First Congregational Church
July 14, 2019
5th Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 10:25-37 & Colossians 1:1-14
“When the Answer Doesn’t Seem Like a Big Deal”, or “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
There’s a program on tv that pops up every so often, called Just for Laughs. For those having had more trips around the sun, the show is take-off of Candid Camera. For those with fewer trips around the sun, the show is distantly like America’s Funniest Videos.
One particular episode plays on several individuals kind-hearted enough to stop when they come upon a person standing in front of a car that appears to have been in an accident and has been flipped upside down on a back, country road. The kind soul is given a warning flag and is asked to wave it while the “victim” of the accident goes off to get help.
While the kind soul is waiting, a police officer comes up, and while the officer and the kind soul are discussing the situation, the kind soul obviously tells the officer about the car that he or she is guarding - so that no one else runs into it.
Inevitably, while the kind soul is speaking, as humans are so apt to do, he or she turns around to point out the car with a gesture like “why can’t you understand this situation of a car upside down?” What the kind soul doesn’t realize is that while he or she was speaking to the officer, a couple of people spring out of the roadside and push the car, conveniently on wheels, off the road and out of sight. So the kind soul stands there looking for the invisible car they have been guarding. I know it’s a rough illustration, but it will come into play later.
A couple weeks ago, I came across an article that has really stuck with me, and I thought a few of you might appreciate it, too. In 2015, a Swiss graduate student departed from the Zurich airport with a suitcase filled with empty wallets, loads of cash and 400 spare keys. The authorities stopped him with questions and he explained it was for a science experiment.
He was part of a team of behavioral researchers tackling two important questions: Do people around the world return lost wallets? And does the amount of cash in a wallet make a difference?
Members of the team traveled to 355 cities in 40 countries with suspicious baggage that carried more than 17,000 wallets.
Staff members of institutions such as museums, banks and police stations unknowingly became part of a global field experiment of civic honesty when they were presented with wallets that supposedly had been lost.
Regardless of country, people were more likely to try to return wallets with larger amounts of money inside, according to the published study. This butts against long-standing economic models that predict people are more likely to be dishonest when the potential payout is larger.
The study shows people overwhelmingly see themselves as good people and seek to maintain that image, even if it overrides the impulse to get ahead, said psychologist Nina Mazar of Boston University, who has studied honesty in lab conditions. The new study goes a step beyond her work by testing honesty in everyday life.
For each experiment, a young European “tourist” walked into a bank or another institution with a wallet containing a shopping list, a key and a few duplicate business cards written in the local language. The tourists in these experiments, of course, were research assistants.
The tourist hands the wallet to a bank teller and, before quickly exiting, says: "I found this on the street near the entrance. Someone must have lost it. Can you take care of it?"
In some cases the teller would discover the wallet contained no money. In other cases there was $15 in local currency. In some wealthier countries, some wallets had either no money, $15 or almost $100.
The fact that people were more likely to return wallets that included money (especially a lot of money) surprised the researchers. It also surprised the 300 top academic economists they surveyed, who predicted people would be more likely to keep the wallets with money.
"When a behavior is surprising, that's when you want to be cautious about over interpreting what this means for society," said Abigail Marsh, psychologist at Georgetown University, who was not involved in the study. "But what I like about this study is that is supports so much of the data out there . . . that most people are trying to do the right thing most of the time.”
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
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’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
2 To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters[a] in Christ:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father.[b]
Thanksgiving and Prayer
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel 6 that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant,[c] who is a faithful minister of Christ on our[d] behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,[e] 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you[f] to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Thank you, Sally and Ann. From works of art to names of nursing homes to a phone app to the name of a Michigan law, the term “Good Samaritan” is about as common as peanut butter and jelly or hammer and nails. It’s become so common, and has been such a big part of our human history, we’ve lost a little of the shock value.
Some blog I ran across this week was trying to suggest that the story of the Good Samaritan may have been the historic foundation to the famous jokes that start with “a priest, a rabbi and a minister walked into a bar.” Calvin Seminary professor, Scott Hoezee, suggested, that to really understand the shock value that Jesus used that day, substitute the priest with a Christian, the Levite with a Jewish person and the Samaritan with a member of the Taliban. … Very rightly, Mr. Hoezee finished his statement with the comment that although Samaritans, of course, were not like the Taliban, they were regarded almost that darkly.
I wonder, too, how often we put so much focus on the three people passing by, and we fail to appreciate the situation and feelings of the person in the ditch. Whether the person was unconscious or not, they had taken a lickin’, and they weren’t tickin’ so well. I’m sure there are some among us that have tales to tell of lying in a ditch, even symbolically, wishing, praying, even subconsciously, for someone to come along and help. …
Jesus asked the young lawyer, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” When you are the one in the ditch, in pain, willing to do almost anything to stop the pain and find relief, I’m willing to bet that most of the time, we don’t really care about the religion of our rescuer, whether they be black, white, brown or purple with green polka-dots. What we most need and want in those moments is a kind soul.
In the interest of time, I had thought about not including the passage from the book of Colossians. But I thought that maybe you should know the truth of it, too. The identity of the writer of Colossians has not been determined to be Paul with 100% certainty. Whoever did write it, at least on Paul’s behalf, wrote part of what is a reality - at least in this pastor’s life.
Since the day you come into the life of this church family, my prayer for you is continually asking God to fill you with the knowledge of God’s will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of spiritual integrity, that gives honor to God and continues to grow in maturity of understanding how God is a part of your life, our life and all life.
You may think that I’m talking pastor blah, blah, blah, but I’m not. When I think about you, and yes, this place allows for a person to recognize a goodly number of individuals, even when you try to hide behind the person in front of you, when I think about you, especially on other days than Sundays, it is that God will not only lead you to be a Good Samaritan, or help you to see that you are good enough to share in the inheritance of God’s holy people, but that you can see the world and understand that which God has given us and so blessed us, in ways that not only stir your heart, sometimes even blowing your mind, but in ways that result in each one of you becoming so filled with love and grace and joy, that you are compelled to reflect such goodness back to God through this world and all of God’s people.
This prayer is a big thing, and I could choose not to pray it, but when Jesus told the lawyer to “Go and do likewise,” it wasn’t just for the lawyer. It was for me. And it was for you; for each you - here and around the world and through all time. So should all of us pray.
Holy and Amazing God, thank you for loving us and gracing us and providing for us, even when we would sometimes rather stay in the ditch, relishing our pain or fears. Thank you for those kind souls that come to our aid, in the times we are aware and in the times we are unaware of the angels you send. You know that many times, our reasons for walking past situations that need our assistance are valid and even commendable reasons. But when our reasons are smaller than the need of the individual, give us an extra nudge, so that we don’t miss opportunities to “do likewise.” Thank you, too, for the prayers that others offer up on our behalf, and help us to lean into them, even those of which we have no knowledge, that we become all you have ever seen us to be. For these and all the blessings with which you shower us, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.