July 14, 2019
Just how does one approach an age-old, well-known, often heard story from the bible to a bunch of church-going Christians. That’s what my head threw out at me when I read the story of the Good Samaritan – for the umpteenth time. Well I lucked upon an article about Martin Luther King which helped me out of my muddle.The day before Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, he delivered his last speech to a crowd of striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. The address is known as the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, and like many King speeches and sermons, it illustrates his knack for taking famous Bible stories and brushing off the dust of over-familiarity that has settled on them. In this speech, he looks to the well-known story of the “Good Samaritan.” Here’s how King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech recasts this parable, connecting it to modern attitudes. Why, King asks, didn’t the priest and the Levite—both devout religious men—stop to help the seriously injured man? He says: “Now, you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn’t be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious lawy that one who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony. And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem, or down to Jericho, rather, to organize a Jericho Road Improvement Association. That’s a possibility. Maybe they felt it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effect. “But,” he continues, “I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho Road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road I said to my wife, ‘I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.’ It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about twelve hundred feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about twenty-two feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the ‘Bloody Pass.’ And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking it, and was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I Stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” 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?”
A somewhat different approach from “Who is my neighbour?” These questions regarding the characters of the three different men on the road to Jerusalem triggered in me another story. Let’s leave the middle east and head out to the old west. Back in those days, you will remember, of course, that one of the major means of public transportation was the stagecoach. But, did you know they had three different kinds of tickets you could buy… 1st class, 2nd class or 3rd class. A First Class Ticket meant that you got to sit down. No matter what happened, you could remain seated. If the stagecoach got stuck in the mud… or had trouble making it up a steep hill… or even if a wheel fell off, you remained seated… because you had a First Class Ticket. A Second Class Ticket meant that you got to sit down until there was a problem… and then you had to get off and stand to the side until the problem was resolved. You got off, stood to the side and watched somebody else fix the problem. When the situation was corrected, you could get back on the stagecoach and take your seat… because you had a Second Class Ticket. A Third Class Ticket meant that you got to sit down until there was a problem… and they you had to get off and push! You had to put your shoulder to it… and help solve the problem ,,,,,,,,,,because you had a Third Class Ticket. As in life today, some people think they have a First Class Ticket… they ride along and they just sit there… and expect to be catered to and waited on and pampered. Others think they have a Second Class Ticket. They ride along until there is a problem. Then they bail out and become detached spectators. They get off, stand to the side and watch somebody else fix it. Still others (and thank God for them) think they have a Third Class Ticket. They ride along until something goes wrong… and then they get off and push! They address the problem creatively, they work on the situation productively, they help fix it. They, give their energy to the immediate task of solving the problem. They roll up their sleeves and get the job done. Now, going back to the middle east, is this not what the Parable of the Good Samaritan is also about. The Priest and the Levite in the story thought they had “privileged tickets.”
- They didn’t want to get their hands dirty.
- They didn’t want to get mud under their fingernails.
- They didn’t travel “tourist”… much less third class. - They didn’t want to put themselves in possible danger. They were special people, important people, holy people. They didn’t need to get smudged up by the problems of the world. “Let someone else see to it.” That was their thinking. But, on the other hand… the Good Samaritan realized that he had a “third class ticket,” so when he encountered the problem… he knew exactly what he was supposed to do… Get off and help solve the problem… put his shoulder to it… and bring healing, roll up his sleeves and go to work. That’s what third class ticket holders do.
- They don’t mind dealing with the difficulty.
- They don’t mind getting their hands dirty.
- They don’t mind taking a risk or getting involved.
The Good Samaritan was bold enough to deal with the problem in a creative, redemptive way. - He didn’t just sit there and let someone else see to it. - He didn’t just stand off to the side and watch and critique how others were dealing with the difficulty. - No! He felt responsible… he felt “called” to help… and he addressed that troublesome situation lovingly… in the Spirit of Christ… and that’s why to this day, we call him the Good Samaritan. Jesus taught us that not only here in this parable, but also in many other places. Over and over he said it: “I am among you as one who serves”… go and do likewise! In our families, in our businesses, in our nation and especially in our church, we need people who are willing to work, anxious to help, ready to love, eager to serve. we need people who are determined to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. we need people who are “quick to get out and push” when we get stuck in the mud. We are blessed with many of those in this parish – people who have 3rdclass tickets. There is a story about a man interested in joining the church and approached the minister with his request. He said: “I want to join the church because I want to be fed.” The minister’s answer: “Well, that’s fine, but we would all be better off if you would take off your bib and put on an apron! The Scriptures make it crystal clear through the life and teachings of Jesus Christ… that God gives us a First-Class Love, but a Third-Class ticket!
So, how is it with you this morning? Have you given a thought to what kind of ticket you might be holding right now? We all know who our neighbour is but in order to make this story of the Good Samaritan our story we need to get out our third class ticket and heed the teachings and examples set by Jesus and live our lives with caring and compassion in what we say and think and do.
June 30, 2019
ONE OF THE GREAT SECRETS OF SUCCESS IN LIFE IS THAT OF PERSEVERENCE. People often fail because they quit too soon. They give up before they have a chance to realize success.
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, was one person who discovered that success comes from not giving up. Let me read some excerpts from his diary:
Sunday, A.M., May 5 Preached in St. Anne's. Was asked not to come back anymore.
Sunday, P.M., May 5 Preached in St. John's. Deacons said, "Get out and stay out."
Sunday, A.M., May 12 Preached in St. Jude's. Can't go back there, either.
Sunday, A.M., May 19 Preached in St. Somebody Else's. Deacons called special meeting and said I couldn't return.
Sunday, P.M., May 19 Preached on street. Kicked off street.
Sunday, A.M., May 26 Preached in meadow. Chased out of meadow as bull was turned loose during service.
Sunday, A.M., June 2 Preached out at the edge of town. Kicked off the highway.
Sunday, P.M., June 2 Afternoon, preached in a pasture. TEN THOUSAND PEOPLE CAME OUT TO HEAR ME.
John Wesley would not give in or give up. Jesus said, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." The imagery is vivid, isn't it? the plowman concentrating on the furrow before him, guides the plow with one hand while goading the oxen with the other. Looking away even for a moment would result in a crooked furrow. Whatever you do, says Jesus, don't look back.
This morning, in his gospel, Luke tells us that Jesus “resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” A literal translation of this verse reads he “set his face towards Jerusalem.” - the capital city of the Jews - the place where religious and political power met in ancient times. Jesus’ disciples thought he was going to Jerusalem to establish his earthly kingdom there. They were excited. In fact, in verse 46 just before this, they had been discussing which of them would be greatest in Jesus’ kingdom. To them, Jerusalem meant power and status But In reality, Jesus is starting off on the ultimate road trip — his journey to Jerusalem and to the cross. The world views this journey as the epitome of a “bad trip” — a trip that ended in Jesus’ betrayal, rejection, torture, and death. But Jesus’ disciples — whether in the first century or the twenty-first century — view this Jerusalem road trip as something quite different: — the triumph of Christ’s mission in the world, the journey that transformed the life paths of all subsequent generations who have followed Jesus. It’s a fascinating story. The disciples really did not understand where and what Jesus was leading them into. Primarily at this time he was trying to help them refocus their lives on the things that really count The fact that Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem was not going to be down some familiar beaten pathway of life was evident from the beginning. Galilean Jews almost invariably traveled the longer, more circuitous route through the Trans Jordan to reach Jerusalem. In this way they completely by-passed all Samaritan regions. Samaritans and other Jews had a long established “Hatfield and McCoy” type feud that simmered hot, and periodically boiled over into outright violence. Samaritans simply never accepted the precedence of Jerusalem and its Temple as the center of Jewish life and faith. Yet Jesus chose to travel through the Samaritan regions as he started out on his road trip. He chose to invite and include this ostracized group at the outset. And they rejected him. No room at the inn. We don’t want any. Guess what? Go away! No wonder James and John responded with a recommendation for fire and brimstone. Like any good “feud,” the desire for revenge, to get in the last lick, fueled their first response. James and John didn’t realize that as followers of Jesus they were not on a road to revenge. They were on a road to redemption. Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem was a sacrificial pathway to service. Rejection was part of the scenery. Retaliation was never even on the map. To follow Jesus to Jerusalem, to be a disciple on the way with the one who is “The Way” means taking that slap across the face and then offering the other cheek. As Jesus’ road trip continued he encountered others who thought they might come along for the journey. The first wanna-be follower claimed the desire to follow Jesus “wherever you go.” Jesus’ surprising response reveals that there is no established roadmap for disciples. Disciples don’t know where they are going — they only know who they are going with. Followers of Jesus don’t know where they will spend their lives. They only know how they will spend their lives serving Christ. On a road trip there is always some bad news. Construction delays. Collapsed bridges . Flat tires. Flooded roadways. Lost luggage. Credit card declined. But committed travelers keep going.
A great example is the story of Gladys Aylward, a young housemaid in London whose life was changed when she heard an evangelist preach on serving God with your whole life. That day, Gladys developed a passion for international missions. She began reading about China, and took on extra jobs to save up money to travel there. Gladys was a small, shy, poorly-educated woman, but she trusted that if God was calling her to the mission field, then He would equip her for the work. By 1932, she finally saved enough money to go to China. The safest route involved traveling by ship, but Gladys couldn’t afford that. Most of her trip took her by train through dangerous war zones. Humbly Gladys set to work spreading the message of Jesus in Yangcheng, China. In 1938, when Japan invaded her region, Gladys led 100 Chinese orphans through the mountains of Yangcheng to safety and she cared for many of them through the war. She worked at the Chinese orphanage she founded until her death. Her ministry was so powerful and effective that she was invited to speak in major churches in Europe, she met the Queen of England, and her life story was made into a movie that you might remember: “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.” But listen to what Gladys Aylward said about her ministry? “I wasn’t God’s first choice for what I’ve done for China. There was somebody else . . . I don’t know who it was--God’s first choice. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps he died. Perhaps he wasn’t willing. And God looked down . . . and saw Gladys Aylward.” (5) Gladys felt like she had so little to offer God. But when she sensed God calling her to give her life to mission work in China, she resolved to go no matter what it cost her. She set her face toward Jerusalem. She wanted to follow God’s plan for her life rather than her own. "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." One of the great secrets of success in life is that of perseverence
To follow Jesus may require disciples to fly in the face of conventional wisdom and established expectations. It’s just not enough to recognize the presence of God in our lives, we need to listen to that still small voice however it comes to us, we need to respond to God’s voice and we need to remain committed to that life of service that we have been called to, no matter how insignificant or unqualified we may feel we are. We are not all called to do big tasks that are great, more often we are called to do small tasks that are great. During Jesus' final approach to Jerusalem, he meets three men who wish to follow him and he warns them that it will cost them dearly to do so. To the three he says, you will be homeless, your family will be left behind, and your past life must be forgotten. As you can imagine the three, who were once so certain, are now hesitant. This story is about commitment or the lack thereof. It is about Jesus "setting his face" and three men "turning their heads." Why did these three hesitate? Because they did not know who walked with them? The question today is: Do you? Amen.
June 16, 2019
I understand that there are two main ways to go about teaching someone something. You can teach them what you think they need to know, or may need to know sometime later on. Or you can teach them only what you think they're ready to understand at the moment. There was a discussion that centered around how much Bible could or should be taught to young children. There were those who felt that the Bible was basically an adult book. In their view, young children were not up to understanding much of what was going on in the Bible. "Tell them the stories of Jesus, and leave it at that," was this approach to teaching the scriptures. Even things like the Ten Commandments can be a little embarrassing when you try to explain to four- and five-year-olds what not committing adultery means? How do you teach the Ten Commandments and leave one out? No easy task. On the other hand, there was the other school of thought who felt that you needed to teach children not just what they were ready to learn, but what they might need to know later on that would prepare them for what they would surely encounter in this complex world of ours. Granted, children may not understand all that they were being taught, but later on with a little help, they may be able to piece it all together so that it makes sense to them.
In this morning's Gospel Lesson, we see Jesus using a combination of both of these educational approaches, and maybe even another one in addition. Jesus tells his disciples, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now." Up to this point in his ministry, Jesus has taught them a lot of things about who he is and how much God loves them and how they are to love one another and, eventually, extend that love beyond their little circle of friends. But there was simply not enough time to teach them everything he might have wanted to teach them. Whatever these "many things" were, not only was there no time to teach fully about them, but the disciples were simply not ready. One day they might be, but not now. At this moment, aware of the chaos they will soon be thrust into, Jesus offers something new, something entirely different, something that would ease the confusion and soothe the furrowed brows of the disciples. He tells them that the Spirit will lead them into the truth. The Spirit will speak with the authority of God, telling the disciples what God is thinking. The Spirit will give Jesus glory because he will translate what Jesus has to say to the disciples. Jesus tells them that he possesses all that the Father has. Jesus and God are one. In that one instant of declaration, we have the Trinity -- Father, Son and Spirit, different and yet the same, speaking the word of God, being the Word of God and enabling the word of God to become inextricably bound with the disciples. And, in all likelihood, the disciples missed it. They were still caught up in what Jesus had said about what was going to happen, what he had said about himself, about how the world was going to treat them because of their relationship with him. They heard, but they didn't understand. "Let him who has ears, hear," as Jesus had said so often. Jesus was talking in those theological terms that always got them so confused. They really didn't want to get into any deep reflection upon what the future might hold. Of course, they didn't know that the future was going to be very different in just a few short hours. Yet they were concerned. There was enough being said that they knew that things were about to be different. Jesus was promising them that there would be someone around to help make the confusion clear. The Spirit brings clarity and power it is true but the Pentecost Spirit was not what they had expected.
Two thousand years later, the church isn't much different. We are still confused by the theological implications of a God made flesh on earth. We still stumble around when we try to put faith into action. We still need the constant presence of the Spirit to make sense of our faith. And we are still surprised every time the Spirit comes into our lives to make us truly God's children Not too long after Jesus' death, the early church found that they had some big problems on their hands. Could Jews be Christians without first being circumcised? Could Greek Christians eat meat sacrificed to pagan gods? Could Greek and Jewish Christians sit down and eat together? All of these issues were thrashed out under the guidance of the Spirit. Some of these issues were worked out better than others, and some were left for future generations to resolve. The problem was that Jesus had not given specific directions on any of these. Under the guidance of the Spirit, the church had to arrive at the truth. Christians today continue to have some big issues that are equally difficult to resolve: in some circles, the place of gays in the church, women's ordination, and married priests; in other some circles, stem-cell research, and beginning of life issues on the one hand and end-of-life issues on the other. These are some of the pressing issues that divide good Christians not even considering concerns such as war and capital punishment. Jesus did not speak specifically and directly on any of these issues, or at least, not all Christians agree that he did, or on what he may have implied by what he did say. As Christians, we need all the guidance of the Spirit we can receive! As human beings made in the image of God, we have the capacity to respond to the prompting of God. John Wesley often talked about the movement of the Holy Spirit of God in the hearts of people, turning them toward God and God's way even before they were aware of God's presence! Quakers often speak of this prompting as the "inner light" that directs our lives. The Bible affirms that there is that within us to which God can speak. We often call this "conscience." Whatever it is, it is this which seems to distinguish us from the rest of God's creation. St. Paul put it this way, "Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus." (Phil 2:5) This, I think, is what we all need: to have our consciences directed by the mind and spirit of Christ. He is the true north for the compass of our souls.
On the church calendar, today is Trinity Sunday. Some denominations make more of this Sunday than others. Many have not always known what to do with the Trinity. Meister Eckhart, 13thC German theologian, philosopher and mystic explains the Trinity this way: Do you want to know what goes on in the core of the Trinity? I will tell you.
In the core of the Trinity
the Father laughs
and gives birth to the Son.
The Son laughs back at the Father
and gives birth to the Spirit.
The whole Trinity laughs
and gives birth to us.
One thing about the Trinity that I do see in today's Gospel is that the triune God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — does what we call these days "multitasking." Look at the way the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit work. The Spirit extends the ministry of Jesus, allowing us to go beyond what he had to say when he was here on earth. That's why God can give us the guidance we need with how to deal with these uncharted areas of ministry that Jesus left for us to decide. The one thing the Spirit will not do for us is to decide for us. As Christians, we still have a job to do but we can take comfort in knowing that the Spirit will be guiding us all the way and in due time, the Spirit will unfold for us what it all means. Wherever the Spirit leads, it is always consistent with what Jesus taught about God the Father when he was here on this earth. That's the standard and the measuring stick. "All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you" (John 16:15). As for us, on this Trinity Sunday, we can rejoice in knowing that the Holy Spirit not only gets the message onto the page for us to read, but also gets it off the page and into our minds and hearts as we live out our lives as Christians. Amen.