Amos 7:7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37
How many people know what the Good Sam Club is?
Maybe you’ve seen the bumper sticker with the smiling guy, a halo over his head? It’s the nation’s largest RV club.
“Good Sam,” of course, refers to Good Samaritan. The story of the Good Samaritan is so well known, even by non-Christians, that we forget the point of the story. If I were to ask anyone on the street, Christians included, what being a Good Samaritan means, what would they say? Stopping to help someone in need. That’s all good, but it’s not really the main point of Jesus’ story.
The Samaritan in Jesus’ day was an outcast, a reject, someone despised by “good religious folk.” And yet, he’s the hero of the story! Nobody who heard this story for the first time 2000 years ago would’ve been thinking the main point of the story is that “we should help people in need.” People would’ve been outraged. The words “good” & “Samaritan” did not go together. You probably could’ve heard even religious people say, The only “good” Samaritan…is a dead Samaritan!
Where do you find yourself in the story of the Good Samaritan? Probably all of us at some time or another have been the priest or the Levite who could’ve stepped up to help someone in need but, for whatever reason, didn’t. And yet, imagining ourselves to be the Good Samaritan seems a bit odd. Unless we’ve had the experience of being part of a minority group that’s experienced discrimination & bigotry, we can’t really relate to the Samaritan.
But there is a way for all of us to find ourselves in the story: What if, instead of the Good Samaritan, we tried to see ourselves as the person in the ditch?
Why not? We don’t know who this person is. Jesus tells us nothing about him. All we know is that he’s been attacked by robbers & left for dead. Although hopefully none of us have had the experience of being physically beaten up to the point of death, we can at least relate to the idea of feeling beaten up. Everyone has some story to tell that suggests the experience of being beaten up by life.
Imagine, then, that you’re the person in the ditch. You’ve been robbed & beaten, left for dead. But you’re still conscious. How would you respond to an offer of help? Would you be picky about whom you allowed to help you? If the person who stopped to help was of a different religion, would you turn away their assistance? If their skin was a different color, if they didn’t speak your language, if they wore strange clothes, or had body piercings, would you say to them, “No, thank you—I’d rather die”? Would you check their political views or sexual orientation? Would you interview them to see if they were worthy of your attention?
What would it be like to be the person in the ditch? Maybe we are. Maybe as a church, we are that person in the ditch.
There were 37 of us in worship last Sunday. Not a big number. Are you feeling a little beaten up? Are you feeling, maybe, left for dead?
One thing we know about Jesus’ story: the man in the ditch was not a Samaritan. Presumably he was like any of Jesus’ Jewish audience, otherwise the story would’ve had no power, & no real point.
Today, we are Jesus’ audience. The story comes alive if the man in the ditch is us.
But if we’re the guy in the ditch, who is this Samaritan?
Every Wednesday morning I gather with other pastors to study the scripture readings for the following Sunday. During our discussion this past week the conversation turned to use of our facilities by outside groups. One pastor commented, The more people we have using the building, the safer the church & the safer the neighborhood.
That comment was confirmed recently by one of our local sheriff’s deputies. Over the past month no fewer than four vehicles have been stolen, stripped & dumped in front of the church out on S. 112th St. In conversation with a sheriff’s deputy, our office administrator Randy learned some interesting things. The officer said, Yeah, this is a perfect spot to dump stolen vehicles. The place across the street has been for sale & most of the time the church looks like nobody is here.
It may look like nobody’s here a lot of the time, but it’s better than it was. We have groups using the place on weekends & even during the week. The main groups are Alcoholics Anonymous & the City of Refuge, the Spanish-speaking congregation.
Think about that. Alcoholics—even recovering alcoholics—still experience prejudice in our society. In our day, therefore, they might be called “Samaritans.” Likewise, Spanish-speaking people, especially in our day, are not fully accepted or respected. As despised people they, too, might be called Samaritans. And yet, simply by being here, all these folks make the church–& the neighborhood—safer. In that sense, they might be called Good Samaritans.
Thirty-seven people can’t keep an eye on the building by ourselves. Not even 100 could. Samaritans among us are filled with gratitude for the opportunity to use our space. As Christians, we might be filled with gratitude that they are offering us a helping hand.
What other Samaritans might there be?
As I’ve walked the streets of Lakeridge I’ve met many people. Lots of good people. Some of them have a church home. Some don’t. And some of these might be called Samaritans, despised & rejected by society. I’m thinking of the gay & lesbian community, especially. Within a 3-minute walk of the church I know no fewer than nine such neighbors–& that’s just the ones I’ve met. I’ve had some very deep & meaningful conversations with them about Christian faith. But most of them during their lives have been deeply hurt by the Church. Although they long for a spiritual home, they have a hard time trusting Christians. They, too, know what it’s like to feel beaten up.
But now, we as a church find ourselves not in a position of strength & power. We feel more like the man in the ditch, left for dead. In Jesus’ story that half-dead man wasn’t picky about who nursed him back to life. What about us? What if we sent a clear message to the Samaritans in our midst that they would be not only tolerated but warmly welcomed? What if they got the idea that these 30 or 40 or 50 people who worship here might even love them as they are?
I’ll share a little secret with you on this point: In talking with other pastors I have found that congregations who open themselves to the Samaritans among us often experience a resurrection. And the reason is not simply because the church suddenly fills with Samaritans but because non- Samaritans appreciate the openness of the church. They think, wow, if that church is open to such groups, they must be practicing what they preach. They must be taking Jesus seriously. “Maybe they might welcome me, too,” they think. That’s something they want to be part of.
It’s no fun being in the ditch, is it? But Christian discipleship aside, what person near death, in their right mind, would be fussy about who helps nurse them back to life?