Sermon: October 25, 2015 – A 21st Century Parable

Text: Luke 10: 25-37

25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.[a] “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 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 neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 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. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 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. 35 The next day he took out two denarii,[b] gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

I think many of us have heard the parable of the Good Samaritan from the time we were small kids until now. I’m sure thousands of sermons have been preached on the topic just in the last few years and you may have even heard a few of them. This message is so powerful and so important that I wanted to visit the scripture again, but I wanted to do it in a way that would be memorable, something that would be more meaningful that just another sermon. So I let my imagination loose on the topic and decided to bring the story into the 21st century. In the text we can read that the Samaritan brought the man who was beaten and robbed to an Inn-so this is the story from the Inn keeper, but set in the 21st century.

“You know, you just don’t think things like that will happen around here. I mean, that’s why my wife and I bought this Bed and Breakfast because we wanted to raise the kids in a small town and in a safe environment. You expect to hear about people getting mugged or robbed or attacked in places like LA or New York City, but not our here – not in the middle of nowhere…and yet it happened; and practically all in our front yard to boot!”

“I remember the night like it was yesterday. Our B&B has a nice dining hall that can seat about 30 people and there was a town hall meeting that night. The county wanted to impose a tax on recreation and travel to help pay for a new elementary school. There was to be a tax on white water rafting for example, and taxes on Bed & Breakfasts like ours, taxes on organized fishing expeditions, and other leisure, recreational and travel things that frankly keep our local economy humming around here. Many of the proprietors of the businesses that would be impacted opposed the tax; they thought it would hurt business. I was one of the few in favor because I value education, so I volunteered to host the town hall meeting. We had an overflow crowd; the mayor was here, city council members, several pastors from the local churches and county officials as well. The meeting was supposed to go for just a couple of hours, from 7 – 9 PM. At 10:30PM there were still people wanting to speak, but we decided to have another meeting rather than to keep going into the night, so we dismissed between 10:30 and 11:00 and everyone filed out.”

“Like I said I remember the night like it was yesterday. One reason it sticks out in my mind is because of the cold snap we were having. The regular temperature had already hit zero by the time the meeting let out and the wind chill was well below zero. I wondered to myself as everyone left the building how many cars would not start in the cold, but everybody seemed to get going without too much trouble. I stood in the doorway and watched the last vehicle exit the parking lot and then closed the door.”

It wasn’t two minutes later before the door opened again. There was a strange man who I had never met before helping another inside. He had his arm around him and was practically carrying him inside. The man being helped was in shirt sleeves and his shirt was torn at the shoulder; he had a bloody spot on his forehead and only had one shoe. “What happened?” I asked as I met them half-way across the floor. “I’m not sure,” the man said, “I found him leaned up against one of your parking lot lights just outside.” “I had to wait for the traffic to clear, because everyone was leaving; and when I turned into your lot, there he was.” “I can’t believe that no one saw him on their way out – there must have been twenty or twenty-five cars all leaving at the same time.” “We had a meeting” I explained. The man nodded.

We took the injured man over to the sofa that faced the fireplace and helped him sit down. By now my wife had heard the commotion and came over with a blanket and we rolled the ottoman over so he could prop up his leg and foot with the missing shoe. The ankle was swollen and red, he was shivering from the cold and I motioned to my wife to bring a hot drink. Then I stoked the fire a bit and threw another piece of wood to get it going. Soon my wife reappeared with a cup of hot chocolate and a warm wash cloth for the injured man to wipe his forehead.

“Can he stay here tonight?” the man asked-I shook my head. “We have only six rooms and are full for tonight.”

“Well, I have a reservation here,” said the man, “so he can have my room and I will drive back into town and find another room for myself. I passed several motels on my way out here. I have to be in Boise by 9 AM tomorrow, so I will be leaving early, but I’m coming back through on Friday and will check back with you then. In the meantime, if he needs anything-anything at all, get it for him and put it on my account.” Then the man handed me his credit card; “I want to pay for his room and meals until I return-just keep track of everything and we can settle the credit card on Friday.”

By now the injured man was beginning to thaw out and I overheard part of the conversation as my wife tucked in the blanket and dabbed at his forehead. He had been out walking when a pick-up truck full of teenagers jumped him, stole all his money and credit cards, took his coat and beat him up. He said he had tried to fight back some, but there were too many of them. He saw our lights and headed this way, but only got as far as the parking lot when he had to rest. He was there when everyone left, but no one stopped.

I took the man’s credit card over to the front desk and took an imprint of it and then handed it back to him. “I’ll be back on Friday” he said, “I think we should call the police, report what we know and maybe help him cancel any cards he may have lost.” “If he needs any medical attention, I will cover that expense as well, but for now I need to find another room and get settled. I have an early morning.”

“Let me make a call” I said, “a lot of us know each other and I’m sure I can find a room for you.”

I went back to the desk and started calling other facilities that might have a room. The first place I checked was full, but I found a spot on the second try. I told the man exactly where it was and that they were expecting him. As the man put his coat back on the injured man managed a hoarse “thank-you” and raised his right arm about half-way up wincing through some kind of shoulder pain. And then he was gone.

The next couple of days were a whirlwind of police reports and urgent care visits, but as promised on Friday, around 3PM the man returned. This time things were not quite so hectic and we actually had a chance to introduce ourselves to each other and exchange formalities. The injured man was feeling much better as well.

“I’m Jared” I said when he arrived and reached out to shake his hand. “I’m Amad,” the man said, “Amad Rasheed, nice to meet you.”

“What do you do Amad?, I asked. “I’m an insurance adjuster” he said, I had to get to Boise to look at a suspicious fire that they think might have been arson, so it was time sensitive; “sorry I had to rush out the other night.” “How is the patient anyway?”

“I’m feeling much better, thank-you” came a voice from the kitchen.

“Where are you from Amad?” I asked.

“I normally work in Missoula, but the Boise fire was something the company wanted me to look at” he said.

“Oh,” I said, “but where are you from?” I asked again.

Amad smiled, and explained that we he born in Los Angeles and moved to Missoula about five years ago when the company transferred him there. Then he went on to explain that both his parents had come to the United States in the early 1950’s from Pakistan during a period of civil unrest.

“Can I ask you a personal question?” I said; Amad nodded; “are you Muslim?”

Amad grinned from ear to ear and said, “I follow some of the traditions of Isalm”.

“Well, what you did was certainly Christ like,” I said.

Amad nodded his head again; “We’re not so different, you and I; your New Testament says to love your neighbor and so does my Quran. Allah is merciful to those who show mercy is what it actually says, but the bottom line is the same.”

I nodded in agreement as he headed out the door. As I watched him leave the parking lot I thought to myself about who is my neighbor; how ironic I thought…as our world gets smaller, our neighborhoods get bigger.

“God bless you, Amad,” I said under my breath as we exchanged waves as he drove out of sight.

Amen.

Sermon: October 4, 2015 – “Too Much of a Good Thing”

Text: Mark 9: 43-47

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell -Mark 9:43-47

Don’t you just love an impossible text? There are parts of the Bible that I have struggled with for years and to be honest, this is one of those parts. What are we to think? That God wants us to hurt ourselves? Are we to think this is the real cost of discipleship? I’m sorry, but I just can’t go there; this is not the God I have come into relationship with and this in no way is reflective of Jesus as I understand him. So what are we to think?

The other day I was in a conversation I probably had no business being in. Ever been in one of those? I was conversing with someone who was just having a fit about genetically modified foods and the labeling and nutrition and a whole host of other things that seem to go along with this ongoing controversy. Is it a controversy? I’m not even sure; like I said, I had no business being in this conversation because I have zero information about the topic. I literally know nothing about it. As a matter of fact, I know that sometimes it is referred to as GMO foods, but I don’t even know what the “O” stands for – genetically modified I can figure out, but the “O” – I actually don’t have any idea.

Any way, I got sucked into this conversation (even though I know nothing about the topic) and I asked a question. I asked if it was genetic modifications that have given us things like seedless watermelons or drought resistant wheat and asked if those were not good things. The response was quick and curt; “well, you can always have too much of a good thing.”

I’m still not certain that answered my question, but it did get me thinking about this text.

With this particular text I think our natural tendency is to think of what is being described here is a prescription for following Jesus. In other words, you have to be so devoted, you have to be so committed, you have to be so blinded by your faith that you are willing to hack off limbs and gouge out eyes in order to stay true to Jesus. Really? That just doesn’t sound like Jesus to me.

But what if this isn’t a prescription for following Jesus at all; what if it is a description of what happens to us so many times in life. What happens to us in life is often too much of a good thing. And if we remember that the focus of Jesus’ ministry was to reform Judaism, that is also what had happened to that religion, too much of a good thing.

For example I think we could look at alcoholism this way. Many of us enjoy a little bit of alcohol every once in awhile. I’m personally not a big wine or beer drinker, but I have been known to enjoy a margarita on rare occasion. When we are celebrating or having a nice meal or at a wedding or anytime the situation is appropriate I think most of us would consider a little bit of alcohol a good thing. But you ramp that up to too much of a good thing and your problems grow exponentially. Not only that, but when confronted with the prospect of removing alcohol from the alcoholic, it seems to me, that it is just as traumatic and removing an actual part of that person. Alcohol has become such a part of the person that it is the same as a hand or a foot or even an eye. And that is what Jesus does, Jesus removes those things in our lives that have become stumbling blocks, even when we think they are as important to us as an actual limb.

Is this not also a description of what had happened to ancient Judaism? Perhaps the law began as a good thing. We can see historical evidence of why some of the laws were created or what the good intention was behind the idea. Not eating pork comes to mind. When pork is not cooked well enough or stored properly people get sick and die when they eat it; so they made a law to stay away from pork. Makes sense. But then they kept adding to the law, it became a reason for being, it began to be a stumbling block, the law became more important than the person. Yet, for the priests and the scribes and the Pharisees they would have much rather hacked off a hand or a foot than disturb the law. It was that much a part of them.

I think this is almost a universal danger; at times we can all become so attached to something that it blots out the light of Christ. We can become so attached to something that without even realizing what is happening, our allegiance switches from that of love, or that of following Jesus, to protecting the thing that is a part of us. It could be the law in ancient Judaism, it could be the alcohol for the alcoholic or it could be any number of other things on which each and every one of us place too much importance. It may have started as a good thing, but as we have all heard and know, you can have too much of a good thing.

Thing is, this isn’t a problem limited to just alcoholics or ancient Judaism. It is alive a well today. In my mind, we can translate this text to help our understanding in this way. When something causes us to stumble-I read that in this way: When we fail to love, when we fail to honor the person, when we fail to practice compassion or humility or tolerance, we stumble. So when that happens, we need to identify where in our lives something exists that is really too much of a good thing, and cut it out. Remove it from our being. It can feel like losing a limb, but it is descriptive of what the love of God does in our lives.

Modern Christianity in many settings isn’t all that different from ancient Judaism. We love to make rules and creeds and customs; we love to point out when others fail to tow the line or walk the walk. We relish the chance to be superior and more self-righteous than the next person. But in our exuberance to “serve the Lord” we forget the lost and lonely, we forget the least of those among us and we forget that all are children of God. And when we forget; we stumble; and when we stumble it is time for some surgery. If anything gets in the way of God working through us in the way that God intends, it is time to get it out of the way. There are times it may feel like we are losing a part of ourselves.

But as we lose, we also gain. We gain freedom from the bondage of too much of a good thing. We gain the Good News of the gospel and we gain the freedom to love and honor all. To be clear, God doesn’t hack and saw and remove our stumbling blocks to punish us. The removal process is the only way to begin the healing and the healing is the path to freedom and the freedom is the Good News which Jesus promises.

As I said in the beginning; don’t you just love impossible texts?

In a few moments we will be practicing the sacrament of Holy Communion. As you come forward to receive the elements or perhaps receive some special prayer, one question you may ask yourself is this: “what kind of surgery are we performing today?” Amen.