Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Noticing That Stirs up Compassion

Ordination and Installation of Jennifer Grangaard
July 10, 2010 at Mt Olive, Minneapolis
July 11, 2010 at Glyndon Lutheran, Glyndon
Luke 10:25-37

When I was a lad growing up on a farm in southern Minnesota in the 50s and 60s, we had a beloved school bus driver named Francis Good. His name fit him to a tee: Francis Good….a gentle, caring, good man…and not just that, but also a good Catholic.

That’s how my Lutheran parents put it anyway. Francis Good was a “good Catholic”…. which (as I soon learned) meant that he wasn’t like all other Catholics.

Most Catholics, I gathered (half a century ago)… were not so good, not to be trusted, their children not to be dated lest it lead to marriage. Catholics were a tribe apart. But our school bus driver was a notable exception. Francis was one of those very rare “good Catholics.”

This little reminiscence from an era that thankfully has come and gone…this reminiscence helps us recover something of the original “flavor” of this parable. We have allowed the phrase “good Samaritan” to become so pedestrian, reducing it to nothing more than “nice guy.”

In Judea of the 1st century, though, “good Samaritan” would have sounded like an oxymoron. Jesus’closest Jewish kin may well have believed in their heart of hearts that the only good Samaritan was a dead Samaritan.

But this man in the parable, this traveler who showed mercy—he was different. He was a good Samaritan. He was an exception—and why?

1. In the first place, this Samaritan noticed, he saw—really saw!--that man all beat up along the side of the road.

The priest and the Levite had noticed the victim, too, of course….but their noticing spurred a speedy escape. Their noticing led them to pray: “Feet, don’t fail me now!”

But the Samaritan noticed, in a way that made all the difference for the one who was noticed. He noticed and was moved with pity.

There is a noticing that stirs up compassion, calls forth mercy….and that kind of noticing comes from God.

It is a noticing that says: God is here, God is taking note, and when God notices, things happen. Again and again, throughout the scriptures, when God notices and remembers, mercy is poured out, our sorry past is erased…and a new, undeserved future is cracked open.

Jeni, all followers of Jesus are called to notice persons like this beat-up man by the side of the road. But pastors have a special responsibility in this regard. These folks at GLC will notice who you notice and how you notice. They will take their cues from your attention to the lost, the last and the least.

So who will you notice, Jeni, as you take up this calling? You’re sharp enough to catch my drift….so I won’t belabor the point: you are called to notice others, Jeni, in such a way that God’s mercy gets poured out.

2. The second thing that made this Samaritan “good” was that, once he noticed the wounded man in the ditch, he didn’t hesitate to get up to his armpits in trouble.

There were 101 very good reasons why the priest and the Levite were smart to skedaddle, wise to bypass this whole sorry situation. They saved themselves from a load of hurt—these two holy men whose noticing had them beating a hasty retreat.

But the Samaritan was cut from different cloth. Without hesitation, he waded in and welcomed a heap of suffering into his life.

• For one thing, he could have been ambushed by the same gang of thieves that attacked this man…

• The Samaritan could have violated the don’t-touch-a-corpse taboo, had the victim already died.

• The Samaritan did, in fact, take on the sheer physical unpleasantness of this wounded man. Breezing right past any squeamishness about “blood-borne pathogens” the Samaritan washed wounds, dressed abrasions, and hoisted the victim up on his own beast of burden.

I picture the Samaritan starting out that day with a long “to do” list of things that needed to be accomplished before sundown. But helping out a poor wayfaring stranger probably wasn’t on that list….and yet, without a second’s hesitation, the Samaritan set aside all of that and got himself up to his neck in another man’s troubles.

And God was in all of that, too.

Jesus, after all, began his earthly ministry, up to his neck in the muddy water of the Jordan River. I imagine our Lord, at his Baptism, rising up out of that river dirtier than when he went in, stained with the sin of the whole world swimming around him—the sin Jesus came to redeem.

Jeni, to be a pastor in Christ’s church is to open yourself up to a world of hurt.

If things go well for you, there will be days when you simply have to step back, take a deep breath and splash some cool water on your face. It will astonish you, the stuff folks will share with you, the wounds you’ll be called upon to dress, the emotional and spiritual abrasions you’ll help bind up.

There is a reason for that, you see. It’s because the church is just chock full of sinners and victims of sinners. I received a letter recently from a pastor in another church body—and on the letterhead, right below the name of this pastor’s congregation, I was struck by this line: “No Perfect People Allowed.”

Jeni, to be a pastor in Christ’s church is to get painfully close, on a regular basis, to sinners and victims of sinners. It is to commit yourself to serving a community in which no perfect people are allowed. That is right where God already is, all the time. It is where God wants you to be.

3. And why? ….Because of the third reason why this Samaritan deserved to be called good.

For he was not content just to be a first responder—as critical as first responses always are! This parable would still have been amazing had it ended at v. 34, with the good Samaritan getting the wound man to the inn caring for him the rest of that day.

But the Samaritan couldn’t sit back contentedly, offering just one day’s worth of mercy.

No, the Samaritan took it upon himself to guarantee the victim’s future as well. Enlisting the innkeeper as another mercy-sharer (because showing mercy is always a shared endeavor!)--the good Samaritan left behind a virtual blank check, assuring full payment of future expenses for the wounded man.

And note how discreetly and generous he was—this Samaritan—departing the next day while the wounded man was still slumbering, quietly promising payment-in-full, even after the victim had healed up and moved on.

Jeni, the chief difference between an itinerant evangelist and a pastor is that a pastor moves in, settles down, and attends to the redemption and the future of those for whom she cares.

In our increasingly impatient, gotta-have-it-all-right-now, “wired” world….pastoring takes a much longer, more patient view of things. A pastor knows that faith isn’t rustled up in a microwave as much as it is stewed and simmered in a crockpot.

A pastor practices and invites others to practice, in Eugene Peterson’s splendid phrase, a long obedience in the same direction.” Pastors are more than first responders who temporarily stop the bleeding; pastors hunker down with God’s people to speak and act redemptively, over the long haul. Pastors do this—all of it!—at the invitation and in the strength of the One who has taken our future into his hands by dying for us, and rising again to get us ready us for God’s great resurrection morning.

So, Jeni, there you have it. Just take your cues from the Good Samaritan: notice others…dive into the hurt…and serve up a redeeming, future-opening Word.

Simple as that! Hop to it!

If we said “Amen” right now….you’d be wise to make a run for it, Jeni.

Which is why, when a pastor is ordained or installed, we should by rights tie a rope around her ankle, so that when you decide to flee—as, by rights, you should!--the gathered community can haul you back into the chancel for one final word.

And here it is: in case it wasn’t clear all along, this is God’s work, from start to finish, Jeni. It’s not so much a matter of you working hard to think, feel and act like the Good Samaritan. It’s that God the Good Samaritan is choosing to think, feel and act through you.

God has commandeered you, God has gotten you into this fine mess, and God will see you through.

God the Good Samaritan will “get ‘er done,” to you, for you and (thankfully!) through you in the company of these sinners, who by God’s grace have been made saints in Christ Jesus.

And that is the final Word.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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