A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy Hammer, June 14, 2015
Luke 10:30-35 ESV
I spent much of this past week helping with Vacation Bible School. One of our Bible stories of the week was the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Talking about that parable with the children got me to thinking.
Now, I know that many of us have heard this familiar Bible story time and again. And some of us may have heard a dozen sermons or more based on it. And probably 90% of the time the point of those sermons was go and do as the Samaritan did. Be a good neighbor. Be compassionate. Reach out and help someone in need whenever the opportunity presents itself. In the words of Jesus, “Go, and do likewise.” And those are, indeed, the primary points the parable aims to make.
But the idea struck me this past week that I have never heard the Parable of the Good Samaritan preached in reverse; and I have never done so myself either. So today, I would like to do that.
When I say the Parable of the Good Samaritan preached in reverse, what I mean is this: What if we were to put ourselves, not in the sandals of the Samaritan who stopped to help, poured oil and wine on the beaten man’s wounds, put him on his own beast and took him to an inn and cared for him? in the way the parable is most often preached. But what if we put ourselves in the sandals of the beaten man alongside the road who needed help? Have you ever heard the parable presented in that way?
The truth is, sooner or later every one of us is the beaten man alongside the road in need of help, in a manner of speaking. Because the ways that life can leave us bruised and battered are many and varied. The man beaten and left to die on the side of the road can be a metaphor for any of the tragedies that life can throw at us. The need for emergency gallbladder surgery, as our daughter experienced week before last, can turn your world upside down for a little while and leave you sort of helpless and dependent upon others to transport you for medical treatment and care for you like the unfortunate man in the story.
A visit to the doctor for a routine exam can result in receiving unwanted bad news about the need for immediate surgery and weeks of radiation or chemotherapy treatments.
The unexpected loss of a loved one by death can leave you feeling lost and bewildered and in need of others to help you deal with all the decisions that have to be made following a death, and maybe even needing the help with day by day living.
The unexpected loss of a job can leave your family in a financial lurch so that help is needed to cover the monthly household expenses or assistance with putting food on the table.
These scenarios are real; I see them, or some variation of them, every month. A number of them apply to this congregation today. And as I have already stated, every now and then such tragedies befall every one of us. So, I have been the man beaten down along the road of life, and chances are you have been too at some point. All of us find ourselves in need of compassion and care every now and then.
And when we find ourselves to be that man or woman beaten down by life, we need to have the grace to accept the compassion and care offered to us. Yet, there are many of us who have a hard time accepting care and compassion. Perhaps we are embarrassed at having to be the recipient of help. Or maybe there is a sense of privacy so that we are uncomfortable letting others inside our world of need. Or maybe there is the desire to not be a bother upon other people’s time. And so, there is the reluctance to let anyone drive us to the doctor or hospital—“No, I can drive myself,” we say. Or offers to bring food are turned down—“No, we don’t need anything,” is the response, when in reality a casserole or pot of soup would be a tremendous help. You get the idea. And probably all of us have turned down offers of help in the past when we could have really used it.
But there are those times when we just need to overlook our embarrassment, rise above our pride or sense of modesty, and let ourselves have the grace to be a recipient of compassion and care. In fact, I considered titling today’s sermon, “The Grace to Accept Care and Compassion.”
I have grown to love the hymn, “Won’t You Let Me Be Your Servant?” In fact, it is becoming one of my favorite hymns. The first stanza goes, “Won’t you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you?” But then, “Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant, too.”
But on the other hand, we don’t want to go to the other extreme either and abuse the compassion and care that we might draw upon. And we don’t want to become enablers by letting others abuse the compassion and care we offer. And, I am sorry to say, practically every month I receive calls for help that would seem to fall into the category of abusing the sense of compassion that this congregation is known to have. To put it bluntly, there is a small percentage of people in the world—including people in Oak Ridge and Anderson County—who would seem to be taking advantage of the system by chronically and systematically calling upon churches to support them. For some it has become a way of life.
Consequently, following ADFAC’s guidelines, I began to question the practice of assisting the same people who call for help year after year after year—sometimes at the exact same time every year—because it seems they have come to rely on endless help. By assisting people with their utilities or rent year after year after year, in many cases we become enablers. I realize there are some circumstances where people are truly disabled and when life has beaten them down so low that it seems they can never rise above their misfortunes. And these are exceptions. But there are others who are chronic in their calls for help, and don’t appear to be trying to help themselves, and don’t always act in ways that are commendable or in ways that are conducive to becoming self-sufficient. Such being the case, at my suggestion our Church Board has adopted some new guidelines so that help goes to those who truly deserve it. We don’t want to be enablers of those who might abuse our goodwill and offer of care and compassion.
But there is one more point pertinent for today’s service: The extension of care and compassion is much of what church membership is all about. When we unite with a congregation like this United Church, we unite with a community of care and compassion. This is a community where people rejoice with us when we rejoice, and weep with us when we weep, and extend care and compassion in many different ways. This is a place where, when we are beaten down by life, others gather around us in compassion and seek to lift us up and care for us. If a church is operating as it should be, there is no other entity quite like it in being a haven for and dispenser of care and compassion for its members when they find themselves beaten down by forces of life. So today we welcome Eric and Susan and family as the newest members of this wonderful community of compassion and care.
And may what we have done and said here today ever be a reminder to all of us that every now and then all of us find ourselves beaten down by life and in need of someone to offer a compassionate and caring hand and lift us up, as the Good Samaritan lifted up the fallen traveler. When those times come, may we have the grace to accept that compassionate, caring hand. And secondly, may we always remember that as a church this is what we are to be about. This, above everything else, is our reason for being—a place of understanding, caring, and compassion. Amen.