January 24th, 2010

197 Browning  Boulevard, Winnipeg, Manitoba  R3K 0L1


Sermon on Luke 10: 25-37

We have all heard the expression - "They are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good." In the passage that we read from Luke Jesus invites us to ask ourselves - "I'm I so earthly minded that I am no heavenly good?"

Again we have come to a text that we know well- and there is always a danger with a text that we know well, we think we know what the text is about - we think we know what it says and so we go to sleep because we have heard it all before. There is a danger preaching on a text that we all know well- to keep it interesting and fresh there is a temptation to take a completely new approach - an approach which often violates the meaning and direction of the text.

All of that is to say that it is worth paying close attention to what actually happens here - in other words it is worth paying close attention to the text.

A lawyer challenges Jesus - "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Good question - what is the bottom line - of all the things I could do in life - which are the most important. It is a good kind of lawyer question - the question that gets to the heart of the matter quickly. Now Jesus knew there was more going on than just a simple question - so he plays a bit here. Jesus asked, "What does the law say - you are a lawyer - you know the law - what does the law say?"

The lawyer knows he can not play games - he is a lawyer, his reputation is now on the line.

So he replies - "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. And love your neighbour as yourself." Jesus says, "Right answer -live that way and you have nothing to worry about."

And the conversation could have ended there - and we would have said Jesus ducked another attempt to trap him - isn't he so good at not getting caught. Notice how he does not answer the lawyer's question - but makes the lawyer answer it.

But the lawyer knows he has been outsmarted by Jesus - and so to justify himself - to make sure that people do not think he had asked too simple a question - the lawyer asks "And who is my neighbour?" Again this is a good lawyer question - how far is that love to go? You can see the wheels turning - his thinking might go something like this: obviously it includes the people who live right beside me - they are my literal neighbours. It probably includes the people the next house over after that - and maybe even people on the next street over - but does it include people who live on the other side of Portage. There is a line somewhere -lawyers - and we ­are good at putting up limits - this is in - that is out. So where is the line between neighbour and non-neighbour?

And Jesus told this story - in fact, he didn't tell the story you are about to hear - but ifhe were telling the story today he might tell it this way.

A young white family was driving into Winnipeg from Portage early one Sunday morning ­and their car - which was held together with duct tap and wire broke down just about Gaol Rd. west of Headingley. And the car would not move another inch. I forgot to tell you that this was a family of 5 - morn, dad, and three kids 6, 4, and 2.

Now it so happened that the minister of one of the Presbyterian congregations in the west part of Winnipeg - a congregation which shall remain nameless - was corning into town - he had been at a youth retreat all weekend and now he was corning into lead worship. He saw the car broken down on the side of the road - and he noticed that there were still people in the car. And he glanced at his watch and noticed that he was running a bit behind schedule - so he said to himself - "This is a well-traveled road - I am going to be late if I stop - and I have a congregation of people waiting for me to lead worship and preach. So I am going to keep going. And moving to the left hand lane - he sped by - but he made sure to say a prayer for the family as he drove by.

About an hour later - an elder of that same nameless Presbyterian congregation was driving into town - he was headed to the second service. He saw the car broken down on the side of the road - he too noticed that there were people sitting on the side of the road obviously waiting for someone to help. The elder said to himself - "You never can be quite sure about these things - it might be a scam, a set-up - I might be at risk if I help" and so he too moved over to the left hand lane as he sped by - but at least he waved to the family on the side of the road as he went by.

Another hour passed, so by now it was getting on towards noon. A bright shiny king cab pick-up was coming down the road. It was driven by a young man from the Dakota Tipi Reserve just outside Portage. He and his buddy had had a late night the night before and now they were heading into Winnipeg to meet up with some friends in the north end and go for lunch. They saw the family sitting on the side of the road with the broken down car. They stopped. They tried to get the car started - but they had no success either. So they said to the family, "Hop in ­ we will put your stuff in the back - and we will take you into town." The family got into the pick-up and off they went. As they came to the Flying J the driver turned in - he said to the family, "Wait here there is one quick thing I need to do." He found a mechanic and told him about the car - the young native guy said, "Here is my credit card number - go get the car tow it in and fix it up - I will pay the cost." Then he got back in the truck and they headed into town.

It was now 12:30 - and so the other young native guy pulled out his cell phone and called their friends - he said, "We're helping some people out - we're not quite sure when we will get there - so go ahead and order."

They came to the Holiday Inn at Moray St. and the truck pulled in - he helped the family load their stuff onto a luggage cart and reaching in his wallet he pulled out some money and said - "Here is $400 - I will check back in two days to see how things are going - you can let me know then if you need more." And with that he was gone.

Jesus had a simple question - who was neighbour to the family on the side of the road?

There are some things we need to notice about Jesus' story before we move to talk about the moral of the story.

We need to understand that Jews - and the guy on the side of the road was a Jew - and Samaritans did not like each other. Well, that is putting it mildly. Jews were afraid to pass through the areas where Samaritans lived, they would sooner go many kilometers out of their way than do that. Samaritans and Jews dressed differently - Samaritans had a different way of speaking Aramaic - a different accent - than did Jews. Jews were not convinced that Samaritans worship Yahweh - and so they would not let the Samaritans into the second part of the temple that was reserved for those who worshipped Yahweh. Samaritans were distrusted and seen as trying to take what the Jews had worked so hard at building up. So when Jesus says that it was a Samaritan who helped - this was completely shocking. Notice that the lawyer in vs. 37 can not even bring himself to say the word "Samaritan" - instead he says, "the one who showed him mercy". That a Samaritan would act that way was incredibly hard for a Jew to get his head around.

Second, notice that Jesus does not answer the question the lawyer asked - which was really how far am I to care? - what are the limits beyond which I am not responsible for caring?

Given who the audience was who heard this story, Jesus is expecting people to identify with the man beaten up on the side of the road - the family with the broken down vehicle. So the story is not answering who am I supposed to help - but rather whose help will I accept? Jesus' audience would have shuddered at the thought of accepting help from a Samaritan - but Jesus has painted the story in such a way that the choice is accept the help from a Samaritan or stay here on the road side. Accept the help offered by some young native guys - or stay broken down on the side of the road.

The text reminds us that we need not only to show love to others - which while stretching and difficult at times - is by no means as difficult as accepting help ourselves. When we give our help - we can remain somewhat above the one we are helping - out of our position of having the ability to help we are in charge. Being neighbour also means having the humility to accept the help others offer - allowing them to have the power in the relationship. To be neighbour Jesus would tell us is not only about serving those who are in need - it is also about allowing ourselves to be served when we are in need.

If the Samaritan can be a neighbour to Jesus' Jewish audience - then there is no one who we can claim is not our neighbour. There is no one who is outside the possibility of us showing them the grace of God. And there is no one of whom we should say, "God's grace could not come through them." It is easy in this parable to get lost in the care that is shown - and overwhelmed by the extravagant grace and care the Samaritan shows. And we are to notice that. But deeper and more profound is that there is no one who is not our neighbour - there is no one to whom we should not show God's grace and love. All those lines we draw - those limits we create - they get wrecked in this story that Jesus tells.

Jesus has told this story well- better than I did - for in Jesus' telling there was both practical help - bandaging wounds, etc. - and financial help - paying for the motel room. The kind of help we are to show is of both kinds - practical hands on - and financial. In some cases one and in other cases the other and in some cases both. As well, sometimes the care we show our neighbour is to tell them some hard truths that will make them flinch - but which are for their growth - just as sometimes our neighbours will tell us hard things that will make us flinch - and which are for our good. Jesus is not saying that the answer to every neighbour's problem is bandaging wounds and paying hotel bills. Jesus is saying that every person who we meet who is in need is neighbour we are invited to respond to. Just as when we are in need - we are invited to accept help from those who offer it.

      Jesus saw our helpless state - broken and hurting - and he offered us help and healing ­ offered to care for us when we could not care for ourselves. Jesus is both our Saviour and our example. Having accepted his grace into our lives - having been transformed by that grace - we are invited to let that grace flow through us to touch a world around - to touch all who we meet who are in need of God's grace and love. We are invited to be channels of God's grace - just as God's grace is channeled to us through unexpected people.

Teaching the Word