Uniqueness and the Parable of the Good Samaritan

There’s a genuinely interesting quirk in most preachers. For the most part we all feel the need to find a fresh take, or a new angle, on preaching the most well known parables. It’s like somehow, we believe that we will find the right interpretation. Or the right takeaway. Or will be able to preach a sermon so fresh and innovative, it will change the world.

         I openly admit that I tend to fall into this trap. What’s the point of standing up and saying something if you don’t have something worthwhile to say?

         This, “must say something profound,” preacher quirk means that for the most part, on Good Samaritan Sunday, there are a lot of really stressed-out preachers, trying to figure out what to say and how to say it differently than they did last time, or the time before that, or the time before that…

         But not me. I was so busy this week that I didn’t even get a chance to look at the text closely until Friday. I saw it Tuesday when I made the bulletin so I was vaguely aware it was Good Samaritan Sunday, but I didn’t get to sit with and reflect on it until Friday.

         Instead of deep sermon prep, I did a lot of priestly and administrative work. One of my favorite parts of priestly work, is that I got to have conversations with y’all, and I got to speak with several people this week.

         And there were a couple of common threads that carried throughout those conversations. And quite honestly, because of those threads, I’d already decided what I was going to preach on. So I would really like to thank everyone I spoke with this week for helping me avoid the stress of “how can I possibly preach a different Good Samaritan sermon?”

         The threads that I would like to talk about today have a lot to do with my understanding of God, and of what it means to be a Protestant.

         My favorite part of being a Protestant is, by far, that I get to have an individual relationship with God. No one, no Pope, no priest, gets to dictate my relationship with God. They can help, but not dictate. 

         This is also, for me, a key difference between being a mainline protestant and a conservative evangelical. It’s what ultimately drove me out of the Evangelical Church – I couldn’t ask questions. I just had to believe what was written in Scripture without question, and, without context or understanding of the original language they were written in. In the end, that didn’t work for me.

         Having an individual relationship with God sounds awesome, at least to me. It’s like, God has their choice of humans to hangout with, and God chooses to be with me!

         And that’s true. But, also, it means I have to do the work to develop this relationship.

         I have to figure out boundaries, and lean into growing edges. We, God and I, have to work together on setting the goals of our relationship, and every now and then we have to check in to make sure the relationship is still working.

         Over time, and with a lot of intentional effort in prayer and practice on both ends, God and I have developed a pretty great thing.

         However, unlike any sermon I could have come up with on the Good Samaritan, this relationship is uniquely ours. It’s unique between God and I.

         What works for God and I probably wouldn’t work, or certainly wouldn’t work as well, for you or anyone else.

         This occurred to me this week in discussing scripture, when I pointed out that Jesus never gives the same answer for what someone needs to do to have eternal life. Jesus never gives the same answer for what to do to follow Him!

         Sometimes it’s drop your net and come. Sometimes it’s have me over to dinner then come. Sometimes it’s come now, don’t say goodbye to your family, don’t bury your parents, don’t close up your affairs. Sometimes it’s sell everything you own and come.

         And sometimes it’s, society has shunned you, but I don’t, you’re good, be your rich, poor, disabled, a tax collector, a woman, a Roman, or a Samaritan.

         The answer and expectations are never the same. 

         Mary sat at Jesus’s feet while Martha served, and both were loved and accepted as followers, called to do different things. And they were sisters!

         And the work each person is called upon to do is never the same. 

         That there’s a difference for each in what will work best for our relationships with God makes it really difficult to be a pastor. There is no one path. There is no one way. Even within the Way of Jesus, there isn’t one path.

         There’s no silver bullet to a good relationship with God. There are somethings that work for most people in finding that path, prayer, contemplation, service, going to church. But there’s not one recipe for relationship.

         The same is true for the church and church growth. There are some best practices, but at the end of the day, each church is different.

         And, the only way to actually grow is for at least most of the members of the community to be engaged in developing their individual relationships with God.

         Of course, there’s a caveat. 

         The caveat is that Jesus does give us one teaching that we are to hold in our hearts as we engage in the work of being Christian. And that is “you shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.”

         In this story we know that the obvious question of “who is my neighbor” has been an issue since the very beginning. I’m just going to throw something out there though: let’s just assume that everyone is your neighbor. It’s just easier. 

         What is a lot harder is the “as yourself” part of that sentence.

         Because, you can only love your neighbor as yourself if you love yourself.

         This means, we need to care for ourselves. Loving God with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all out strength, and with all our minds, is part of loving ourselves.

         Because, as Christians, loving God and being in a healthy relationship with God is part of loving ourselves.

         If it seems a little bit circular, it is. But, while it looks like a circle on the outside, it’s really more like a labyrinth. And our goal, at any given point, is just to take the next step. There’s no set point we’re going to, we just have to know where we are, and take the next step as it comes.

         What, I wonder, is calling to your heart? What are the things, the moments, the experiences that really make you feel good? What are the things, the moments, the experiences that make you uncomfortable and also help you to grow as a person? Are there things you don’t want to look at, but know that you should?

         For me, I don’t like looking at my own blind spots in terms of my own privilege, and the expectations of societal norms. I get defensive when something slips from my mouth that doesn’t reflect my beliefs, but still lives inside of me. 

         I was reminded this week of the term “implicit bias”, which is complicated, but the dictionary summaries it as “a bias or prejudice that is present but not consciously held or recognized.”

         I don’t like looking at the things that I don’t even know are there. Or that I thought I had delt with, and still pop up from time to time.

         But, in my relationship with God, and I imagine this would be true for a lot of us, I can’t just skip past the things I don’t want to deal with to get to the things I do want to deal with.

         Do you think the Samaritan wanted to stop and care for the injured man in this parable? He didn’t. He was going somewhere. He certainly didn’t plan on spending the equivalent of 2 days wages on a stranger. 

         It was a lot easier to walk by, to not be bothered with something they didn’t want to be bothered with, like the priest, like the Levite. They didn’t have to stop. They didn’t have to deal with the problem, so they didn’t. Society didn’t punish them for walking by. Religion didn’t punish them for walking by.

         In fact, society and religion were the excuses to walk by. To not deal with the obvious problem. To not meet the need of the person dying in the streets.

         I could, at this point, pivot this conversation very easily into racism, and the ways that we, and the church, are avoiding the realities of our neighbors of color. But that’s my path. And it’s where I am on my path.

         Today is about you, and your paths.

         And the absolute fact is that it is time for everyone, especially everyone here, to find their own path. To find their own path KNOWING that we cannot avoid the places we want to avoid. 

         I’m sorry that there isn’t one specific answer for each of us and for everything.

         But I have to honestly wonder, why are we avoiding the things we don’t want to deal with? What are we afraid of?

         Does it really allow us to grow in our faith if we only do the things we like doing?

Amen

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