Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
July 11, 2004
The Gospel: Luke 10:25-37
Sermon: "The Disenfranchised Might Lead the Way"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
A lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" 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." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live." But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 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. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 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. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
The Disenfranchised Might Lead the Way
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost - July 11, 2004
If I had tried to choose a better lesson for today I could not have done any better than the story of the Good Samaritan for the send-off for our mission trip. This story of one person helping another is perfect for what we are about to do. We could just simply say this is an example of people helping others and leave it at that, but we would miss some other marvelous aspects of this story.
To help put this story in context I want to share with you a more recent story than two thousand years ago. This story is only twenty-five to thirty years old. It concerns the youth of the Episcopal Church. Thirty years ago we begin to see the development of youth ministry in the church. I'm not talking about parish activities for youth. They have been around for a long time. I'm talking about the church deciding teenagers were important members of the church family.
Around thirty years ago, the first diocesan youth activities really get started. Youth are noticed by the church as being a positive resource needing funding. Diocesan coordinators get hired and programs begin to be developed. The church acknowledges that teenage girls can be acolytes. They begin to see that teenagers have spirituality. They see the need for trained people to plan events, activities, fundraisers, and weekend retreats. In other words the church notices the youth as honest to God people. They are creatures of the living God who have gifts and abilities to grow in their love of God and show this love to others.
Now, I am claiming there is a parallel between the youth and the Samaritan of the story in Luke. Jesus is being asked questions by a lawyer in the text. A Jewish lawyer would have been well versed in social and religious law. In those days the two were inextricably woven together. He wants to know how to have eternal life. In other words he wants to know if he is saved. Jesus asks him how he interprets the law. What does he think the law says? The lawyer answers with the two greatest commandments; love God and love your neighbor.
However, like a good lawyer he wants the last word. He wants to know who his neighbor might be. Jesus responds with the story of the Good Samaritan.
We are all familiar with the story. Let's think about this story though as if we heard it for the first time. The traveler is beaten and left on the side of the road. The road is a dangerous one and it is not well traveled. Anyone left on this road beaten and naked will surely die. We don't know anything about the traveler. We don't know his race. We don't know his religion or his trade. We don't his personal ethical or moral beliefs. We don't know his political preferences. All we know is his predicament.
The first person to notice him is a priest. The priest does not stop to help. Instead he passes by on the other side of the road. The next traveler is a Levite. He also passed by on the other side of the road. Now both of these men should have offered assistance. Both of them were actually bound to offer assistance due to their position. There is no excuse for their behavior. As hearers of this story we would and should be appalled at how they have acted.
Now we anxiously await what will come next. In all good storytelling there is a series of three. We await the third person to see this man. We expect the third person will be a good Israelite. To place it in today's terms we would expect the third traveler to be a good Episcopalian. Instead, the third traveler is a Samaritan. Jesus' Jewish audience is caught off guard. The Samaritans were seen as unclean people. Jews and Samaritans had long standing enmity between them. When the Assyrians conquered the northern area of Samaria they inter-married. They were considered unclean not because of some heinous crime. They were considered unclean because they had married outside their race. Jesus makes the Samaritan the hero. By doing so he shatters all expectations. The Samaritan sees the man in need and simply responds. He does not look to see what race he is. He has no way of knowing whether he is rich or poor. He simply helps the man.
Now, who would we say today's Samaritan might be? Perhaps the Samaritan is someone with AIDS? Perhaps they are the town drunk or one of the town prostitutes? Maybe they are someone we just don't like at all? In other words think of whom we hold as beneath us and that is the person who is the good Samaritan of this story.
Those thoughts lead us back to the youth of the church. Many of us grew up in an era when children were seen and not heard. The church was guilty of this as well. Children had to be absolutely quiet in church even when there were no nurseries. No child could be confirmed before twelve no matter what they knew. No child could receive communion 'until they were confirmed. Girls could not be acolytes. Teenagers could not be chalice bearers, lay readers, or vestry members. Children were treated as second-class citizens in an institution that believes in Jesus. Jesus is the one who told his own disciples to let the children come to him. He also told them that to receive eternal life they had to become like children.
I am glad to say we have come a long way. We also have a long way to go. We have a lot of people that are still treated differently in our world of Reidsville. We can do something about it. We can identify who our neighbor is and then reach out to them. Perhaps we can use the example of our youth to aid us. They really do not know Mrs. Beauford. They are not sure of her race, her religious beliefs, or her political preferences. They know nothing about her life or her character. They only know she needs help. Tomorrow they will begin to respond to her need. In their own way they are giving an action response to the lawyer in the Gospel. Who is my neighbor? Those in need. Perhaps the youth, the disenfranchised of yesterday, can lead us into a better understanding of responding to our neighbor today.