Message based on Luke 10:25-37 and Amos 7:7-17; preached on July 11, 2010 by Pastor Asher

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We tend to complicate and at the same time to simplify most things. In Luke 10:21 Jesus alluded to that fact when he said that the wise and the prudent miss what little children understand instinctively and intuitively. Today’s readings illustrate this concept.

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Amos’ metaphor of the plumb line evokes images of righteousness. The parable of the Good Samaritan talks about extending compassion. Because we tend to trivialize the stories from today’s readings, most of us imagine that our lives are plumb with God’s instructions and that we would SURELY be moved to help the poor sap who fell prey to highway robbery. In our mind’s eye we shake a finger of righteous indignation at the heartless priest and Levite as we watch them walk by that dying man. In our mind’s eye our lives are plumb with God (just like Samaritan was) and most of us believe that we will pass the "COMPASSION" test with flying colors.

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Let us delve into today’s texts. Every society has certain norms that make our lives less flexible and sometimes prevent us from being able to respond to the needs of others. The service that the priests and Levites provided was prescribed by God; the laws of the time and place commanded that touching a corpse or an open wound would disqualify them from performing their duties at the Temple. They would not be able to work or support their families and the communities that depended on them. On the other hand, they were human and they must have felt compassion towards the injured man.

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When they saw the victim, theirs was a choice between duty towards a fellow human being and duty towards their God and their own families.

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They made the choice that they were taught to make by their training and by the society in which they lived; they stayed as far away from the injured man as they could. Jesus does not portray the priest and the Levite as the heartless jerks that our collective imagination makes them out to be. And let’s be honest: many of us would make the same choice if we were in similar circumstances.

{Visual illustration from Dave Perry.
Dave Perry is a Methodist pastor from England; he graciously allowed use of these images under Creative Common License. Dave Perry blogs at http://visualtheology.blogspot.com/.}

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The man playing accordion is blind.

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Many people walked by him. They heard him playing, they knew that he needed money to survive. Most people either completely ignored him or did not even notice his presence.

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Dave observed that only one or two people felt compelled to help the man. One of those that helped was a child.  … the wise and the prudent miss what little children understand instinctively and intuitively (see Luke 10:21).

How many of us learned to avoid getting involved in something like this?

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For my Russian, European and Central-American friends: The man is holding American Sign Language symbol for “love” with his right hand. He is not flushing an obscene gesture.

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The point I am trying to make is that while we cannot turn our wallets inside out every time we see a need, most of us have learned to ignore pleas for help. We learned that often when we get involved, that involvement puts certain limitations on our lives and we do not like limitations.

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Every society has certain norms that make our lives less flexible and sometimes prevent us from being able to respond to the needs of others. Our society is no exception.

    • If a mother with young children in her car spots a man lying at the side of the road, and pulls over to see if he needs help, she runs the risk of being robbed or violated because the situation could be a trap. If that were to happen we would label her as irresponsible, putting herself and her children at risk.

    • If a family with young children determined that they couldn’t give 10% of their income to support the mission and outreach of their church, would we say that this family was refusing to be "Good Samaritans," or would we say that they were taking prudent actions to ensure the wellbeing of their own family? Do we have any “prudent” families among us?

    • How many of us gathered here, tithe less than 10% in order to be able to afford luxuries when our neighbors are hungry? I am not talking about abstract neighbors in far-away lands; if you want to see some of these neighbors, visit the Ray of Hope on Friday. I also saw great needs among our sisters and brothers in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Cuba. Has anyone thrown food away recently? Does anyone here have too many clothes?

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    Today’s readings teach us that in order to be plumb with God’s wishes for us, in order to be the best that we can be, our help must be practical and consist of more than just feeling sorry. The priest and the Levite could not help but feel sorry for the wounded man, but they did nothing. Real compassion results in deeds and actions (see James 2:17 – “Faith without works is dead…”.)

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    Today’s readings acknowledge that all of us want closeness to God. We want to live our lives at peace, and when we die we want to go to heaven and hear, "well done good and faithful servant." As we mature in our relationship with God we want to love God more dearly, follow God more nearly and see God more clearly. That is why we gather as a community on Sundays, that is why we have special projects and missions, that is why we fellowship together at covered dish dinners and special events, that is why we get involved in Christian mission and outreach. When two or three (or 100) gather together, the Spirit of God works in mysterious ways among them. These two or three (or 100) have to make a choice whether to allow God to propel them towards mission, towards helping each other and their neighbors and towards being bearers of God’s love, light and grace. By “them” I really mean “us”.

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    The Good News and the Hope of today’s readings is that God loves us so much that God will not let us pass by a sister or a brother in need without pulling on the strings of our hearts to judge us, to encourage us, to hold us to a higher standard than the standard to which we hold ourselves. As a community, when we pull our resources together, we have a much bigger impact and exert much more influence, than we do individually.

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    The point of today’s readings is that we have learned how to squelch God’s tugs and hide behind self-righteous posturing and talk. But when we do that, when we hide behind self-righteous posturing and talk, we experience feelings of guilt, we feel unfulfilled and we flutter through life seemingly without direction.

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    Today’s readings bring us the Good News. Today’s readings bring us the real hope. Although we cannot buy our way into heaven, our hope is that we can fulfill God’s hope for our lives while we are on this Earth and live abundant lives full of grace, love and spirit. That hope is that we can get involved in God’s mission in the world. Most of us are not equipped or capable to go on a mission trip in a far-away land like Haiti, Cuba or the Gulf coast with its 100 degree temperatures. Due to work schedules most of us are not able to volunteer at the Ray of Hope, many of us are not equipped or capable of handling the sights and smells of a hospital. Even so, there are still ways we can influence the world. One way is by being a part of something bigger than ourselves through tithing and supporting the Church in world-wide mission. Through tithing we can help someone to be God’s hands and tools in the world.

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    On Saturday, July 17, 2010 the youth group will take a part in a mission project with Alex’s Lemonade Stand. All the proceeds will go towards pediatric cancer research.

     

    The way this project came to be is because our church was praying for three children with cancer. One of the children, Anjali, lost her battle recently and she is with God now. We can help the battle with cancer in general (and pediatric cancer in particular) by supporting this mission project.

     

    Through our involvement, through our participation in God’s world, our church tells a story. We live in a middle of that story. We see bits a pieces of what happened before us all around us. We are also making bits and pieces that will be included in the story of our church in the future.

     

    We are influenced by the history of our community; by the stories that our walls and traditions tell and we continue that story.

     

    Stories that we are telling will influence those who will follow us. Jesus came so that God could live with us and through us on this Earth and so that story of God’s love and compassion continues to be told.

     

    Glory to God!

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