Sunday, July 10, 2016

No loopholes

Luke 10:25-37

This is perhaps the best-known parable Jesus told. Even those who do not believe in Jesus know it. It’s so familiar, and has so simple a message, it’s not easy to find something new to say about it. But, it’s the text for today, so talk about it we must.
What I noticed this year is that the lawyer, like many good lawyers, is looking for the loophole. Let’s assume he is trying to lay a trap for Jesus.
Jesus the teacher begins with what the lawyer knows. What does Scripture say? “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.” Jesus says, “You’re right. Go and do that.”
But the lawyer seems to think he shouldn’t have to treat everyone as a neighbor. He has observed Jesus hanging out with all sorts of folks, the untouchables, the tax collectors, the sinners of that time. He is looking for a loophole that will help him avoid accepting all people as his neighbors. His question is probably expressed in a snide tone of voice. “And, just who is my neighbor?”

Jesus refuses to let him off the hook, but doesn’t accuse him directly. Instead, he allows the lawyer to accuse himself. He allows the lawyer to discover that with Jesus, there are no loopholes. He tells a story that reveals the lawyer’s attitude to him.

Let’s tell the story in today’s language. There was a man who was walking down the road, perhaps just getting some exercise, and he was hit by a car and left there. A doctor drove by, sipping on her coffee, on her way to the hospital. She did not have time to stop, and she was sure someone else would stop. A teacher drove by in his new car. He didn’t want to get blood all over his leather seats, so he drove on past, thinking, he would call someone when he got to work.
But a homeless man was riding his bike and stopped to check on the man. He could see that the injured man needed help. His leg was badly bruised and his head was bleeding.
The homeless man put the injured man on the handlebar on his bike and rode him to the nearest doctor. He waited while the nurse and doctor could bandage him and give him some prescriptions. He rode the injured man to the nearest drug store, and waited while they filled the prescription. Then, he rode the injured man to his house and helped him inside.
These days, we could tell this story with a lot of different people in the place of the Samaritan in Jesus’ story. You remember that Jews and Samaritans are enemies who encounter each other often, even if they don’t want to.
So, today, we could say that the man who stopped was homeless, or gay, or undocumented, or Muslim, or extremely wealthy, or fat, or a Democrat or a Republican. We lack respect for anyone who is different, for lots of reasons. We use hate language easily. In my opinion, we are beginning to resemble the Old West in our desire to own and carry and use guns, just in case someone gets us mad or threatens us.
And yet, there are still Samaritans who will stop and offer aid to someone in need. There are plenty of people who notice a person in need. There are plenty of people who will stop and help. There are plenty of people who work to make a difference in little and big ways. So, here are some of their stories, so we can be inspired to go and do likewise.

Pastor Todd Gaston was visiting family in North Texas when a thief stole his backpack from the front seat of his rental car. In the backpack were a laptop and a tablet and a music player, plus his Bible and a journal. The electronics he could replace; they were just a financial loss.
 But he was heartbroken to lose the journal and Bible. The journal held his record of his prayer life for the last year, and some thoughts about preaching for the next few months.
The backpack turned up on the side of the road where a Sikh man found it and checked it out. He realized that the Bible and journal were important to the owner, even though they were the scriptures of a different religion, and he wanted to return them.
He found the pastor’s business card in the backpack and made contact to return it. Pastor Todd says, “I’m grateful, very grateful. To be able to get that act of kindness from someone who doesn’t know me. It makes me more mindful. If I found a something similar that belonged to a person of his faith, would I go out of my way?”

I found this little story on Face Book. The officer writes: This lady saw me parked at a City park this morning and decided to stop. She exited her vehicle with her two children and approached me as I was seated in my patrol car. She simply stated that she wanted to pray for me. Specifically for my safety. I expressed my gratitude the best I could, but she really has no idea how much that meant to me. Her little boy handed me a wilted flower that looked as if it had been in his pocket for a week. At that moment, it was the most beautiful flower I'd ever seen. My prayer is that sharing this encounter will encourage many to give people a chance, regardless of race or profession. You simply cannot judge an entire group of people because of the actions of some. Don't hate evil more than you love good.

One last story, one of my own experiences. Many of our stories about truckers are that they are road hogs, rude, and we need to watch out for them. I have a different opinion.
My boys were small, maybe 3 and 6, and we were on our way home on I-94 through southwest Michigan. The engine light came on, and I pulled off into the rest area. I parked and turned off the engine, and raised the hood, looking for something obvious. Of course, I had no idea what to look for, so I just stood there staring at the engine.
Within just a few minutes, a trucker walked over and began asking questions. He said the problem was probably the thermostat. He told me he’d be right back, and returned with a tool box. He took apart whatever he need to take apart, removed the thermostat, and put the car back together. We started up the car, it ran fine. The trucker told me to get the thermostat replaced in the next two or three days.
I offered to pay him, but he didn’t want anything. I don’t remember his name, but 40 years later, I still remember his kindness. He noticed I needed help, he gave of his time and his skills to fix my car, and changed my opinion about truckers forever.
 We don’t intentionally look for loopholes when we try to obey scripture, but life sometimes intervenes. We forget to be aware of other people, of people in need right before our eyes. We think we don’t have the time, we don’t have the money, we don’t have the know-how to help someone, so we don’t make the effort. This week, try to pay attention, and be the one who notices, the one who stops, the one who makes the effort to make another person’s life better.

Please pray with me. Lord Jesus, you told us true stories, stories that make us reflect on our own lives and our own attitudes. Help us to notice when we try to use our busyness, our lack of skills or money, as excuses for not reaching out to someone in need. Grant us the time, the money, the skills, and the desire to be the good Samaritan for those we encounter this week. Amen