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It Takes a Village to be a Good Samaritan

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For July 14, 2019:

Mary AustinIt Takes a Village to be a Good Samaritan
by Mary Austin
Luke 10:25-37

When we hear this familiar story, our minds go to the interaction between the Samaritan traveler and the wounded man. Most church people can imagine themselves as the helper, or, less comfortably, as the person in need of help. The supporting cast, though, adds richness to the story, and each person has a part to play in the healing of the wounded traveler. The first two passers-by set up the story, and we can imagine that they might have been hurrying to do important things, even though they’re going home from work in Jerusalem, rather than to it.

Amy-Jill Levine tells us that anyone listening to Jesus set up the story would have been surprised by the third person to come along the road. “For Jesus’ audience, and for any synagogue congregation today, the third of the group is obvious. Mention a priest and a Levite, and anyone who knows anything about Judaism will know that the third person is an Israelite. The audience, surprised at this lack of compassion, would have presumed both that the third person would be an Israelite and that he would help. However, Jesus is telling a parable, and parables never go the way one expects. Instead of the anticipated Israelite, the person who stops to help is a Samaritan. In modern terms, this would be like going from Larry and Moe to Osama bin Laden.”

The first two people, hurrying by, and the innkeeper all have important roles in the story, in addition to the Samaritan and the wounded man. We might find ourselves in the place of each of them, or all of them, as we consider the parable. 

In the News
I suspect many of us are like the lawyer, wanting to know where our giving can stop. We’re already at the end of our resources, or we don’t know what to do, or we don’t think our help will make any difference. The crisis at the US border, with so many people, including children, in such harsh conditions, is so overwhelming that we turn away, overwhelmed.

A wealth of help is needed along the US border, where would-be immigrants are being held. In Clint, TX, a center for children is now famous for deplorable conditions, and “the men and women who work there were grappling with the stuff of nightmares. Outbreaks of scabies, shingles and chickenpox were spreading among the hundreds of children who were being held in cramped cells, agents said. The stench of the children’s dirty clothing was so strong it spread to the agents’ own clothing — people in town would scrunch their noses when they left work. The children cried constantly. One girl seemed likely enough to try to kill herself that the agents made her sleep on a cot in front of them,” so they could watch her as they were processing new arrivals. “It gets to a point where you start to become a robot,” said a veteran Border Patrol agent who has worked at the Clint station since it was built. He described following orders to take beds away from children to make more space in holding cells as part of a daily routine that he said had become “heartbreaking.” The little-known Border Patrol facility at Clint has suddenly become the public face of the chaos on America’s southern border, after immigration lawyers began reporting on the children they saw — some of them as young as 5 months old — and “the filthy, overcrowded conditions in which they were being held.” The men and women working there, who need the jobs, are limited in what they can do for the children. In Washington, “the agency’s leadership knew for months that some children had no beds to sleep on, no way to clean themselves and sometimes went hungry. Its own agents had raised the alarm, and found themselves having to accommodate even more new arrivals.” The agents in the facility, trying to provide care to the children, are struggling to be in the role of the Good Samaritan, rather being the people passing by.

There are other alternatives to the camps at the border, an article in Vox points out. “Until a few years ago, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was running two alternative programs at the national level: the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP), which involves electronic monitoring, and the less restrictive Family Case Management Program (FCMP), which relied on community monitoring. The administration ended one of the programs and has not expanded the other. The methods used in these programs are available to DHS, and are much cheaper than traditional detention.” Budget numbers suggest that other alternatives would save money, in addition to saving misery. “In its budget request for fiscal year 2018, DHS said that it cost about $133.99 per day to hold an adult immigrant in detention and $319.37 for an individual in family detention. Meanwhile, the agency said the average cost of placing someone in an alternative program is $4.50 per day.”

People of all kinds of political beliefs find the conditions inhumane, and want to help. Even people who are opposed to immigration find this treatment of children unconscionable, and a stain on America’s values. For those who want to help, and are struggling to figure out how, there are ways to stop passing by the crisis. The US government does not accept donations of seemingly needed clothing, washing machines, toothbrushes, stoves and toys.

One way is to donate money for people who can be released on bail, and live in the community awaiting an asylum hearing. “Immigration advocates have noted one sure-fire way to help people separated from their children: Posting their bail. This is one of the fastest ways to reunite immigrants with their family, said Pilar Weiss, project director at the National Bail Fund Network.

Another possibility is to “Volunteer locally to mentor and tutor English-language learners. By teaching English as a second language, you can help people navigate American culture more successfully. [Or] Join a pen pal or visitation program for detained immigrants, such as the ones run by First Friends of New Jersey and New York.”

No matter what our position on immigration is, this current crisis calls us to see with the eyes of the Good Samaritan.

In the Scriptures
To offer meaningful help, the Samaritan traveler has to really see the one man by the side of the road. For just a moment, he has to see beyond any categories, and acknowledge the kinship between himself and his traditional enemy. He has to look at a battered and beaten man, and see past the blood and bruises to the man’s humanity. He can even envision how he could easily be in the man’s place, if events had gone differently.

In that moment, he can’t get distracted by the systems that allow so many robberies along that road, or the teachings that keep people divided up into enemy camps. He just has to see the person in need. And he can’t get overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task, which is what may have happened with the priest and the Levite. A man who is unconscious, bloody and bruised is a big challenge to a solo traveler.

The wounded traveler has a part to play, too. He has to be willing to receive help, first from his enemy and then from people he doesn’t know. Presumably, he doesn’t bolt out of the inn the first chance he gets. As we imagine the story, we don’t picture him running away as soon as he can. He is humble enough to accept the help offered to him.

Scholar Amy-Jill Levine notes that the lawyer asks his question, looking for a loophole. He’s interested in narrowing his obligations, not expanding them. “The lawyer’s question has legal merit. One needs to know who are neighbors, and so under the law, and who are not. But in the context of love, his question is not relevant. According to Leviticus, love has to extend beyond the people in one’s group. Leviticus 19 insists on loving the stranger as well. For our parable, the lawyer’s question is again misguided. To ask “Who is my neighbor?” is a polite way of asking, “Who is not my neighbor?” or “Who does not deserve my love?” or “Whose lack of food or shelter can I ignore?” or “Whom I can hate?” The answer Jesus gives is, “No one.” Everyone deserves that love — local or alien, Jews or gentile — everyone.”

It takes a lot of people to provide that embracing love. We feel overwhelmed when we imagine doing it by ourselves, but the Samaritan traveler is aided by the innkeeper, and by the people who work at the inn, making the food, and cleaning the room, and looking in on the injured man. Even the priest and the Levite play their parts in the story, setting up the lesson of what not to do. Perhaps the Samaritan only stops because he sees the other two pass by, and their inaction sets the stage for his action.

Our focus is on the Samaritan, but he has help in this challenging work of caring for an enemy.

In the Sermon
The sermon might look at how we stop thinking of ourselves as spiritual Lone Rangers, who have to do everything ourselves. If we are part of a helping village, we can all accomplish so much more. The sermon could look at our role in giving even small bits of help, which add up, when combined. Or the sermon might talk about how hard it is to receive help, and how we give others a gift when we allow them in with their care.

The sermon might also consider the sustenance we receive from others, which allows us to offer care. When we are part of a supportive web, we can rest when we’re tired, and talk over the bumps in the road with others. We have ideas around us that we wouldn’t consider on our own. We have access to a richer array of perspectives.

Writing for Working Preacher, Karoline Lewis poses this question: “what if the Samaritan was good because he simply made the choice to come near the almost dead guy in the ditch? To approach him? To decrease the distance between him and the man clearly in need of help?” Perhaps our help is meaningful in tiny doses. If we hesitate to offer care to someone because it seems like too big a job for our resources, perhaps we can make a difference with much less than we imagine. The sermon might look at the work of just drawing near someone who seems like an enemy.

The problem with following Jesus is that his teachings go so counter to our usual impulses. As Amy-Jill Levine comments on his uniqueness, “In Jewish thought, one could not mistreat the enemy, but love was not mandated.” Proverbs 25:21 insists, “If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat; and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink” (Paul cites Proverbs 25:21–22 in Romans 12:20). Only Jesus insists on loving the enemy: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” He may be the only person in antiquity to have given this instruction. In these fractured times, our enemies may be people on the other side of the political spectrum, and still we share a common foundation in Jesus. The Samaritan starts as a stranger, and as an enemy, and he makes himself into a neighbor through his care. May it be that we can do the same.


Dean FeldmeyerSECOND THOUGHTS
Betting On Charity
by Dean Feldmeyer
Luke 10:25-37

The Guy In The Road (An alternative, alternative reading of the Good Samaritan story.)
Just then, a smart aleck kid in the class stood up to test Jesus and said, “Okay, Mr. J, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He smirked, snickered and high fived the kids sitting next to him.

Jesus answered him, “What? Did you skip Sunday school? What’s it say in the Bible?”

The smart aleck said, “It says to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength, and with all your, uh,…”

“Mind?”

“Oh, yeah, your mind, too.” Smiling at his friends, he added, “And your neighbor as yourself.”

“Well,” said Jesus, “there ya go. Do that and you got it covered, you’ll live.”

But the smart aleck felt a little embarrassed because all his friends were looking at him so he said, “Uh, okay. But, uh… but, who’s my neighbor? Yeah, answer that one, Mr. Messiah person. Who’s my neighbor?”

Jesus answered him with a story: “Okay, so there’s this guy, a businessman, and he’s in a hurry to get to Jericho so he decides to take the road from Jerusalem to Jericho by himself.”

The smart aleck and his friends interrupted: “Whoa, not cool, man.” “Way too dangerous.” “That road’s been classified unsafe, Dude. No one travels that road, especially by himself.” “For real, man.” “Way too dangerous.”

“So anyway,” Jesus said, “His car breaks down and these robbers jump outa the bushes and rob this guy, pistol whip him, strip him naked just to humiliate him and steal his car and leave him for dead right in the middle of the road.”

The smart aleck just nodded his head, knowingly, “Gangster, man,” he said.

“Word,” Jesus replied. He paused to let it all sink in, then he went on with the story.

“But the story doesn’t end, there. Not too much later a minister comes driving down the road in his Prius and he sees the man lying there, in the road, but he doesn’t help. He just lets the man lay there.”

“No way!”

“Yes, way. He just drives by. Oh, he pauses for a minute and he thinks about helping the man but then, he starts thinking about all the what-if’s. You know, like what if he’s not really hurt? What if this is an ambush and when I get out of the car to help him his friends jump out of the bushes and beat me and robe me?”

“And he thinks about, what if he is hurt and I try to help him but I’m not a doctor so I might do something wrong and he sues me and maybe even the my whole church? He tried to remember if the church’s insurance policy covered him in such a situation. Isn’t there something called a Good Person law that protects people who try to help someone? He asks himself. But what if there isn’t?

“And then he thought about his church and his family: If it was just me that I had to worry about that would be one thing. I would jump out of this car and help him in like a New York minute but I have a family and I have a church that could be ruined if he sued us.

“Then he decided: No, I just don’t have the right to put my church and family in danger just because I selfishly want to help this one guy who may or may not really be hurt. So I’m going to just drive around him and leave him lay here and probably someone else, someone with not so much to lose, will stop and help him, I mean, if he really needs help, ya know?

“So he just drove around and went on his way.”

The smart aleck and his friends couldn’t believe what they were hearing. They just looked at each other and shook their heads.

Jesus went on:

“About an hour or so later another man came driving down the road in a big, black Jaguar, quiet and smooth as you please. He was a lawyer and a leader in his church.”

The smart aleck and his friends high fived each other. “Alright! Now, my man’s gonna get some help.”

But they were wrong.

Jesus shook his head. “No, my friends. The lawyer just drove on by, as well.”

“No way!”

“Yes, way, I’m afraid. Very much way. The lawyer wanted to stop. He really did. But he had some worries as well. See, he was on his way to a meeting where he and a bunch of other people were going to work on ways to feed hungry people, thousands of hungry people.

“So, he thought to himself, If I miss this meeting thousands of people might not get fed. And if I stop to help this guy, who’s probably already dead, I could miss my meeting and all those people would go hungry. And aren’t thousands of hungry people more important than one guy laying in the road?

“He decided that the thousands of the hungry people were more important so he left the one man lying in the road and he drove past him and went on to his meeting.”

The smart aleck looked at his friends and said, sadly, “I think our man may be dead. Yeah, if someone don’t help him pretty soon, I think he may be a goner.” Then he looked at the sky and said, ”Come on, people!”

Jesus said, “Well, it was getting late, but there was one more person coming down the road. A woman. And she was wearing one of those things over her head, a hijab, so she’s probably a Muslim woman.”

One of the smart aleck’s friends rolled his eyes, “Oh, great,” he said. “Our man’s a goner.”

But the smart aleck shushed him. “Chill, man. Give her a chance.”

Jesus waited for the group to quiet down and he went on with his story.

“So, the woman, she’s driving this old, beat up, Ford F150 pickup truck, see? And the windshield is so dirty that she can hardly see the guy lying in the road but she does, just in time, and she stops and looks out the dirty windshield and then the other windows, too. Kinda looks around, you know?

“Then, real slow and careful like, she gets outa the truck and goes over to the guy and feels for a pulse and, whataya know, the guy’s still alive. And, just his luck, she’s got a first aid kit and some blankets in the back of that old 150. So she gets him cleaned up and bandaged up and puts a splint on his arm, and she feeds him some chicken soup outa the thermos bottle in her lunch box and he looks like he just might make it if he has someone to take care of him for a couple of days.

“She puts him in the back of her pickup and takes it real slow going down the road until she comes to this little old mom and pop motel called the Capri Motel or the Buena Vista Motel or something like that, one of those old-fashioned places, you know.

“And she talks to the couple who own the place. She says, ‘Keep him here for a few days and take care of him. Change his bandages and feed him and make sure he gets some fresh air and sunshine and exercise.’ Then she takes some money out of her wallet that she keeps on a chain hooked to her blue jeans and she gives some to the couple and she says, ‘This should cover the first couple of days. I’ll be back this way at the end of the week and if there’s more due, I’ll pay you, then.’

“The old couple huddles up and they’re a little worried. What if she doesn’t come back? What if the wounded guy has some kinda disease? What if he’s a bad guy and his friends come back this way and rob us? What if he dies and someone blames us? You know, all that what-if kinda stuff. But eventually they figure, well, if she’s willing to take the risk I guess we can take a risk, too. So, they agree to help the man and they shake the woman’s hand and it’s all settled.”

“So,” Jesus said, looking around. “Who was this man’s neighbor?”

The smart aleck and his friends looked around at each other for a moment, then the smart aleck spoke: “Well, I guess I gotta go with the Muslim lady,” he said.

Jesus smiled and held out his fist. “There y’go.” he said as the former smart aleck bumped fists with him.

A Risk Averse Church?
We all want to be good stewards of the gifts that people, faithful, loving people have given to the church for the purpose of doing God’s will in the world. We don’t want that money to be wasted or stolen or frittered away on meaningless, silly things.

So we’re careful about how we spend it.

We don’t just give it away to anyone with their hand out.

We set it aside and we pray over it and then we make sure that the causes we give that money to are vetted and verified, checked out and checked over, genuine, trustworthy charities.

We aren’t about to take unnecessary risks with other people’s money.

The problem is that no matter how careful we are, no matter how thoroughly we vet those outfits that are asking for our money, there’s just no way to be absolutely, positively, certain that they are 100% on the up and up.

There’s no way to guarantee that we’re not going to be cheated.

But that’s okay.

Because being charitable is about who we are, not who they are. It’s about being kind, generous, charitable people as Jesus called upon us to be.

And sometimes kind, generous, charitable people get taken advantage of, no matter how careful they are. Sometimes, they even get crucified.



ILLUSTRATIONS
Tom Willadsen
From team member Tom Willadsen:

Luke 10:25-37
The Samaritan — observations 

This is another parable that’s so familiar we don’t hear it anymore. The topic heading in my NRSV calls this “The Parable of the Good Samaritan,” but nowhere does the word “good” appear in the text.

The very idea of a good Samaritan was probably preposterous for Jesus’ original audience to conceive. Samaritans and Judeans had been sworn enemies for generations. The Samaritan serving as the one who fulfilled the law in contrast to the priest and Levite would have been shocking. Who are the most vilified, hated and feared groups of people in your community? Imagine the person with most flamboyant costume at the gay pride march, or a member of an ISIS sleeper cell, or a Fox news viewer, or NPR listener being the model of being a good neighbor. That’s shocking. Jesus wanted to shock his audience, so should you, preacher.

* * *

This is a test: more on the Parable of the Indifferent Levite and priest
The lawyer who stood to test Jesus had two stated motives: to test Jesus then to justify himself, that is to show that he was blameless or innocent. He knew the law; he answered accurately, but he pushed for more. To put it in terms that one only uses in seminary — the lawyer answered Jesus’ question showing he knew apodictic law, that is law from on high — the thou shalt not–kind of law. Jesus responded to the lawyer’s second question with casuistic law, that is, law based on if/then thinking. Law that was applied in a specific setting and context. To put it in terms of this parable, the correct living out of the concept of “neighbor” would depend on the situation. When someone is lying by the side of the road, half dead, caring for him is the fulfillment of the law. When a motorist is stranded on the side of the Interstate with a flat tire, helping to put on the spare is the fulfillment of the law. In casuistic law context is of central importance.

* * *

This was part of Chris Keating’s brilliant main article in last week’s TIW (I’m not plagiarizing; I’m recycling!) [Actually, I’m hoping that a large audience hears this story—it’s one we need today!]

In a small town near St. Louis, Missouri, last week, a police officer was shot and killed as he responded to a call about a man trying to pass a bad check. Minutes after encountering the suspect at a convenience store, the police officer was killed. Witnesses said the shooter fled the store, located in a predominantly African American neighborhood.

Wellston, Missouri, is a tiny town where relationships between the police and the black community have often been uneasy. It's just five miles from Ferguson, Missouri, where racial tensions boiled over following the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown. This section of north St. Louis is a place filled with contradictions, poverty, crime and distrust. It's a neighborhood long divided by racial profiling and race-based policing policies.

But it is also the place where a young black woman held the hand of that dying white police officer last week. She stayed with the officer, using his radio to call for help, bearing his burden to fulfill the law of Christ.

Bonette Kymbrelle Meeks and Michael Langsdorf had about as much in common as Jesus and the lawyer in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Meeks, 26, was born in St. Louis but raised in North Carolina. He has a long record of drug convictions, has been in and out of prison, and is unemployed. His father says his son is quiet and often withdrawn.     

Langsdorf, 40, on the other hand, was a veteran police officer, former firefighter, twice divorced father of two who was recently engaged to be married again. Fellow police officers remembered him as the type of cop who had an uncanny knack for getting people to talk to police, including suspects.

Last Sunday, Langsdorf, who was white, was shot June 23 after encountering Meeks, who is black, in the parking lot of a minimarket. Strangers to each other, their lives were forever joined by a moment of desperate violence.

Their shared story is different from other stories of violence, including the legions of accounts of unarmed black persons killed by police. Those are the narratives of race-based policing, of profiling and targeting persons of color. Those stories are far too common, which is why the response of the clerks inside the market where Langsdorf was killed may seem surprising.

The tragedy that forever united Officer Langsdorf and Bonette Meeks reflects many of the racial, economic, and social contradictions present in the St. Louis region — even, perhaps, in the United States. Meeks had failed high school but had earned his GED and was struggling to get his life back on track.

Langsdorf wasn't immune from struggles, either, but in recent weeks had seen life get better. He had been suspended from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department for falsifying overtime records.

But three months ago, he began working again as a police officer, this time for the smaller North County Cooperative Department. Life was looking up: his son graduated from high school, he was engaged, and his beloved St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup.

It was supposed to be a summer of hopeful change for Langsdorf.

Meanwhile, the metropolitan St. Louis region continued to wrestle with its own set of confusing and complex contradictions. For example, even as the Blues were battling for the Stanley Cup, the city mourned the deaths of four different children killed over the course of five days. People flooded the streets to celebrate the Blues while flooding from the Mississippi and other rivers has overwhelmed rural communities.

The contradictions continued that Sunday afternoon as Meeks and another suspect stopped at a neighborhood market in Wellston, a small town just outside the St. Louis city limits. Clerks noted the two were acting strange, mumbling and not talking coherently. Not long afterward, police received a call about someone trying to pass a bad check inside the store. Around 4:30, Officer Langsdorf responded, encountering Meeks in the parking lot. As Langsdorf led Meeks back into the store, the two became embroiled in a scuffle.

Store video shows that seconds later, Meeks took out a gun and began hitting Langsdorf on the head. As the police officer lost control over the suspect, Meeks stood up and shot him once at the back of the neck. Police authorities later called the shooting an "execution."

When police arrested him, Meeks was still holding the gun used to shoot Langsdorf.

Wellston is one of the poorest cities in Missouri. It's located just about five miles from the Ferguson, Missouri, neighborhood where Michael Brown was shot by police in 2014, and is surrounded by a cluster of poverty and crime. Like many urban neighborhoods, Wellston has not reaped many benefits from the country's 121-month record setting economic boom.

Lots and lots of contradictions.

The town has also had a history of questionable policing tactics that left many residents living in fear. After Ferguson, the US Department of Justice launched an investigation into the Ferguson Police Department policing tactics. The DOJ's report revealed strong racial biases in Ferguson, and noted that the department had often focused on pursuing revenue at the expense of public safety. Leaders in Wellston and other cities knew the same was true for their towns.

In response, Wellston and its neighbors dissolved their police departments and formed a five-city cooperative department focused on community policing and relationships. The department's community-centered focus has resulted in better relationships, lower crime, and improved sense of community.

Some of the fruits of that work became evident as Officer Langsdorf was dying.

Inside the store, Lucretia Johnson and another clerk were selling soul food. When Johnson heard gun fire, she and another clerk raced to Langsdorf side. She held his hand, and offered assurance. Using his walkie talkie, one of the clerks told dispatchers that Langsdorf had been shot. "You've got an officer down," she said. She turned her attention back to Langsdorf, holding his hand and saying, "Please stay with me."

The clerks returned to work the next day, their eyes swollen from tears.

They told reporters they knew Langsdorf, and would often joke with him and other officers "like they're our uncle."

It's another contradiction, a reversal of what we've come to expect. The stranger becomes the neighbor, the outsider is healed, the unknown becomes the beloved. “Who was the neighbor of the police officer bleeding to death?”

The one who held his hand.

Go and do likewise.

* * *

Anti-credentials
Perhaps the modern Presbyterian Church would call Amos “bivocational” or a “tent maker.” He makes it clear that he is not a prophet by trade. He’s a simple herdsman and dresser of sycamore trees. Don’t call him a prophet.

Amos’s insistence on keeping his title and identity as herdsman and tree surgeon recalls the humility and honor of Cincinnatus, a figure from Roman history.

Despite his old age, he (Cincinnatus) worked his own small farm until an invasion prompted his fellow citizens to call for his leadership. He came from his plow to assume complete control over the state but, upon achieving a swift victory, relinquished his power and its perquisites and returned to his farm. His success and immediate resignation of his near-absolute authority with the end of this crisis (traditionally dated to 458 BC) has often been cited as an example of outstanding leadership, service to the greater good, civic virtue, humility, and modesty. (Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus)

When George Washington refused the role of Emperor of the United States and set the precedent of serving only two terms as president, then returning to his farm in Mount Vernon, he invoked the memory of Cincinnatus.

The refusal to stay in power made Cincinnatus — and Amos — more credible as true servants.

* * *

Love is a verb
If you look closely at the lesson from Colossians you’ll see that the point of the gospel that Paul shared with them was not just a warm, happy feeling of reassurance; the point of the gospel is that it bears fruit. There needs to be something tangible, something beyond words. Circle back to the Parable of the Indifferent Levite and priest — it is not what the Samaritan says, though he is the only one who speaks in the parable — it’s what he does that makes him a neighbor.

* * *

Was the Samaritan a neighbor to the Levite or priest?
Perhaps not, because they did not need anything from him.

* * *

Questions?...What’s wrong with questions?
The structure of the Parable of the Good Samaritan is worth commenting on.

The lawyer asks Jesus a question. Jesus responds with two questions of his own. The conversation could have ended there, but the lawyer asks another question. Jesus answers with a story. At the end of the story Jesus asks another question, which the lawyer answers. The exchange concludes with “Go and do likewise,” which is similar to the exchange after the lawyer’s initial questions, “Do this and you will live.”

* * *

Colossians a little more
This is the first of four lessons from Colossians. You might want to note that Paul never visited that church. It was founded by Epaphras, but Paul knows them well.

He begins his letter to them making three important points:
  1. They know Christ and that Christ’s love is genuine;
  2. Their love of/for Christ is the basis of their community — and the basis of the church universal, is evidenced by the fruits of their living the Gospel; and
  3. They have hope, eschatological hope in Christ, which gives them direction and puts this letter — and the Christian faith — in a much broader context.
* * * * * *

Ron LoveFrom team member Ron Love:


Amos 7:15
“Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”
Viola Davis is the first black actor to have won an Academy Award, an Emmy Award, and a Tony Award in acting, named the Triple Crown of Acting. Davis received her Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the movie Fences, a film directed by Denzel Washington that was released in 2016. In 2012 Davis, along with her husband, established JuVee Productions. The purpose of the production company was to promote the use of minorities in movies and working on movie sets. In a recent interview with the Associated Press Davis said, “We're not social statements. We're not mythical creatures all the time ... you can literally put pen to paper and write a great story that includes people of color, and it could actually sell.” She went on to describe her role, “That's what I can do. I'm not a politician. I'm not a senator. I'm not in the House of Representatives. I'm not in Congress. What I am is an artist. That's how I provoke change.”

* * *

Amos 7:7
“a wall built with a plum line”
Louis Kealoha is the former police chief of Honolulu. His wife, Katherine, is a former deputy prosecutor. They are “former” because they have been arrested for financial fraud to finance their lavish lifestyle and the framing of her uncle, Gerard Puana, and her grandmother, who were going to expose them. Prosecutors say Katherine Kealoha’s uncle and grandmother had threatened to expose them for fraud, so she devised a scheme to silence them. She tried to have her grandmother, who is now 99, declared incapacitated. She and her husband used members of a special, hand-picked police unit to frame the uncle, Gerard Puana, for stealing the Kealohas’ mailbox. Puana was arrested, and his federal public defender, Alexander Silvert, was initially skeptical about his client’s seemingly outlandish claim that he was being set up. It seemed too bizarre: The idea that Honolulu’s power couple would hatch such a scheme to discredit him because he had accused his niece of trying to steal money. Silvert said, “When I realized they were lying about the make and model of the mailbox, then I was ‘OK, there’s something going on,’” But the couple made a big mistake, Silvert said, when they reported that the mailbox was valued at $380, but Silvert and his investigators learned it cost only $180. The difference in value allowed Puana to be charged with a felony instead of a misdemeanor. Louis, known as Honolulu’s Rolex-wearing police chief, along with his wife, swindled more than a half-million dollars from banks, relatives and others. The case has morphed into a scandal characterized as the largest corruption prosecution in Hawaii history, and prosecutors say greed was the couple’s motive. “Public embarrassment was not something the Kealohas could afford. They needed to maintain their carefully crafted public image,” federal prosecutors said in court.

* * *

Psalm 82:5 – “they walk around in darkness”
Colossians 1:13 – “He has rescued us from the power of darkness”

In the newspaper comic strip Frank & Ernest, written by Bob Thaves, we have two motley characters that never seem to get a handle on life. Of the two, Frank has the dominant personality and Ernie is a quiet follower. In one episode we have Frank sitting on the ground, with his back leaning against a tree. They are in a public park, as Ernie is standing beside him, and in view of the reader we see in the background a park bench and city buildings. Frank says to his companion, “I don’t exercise. A little guilt is by far better the lesser of two evils.”

* * *

Deuteronomy 30:9 – “abundantly prosperous”
Colossians 1:2 – “To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae”
After 40 years Bob Ley is retiring from ESPN. He was hired by the sports network on September 9, 1979, on their third day of operation. He is best known for his investigative program Outside the Lines. The 64-year-old Ley expressed the emotional strain of leaving the program. Ley said, “When you step away and reassess things, life assumes a different contour where it is not to-the-second deadlines ruling your life and sometimes a personality. There's a heavy emotional component to all of it, but I am managing it.”

* * *

Amos 7:7
“a wall built with a plum line”
Twitter has never allowed a tweet that targeted harassment of someone, that wish a person harmed, or was considered hate speech. Previously, politicians and public figures were exempt from this rule because their tweets were considered in the public interest. But, complaints about President Donald Trump’s tweets has created the new policy, as politicians and public figures tweets are no longer exempt. Some activists complained after the president, during the last week in June, posted that an attack by Iran “will be met with great and overwhelming force. In some areas, overwhelming will mean obliteration.” Trump has also tweeted a video of himself beating up a man with a CNN logo replacing his head and retweeted seemingly faked, inflammatory anti-Muslim videos. Under the new policy tweets that Twitter deems to involve matters of public interest, but which violate the service's rules, will be obscured by a warning explaining the violation and Twitter's reasons for publishing it anyway. Users will have to tap through the warning to see the underlying message. Twitter said the policy applies to all government officials, candidates and similar public figures with more than 100,000 followers.

* * *

Psalm 82:5 – “they walk around in darkness”
Colossians 1:13 – “He has rescued us from the power of darkness”

In the newspaper comic strip the Born Loser, we have Brutus, who is the born loser, sitting at his home desktop computer. His wife, Gladys, is standing behind him. Brutus, expressing great astonishment says, “Well, what do you know – I never read that before!” Gladys, walking away in disgust, says to the reader of the comic, “Thanks to the Internet and its increasing insignificant factoids that Brutus reads, it won’t be long before he knows almost everything about next to nothing!”

* * *

Colossians 1:9
For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding”
In the newspaper comic strip Peanuts, which was written by the late Charles Schulz, we often see Snoopy sitting atop of his doghouse composing a book on his manual typewriter. In this one episode we see Snoopy typing, “Things I’ve learned after it was too late.” In the next frame he continues, “A whole stack of memories will never equal one little hope.” This followed in the next frame where we see Snoopy, with a serious look on his face, sitting back and staring at the typewriter, as he reflects about what he just wrote. In the last frame we see Snoopy with a big smile on his face as he thinks, shown with those cartoon bubbles, “I kind of like that.”

* * *

Colossians 1:11
“May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power”
Coco Gauff grew up admiring the Williams sisters. As a little girl she picked up a tennis racket because of them. And on Monday, July 1, at Wimbledon, still just 15, Gauff beat one of them. Gauff, the youngest competitor to qualify at the All England Club in the professional era, showed the poise and power of a much older, much more experienced player, pulling off a 6-4, 6-4 victory in the first round over Venus Williams, who at 39 was the oldest woman in the field. This was Gauff’s third tour-level match; Williams has played more than 1,000. This was Gauff’s first match at Wimbledon, where Williams has played more than 100 and has won five titles. By the time Gauff was born in 2004, Williams had already spent time at No. 1 in the rankings and owned four of her seven Grand Slam singles trophies. Gauff said, “I’ve said this before: I want to be the greatest. My dad told me that I could do this when I was 8. Obviously, you never believe it. I’m still, like, not 100 percent confident. But, like, you have to just say things. You never know what happens. If I went into this match saying, ‘Let’s see how many games I can get against her,’ then I most definitely would not have won. My goal was to play my best. My dream was to win. That’s what happened.” She went on to say, “People just kind of limit themselves too much. Once you actually get your goal, then it’s like: What do you do now? I like to shoot really high.”

* * *

Amos 7:15
“Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”
Twice a year the leaders of the Anglican church would meet for a convention in London. Samuel Wesley, the father of John Wesley who became the founder of Methodism, seldom missed a gathering. Early in 1712 Samuel left Epworth for a London convention. He assigned Inman, a curate, to preach in his absence. Samuel’s wife, Susanna, soon became disappointed in Inman’s performance. He had a poor command of the scriptures and he held only one service on Sunday. She became concerned that with a single early morning service her children would have too much idol time that would lead to furious behavior. She decided that on Sunday evenings she would hold religious services in the kitchen of her home. She gathered her children and her servants into the kitchen to hear the Bible read, sing hymns, and pray. Soon others in the community learned of the evening service and began to attend. Within a few months the kitchen gathering grew to thirty or forty persons, and upwards of 200 participated. As a woman Susanna was assuming the unheard-of role of being a spiritual leader, an occupation reserved solely for men. In response to those who questioned her leadership, especially her husband, she wrote this line in a letter to him, “I reply, that as I am a woman, so I am also mistress of a large family. And though the superior charge of the souls contained in it lies upon you, as head of the family, and as their minister; yet in your absence I cannot but look upon every soul you leave under my care as a talent committed to me, under a trust, by the great Lord of the families of heaven and earth.”

* * *

Psalm 82:5 – “they walk around in darkness”
Colossians 1:13 – “He has rescued us from the power of darkness”

In filming the movie Jesus of Nazareth, Ernest Borgnine played the role of the centurion who stood at the foot of the cross, looking up into the face of the crucified Jesus of Nazareth. Since this was a movie, actors only came on the set when needed; so instead of having the actor portraying Jesus before him, Borgnine stared at an “X” chalk mark. In such a sterile setting Borgnine had a difficult time capturing the emotions that the Roman soldier must have experienced at this tragic moment. In order to feel the part, Borgnine asked someone to read Luke’s account of the crucifixion. As the words were being read Borgnine felt more and more uncomfortable. He felt ashamed. He was the same as the first centurion who failed to acknowledge the Son of God prior to the confrontation on the cross. Then something miraculous happened. The chalk mark suddenly was transformed into the face of Jesus, lifelike and clear. Captivated by the revelation, Borgnine realized how the centurion who first stood at the foot of the cross must have been affected. In all sincerity he repeated the soldier’s words, “Certainly this man was innocent!”

* * * * * *

Bethany PeerbolteFrom team member Bethany Peerbolte

Luke 10:25-37
Bystanders Can Make Good Neighbors

If you have traveled in the last few years, especially if it was internationally, you are aware America has a human trafficking problem. Posters paper the walls around border agents, flyers sit on tables, and business cards with help lines are stuffed in women’s bathrooms all telling people to keep an eye out. Airports are a valuable check point against human trafficking, yet even with the warnings and hotlines it still happens. Wealthy men find ways to buy women for sex slavery and get away with it even when they are caught and charged. In some states, murder rates are down but rape is climbing. The internet is used to target young girls into trafficking pits. Who will be a neighbor to the victims? North Carolina has made a first step to being good neighbors to human trafficking victims. Their new court will exclusively hear trafficking cases and be specially equipped to handle victims and get convictions. It is one the first courts of its kind!

The Good Samaritan is a parable about the “Bystander Effect.” This effect says when we are in the presence of other people it discourages us from intervening…unless we see someone else make the first move. If we are in an airport terminal and see a girl, matching characteristics from the human trafficking flyer we just picked up, the more people there are around us the less likely we are to intervene. However, if one person steps out and takes action it is highly likely that more people from the crowd will join and help after the one breaks the ice.

The Levite and the priest walk past the person in need. Too focused on their journey to make the move to help. The Samaritan is the one who makes the first move. His action shines a light on what is right. The innkeeper seems to be at peace with helping because he has seen another person helping first. We need to be aware of and push past the Bystander Effect so that we can be good neighbors to those in deep need of help.

* * *

Luke 10:25-37
Like a Good Neighbor

The lawyer in this week’s text asks Jesus who he has to be a neighbor to. Jesus, frustratingly, replies with the parable of the Good Samaritan. His question back to the lawyer is “who was a good neighbor to the man in need.” The answer is the title of this well-loved parable, the Samaritan.

The first week in July is a great week for a celebration. Of course families and friends will gather on the fourth, but some communities are doing a little more. Downington Pennsylvania has special races and festivities to get the community out and having fun. Citizens commented on how the people aren’t out just for the fireworks, they genuinely want to be among their neighbors. In Peoria, Illinois they spend the week recognizing people who have been great neighbors. It is also a time for people to meet their local first responders and politicians. Bringing the community together to celebrate the great people they have as neighbors.

* * *

Colossians 1:1-14
Support Even From Far Away

As the humanitarian crisis at the border increases, Americans are looking for ways to help. Many of us cannot afford to send financial support. Many of us do not speak Spanish. Many of us are not lawyers, which seems to be the greatest need to get families out of the detention centers and advocate for children. We flail as we try to find a meaningful way to help. Tent may be our solution. Tent is an organization mobilizing the private sector to support refugees. With partners like Uber, Hilton, and L’Oreal they are wrapping around families to meet their needs. As a traveler who needs a safe ride, and a shower, I can easily support these companies who in turn will then support refugees. Tent’s members are a wide range of businesses committed to being the change we all wish we could be, and if we spend money with them we can be a part of their impact.

The letter to the Colossians is filled with praise. The church needs to hear encouraging words. They are facing ridicule and their leaders are far away. Paul sends this letter to encourage them. To give them the words of support they need to get through the struggle. He does not let his distance lessen his impact. He supports those who are doing good work and encourages them with his words to keep it up. What speaks louder than words? Money. Supporting Tent members with our money shows we affirm their good work with refugees and encourages them and others to keep working.

* * * * * *

Chris Keating
WORSHIP
by George Reed

Call to Worship:
Leader: God sits upon the judgment throne and asks,
People: How long will you by unjust and show partiality?
Leader: God demands justice for the weak and the orphan.
People: God demands we maintain the rights of the poor and lowly.
Leader: We must rescue the weak and needy.
People: We must deliver them from those who are wicked.

OR

Leader: Our saving God calls us to gather today.
People: We come to experience the grace God brings.      
Leader: God comes to heal us so we can be healers.
People: We seek God’s healing for us and others.
Leader: God’s grace comes to us as it flows through us.
People: We will be open conduits of God’s love and grace.

Hymns and Songs:
From All That Dwell Below the Skies
UMH: 101
H82: 380
PH: 229
NCH: 27
CH: 49
LBW: 550
AMEC: 69
STLT: 381

O God, Our Help in Ages Past
UMH: 117
H82: 680
AAHH: 170
NNBH: 46
NCH: 25
CH: 67
LBW: 320
ELW: 632
W&P: 84
AMEC: 61
STLT: 281

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms
UMH: 133
AAHH: 371
NNBH: 262
NCH: 471
CH: 560
ELW: 774
W&P: 496
AMEC: 525

Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life
UMH: 427
H82: 609
PH: 408
NCH: 543
CH: 665
LBW: 429
ELW: 719
W&P: 591
AMEC: 561

O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee
UMH: 430
H82: 659/660
PH: 357
NNBH: 445
NCH: 503
CH: 602
LBW: 492
ELW: 818
W&P: 589
AMEC: 299

Jesu, Jesu
UMH: 432
H82: 602
PH: 367
NCH: 498
CH: 600
ELW: 708
W&P: 273
Renew: 289

All Who Love and Serve Your City
UMH: 433
H82: 570/571
PH: 413
CH: 670
LBW: 436
ELW: 724
W&P: 625

Open My Eyes, That I May See
UMH: 454
PH: 324
NNBH: 218
CH: 586
W&P: 480
AMEC: 285

People Need the Lord
CCB: 52

Make Me a Servant
CCB: 90

Music Resources Key:
UMH: United Methodist Hymnal
H82: The Hymnal 1982
PH: Presbyterian Hymnal
AAHH: African American Heritage Hymnal
NNBH: The New National Baptist Hymnal
NCH: The New Century Hymnal
CH: Chalice Hymnal
LBW: Lutheran Book of Worship
ELW: Evangelical Lutheran Worship
W&P: Worship & Praise
AMEC: African Methodist Episcopal Church Hymnal
STLT: Singing the Living Tradition
CCB: Cokesbury Chorus Book
Renew: Renew! Songs & Hymns for Blended Worship

Prayer for the Day/Collect
O God who is love never ending:
Grant us the wisdom to unite with one another
that we may bring your reign to all;
through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

OR

We praise you, O God, because you are love that never ends. Help us to understand that together we can do so much more to extend your reign in this world. Amen.

Prayer of Confession
Leader: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins and especially the way even our helping is selfish. 

People: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We have many sisters and brothers who share your Spirit and yet we often try to do good all on our own. We are either embarrassed to ask help our we don’t want to share the good feelings from doing good. Help us to work together to share the good news of your love and grace to all your children. Amen.


Leader: God’s grace is for all of us through all of us. Share the good news with others by sharing it through others.

Prayers of the People
We praise you, O God, and adore your holy name. You are love and the source of all good.

(The following paragraph may be used if a separate prayer of confession has not been used.)

We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We have many sisters and brothers who share your Spirit and yet we often try to do good all on our own. We are either embarrassed to ask for help or we don’t want to share the good feelings from doing good. Help us to work together to share the good news of your love and grace to all your children.

We thank you for all the ways in which you have shared your love with us. We thank you for the comfort of your Spirit as it comes to bless us. We thank you for our sisters and brothers who have reached out and shown kindness to us. We thank you for Jesus who not only risked all to love us but showed us how to work together as his disciples.

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for one another this day. We pray for those who are victims of violence and those whose lives have led them to be violent. We pray for those who take responsibility for their neighbors and for those who ignore the needs around them. We pray for ourselves knowing we have played all these parts in our lives.

(Other intercessions may be offered.)

All these things we ask in the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ who taught us to pray together saying:

Our Father....Amen.

(Or if the Our Father is not used at this point in the service)


All this we ask in the Name of the Blessed and Holy Trinity. Amen.

Children’s Sermon Starter
Talk to the children about something you accomplished. You raised $?? for CROP or built a homecoming float. Something big. Then tell the children well you didn’t do it alone but you were a part of it. Sometimes one of us can do a good thing but sometimes it takes a lot of us. The Samaritan helped the hurt man but so did the innkeeper and even the animal who carried him.


Chris KeatingCHILDREN'S SERMON
Taking Action
by Chris Keating
Luke 10:25-37

The widely known story of the Good Samaritan is both a gift and a challenge for the preacher of sermons for either adults or children. Approaching it with fresh eyes is a hard, but necessary task if Jesus’ story is to stir new generations to acts of faith.

There are several ways a children’s sermon could emerge. One would be to recruit older children or youth to act out the different parts as you tell the story, allowing the story to take on the feeling of a conversation. Another option would be to gather props (pictures of hurting people, bandages, images of emergency responders, and so forth) and to use them in telling the story. Either way, be sure to let the story’s conflict, plot lines and major characters come alive for the children.

There are multiple points of view that emerge in the story, each of which could be a beginning place for helping children understand the parable. The man in the ditch is beaten and suffering. He must have felt alone. The innkeeper is asked to watch over the man and to take care of him. It’s a risk: will the Samaritan come back and pay the innkeeper? What about the two persons who walk by the man? They are religious, but somehow they decide to not get involved. Did they have second thoughts later that evening?

But most importantly, Jesus calls us to look at the actions of the Samaritan, a person we might not expect to have stopped and help. While we often take the perspective of the man who is beaten, it might be fruitful to help the children imagine what it would feel like to be the Samaritan. He was not someone who would be expected to be the man’s friend. He would have likely made the other characters feel uncomfortable. Put simply: he would not have been welcomed! Would that be a hard thing to do? Can they imagine showing compassion to someone whom we know may not like us? Jesus tells the lawyer in the story that honoring God means showing compassion to our neighbors — even the people who are different from us, and even if that means taking a risk.

Help the children understand what Jesus means by caring for our “neighbors.” The Old Testament reminds us that our love for God must always include loving strangers or persons we do not know. Our neighbors are not just the people we know who live on either side of our houses, but also the people down the street, or across town. Ask the children if they can name some of the ways that your church takes action by showing love to its neighbors. Ask them, “Who are our neighbors?” and see if they can help you make a list of ways that the church can show compassion and mercy.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Immediate Word, July 14, 2019 issue.

Copyright 2019 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to The Immediate Word service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons and in worship and classroom settings only. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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For July 21, 2019:
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Good morning boys and girls,

Well, how are you this morning? (children respond) If you ask me how I am I would say, “terrific.” I am “terrific” because __________________!

I am curious, who has a sister? (children respond) Who has more than one sister? (children respond) Who is a sister here this morning? (children respond)

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On our first visit to Malta many years ago, we stayed in the rural south of the island. At that time there were few hotels and those were situated farther north, in St Paul's Bay and Sliema. The south was agricultural country, where a friend of ours happened to have part share in a "villa". The "villa" turned out to be a small farm house.

Farming at the time was very primitive, with the farmer walking over his field behind a hand-held plough. All has now changed, of course, but then it was just like a throw-back to Biblical times in the Middle East.

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The cabins at Mt. Carmel Bible Retreat are small. Most have two small rooms; some have one large great room. There is a tiny bathroom with a utility shower.

Inside each cabin is a double bed and a set of bunk beds, a dresser and a small rod to hang clothes. Linens are provided for a charge and some of us are very grateful to have a ceiling fan.

Our group of fourteen cabins is set along a little walkway. Each cabin is about ten feet apart and each row of seven faces the sidewalk.

Special Occasion