Sunday, July 22, 2007

Of Samaritans and Timidity

Right, I promised the other day that I would post a summary of what I preached about at church on Sunday and I have tarried long enough. I was supposed to be looking at the Parable of the Good Samaritan, so I started off with a corny joke:

A man was beaten up by robbers on a road to London. He lay there, half dead and in bad shape. A Vicar came along, saw him and passed by on the other side. Next, a monk came by but also walked quickly on the other side. Finally, a social worker came along, looked at the man and said "Whoever did this needs help!"

Yes will it is clear to see that if I keep churning out cheesy one liners like that, I'll be on a very slippery slope... it won't be long before they put me in a straitjacket and cart me off to a building with padded walls - theology college!

Now you'd think I'd stick with tradition and focus on the hero... the good old Samaritan. Now I did look at the irony of why the Samaritan of all people, should be chosen by Jesus as a paragon of neighbourly kindness.

I actually think the Samaritans get it rough in the Bible. Apart from being treated as half breeds and having their temple torn down by Jews a couple of hundred years before Christ, they only had the first five books of the Old Testament. They didn't read the prophets or the wisdom literature, or the history books. Their lack of scripture should have been a hindrance and yet when Jesus had that one off out of the way encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, we find that this isn't the case. We read afterwards that many Samaritans declare Jesus to be the "Saviour of the World". That's pretty inspired. In fact if you look carefully at the Gospels, it isn't just the big guns like Peter who have sudden bright flashes of Jesus' mission. You find unexpected people cropping up. Thomas is remembered foremost as the doubter... but on one occasion he shows more nuts than the rest of the apostles.

Anyway I digress. The point I wanted to make with that was that... even if we have a limited knowledge of scripture like the Samaritans, God is still able to reveal things to us. Yes of course, keep reading your Bible to improve your knowledge... but do not be overly worried about your ability to remember it... instead trust in God who gave those scriptures to us in the first place.

Still off track a little here aren't I! Samaritan's yes right...the parable.

I wanted to challenge the congregation to think about how we can be like the two passers by. Its easy to assume they were just being cruel and heartless, but you have to bear in mind the context of the culture of the people in the story. The Torah instructs people to avoid dead bodies found lying around and says that by touching them, a man can become unclean (this is actually common sense in a time when medical understanding is pretty limited at best, dead bodies can quite easily carry disease and sickness, so there was a risk involved in approaching one). Anyway you can understand why a priest and a Levite might be anxious about the scenario that faced them.

Yet when Jesus and scholars summarized the Law. They used this description:

"Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 'This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'""
Matthew 22:37-39

In other words, the Law is fundamentally based on love and hospitality towards God and fellow humans. Look at this passage from one of John's letters:

"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."
1 John 4:18

Do you see now where these religious men in the parable went wrong? They feared breaking a ceremonial law so much, it overruled any sense of love and compassion they had for the wounded stranger. Now it is OK to have fears, but we mustn't let them master us... control our actions. In case anyone here is feeling condemned over phobias, please don't. The kind of fears I am talking about are the ones that control how we treat other people.

I wanted to challenge the congregation and so I told them a negative story from my own personal experience... how I had been on a bus and seen somebody get off in strange circumstances. I asked somebody else what was going on and found out that the person had a pass that wasn't valid for the journey and didn't have the means to pay for a ticket. Now maybe I wasn't properly awake... or more probably I was too shy to run up the front of the bus and stop the driver. Whatever the reason, the truth is that had I been thinking, I had the means to pay for a single ticket... and the point is that to my shame I missed a golden opportunity to demonstrate the Gospel by my actions.

Bearing in mind that God has called us to demonstrate love as our motivation...and not fear, I am anxious to be vigilant about such opportunities in the future. We have no reason to be shy:

"For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace."
1 Timothy 7:6-9a

The congregation was an unexpected mix of regulars and people visiting with prospective wedding couples, so I changed slightly what my challenge was going to be...and in a way that suits me typing it here better too, because people reading this are going to be in different places when it comes to belief.

It is simply this:

Is there something...anything in your life that holds you back in fear when you should be doing something else. Now if you have not decided to follow Jesus, maybe that is because you are timid or afraid of giving control of your life over to a God... because it changes the rules of the game... how you perceive your life and the life of others. God by his very nature sounds intimidating - all seeing, all knowing, all powerful... and yet he has done everything in his power to reassure you of his love. He sent his Son Jesus to demonstrate that he is a God of love. Ask yourself this... if God is so capricious and not to be trusted... why has he never compromised your right to choose your actions and beliefs freely?

God is not a bully and you don't need to be terrified of him.

As for Christians... are there things in your life that make you want to hold back when you know you have an opportunity to serve God? I am not judging you... I've made the mistake myself often enough.

My challenge to all of you and myself is this...let us not hold back from God anymore, let us not be motivated out of fear...but let us embrace God and his will for us as human beings with something that at least resembles the love he demonstrated for us.



1 comment:

  1. I very much enjoyed reading your blogs. I have been struggling in my life over my christianity and my place in his grand design. Would very much like to write to you for advice and friendship. You can e-mail me at


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