For the past few weeks we’ve been talking about “Struggles.” There are huge challenges that come our way, and there are people here who can tell you stories about how faith got them through the worst of times. God used the struggle to teach you something you never would have learned any other way. There may have even been something about that struggle that helped you find a way to contentment; let’s say that God used that experience to help you adjust your priorities. Certain things became less important, other things more important. There is something about being in a struggle that helps you value your relationships in a new way. It’s in God’s church that God uses us in each other’s lives to get through the struggles together, and to make a difference in a hurting world.
This morning, I want to show you how God struggles. You don’t think that the almighty, omnipotent God of the universe struggles? Let’s start with this story from Luke:
Luke 10:25-37. Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘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 neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
A lot of people think they don’t know much about the Bible, but they know what a Good Samaritan is. It’s someone who helps people at their own expense, just because it’s the right thing to do. Helping someone you don’t know makes you a Good Samaritan. I’ve seen orphanages, hospitals (lots of hospitals), and even animal shelters named after the Good Samaritan.
There are organizations named after the Good Samaritan. I think that volunteer ambulance companies could have “Good Samaritan” printed on the side of their vehicles. They help anybody in trouble. They get a call and they go; doesn’t matter who it is.
On the Sagamore Bridge over the Cape Cod Canal there is a sign that says, “Feeling desperate? Call the Samaritans.” (This is a high place that people might try to jump from.) I don’t know who these Samaritans are, but they have a “hot line.” March 13 is supposed to be a national “Good Samaritan Day,” when acts of kindness happen. But there are a bunch of things going on in that Good Samaritan story. What was Jesus trying to get across?
First, I need to offer up a warning. This passage hits me in a vulnerable place. Like a lot of people, I have favorite parts of scripture that can make me feel encouraged and give me strength. The Lord is my shepherd….(Psalm 23:1) if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved…. (Romans 10:9) Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice. (Philippians 4:4) And I do feel like God is my shepherd, and I do feel like the resurrection of Jesus has saved me, and I do feel like rejoicing because of that.
But when I hear Jesus tell this story, and why he is saying these things, I feel… convicted. I feel the gaze of Jesus. And so, I might become… less objective than I’d prefer to be.
In the story, Jesus is talking to a religious person who knows his Bible, his Torah. You want eternal life? No problem. ‘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.’ We know those words too; I quoted them last week.
So, let’s quickly run through the characters:
Religious Types. In this story, we’ve got religious types. People who know their Bible, who know the words of God, who have resources, who have some head knowledge of the right things to do, but might just walk by situations that are inconvenient or unpleasant. They might walk by people who are struggling. Have you ever felt this way?
Struggling People. For three weeks, we’ve thought about people who struggle. Maybe you can think of a time when you were wounded and abandoned by the side of the road, or you felt that way. It’s a fact that we live in a world of struggling people. Have you been one of those people?
It’s a paradox. We’ve got the need and the answer to the need on the same road together. The need and the resource to fill the need are together in the same place.
The Samaritan. Then we have the Samaritan. He’s got a sketchy racial background and a strange religion. The Jewish religious types avoid him too. What’s ironic is that if the wounded man wasn’t wounded, assuming he was Jewish, he might actually avoid this Samaritan who’s giving him help. The Samaritan has no reason to be the good guy in this story, except that something gets triggered in him that will not allow him to just walk by. He steps in.
When you do a search for “compassion” in the Bible, you will read good stuff:
Psalm 145.9 The LORD is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.
Isaiah 49.13 Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones.
When you search for “compassion,” you mostly find God showing compassion or people searching for God’s compassion. But very rarely will you find people showing compassion for other people. And this is where I think God struggles. Sometimes, I think God weeps. And if you had to paint a picture of God, it might look something like that Samaritan, the person who stops and cares at his own expense when nobody else will.
I started taking groups on mission trips about 30 years ago. In fact, I learned that St. Paul’s (the church I serve currently as pastor) had gone to Biloxi, MS, (in 1986) just after I had been there myself. I’ve been privileged to be part of groups having one-week experiences all over the place from Florida to Maine to the Caribbean.
I’ve been in orphanages in China, Africa, South America, and Palestine (I even hiked through the area where the man in Jesus story was robbed!). God has blessed me to see a lot of things, and in some ways those images have also been a burden.
After some years, I learned that I could become distracted by a single moment. This was a long time in coming, because God knows, I’m not real quick on the uptake. The caption under that photo is always the same: “Don’t expect me to just walk by that and not do something.”
In 2013, when we arrived in a Dominican village to build a house, a group of kids wanted to show me their bedroom in one of the houses next door. The house was beginning to cave in on one corner of that room.
Don’t ask me to just walk by that and not be affected. I don’t think you would either.
But I’ve also learned that you don’t necessarily have to travel to get these images in your head. They are here in Manheim (or your town).
This is the part when I want to encourage you take part in St. Paul’s Mission Trips, to “not just walk by” the need in your own town. Make a plan to help out with Habitat for Humanity over a weekend. Make a plan to participate in a project next summer. This when our churches will show the compassion of God to our neighbors.
There might be someone here who is more adventurous, and next August, I’m offering to take a few missionaries to serve for a few days in an orphanage in Peru (above). This is open to any age student over 14, and adults. Serving the poor in places outside of our country gives a different perspective on the world that simply can’t happen here.
It’s experiences like this that change lives, and that makes me want to offer a few warnings about embracing your inner compassion:
It interrupts. Compassion has a way of not fitting so neatly into your schedule. The Samaritan had to be willing to give time. You’ll be walking along, going about your well-planned life, and suddenly, there’s something that God needs you to do. It seem to me that the best ministry is the inconvenient kind.
It costs. The Samaritan paid for the wounded guy to stay at the inn for two days, and it probably wasn’t in his travel budget. It’s not just on us as individual Christians to watch for these opportunities, it should be a practice of the church to take some responsibility for the needs of the world it lives in.
It changes lives. The people who embrace their inner compassion are changed. They cannot look at their world the same way again. They cannot live in their world the same way again. The compassion of God infects them and takes them to a new level of faith.
At the end of the movie “Schinder’s List,” the Jewish refugees give Oskar Schindler a gold ring (made of the gold fillings taken from some of their teeth), which has an inscription: “He who saves one life, saves the world entire.”
“He who saves one life, saves the world entire.”
Who are our neighbors? Who are the wounded strangers? As we pray, ask God to show you their faces and give you a vision for what we should do.
O God, we see neighbors everywhere. We see them in our cities and towns. We see them on the news. We see people lying by the side of the road every day, wounded and helpless. We are frightened because we know that with a slight change in the circumstances, it could be us. Forgive us for slipping into denial and walking by.
Give us the wisdom and the foresight to know when our own needs have been met so that we are free to take care of somebody else. Help us understand how much we need you and how much we need each other. Help us know in our deepest places that we can’t afford to play it safe and not get involved. Through your Spirit, teach us how to take care of each other. Through the power of your love, show us how to love through Christ, whom you sent to save us and in whose name we pray. Amen.