Sunday, July 15, 2007

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 15, 2007

An experiment was done at Princeton Seminary involving the “Good Samaritan” parable. Seminary students were asked to speak about their calling to ministry and were asked to speak about this parable. They were then told to go to another building for further instructions. But on the way, an actor played the role of a victim crying out for mercy to see how many would stop by to help. In the end, what really determined whether they stopped by to help was how much time they had. If they were told they were already late, then only 10 percent helped. If they were told that they had a few minutes to spare, 63 percent helped. Compassion was curtailed by the need to be on time.

I wonder if this was part of the issue in the case of the two who passed by the wounded man in the parable today. Perhaps they were already late for an appointment. Were they too busy with the concerns of their own life to be worried about others? This really causes me to examine my own life. I know that I’m very sensitive to my own personal needs to keep track of my time and to maintain a schedule. Do I allow that to get in the way be my being a neighbor to others?

Stephen Covey in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” divides the things we have to do in our life into four quadrants. One of those quadrants are those things that are urgent and unimportant. They are things that don’t really matter all that much but for whatever reason seem urgent to us. I’m sure many things in my schedule fall into that category. Another quadrant is the important and urgent. The thing about this category is that they always get done. But a third quadrant is the important and not urgent. They matter to me, they are things that are important, but nothing is pressing to make sure they get done. All too often those things that are urgent but unimportant force their way to the fore and they get the attention rather than that which is important.

Rather than the press of time, perhaps it was fear of getting involved that caused some to pass by the suffering. After seeing someone being beat up like that it might be more prudent to pick up your pace to be on the safe side.

Having lived in New York City and other large metropolitan areas I can understand the desire to just not get involved. And while a much larger percentage of people were willing to get involved if they thought they had the time, still a startling four out of ten seminary students did not help a person crying out for assistance. Remember that this was right after talking about this parable. In this study the students first had the chance to talk about being a neighbor to someone suffering and then immediately had the opportunity to act on it. I wonder what the percentage would have been if they has been asked to talk about something else before being sent out.

To be a neighbor to others we have to be willing to roll up our sleeves and get dirty. Helping others often means being willing to be involved with people who do not look like or, or who might not smell as nice as us, or who might not be dressed as good as we are, or who might be downright dirtier than us. And too often our own sensibilities will kick in and cause us to pass by just as these seminary students did and just as the first two passers-by did in the parable today.

There is one critical point in this story that it is too easy for us to miss. With the passage of time and place I do not think we grasp the difference between a person who happened to be Jewish and a person who was a Samaritan. To say there was no love lost between these two groups would be not be an exaggeration. They were social and religious enemies. So it really is quite amazing to see someone from one group help someone from another group. In this parable, Jesus was really driving a point home to the listener. Namely that we find our neighbor most often in the absolutely least desirable person that God places in our lives.

In the letter to the Colossians we are reminded that we are supposed to be bearing fruit as a result of the grace of God which we have. The fruit of God in our lives is the kind of fruit that not only stopped to help a broken person, but went out of its way. In Luke we are told that the first two people passed by on the other side. No only did they pass by, but they moved to the other side of the road to avoid the half dead man completely. I’m shamed when I recall how many times in my life I have crossed the street to avoid people. I wish more often in my life I had been like the Samaritan who came near a person in great need and was moved with pity. He was moved to do a whole lot to help this nameless stranger on the road.

Recently I was approached by someone who had been giving to the MDG’s. He asked me “how do we know when we have done enough.” That is a great question. When you look at the world around us there is so much to be done. I think that the answer is that we can never give enough; we must simply give what we can as often as we can. Then we will be following the call of Jesus found at the end of this story to “go and do likewise.”

This is the hard work of a walk of faith. We are called to do things that might make us uncomfortable. We are called on to take chances. Jesus tells us we must be a neighbor not to those who look like us or act like us or believe like us. Jesus calls us to the hard work of being a neighbor to those we might prefer not to.

Let us examine our hearts and our actions and always be ready to do likewise.

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