Proper 10, Year C, 2010

Listen to the sermon here.

Have you heard the story about Capt. Matt Clauer that has been circulating this week?  Capt. Clauer was serving in Iraq last year when he got a frantic phone call from his wife, Mary.  Together, they owned a $300,000 house, for which they had completely paid.  Mary was calling because she had just learned that their Homeowner’s Association had foreclosed on the house, because Mary had neglected to pay the HOA dues two months in a row, worth a total of $800. By the time he returned from Iraq, the house had been sold at auction for $3,500 and resold again for $135,000.  Mary and Matt are still living in the home, and fighting in the court of law to reclaim it.

If they were here today, they probably would have a thing or two they would like to say about neighbors.   I wonder how many of their Texas neighbors, members of the HOA board, are sitting in churches today, listening to the story of the Good Samaritan.   I wonder if the Clauers are in church this morning, hearing this story and wondering how in the heck they are supposed to love neighbors like theirs.

I wonder if any of you, thinking about your neighbors, are wondering how you’re supposed to love them?

That’s the thing about neighbors—they are just around all the time. In Charlottesville, I had a neighbor who always raced at least ten miles over the speed limit through the neighborhood AND who let his dogs poop wherever they wanted without cleaning it up.  He drove me crazy because there was no way I could get away from him.

And neighbors are problem enough, but what about friends and family?  They are really hard to shake off.

I wonder, if in the story, we hear today, whether the priest or the Levite knew the poor unfortunate soul lying in the ditch.  I wonder if they passed by and said, “Oh Frank.  Always getting into trouble.” and walked on by.  I wonder the intimacy, the neighborliness they might have had with our victim actually prevented them from helping.

As lovely as it was for the Samaritan to help this guy, helping a stranger is sometimes easier than helping someone close to you.  If an out of work alcoholic comes by the church needing a little help, we can graciously point him in the direction of several places that can be useful to him.  If I had an out of work alcoholic relative approach me, I’d probably feel a lot less gracious toward them.

When the person in our lives who is in trouble is close to us, we know that there is danger in our lives being disrupted.  If we enter into another person’s crisis, we run the risk of getting entangled in their lives, creating a web of obligations and favors from which we may not be able to extricate ourselves.

And yet, Jesus calls us to be that kind of neighbor.  He calls us to act like the Samaritan, even when we’re not breezing through a strange town.  Even when the person in the ditch lives next door and you well know you might need to pull him out of the ditch a second, or third time.

The Samaritan does set a good example for us in terms of boundaries to help us with these challenges.  The Samaritan does not take the victim home with him.  The Samaritan takes him to an inn, does what first aid he can, makes sure the innkeeper will check on him, and then leaves town.

The Samaritan does not appoint himself the victim’s social worker for life.  He sees an acute crisis and responds.  And then he goes back to Samaria.

Knowing how to respond to a neighbor, friend, or relative in crisis is really difficult.  But knowing what our role is can be helpful.  First of all, it is important to remember that we are not God.  Now, I know that can be difficult to remember, but just absorb it for a minute.  You are not God. Your role is not that of omniscient being who has the power to solve everything.  All we can do is our loving best.

If the crisis happens to our spouse, child or parent, our role may be to function as that person’s advocate, making sure they get to the doctor, to court, or to rehab when they are scheduled to do so.  If the person in crisis is a friend, our role may be that of listener—giving our friend a safe place to express all her fears.  If the person in crisis is a neighbor, our role may be that of practical help—mowing the lawn, bringing over a meal.  Our response will change depending on who is in trouble and what their circumstances are.  Sometimes our response will be pointing our neighbor in the direction of people who can be more helpful than we can.

Whatever our role is, the Good Samaritan challenges us to live out our faith. He challenges us to pay attention to the world around us.  He challenges us to respond to another’s pain, when it would be just as easy to walk on by.  He challenges us to live the way Jesus taught us to live: We shall love the Lord our God with all our hearts, and with all our souls, and with all our strengths, and with all our minds; and our neighbors as ourselves.

Amen.

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