They did nothing. Wrong.

Sermon on The Good Samaritan, July 10, 2016, Advent Lutheran Church, Melbourne, FL

Luke 10: 29-37

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,[k] 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’ve heard in several places, in response to the violence in our country, that we need to open our eyes. If we take that call seriously, and I do, it demands that we must ourselves, to what have I been blind? and then face what is shown to us.

According to a Pew Research report just released Friday, about 1 in 4 Americans support the #BlackLivesMatter movement … AND One-third of those who have heard or seen this phrase, #BlackLivesMatter say they don’t understand the goals of the movement. That, to me, is an important and hopeful thing to know. Because that means, beyond the divisive rhetoric we might read on social media, there is a non-threatening conversation that could take place between those who support the Black Lives Matter movement and those who admittedly don’t understand what it is and why it’s important. If we were to engage in that conversation, it might sound something like the tone between the lawyer and Jesus in today’s Gospel. They engaged in a debate, with mutual respect. The lawyer was likely looking to trip up Jesus, but not necessarily for the means of doing Jesus harm. And in the end, the lawyer had a clearer vision of his neighbor, and why it mattered that they receive mercy.

One of the most obvious questions about the Good Samaritan story is: Why did the priest and the Levite pass by on the other side of the road? These were supposed to be holy folk. The faithful. Why didn’t they stop?

  1. It’s possible they genuinely thought the victim in the ditch was dead. And, if so, It’s they would have been prohibited from touching the corpse unless it was that of a member of their immediate family. Those who broke this law would have been prohibited from working in the temple. The priest surely couldn’t afford to lose that right. The Levite would have also had a leadership role at the temple. Whether the Levite read the lessons or kept track of the treasury, he would not have wanted to lose that honor. The point is, that technically: they did nothing. Wrong.

Next, before I tell my version of this story in today’s world, I’d like you to have a clear vision of the characters, in order of appearance:

  1. First we have, the victim, without whom, today’s parable would not be possible. The victim is the one who was stripped, robbed, and left for dead. The victim’s name is Ash. That’s easy to remember, right? I’ve always pictured Ash lying in a ditch. Ash has no fire within to rise up out of the ditch. Ash is grey and hot and thanks to this latest tragedy, known to fall apart easily.

The ditch in which Ash is lying is made of hardened mud and some tamped down yellowed grass. A few Tiger Lilies grow defiantly in groups of twos here and there because you know, those things seem to rise up just about anywhere. A flattened Diet Coke can and a crumpled McDonald’s bag lies near Ash along with a used ketchup packet and a Don’t Forget to Vote flyer.

  1. Next is the priest. Let’s just call the priest, Pastor. I think the Pastor is tall. And thin. Super thin. Abe Lincoln thin. And has a beard, like Abe. Yes, let’s say Pastor looks like Abe. He’s kind. He’s just. He’s merciful. He wears black. He can’t carry a tune in a bucket and he sure can’t play guitar. The Pastor is on his way to church, so this is not a good time to get his hands messy. He is on his way to counsel a young couple whose child was recently diagnosed with a rare disease, after which he will meet a new widow to plan a funeral before a council meeting that is guaranteed to be tense.
  2. The Levite, is named Levi, like the blue jeans. Levi is about 31. She is quiet, somewhat of an introvert. She walks in a way so as to not be noticed, her eyes down, she walks quickly and quietly. Her sun-bleached ponytail sticks out of the back of a navy blue baseball cap that says on the front, in white letters Ocean13, the name of the band she sings in at church. Like the pastor, Levi is on her way to church. She is reading the lessons tonight.
  3. The Good Samaritan? Sam?  An African-American man, with skin the color of strong coffee, no cream. Both muscular and carrying a few pounds. He is wearing a gold God’s Work Our Hands T—shirt with the sleeves cut off, to show off his tattoo that reads Semper Fi. He wears khaki cargo shorts and work boots, unlaced.
  4. And that leaves the Innkeeper. Which reminds me. The innkeeper is a bit of a hero too. In fact, the innkeeper you might say partners with the Good Samaritan to save Ash. innkeeper. Yes the innkeeper was getting paid, but still, the innkeeper could have looked at the beaten Samaritan and said, um … we have no room in the inn. Sorry. You can imagine that happening, can’t you? But that’s another story. At any rate, in this story, the Innkeeper matters.

And the name of this innkeeper who matter is Sheraton. But everyone calls her Sher, and frankly it annoys her. She likes her full name better. Sheraton Kiva. She loves that Kiva means a chamber, built partially underground, where Pueblo Indians have religious ceremonies and council meetings. She could imagine someday having a whole chain of Inns named after her: Sheraton Kiva. But no matter how often she introduces herself as Sheraton, everyone calls her Sher. She is single. Some people raise their eyebrows at the fact that she’s single because she’s pretty enough, but rumors suggest there are reasons she remains unmarried, and she finds it amusing that people make up explanations rather than just ask her about who she is and why she is single. Sher also has a tendency to push the boundaries, and occasionally, she uses questionable language. Still … she does an excellent job of running the Inn which allows the owners more time to go to Europe, so the owners look the other way when she dresses too casually or laughs too loud.

Are you with me? Can you see them? Sher, behind the reception desk at the Inn. Levi, oblivious to everything around her, walking briskly, eyes down, 501 jeans cuffed at the bottom. The Pastor, rehearsing his sermon to himself as he strides to church, his fitbit ticking. Sam, looking a lot like John Michael Duncan, who played John Coffee, the divine prisoner Tom Hanks gradually sees for who he really is in the movie, The Green Mile?

I can imagine everyone clearly except … Ash. And this is where you come in.

You get to picture Ash in your own mind, which means that Ash will likely look a little bit different to each of us.

And so we begin…a lawyer was discussing the commandment that we are to love God and our neighbors as ourselves, with Jesus. She has just asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” And Jesus tells her this story:

A certain person named Ash was going from St. Augustine to Miami and fell into the hands of a violent gang who stripped, beat, robbed, and left the poor soul barely breathing in a ditch. And just by chance, a pastor, (who bore a remarkable resemblance to Abe Lincoln), was going down the same road, and saw the beaten traveler unmoving in the ditch. But when the pastor saw this, he crossed the street and walked past on the other side. Shortly after, Levi, a young active member of the pastor’s church, also saw the beaten traveler. Surprisingly, Levi did the same thing the pastor had done, walking by on the opposite side of the road. She thought about calling the police on her cell phone, but not knowing what she might be getting into, she opted to simply walk by, even more quickly than usual, vowing to tell someone about this when she got to church.

Finally, along comes Sam, out for a Sunday ride. Sam is a man many people might have avoided or even accused of being associated with a gang at first glance, but when Sam sees Ash in the ditch, with no hesitation whatsoever, he pulls over, sprints to where Ash is lying, kneels down, and takes her pulse. Seeing that she is still alive, Sam cleans her wounds with a tiny bottle of Fireball he bought for a friend’s birthday, and soothes her dry and broken lips with a small vial of Burt’s Bees Chapstick. Next, he tears a strip off the bottom of his gold t-shirt, and uses it to make a tourniquet to stop the bleeding and bandage her wounds. Finally, he carefully lifts her, carries her to his Harley, positions her in front of him so he can hold her up with one arm, and drives quickly and carefully to the nearest Inn, because a hospital is too far away. Sam talks to her all the way to the Inn:

“Stay with me now. Stay with me. What’s your name? Ash? Like Ashley. Oh that’s a pretty name. C’mon Ash … we are almost home. You’re gonna make it.”

Upon reaching the Inn, Sam carries Ash to the front desk like a baby, where he finds Sheraton Kiva playing Words With Friends on her cell phone while waiting to greet new guests. Immediately Sher drops her phone and joins Sam in supporting Ashley’s body. Sam asks Sher to call a squad. Together, they lay Ashley on a cot. And as the squad loads her onto a gurney, Sam offers Sher $100, and asks her to see to it that Ashley gets the care she needs, saying he will return in two days to cover all the expenses. Sher agrees. And in that moment, from the back of the squad, just before the doors close, they hear Ash cough and see her briefly open her eyes.

Now let’s take it one step further.  This time, let’s just take it from the point of Sam showing up. And guess what. You get to be Sam! C’mon…it’s not so hard. You get to be the hero!

So back the story up. The pastor and Levi have already eased on down the road. And it is now you that sees Ash in the ditch. Do you do as Sam did? Of course you do. Probably, you do. I mean, you might have to park your Honda Accord instead of a Harley, but still. You stop. You go to her. You at least check her pulse, right? And if there is a pulse at all, you stay with her. You get help. You try to save her life. Right? I mean, can you even imagine doing anything else? Of course you can’t. They’ll know we are Christians by our love after all.

So that one was easy.

But now let’s try another twist. Now that you are the Good Samaritan, let’s re-imagine Ash, the victim. Instead of a young woman, let’s imagine Ash as a teenage Muslim boy. And you are still playing the part of Sam. Does the change to the character of Ash change your response? Can you still imagine running to Ash’s side? Would you bind his wounds and carry him to the inn, or would you just call for help, or might you just say a prayer and tell him it should be over soon. Or might you do nothing. You wouldn’t inflict any more harm, so you wouldn’t technically do anything … wrong. You just wouldn’t do anything. Only you know the truth.

Now. What if Ash is no longer a teenage Muslim boy, but is now a police officer. Does that change your automatic response? Would you work any faster to get her help? Would you remove her gun first? Would you ask her what the gang members looked like?

And would it matter if Ash, the police officer, was a male? I’m thinking probably not. I imagine that if anyone here found a police officer cut down in the line of duty but still hanging on by a thread, you would do whatever was necessary to try to save his or her life. Including wishing you had shown up for the CPR class that afternoon last spring.

Maybe, in order to save Sam’s life, actually would include you driving to a hotel to call a squad because the hospital was too far. And if that’s the case, when you run in and see Sher at the desk, do you ask her to help you? Or do you bark at her to go get the manager or order her to call 911. What do you do?

This is what I think the story of the Good Samaritan is calling us to do today. As we continue to draw lines that separate us from one another, this story asks us to use it to think about who we claim to be, who we actually are individuals, and what we need to do to bridge the difference between those truths.

It invites us to imagine the difference that appearance makes in how we respond. It asks us to admit that while we want to be the Good Samaritan, there are as many reasons we might not be as there are opportunities to be.

Because if you are at all like me, the truth is, I was happy to play the part of Sam. But once I imagined that Ash, the one in the ditch, might have been a Muslim teenage boy, the story changed. At a minimum, I saw myself hesitating. At a minimum, I saw myself walking around him cautiously. At a minimum, I imagined looking at the clothes that had been stripped from his body, and wondering if there was anything in the pockets that might hurt me.

I also found myself imagining Sher in the story differently, once I became Sam. If I am going to rush Ash to the Inn, I wanted Sam the innkeeper to be a man. A big strong man. Someone like John Coffee maybe. Someone I could count on to help even if the person we were helping would have made the people in the church look at us more suspiciously when they heard the story.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “The truth will set you free.” And yet, for a people so invested in freedom, we rarely talk about the truth, because when we do, we remember that long before it sets us free, it convicts us, every single one of us. Every single time.

The truth is: We all have our biases. It is easy to say all lives matter when we are not talking about one life in particular. What I learned through this exercise is that I need to learn more about Muslims. I need to find some Muslim folks and get to know them. There are more than 3 million Muslims in this country. They are surgeons, teachers, and they serve in our military. I need to listen to their stories to better understand who they are because only then, can I picture this story with me as Sam, not hesitating when Ash, lying in the ditch, is a male with dark hair and olive-skin.

The reason that Black Lives Matter is a movement is because currently black people in this country are being harassed more often than white people.

Take Keith for example. Keith is a black man who lived across the hall from my mother. He checked on her every single day on his way home from work sometimes staying :30 minutes to listen to her talk while she was recovering from her broken neck, because he knew she just needed to get her frustrations out. He was a better son to my mother than I was a daughter. I was more like the Pastor in the story. Often on my way to preach or to work in the church or to care for others in need. I didn’t immediately run to her once I knew she was going to make it.

Keith came to the Melbourne Beach campus once, even though he belongs to the church of Latter Day Saints. It occurs to me now, that I’ve never seen myself showing up at his place of worship.

That night at The Wave, and every single time I have seen Keith, he was dressed in a suit and tie. I asked him one Saturday afternoon as he was going to a baseball game why he was going to a ball game wearing a suit and tie.

He said, “just in case.”

“Just in case what?” I said.

“Just in case I lock my keys in my car or have a fender-bender in a parking lot or witness an accident and I have to engage with the police. I need them to see me as clearly as possible.

The fact that Keith is a stellar example of a Good Samaritan and that he wears a suit and tie even to a baseball game helps explain the Black Lives Matter movement. We are able to dress comfortably at baseball games and even at church because we are white. And if we can start thinking about how we can help folks like Keith have the freedom to dress comfortably in arenas that we do without fear, then we are beginning to understand what it means when people say Black Lives Matter.

Now. Where do you see Jesus?

I see Jesus in the relationship between Sam and Ash in that Sam was willing to risk his own life to help Ash rise from near-death. I see Jesus in the relationship between Sam and Sher in that Sam didn’t have to waste time begging for a room at the inn even when Ash was a known enemy. I see Jesus connecting these two partners in Christ to work together and through them, enabling ash to rise up and live.

And given that, where do we see Jesus here today? I suspect that if we pray that God might help us to truly see one another, when we open our eyes, we might see begin to see Jesus in the people we least expect.

I hope that, when we open our eyes, we see Jesus calling us to a future filled with new life.

I hope that we see Jesus in people who are binding up one another’s wounds and in people who stop to help even though they are busy. And in people who just show up when we were certain no one would.

I believe that when we open our eyes, it might be like putting on our glasses in the morning in that, not only do we see better, but we hear better too. And I think when that happens, if we really listen, we might hear Jesus calling to every one of us, softly and gently, and saying this:

You are someone’s neighbor.

You were once beaten and stripped.

You were once broken and left for dead.

You were the one I never stopped looking for until I found you.

You were the one I carried to the table.

You are the one to whom I have shown mercy.

And when you see it that way, how could we do anything but …

Go and do likewise.