Text: Luke 10: 25-37
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
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.”
When Heidi and I first arrived in the LC Valley, we decided to live in Clarkston mostly because that is where the Habitat office was and it seemed to make sense to live and work in the same state; so we rented an apartment in Clarkston for the first year or so that we were here. Apartment living can have a few advantages, although I can’t think of any at the moment, but there is one thing that is almost always a certainty and that is you will generally know who your neighbors are-one way or the other.
As a matter of fact, I was visiting with another gentleman a few years ago that also lived in an apartment complex and he was talking about his neighbors. He said that the neighbors that lived in the apartment directly above his got up around 5AM every morning. “Wow, that’s early” I said to him. Then he went on to tell me that after they got up they would start jumping up and down on the floor. “That’s awful”, I said, “how could you stand it”? “It must have been horrible; didn’t it bother you” I asked. “Naw”, he said, “I could barely hear it; I was practicing my trumpet”.
Last week I mentioned a poem written by Howard Thurman that I thought had some interesting insights about who we should strive to become as a church. The name of the poem is “The Work of Christmas” and I think it is worth looking at again. Here is the poem:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
It is interesting to me that the very first item on this list is to find the lost. Notice that it doesn’t say to save the lost, or to convert the lost, or to evangelize to the lost-it says to simply find them. As if to say that finding them will be enough. Finding those who are lost implies that once found, the lost will know where they are and be able to find the rest of the way on their own.
Think about someone hiking in the wilderness that becomes lost. They went for a hike on Sunday afternoon and then failed to return home that evening, or didn’t show up for work on Monday morning. A search begins, first they find the car, then the search party has an idea of where to look, and hopefully the lost hiker is found before too much time goes by. Once found, if the hiker is in good health, the search party doesn’t have to take the hiker all the way home; once returned to the his car, for example, the hiker knows where to go from there.
I believe we often make assumptions about who we consider to be lost and what it means to find them. It reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw once that said “Not all who wander are lost” – and that is a good thing to remember.
We can also think about expanding our own understanding of what it might mean to be lost. It doesn’t have to be limited to just a couple of definitions; people can be lost in a lot of ways. Finding the lost can cover a whole lot of territory if we begin to open our minds to all the possibilities of what the word “lost” might imply. For example, the text I read a few minutes ago, a familiar story about the Good Samaritan, is one way of looking at the lost. The man who fell victim to the robbers was lost in a number of ways. He had lost his money, he had lost his ability to travel, he had lost his good health, he had lost a certain amount of dignity, he had lost the chance to arrive at wherever he was headed; he had lost in many different ways. And the Samaritan in the story found him.
I want us to look at this scripture one more time, but I am going to leave out the middle portion of the story and just focus on the question and answer about the neighbor. The lawyer asks Jesus, what must I do, and then Jesus confirms for him that he must love his neighbor. Then the lawyer asks Jesus the question; “who is my neighbor” and after the story, the lawyer answers his own question, saying the one who showed mercy was the neighbor.
I think this is interesting because it begins to turn the tables on how we think of neighbors and what defines the neighbor. We have a natural tendency to think of our neighbors as the other, but what this story is really telling us, is that we are the neighbor. We are to be the neighbor to anyone who is in need of mercy. By showing mercy and compassion for someone, we become the neighbor. Who is your neighbor? You are. To everyone.
So when we revisit the poem about the work of Christmas, I think it is a safe assumption to conclude that we are to be a neighbor to the lost. The finding of the lost I believe could be thought of in slightly different language as becoming a neighbor to anyone in need of mercy.
Now I want to introduce one more word for us to consider in this context. That word is refugee. When we think of the refugee, we think of someone fleeing their home sometimes on foot, sometimes over the water, sometimes using other forms of transportation, but generally our first thought is of a person, or group of people fleeing a particular region or country. There can be many reasons why people flee or leave their home land; it could be war, it could be natural disaster, it could be political unrest, it could be famine or drought, but for whatever reason, the place they used to call home is no lI believe we are called to be a neighbor to the refugee. That is not intended to be a political statement, although we are hearing a lot of debate recently about refugees in our political climate. Rather than a political position, I believe it to be a moral and Christian position to be a neighbor to the refugee. As a church, I believe we can do that-but not in the way you are probably thinking about it right now.
You see, I believe we have a population of refugees, right here, right now in the LC Valley. In the LC Valley we have refugees who are lost, in need of direction and who are in need of a neighbor to show some compassion and understanding. But these refugees are not fleeing their home country or their home land or even fleeing a particular part of the country. The refugees I am speaking of are fleeing their home faith tradition; you see they are theological refugees.
When the home faith tradition of Christianity has become too uncomfortable, a certain percentage of people flee. Right now, according to national statistics, that is about 30% of people who once considered Christianity to be their home faith tradition but have now fled Christianity looking for something else. This number is increasing faster than any other segment of our current population.
Can we be a neighbor to these theological refugees? I believe we can. Can we become an example of an interpretation of Christianity which will feel comfortable once more? I believe we can. Can we find these lost refugees and bring them back to a place they already know? I believe we can.
Last week I spoke of New Year’s resolutions for the church and how we might create some for this church. But I cautioned that New Year’s resolutions often fail, and we need to be precise with our resolutions and only resolve to do things we have control over and the capacity to carry out. As for precision, I would like to recommend that we find the lost, but we are precise in who we are looking for. I am suggesting we look for the theological refugees in our midst and become a neighbor to them. We can expand on this idea in other ways, but for now, let us just imagine what it means for us to find the lost and bring them back to an experience of Christianity they assumed did not exist. Let us imagine a refugee returning to a faith tradition they thought they had to flee. Let us imagine the joy and the love that can be expressed in such a homecoming. Let us find the lost, the refugees and bring them home to a place where they can be comfortable and they can be who they need to be. Let us imagine what that may look like in the months and years ahead. Just imagine what we can do.