor of the man
Who needed the help.
The man who needed the help
Didn’t need to do anything to be a neighbor.
It is as if the needy man is in a privileged position
Because of his great need.
And Jesus sees the situation of the beaten man
As an opportunity for mercy, rather than as a duty,
An opportunity to show one’s neighbor love,
And therefore take part in the life prepared for us.
That’s just the way God wants us to see our
Call to love our neighbors as ourselves.
It’s not so much a duty or an obligation,
But more of an opportunity which God
Presents us with from time to time.
And it’s the complete opposite of the way
The world around us pushes us to see it.
They say, “Oh let’s help those less fortunate
Like it’s a duty, an obligation,
Based on a pity that those less fortunate even exist.
But the way we are to see it,
As followers of Jesus,
Is that those with less,
Are present so that we can live more fully
By loving them equally to how we love ourselves.
Your neighbor is anyone God places in your path
Who needs the love that you can offer.
The question of whether you prove to be their neighbor
Is whether you offer that help to the best of your ability.
And love them with your actions.
So we can watch for these opportunities
That God will place before us,
And when they pop up,
Jump at the chance to love our neighbor as ourselves.
The good news is, that God gives us
these opportunities sometimes,
And we come across them in our lives.
The requirement is not that you go out
and try to save the world,
or help everyone in need.
That would be loving a neighbor
More than you love yourself,
And often the people who do that,
Who kill themselves
For the sake of others,
Don’t love themselves very much.
That is not really life-giving
and would be too much for any of us.
We’re just called to respond with love
To those we encounter in our daily lives.
Remember it doesn’t have to do with how religious we are,
Or even how Good or worthy.
It’s just about how ready we are to help
when help is called for,
to love when love is required.
And on the other hand,
when we find ourselves
In a position where we need help from others,
There is no shame in that!
On the contrary, we can see ourselves
As giving other Christians an opportunity
To practice their neighbor love on us.
That can be hard for the independent
Souls of Southern New England to hear.
We put so much stock in being
Able to take care of ourselves,
That we feel less than, when others offer us help.
But that’s really far from the truth.
Tasha recently asked
If we could put in the newsletter,
A list of people who friends from church
Could visit, who maybe can’t get out much.
But when I considered putting it out there,
I had to pull back until we get permission
From each person,
Because so many people would rather be alone,
Than admit that they could use some company.
So if you could benefit, from the care
Of friends in the church.
You need not feel ashamed of that need,
But rather look at your need
as if you are giving a gift to the
Person who wants to help you,
because you’re giving them a chance to
Show their neighbor love,
and thereby prove to be your neighbor.
Jesus also said,
It is more blessed to give than to receive,
And I don’t think he was talking only about money.
There is a joy in giving care and love to others,
That is unmatched in receiving it.
That I think is what Jesus talks about in the end,
When he challenges the lawyer’s question to the core.
The Lawyer asked how can I inherit eternal life?
He is goal oriented,
as if the destination of eternal life after death
is all that counts, not to live this life
except as a test to pass to inherit eternity.
This week I went swimming off Narragansett Beach
With a group of 70 people way out
To Moynihan’s Dock.
I didn’t make it all the way to the dock,
But it was a beautiful evening,
And I sure enjoyed the swim all the way to
Where I turned around and back.
It’s not all about the goal we’re headed towards,
Life is more about the journey than the destination.
Jesus says to the lawyer,
“do likewise and you will live.”
Not just you will go to heaven,
or inherit eternal life,
When you die,
But you will live right now.
With Jesus, Life is more about the process than the goal,
More about the blessed journey
and experiencing abundant life now
than focusing on the eternal destination.
Now look at the way this Samaritan offers his aid
to the beaten man.
When he saw the man, he had compassion,
And he didn’t just offer token help.
He stayed with him the whole way.
He provided first aid,
He bound up his wounds, and treated them,
As was common in that day
With oil and wine,
But he didn’t stop there.
He doesn’t leave the man, hoping that he will get better
And then go on his way.
But he puts the man on his own beast
And he brings him to an inn,
There he continues to take care of the man,
And when the time comes and the Samaritan knows
He must depart,
He continues to aid the man by paying the innkeeper
To take care of him, until he returns,
And offers to cover any more expenses then.
This Samaritan, though not a religious man,
Or part of the law of Moses,
Thoroughly cares for the man in need of care.
He stays with him the whole way.
He offers all that he can, and truly loves the man,
As he or any of us would want to be loved.
Were we found in a similar circumstance,
This is much more personal care
than simply giving a little money
Or paying someone else
to take care of the needs of the poor.
This is getting in there, getting your hands dirty,
and living through the recovery with the one you try to help.
And it is a pretty strong challenge to you and me.
Can we live up to this high calling
of loving our neighbors as ourselves?
Jesus thinks we can,
And he challenges us,
with the lawyer
to go and do likewise.
But remember, the point of doing likewise,
Is not to earn a final reward, or reach a destination,
But because then we will live…
As a church we’re working on mission partnerships
Globally with the missionary work
We’ve been talking about when Wayne from YWAM
Locally with the First Church of God,
Who we feasted with yesterday,
And in our ongoing partnership
With the Chapel of St. John the Divine.
Seeing how we can work together,
So that we can live more fully
In the blessed state of neighbor love.
Yet as even as we work together as a church,
As we go out from this service,
Each of us will find,
If we’re Looking for them,
to love those God puts in your path.
And when the opportunity crosses your path,
Provide that love to the fullest extent possible,
And then you will truly live,
And experience the blessing of the journey right now,
In this life we travel together.
And if you find yourself in need,
See it not as shameful,
But as a gift to those who will love you as themselves,
For you are then giving them the opportunity
To live abundantly as Jesus promises
To those who follow him.