Sermon for Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, July 14, 2013
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Luke 10:25-37
Sermon Theme: The Good Samaritan Revisited
(Sources: Emphasis online commentary; Emphasis online Illustrations; original idea; Brokhof, Series C, Preaching Workbook)
The ancient story of the Good Samaritan has been one of the most important parables in the history of Christian witnessing, but the sad thing is the world has grown even colder since the days of the Good Samaritan. The victim was robbed and left half dead on a well-traveled road. In Today’s world, he would be mugged on a busy freeway in front of people who wouldn’t help, and shot to death as a final gesture. Back then, two out of three people wouldn’t stop to help him. Nowadays, no one would stop to help him.
If you follow the picture that history paints, you will find that levels of cold-heartedness and indifference increased each century. Makes you wonder where Christians were hiding out during those centuries; they weren’t hiding out, they were just part of the status quo, — many of them anyway.
Cold-heartedness and indifference were not just American traits, you found them everywhere – France, Germany, England – throughout history. Napoleon Bonaparte himself was a cold-hearted, selfish little man. Once when his army was severely wiped out by the enemy, he surveyed the carnage on the battlefield after the battle. As he walked about the field littered with bodies, he would nudge the bodies of his dead soldiers with his boot, saying, “Small change, small change.”
There was a huge influx of German Lutheran immigrants into Texas during the 1840’s, 1850’s, and 1870’s. Churches like this one and my home church were founded by descendants of those immigrants. As these immigrants made their way by ox cart from Galveston to find a place to settle farther inland, they were poor, hungry and with a minimum of belongings. They found that the “Americans” already settled in Texas (that is, the English-Americans and the Spanish-Americans) would not give them food or lodging. Only if they were lucky enough to find other Germans already settled would they be blessed with food or shelter. Only German Lutherans helped German Lutherans.
The thing is, coldness and harshness bred coldness and harshness. Just as in Jesus’ day, ethnic groups shunned, avoided and mistreated other ethnic groups. That is why the story of the Good Samaritan is so extraordinary, and why Jesus told it. In today’s world, to the Jew, the Samaritan would have been like a black Muslim, — different race, different religion, different ethnicity. A pious Jew would neither speak to, congregate with, nor touch a Samaritan.
Yet, the only one of the travelers on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem who was willing to help the victim of a vicious robbery and mugging was a Samaritan. The half dead man was a Jew. The Levite and the priest, who, like the wounded man, were Jews, came upon the near dead man, who was one of their own, and what did they do? – they walked around him on the other side of the road. This is doubly bad, because both the Levite and the Priest were religious leaders (Levites were like assistants to the priests), and as religious leaders, they should set an example of sanctification for the people.
In terms of today, this would be like a pastor and an elder making a special effort to walking and ignore the wounded man. The Samaritan, who was not a true believer, out of some compassion deep within him, lived out the very thing Jesus preached. So who really had the Spirit of God living within themselves? Jesus commands us to love our neighbor.
The common view of a neighbor is one who lives close to you in a spatial neighborhood. In today’s world this is not necessarily the case. Many do not know even the name of the family who lives in the apartment down the hall, nor the couple living in the adjoining townhouse.
Using this definition of “neighbor” the lawyer in our sermon text was sure he was exempt from the law to love your neighbor. In the parable, Jesus gives a new understanding of a neighbor; he is one who is in need of your assistance given out of love.
The neighbor is one standing in need of help, It does not matter if he is Jew or Gentile, in the
house next door or in Rhodesia, black or white, Christian or Muslim or Buddhist. According to this understanding of a neighbor, the church has an obligation out of love to be concerned about social problems and to take social action. Indeed, a good neighbor is one who has compassion for hurt people.
This is highly significant for us, because so many church people want to restrict their help and their charity to their own church or to their own community. But that would not be in keeping with what Jesus is saying in this text. One year the mother of a needy family came to me and wanted to know if my church had a food pantry. I said no, but that there was a food pantry in Sealy, to which she replied that she was sure they wouldn’t give her any food because she lived in Wallis and not Sealy. I replied that if they were Christians it wouldn’t matter where you were from.
Of course, at the same time, I felt a deep sense of guilt that our church did not have a food pantry for needy families.
Pastor Clarke tells the story of a young woman and her three children who came to the food pantry of his church. She waited at the door for a long time, letting all the other needy people go ahead of her. Finally, when everyone else had gotten their food, she and her three little daughters came forward; it was obvious that she was very embarrassed to be in the situation of begging for food. The cheerful helpers at the food pantry were very loving and kind and gathered together three or four bags of food for her, treating the woman and her children like family. They tried to find some of the little girls’ favorite foods.
When the woman and her children started to leave, the mother paused, looked back, a tear running down her cheek and said, “You…you… people here are like Jesus. I always knew that He was real, but nobody ever showed Him to me before today.”
Who is the needy Samaritan in your life? The painter Rothenstein once said, “It is in the atmosphere of poetry and among men of large vision and magnanimous natures that I have been most happy and comfortable. How delightful is the company of generous people, who overlook trifles and keep their minds instinctively fixed on whatever is good and positive in the world about them.
“People of small caliber are always carping. They are bent on showing their own superiority, their knowledge or their prowess or good breeding. But magnanimous people have no vanity, they have no jealousy, they have no reserves, and they feed on the true and the solid wherever they find it. And what is more, they find it everywhere.” Amen.