Saturday, July 13, 2013

Rescued by a hoodie - the Good Samaritan for Trinity 7C

It's all about rescue today, isn't it?
One of the most familiar of all parables – so very familiar that I'd guess that at least some of us zoned out as I began to read the Gospel.
We know the story of the Good Samaritan so very well...with its message of a wider love, a more inclusive compassion, the kindness of stranger...and because of the way the story is framed – in response to the ultimate BIG question
What should I do to inherit eternal life?” - we tend to cast ourselves as the Samaritan.
Clearly that unexpected hero is to be our role model. We are to set aside all other duties and concerns in favour of constant readiness to respond to others in distress, whatever their circumstance – and whatever cost to us. Well and good. That's the message that I hope and expect the children of St Matthew's school to take away whenever the parable comes up in assembly – and it's a good one too.
The best – in terms of getting through life with as much love as possible.

But – the Samaritan is not the only character in the story.
There are the other by-passers – the ones who are too busy, preoccupied or fearful to stop. We often hear reasons why it was beyond them – the priest, for example, was anxious to avoid defilement, for it wasn't clear whether the solitary traveller lived or died...
And the Jericho road was a hostile place – lonely, best linger there would be rash.
Preaching on the parable once, Martin Luther King imagined those bypassers saying to themselves
If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me.......”
A natural question.
A human question.
We are all programmed to a degree of self preservation, after all.
But – this is the story of a rescue – and as King goes on to say
““But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”
For the Samaritan, his own needs, his own agenda came second to the task of saving someone in dire need.
Remember I said that our readings today were all about rescue, dare I say salvation?
In our epistle Paul writes of God's mission, enacted by Jesus
He has rescued us from the Kingdom of darkness.....”
So, on these terms, you and I are that benighted traveller.
WE are the ones in need of salvation...lying by the roadside, powerless to help ourselves.
That's where we are, isn't it....really?
We set out on our journey through life with high hopes and great expectations – but we find along the way that we are not only not as invincible and immortal as our younger selves believed – we're also more faltering frail and fallible than we would ever have imagined.
We go on and on disappointing ourselves – as Paul puts it, writing to the Romans
For I don't do the good I want to do, but instead do the evil that I don't want to do.”
And what's more – this is a recurring pattern.
We can't somehow make the transition to “good enough”... - We need rescuing.

Enter Jesus....reaching out to those who might seem to be excluded – Samaritans are automatically aliens – and unfriendly aliens at that...There was a story circulating in 1st Century Palestine about a rabbi who was so holy that he was even prepared to help a Samaritan..
But now we go one step forward.
The Samaritan, the outsider, is the one who is willing to help those who've been so knocked about by life that they can no longer keep going....those who don't even have enough about them to pay for a room for the night.
He reaches out to them – to us – picks us up, sees us to safety and bears the cost of that himself.
We are rescued by someone who is Not One of Us – someone infinitely greater, who will go to any lengths, put Himself at any risk, for our sake.
Grace in action – here as wherever he intervenes in our lives.

But – goodness, our world makes it hard for him sometimes.
We hedge ourselves and other people around with artificial barriers, designed, it seems, to curb any outpouring of his outrageous, excessive love.
Perhaps we're scared.
Perhaps we just don't recognise our need of rescue – or are unwilling to accept that it comes in through the unlikely person of an itinerant preacher with a following of undesirables
We can't be rescued on our own terms – who knows how the traveller felt about Samaritans before that fateful day?...
It's only when we are able to admit our helplessness and let go of all our hard won protective strategies that we can share in the rescue plan God offers to all his people.

So – finally – a story. A familiar story – THIS story – as retold by a colleague of mine, Sallie Basham, and published on the "Preaching the RCL" lists this week. 
As you listen, consider where you recognise yourself today

Once upon a time, a certain man went to visit his mother in Gloucester hospital.
She was critically ill, so although it was late on a Saturday night, he went without delay, catching the last bus, which left him with a short walk from the bus station.....
He took with him presents for his mother and money so she could use the hospital telephone.  As he journeyed through the city centre some youths, who'd just been chucked out of a nightclub set upon him and beat him up and robbed him of all the presents for his mother and all his money and left him by the side of the road.

Along came a Christian minister, a Jewish rabbi, a Muslim imam, a Hindu priest, … ; but they all hurried past because they were going to a religious conference about how to resolve differences and live in harmony in a multi-cultural society. Next came a mini-bus with a social-worker and a doctor and a health worker and a counsellor: they stopped to look at the man groaning at the road-side, made some notes for a case study and drove on.

Finally, a hoodie wandered past. He did a double-take when he saw the man at the side of the road. He went to see if he could help; but he didn’t have any transport and one dirty handkerchief was not much use in dealing with the man’s wounds. So he ran along to the nearest all night chemist, explained what had happened and asked for some bandages and the use of a ‘phone to call an ambulance. The pharmacist was very polite; but he couldn’t let the hoodie use the ‘phone – it’s more than my jobs worth! The hoodie wondered if he was joking as he’d only ever heard the word “jobsworth” used sarcastically. It seemed that the pharmacist was serious and the hoodie knew that if he tried to have a serious discussion with people, he was usually misunderstood and always got into trouble.
The chemist went on to say that if the hoodie didn’t have any money, he didn’t see how he could let him have any bandages. Particularly if the hoodie didn’t have a First Aid Certificate to prove he knew how to use them. After all, it’s no longer permitted to give someone a painkiller, or to touch them – which means no bandages or antiseptics. These things can be regarded as assault. The hoodie wondered about the meaning of assault in this situation; but was unable to persuade the chemist. Although, if he came back with money, the chemist would sell him bandages, provided he didn’t mention he was going to use them on someone else.
All this took some time.

By now it was early on Sunday morning...and there were a couple of churches nearby.
The hoodie knew that churches were supposed to help people. So he went to the first church; but they were busy preparing for a Family Fun Day.They told the hoodie there would be games, a bouncy castle and a time of worship. The hoodie wasn't on speaking terms with his family, - he'd left home some time ago - so he just asked again if he could have some bandages out of the First Aid box. But the people knew the regulations about not handing out painkillers or bandages or touching anyone to clean up their wounds and said they couldn’t help him.
So the hoodie went to the second church, where they were setting up for the 8.00 service.
Come back later and the vicar might help you. I think she has a fund for desperate cases”.
Back on the street, the hoodie found someone selling The Big Issue and he gave him money to ‘phone for an ambulance and to buy bandages.  So the hoodie rushed back to the chemist and bought some bandages and some antiseptic cream.  Then he ran back to the man who had been beaten up. He had stopped groaning; but when the hoodie asked how he was there was no answer. For the man who had been beaten up had now died. So the hoodie sat down beside him at the roadside and put his head in his hands and wept. He thought of how he would have been neighbour to the man who had been mugged; but there was no-one willing to be neighbour with him. He put his head in his hands and wept.
He put his head in his nail-scarred hands and wept.

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