Sermon on the Good Samaritan - July 14, 2019

If Donald Trump was lying in a ditch by the road and you were walking by, would you stop to help?

What about if it was Alexandria Ocasio Cortez?

Or Jeffrey Epstein?

Or Joe Biden?

Or Colin Kapernick or Megan Rapinoe?

 You see, we can’t discriminate about those to whom we are called to show mercy.  That is the problem for the lawyer who was trying to justify himself to Jesus. 

Just to WHOM must I act as a neighbor

And thus,

Who can I exclude?

When we hear this story, we can immediately think of the immigrants who are, this very day, in many cities, in fear for their safety and freedom as the president has ordered the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to begin rounding up those who have been identified for deportation.

 Or of the homeless guy that I saw on the subway the other day – who had not showered for days and had used the bathroom in his clothes, smelling up the entire subway car.

 These might be natural choices for us, but we can’t pick and choose those to whom we are called to show mercy. 

It is ANYONE that might need our help.

 (Don’t get me wrong. I’m not justifying the acts of some of these folk or their political decisions or comments.  That’s not the point.  The point is, if they were at the point of death – like the man in the parable of Jesus – how would we respond?)

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Jack Alexander, in his seminal book, The God Impulse: The Power of Mercy in an Unmerciful World, writes these words:

My chief financial officer walked into my office holding a handful of papers.  He frowned—never a good sign.  He slapped the papers on my desk.

“Take a look,” he said.  “We were right.”

I felt my stomach clench.  I picked up the papers—expense reports—and began to leaf through them one by one, already knowing what they said.  The numbers told a painful, deceitful story:  Tom was cheating.  An extra meal here.  A forged receipt there.  The fraudulent expense reports went on for months.  Tom had taken from the company—the company he helped create and I now managed—thousands of dollars.

I wasn’t blindsided.  I knew this was a possibility.  But I still felt like I’d been punched in the gut.

Tom was a promising go-getter—a tall guy with a charismatic smile, a Texas drawl, and a steely business sense.  He was a natural leader with boundless potential. 

But Tom hadn’t really found his niche yet.  To me, he felt a little aimless, a little uncertain.

 Now the numbers confirmed my worse fears about him.  He and a couple of his associates had decided to use the company—our company—as their own personal ATM machine. 

They were stealing from us and undercutting our business’s future.

 “Thou shalt not steal,” the Bible says.  The law doesn’t get much clearer.  Exodus says if you steal an ox and sell it, you owe the guy another five.  Steal a car today and you could go to jail. 

Steal from a company?  It warrants at least termination, maybe worse. 

After all, to steal from your own company is an act of betrayal—to its shareholders, its employees, and the company itself.  That’s serious stuff.

I thanked my financial officer, watched him leave, and then shut my door.  I bowed my head and began to pray.  “How should I handle this Lord?”  I asked.  “What should I do?”

 I weighed the matter for a couple of days.  And as I deliberated, I thought about Proverbs 19:11: “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”

 Glory? I thought.  Is it glorious to overlook what Tom did to us?  To our company?  I didn’t want to overlook this offense. He deserved punishment.

 Glory in Hebrew means beauty, bravery, and honor.  Is it honorable to overlook someone who’s cheating?  Someone who’s stealing? It didn’t seem fair.

 I kept thinking.  I kept praying.  And then, a few days later, I called Tom into my office.

 He came in, looking uncharacteristically nervous.  I asked him to shut the door.  He did and sat down, his hands clasped in front of him, pale and jittery.

 “Tom,” I said.  “As you know, we’ve just purchased a few companies in Alabama, and we’ll need someone to head that division and tie them together—someone who could go down there and really unite them.  Make them part of our team.”

 I paused.  “Is that something you’d be interested in doing for us?”

 His eyes grew wide. A small smile curled on his face.  Tom didn’t need to think about it long; he accepted the opportunity in the space of a heartbeat.

But I wasn’t done with him.

 “Now, you know what that means, Tom,” I said, my voice growing stern.  “We need you to represent us well.  I’ll come and visit you every month and see that you have all the support you need, and we’ll be watching everything—everything—you do.”

 That was the closest I came to giving him a reprimand.  I never mentioned those expense reports.  Never told him that I knew he’d been cheating.  I don’t know if he ever suspected that I did.

 But I do know this:  Tom never cheated the company again.  The division he headed did extremely well, becoming one of the company’s highest performing.  He stayed with us for another eight years, and during that time Tom was one of our most valuable assets.

 Alexander asks:

Why is it that we always seem to want mercy for ourselves and justice for everyone else?

 In 2nd Corinthians, St. Paul writes:

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

 Alexander writes:

Christ literally appointed each and every one of his followers to be an ambassador in this broken world.  Our jobs, schools, neighborhoods, and friendships are, at times, like foreign lands—places we go as God’s agents to represent him. 

Our mercy is our gift, a gesture from our holy Sender.

 We are making this “appeal” on his behalf.  He has done the work of “making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

 My dear sisters and brothers:

The motivation for our showing mercy to those who are in dire straits – those we find almost “at the point of death” --is the ministry of Jesus himself;                           toward us.

 Jesus acts neighborly toward us, in that, he does not “pass by on the other side” as we live, almost to the point of death in our sin.

 We are not abandoned by our God, but rescued and cared for greatly and at great cost:

 the very life and death of Jesus, the Son of God.

 Pastor James Klockau – Grace Lutheran in Astoria

It is easy to miss the shocking nature of this parable if we start to think that this story only teaches us to imitate the Samaritan.

The parable says so much more about God, our relationship to God, and the lengths to which God will go to reach out to us.

 Through the image of the Samaritan, Jesus lifts up a surprising rescuer as an image of the God who relentlessly cares for those in need.

Could it be that we are meant to identify not with the Samaritan or even the lawyer to whom Jesus speaks the parable, but rather with the man who is hopeless and left for dead?

Could it be that Christ is the good Samaritan who embraces us with the tender compassion of God?

 All of the sudden the parable is turned on its head.

Jesus is not just giving us a comfortable morality tale reminding us to be nice, helpful, generous people.

Instead Jesus is proclaiming the good news of the kingdom.

God’s grace comes to us through the cross.

God’s grace comes to us even—and especially—when we are at our worst, when we struggle in the depths and cry out for help.

Even when we cannot or will not cry out, mercy and grace come into our lives through Jesus.

So whether you are on the road or in the ditch, Jesus even now is coming for you.

 Theologian Barbara Finan writes:

Why didn’t Jesus tell the lawyer whom we are to love?

Why concentrate instead on how we are to love?

It seems to me that it would be so much easier if I only knew who it is I have been called to love.

It would better if I could know the names of those for whom I bear such awesome responsibility, but I don’t.

We don’t.

We are called by Jesus to an expansive love, to a love without limit that is potentially there for all.

No one is eliminated in advance. . . We are to love not only the disenfranchised and alienated, the marginalized and oppressed, those needy strangers whom we read about on the front page or pass by in the subway station, but our friends, our relatives, and all those at the center of our political, social, and economic power structures.

 If we love like the Samaritan loved, we will be compassionate and generous to each person upon whom we stumble.

From Jack Alexander’s book, The God Impulse: The Power of Mercy in an Unmerciful World

He believes and argues with practical examples from his own life and others that:

If the individual disciple of the Crucified and Risen Jesus is to PRACTICE discipleship effectively, that one must learn that aspects of MERCY and practice them in their own life.

If the Church of Jesus Christ is to thrive, we MUST accept MERCY as the heart of our proclamation and practice in life.  Alexander pinpoints 4 aspects of doing mercy from the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  They are:

 ·       SEE: The disposition of our hearts toward mercy

 ·       GO: Getting close enough to others (especially the hurting and broken ones we encounter) to discover their needs

 ·       DO: Courageously displacing ourselves in service, and being willing to TOUCH the hurting and to BIND UP their wounds – even realizing that we might be WOUNDED HEALERS, broken ourselves but able, through Christ Jesus, to gain strength BECAUSE of our brokenness and still provide healing

 ·       ENDURE: The discipline of mercy keeps us engaged.  We don’t do good things for/with others to make OURSELVES feel good, but because we want to help

 

Paul Milholland