July 14, 2013
8th Sunday after Pentecost
“The one who had _____ on him.”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
So Ole vas in bed wit Lena ven der vas a knock at da door. He rolls over and sees that it's 3:30 a.m. "I'm not getting out of bed at this time of the night," he tinks and rolls over. Then a louder know follows. "Aren't you going to answer dat?" says Lena?
Ole drags himself out of bed and goes downstairs. He opens the door and there is a man standing at the door, holding on to the doorframe to steady himself. "Hi there, says the stranger. "Can you give me a push?" "No, get lost. It's half past tree. I vas in bed," says Ole and slams the door. He goes back up to bed and tells Lena what happened and she says, "Ole, dat vasn't Minnesota nice of you. Remember dat night vi broke down in the pouring rain on da vay to pic de kids up from the baby-sitter, and you had to knock on dat man's house to get da car started again? Vat vould half happened if he'd told us to get lost?"
"But Lena, " says Ole. "It doesn't matter," she says. "He needs our help and it vould be de Christian ting to help him." So Ole gets out of bed again, gets dressed and goes downstairs. He opens the door, and not being able to see the stranger anywhere, he shouts, "Hey do you still vant a push?" He hears a voice cry out, "Yeah, please." So, still being unable to see the stranger, Ole shouts, "Vere are you?" The stranger replies, "Over here, on the swing."
I'll give you a big heads up that our scripture for this morning is probably not new to your ears. In fact, it's probably so familiar, I'm thinking that some of you, who haven't looked ahead to the scripture passage, could, with no context, complete one of the verses near the end: "The one who had _____ on him." If it's not coming to mind clearly, you will definitely get it in a few moments.
Luke 10:25-37 NIV
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’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
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 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.”
Thank you, Naomi. There is no doubt that in all of the Bible, this and the story about the Prodigal Son are the most famous. There is no doubt that the Prodigal Son is about forgiveness and today's passage is about kindness and compassion, to use broad sweeping subjects. But coming across someone beaten and robbed, lying on the ground - and being passed by - not once but twice - just doesn't happen as much in our modern world. In fact, there are laws against walking away from someone who is injured.
I think we've tried to be a compassionate nation, most of the time, anyway. But since that particular September 11th, perhaps we are more leery of those we call neighbor. Hearing about law suits against someone who tried to help another can keep us from lending a hand when we can. It's a lot easier, when seeing someone trying to hitch a ride, to find reasons not to pick up him or her: the car is too full, I'm in a rush. And believe me, I'm not advocating that we should throw caution to the wind.
But I wondered, and still wonder, do modern-day Good Samaritans still exist? What does the one lying on the road, beaten and robbed, look like in 2013? Where have you seen either the one on the road or the one who stopped and stooped? This past week, Good Morning America carried the story of Samantha La Rocco.
She said she had just been "dumped" by her boyfriend of a year and a half, and she was in full-blown break-up mode. So the 23 year-old was ordering online from a Los Angeles restaurant called Truly Vegan, sitting at home, hair a mess and in her break-up pants. (As one reviewer noted, How many break ups does it take to designate a pair of "break up pants?")
In the midst of her sorrow, she decided to include a note in the special instructions box of her order that read, "I've just been dumped. Please draw something inspiring on the container." Not expecting the restaurant to even really read the note, let alone follow through, she was more than pleasantly surprised when she received her salad.
Included on the Styrofoam box was a stick figure holding a sign surrounded by hearts that said, "You're worth it," followed by "You don't need him to be happy," with a sunshine above it. The message on the box was exactly what La Rocco needed to pick herself up and dust herself off. "This is the best break up I've had," she said. "It was the happiest salad I've ever had in my life." I kept the container. It's still in the refrigerator."
I'm thinking that Ms. La Rocco may think about rinsing out that styrofoam container - from the rather "green" sounding Truly Vegan. But all in all, even it if sounds trite, it's a really great Good Samaritan story.
So maybe the artist of the container and Ms. La Rocco weren't enemies by their tribe or faith affiliation - like Samaritans and Jewish people - back in the day. And yes, Samantha asked for "help," rather than waiting for someone to "notice" her condition, which is, by the way, a rather healthy thing to do. But the essence of one unknown reaching out to another unknown is timeless, even if we may not always see such moments of divine exchange as that. And granted, this story may seem eons away from the beaten and robbed man in Jesus' parable. But it's also not very compassionate to distinguish between broken bodies and broken hearts.
Many of us have heard this story so many times, we could probably recite if from memory and get most of it right. We hear stories like this parable, and just about every time we hear them, we hear something different. So this week, when I read our passage, I was struck by the word "mercy."
It's not as foreign to our modern ears as repentance or atonement or some of those other highfalutin' church words. But when was the last time you stopped to think about that word? Over there in the cyber world, mercy is, in one place, described as a "broad term that refers to benevolence, forgiveness and kindness in a variety of ethical, religious, social and legal contexts." It, interestingly, comes from Latin, and means "price paid, wages." In the social and legal contexts, the definition of mercy is "may refer both to compassionate behavior on the part of those in power, or on the part of a humanitarian third party. A judge may show mercy to a convict or a help agency may offer aid."
When Jesus was asked how to get eternal life, he flipped the question back on the young lawyer. Jesus wouldn't have done that had he not suspected that the young man already knew the answer to his own question. And he did.
Sometimes in life, we struggle with knowing what God would have us do. But by and large, I don't think those situations are all that common. I think we do know what we are supposed to do most of the time. The priest and the Levite surely would have known what they were supposed to do.
As men of the cloth, they would have studied Deuteronomy 6:5: "Love the Lord your God." It's the first prayer that every Jewish child knows by heart: "Hear, O Israel. The Lord is our God, the Lord alone." And the men surely would have known Leviticus 19:18: "love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord."
And most all of us know about loving the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength and with all our mind and loving our neighbor as ourself. But I'm guessing that at least one of us, in this coming week, will come upon a situation when we are presented with an opportunity to be the priest, the Levite or the Good Samaritan. In the words of a person I know, "Who do you want to be?" And how do we become who we want to be? By tending to the wounded by listening. By paying the price with our time and heart, rather than our pocketbook.
A few weeks back, I was talking with the owner of Bennet Barz Funeral home, and she was telling me about her love for old cemeteries and how the really old gravestones have great messages about a person's life. And I totally cracked up when she said that there is a gravestone somewhere in the area that actually says, "I told you I was sick." But in a serious mode, wouldn't it be a remarkable thing - for others - to put on our gravestones, “The one who had mercy on others"? Let us pray.
God of healing and compassion, we are reminded this day - again - of what it means to follow you. Thank you for the Good Samaritans you have sent to us - those we have recognized and those we have ministered to us even if we haven't seen them. Help us to go and do likewise. Help us to be wise and attentive to your Spirit, that we not be someone else's pawn for evil. But help us to see those who, in their woundedness, need us to be their Good Samaritan. Thank you for sending your Son, our own original Good Samaritan, who not only stopped and stooped down to us from his eternal life from you, but who paid the highest cost of mercy - with his life. For each and every blessing you give us - in human and non-human bodies, and in helping us write our epitaphs in our lives, all your people say, Amen.