“Left for Dead”

14 July 2013

The Rev. Bryn Smallwood-Garcia
Congregational Church of Brookfield (UCC)

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
July 14, 2013

Luke 10:25-37

“Left for Dead”

Prayer:   “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts and minds here together be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.”

If you don’t play video games or know someone who does, you may not catch where I got this week’s sermon title.  As first-person shooter video games go, “Left4Dead” is a pretty good one, because it brings together an unlikely and diverse group of survivors who fight to survive a zombie apocalypse:  Bill, the Vietnam vet; Zoey, the young college student; Louis, the IT nerd; and Francis, the outlaw biker.  Just like a good church committee, they set aside their differences to work as a team.  Heck, Jesus and the disciples were all young men – they’d probably love “Left4Dead” because it celebrates unlikely heroes rising up to protect and even give their lives for one another! 

And isn’t that the story of “The Good Samaritan,” when you think about it?  This small-town rabbi Jesus is on a dangerous journey with his unlikely band of outlaw disciples, on his way to Jerusalem through Samaria – where, by the way, they had been unable to find a town open-minded and tolerant enough to welcome them, to let them stop and eat and rest – since Jews and Samaritans had a long history of hating each another.  It was bad enough, in fact, back in Luke chapter 9, verse 54, that James and John asked Jesus if they could please please please call down fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritans?  (Jesus said “no,” by the way.)  So you know Jesus and his men have got to be pretty tired and things have to be pretty tense, when a lawyer comes out from town to confront them.  After all, they were Galileans, and they were entering Judea from Samaria – young men crossing borders, with who knows what intent?  The lawyer likely was coming down that very road from Jerusalem, as they were trudging up along its endless hairpin turns, up some 3,000 feet from Jericho to Bethany, just outside Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives, where they were planning to stay with Mary and Martha. 

So when that lawyer stops Jesus to test him with tough questions – like “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” and “Who is my neighbor?” – it’s kind of like a Fox News reporter sticking a mike in the face of a local candidate at the Texas border and asking, “Hey, with my faith beliefs, where do you think I’ll spend eternity?” and “Do you favor comprehensive immigration reform?”  I think Jesus was smart to offer a parable instead of a direct answer!  As a teaching story from a Podunk Galilean carpenter to a big city Judean lawyer, the “Good Samaritan” story is a real poke in the eye.  To a pious, law-abiding Jew, the Samaritan in Jesus’s parable is the world’s most unlikely hero – maybe even less likely than a fisherman, a tax collector, a Zealot war veteran, or a mentally ill prostitute.  It’d kind of be like that candidate at the border telling Fox the story of the “good illegal Mexican immigrant.”  It blows away all our middle class assumptions and dominant culture prejudices that lead us all too often to racial profiling.

But not only is the “Good Samaritan” an unlikely hero, in Bible study last week I think we all were kind of blown away by how brutal and physical the story is.  The parable Jesus weaves for the lawyer is not just theoretical or theological – it is a bloody and violent story about a poor traveler struck down by robbers on that rocky, dangerous, and winding road down from Jerusalem’s Mount Zion to Jericho – the poor man is attacked, stripped, beaten and left for dead by the side of the road.  But in most Church School lessons, and even on the painted cover of a recent Upper Room devotional, the crime victim gets clothed and cleaned up – “sanitized” to make it a little nicer to look at.  (You know the Upper Room wasn’t’ going to put a bloody, beaten, naked man on the cover of a booklet that gets left out in Sunday School rooms!) 

But isn’t that ironic?  We pious, religious types are awfully squeamish, aren’t we?  Not many of us are young men who play violent video games like “Left4Dead” nor do we live in places where violent crime is rampant or in countries where people are attacked by their own governments.  Like the priest and the Levite, who keep their hands clean and eyes averted as they hurry past the naked and beaten man, most of us prefer not to look too closely at the ugly side of life, much less get ourselves physically involved.  Most of us prefer the purity and spiritual beauty of our church life to walking that hot and dusty road with Jesus, looking for captives to set free and brokenhearted people to bind up.  Working for justice is a dirty, messy business.  But it is a “nitty gritty Gospel” story full of blood and guts that Luke, its physician-author, has the stomach to tell. 

If “The Good Samaritan” was on the TV news, most of us would change the channel, just as many of us did when the endless hours of the George Zimmerman trial was running.  Neither Jesus nor Luke would likely be surprised that racial hatred, violence and bloodshed is still very much a part of the human condition.  It’s never been safe to be a “Good Samaritan,” which is why Trayvon Martin’s neighbors said they called 911 instead of running out to help him when he was shot.  In late May, Michigan “Good Samaritan” Margaret Pittman run over several times and killed by a hit-and-run driver when she stopped to help an older woman at an accident scene.  In early June, California “Good Samaritan” Francisco Lugo was beaten to death when intervened to stop a group of young men who were chasing and bullying a young man with disabilities. There’s a very long history of these sorts of violent ends for would-be Good Samaritans.  Searching the internet, I even found a sainted “Good Samaritan” named Jesus.  Texas “Good Samaritan” Jesus Solis gave his life to save a woman in a bar at 2am.  He tried to protect her from 3 men who were forcing her to dance with them, and he got shot to death for his trouble.  Believe me, that priest and that Levite had very good reasons to hurry on past and NOT get involved when they saw that stripped and beaten man by the side of the road.  There are good reasons that so many people in need of our help are left for dead. 

I was helped once by would-be Good Samaritans, when I was living in San Francisco, in a not-so-great downtown neighborhood.  I was in Shakespeare in the Park at the time, and we were rehearsing at night way out the city bus line at University of San Francisco.  And so, my good friend and fellow actor Harold Hector was walking me home from where he’d parked his car, because his momma had raised him right, and he was worried about me getting off the bus at 11, 12 o’clock at night.  Never mind “angels watching over me,” I felt very safe with Harold watching over me, because he was a very big guy – he was playing “The Wall” in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”  Anyway, I was surprised when this passing car slowed up beside me, and the would-be “Good Samaritans” pulled over – and they asked, “Hey lady, is that ‘N-word’ bothering you?”  I was horrified, and I said, “No.  He’s my friend!” And I apologized profusely to Harold, of course, who’s African American.  He shrugged it off, “Hey, I’ve been black my whole life – I’m used to it.”  But when cops pulled over by us the next time to question Harold, we finally decided that my neighborhood was probably safer for me than it was for him.  From then on, and he’d just drop me off at my door and stay off the streets.

By the way, I’d already written this sermon when my morning paper arrived today with the news of George Zimmerman’s acquittal.  But I have to admit that reading about the verdict, I felt physically ill.  The bad news and crying needs of this violent world are totally overwhelming to me sometimes, and today was one of those days.  I felt like crying out, “Where is justice for Trayvon Martin?”  And 7 months after Sandy Hook, I have to ask:  Are we really doing all we can to keep our young people safe from dangerous men with guns?  It’s a messy, ugly problem that, believe me, I’d prefer to look away from – but people of faith (no matter what our political beliefs) still need to be struggling to do something about gun violence.  We must figure out how to protect the innocent without sacrificing the freedoms that we cherish as Americans.

But the Good News that Jesus offered on the road to Jerusalem – where he would soon be stripped, beaten, nailed to a cross, and left for dead – is that Love is always stronger than Hatred.  Compassion still comes flowing out of humanity – all humanity, even unexpected humanity – and it conquers fear.  Compassion again and again lifts up hope in triumph over cynical pessimism.  In “the Good Samaritan,” Jesus teaches a powerful lesson about our incarnational faith – about the amazing works of the living God, Holy Spirit made flesh and moving among us.  This story bears witness to the selfless and generous outpouring of human love and mercy – how the Holy Spirit does change the hearts of real people, even unlikely and ordinary people, and move them to work miracles of grace and healing among us. 

Even if we find ourselves broken, beaten and half-dead, we live in the hope that in God’s extravagant love will not pass us by but will come and bind up our wounds and carry us to safety.  Thanks be to God for this Good News.  Amen.

Luke 10:25-37

25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26[Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27[The lawyer] answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28And [Jesus] said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29But wanting to justify himself, [the lawyer] asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus 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. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He 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. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”



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