Amos 7: 7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1:1-14, Luke 10: 25-37
The Rev. James M.L. Grace
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN
Imagine you are at a street corner, in your car. It’s the middle of summer in Houston, there’s traffic, your windows are rolled up, your air conditioning is on full blast. Maybe you are listening to a podcast, or to XM radio, or if you are like me, probably listening to music playing on one of those archaic CD players children born today will likely never see or understand.
The light turns red, you stop your car. There is one car ahead of you. You gaze down at your phone, scrolling through email, facebook, Instagram, or some other app which clamors for your attention. In the midst of reading that email, or sending a text, you don’t see the disheveled and pregnant woman standing at the corner, holding a sign which reads “anything helps, god bless.”
But you look up, you see her. You wonder about the series of unfortunate events which led to her standing on the street corner, pregnant, holding a sign. Is she hungry or thirsty? What will become of this child whom she carries? Can you help her? Should you give her money? If you did, what might she use it for? For food or shelter, or for drugs or alcohol? It’s impossible to know. The light turns green, the car in front of you moves forward, you drive past her.
What I have just described should be a common experience for anyone in this church who drives a car. We see people on street corners asking for money, and when we do, we might wonder what should we do? What meaningful help might we provide? Sometimes, it’s too much, and the sight of the people on the street corners or living in tents under freeways becomes overwhelming to us because we might feel powerless to effect any kind of lasting, meaningful change. Almost daily, I drive by a person living by a freeway feeder road. This person is frequently undressed, and laying on a sidewalk, and yet I drive by, daily, along with thousands of other Houston drivers. We see the person, we do nothing, because we don’t know what to do.
This existential sense of complete powerlessness in the face of disease, poverty, grief, and death, was as present during the time of Jesus as it is to us today. When a young lawyer approaches Jesus asking “what can we do to help these people, and are they are our neighbors?” Jesus doesn’t offer an answer which is immediately useful. He does not offer a simple answer suitable for a 10 second soundbite on televised news. Instead he offers the long story of the Good Samaritan. This is why Jesus would likely perform so poorly on Fox News or CNN – both stations who want 10 second answers, Jesus gives us a ten minute one. Can you imagine Jesus on the screen with Anderson Cooper or Sean Hannity and they are talk to Jesus about the immigrant crisis on our nation’s border and they say “Okay, Jesus, who is our neighbor?” And Jesus doesn’t answers “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho…” And Hannity and Cooper are like “what?” Instead of a street person, Jesus speaks about a wounded man who was beat up and robbed while travelling. As we drive by those on street corners with our windows rolled up, so to did people pass by and ignore the man beaten and lying in a ditch.
Finally, someone extends their hand to help the poor man, buying him a night in a hotel, feeding him, cleaning his wounds. It’s a tale of extravagant generosity. But what does the story mean for us today? Certainly we are not meant to stop and help every person we see on the road, lest we never arrive at our destination.
The story Jesus tells asks us a haunting, difficult question: who is my neighbor? Is my neighbor the man beaten lying in a ditch? Is my neighbor the meth-addicted, gaunt, toothless man sleeping on a bare mattress under Yale Street bridge at White Oak Bayou? Is my neighbor the arrogant, know it all, holier than thou minister who condemns people living in same sex marriages to hell on Sunday mornings? Is my neighbor the young Honduran child arriving at a Migrant Detention Center in Clint, Texas on our southern border?
There are no easy answers to these questions, but one. Jesus never specifically answers the lawyer’s question of “Who is my neighbor.” Jesus doesn’t say “your neighbors are the people whom you agree with, or the people whom you enjoy each other’s company.” The answer to the lawyer’s question of “who is my neighbor” comes in the form of the story of the Good Samaritan, and as the Good Samaritan helps the beat up and robbed man lying in the ditch, Jesus simply tells the lawyer to “go and do likewise.”
How do we do that? How do we go and do likewise, meeting the needs of the desperate and broken in our community? This church isn’t equipped to service all the needs of the poor, but we can do our part. Beginning next month, you will see at baskets near several of the exits at this church. In those baskets, you will find bags which right now I am calling a “helping hand” bag. In it will be a bottle of water, something to eat, a Houston help card which contains phone numbers and addresses of multiple agencies in our city working to provide services to the chronically homeless in our community. A prayer will be included.
The idea behind these bags is that you all take them with you as you leave the church to keep in your car. When you find yourself at a street corner and you encounter a person there asking for assistance, you might give them a Helping Hand bag. You might ask them their name, and let them know that you will say a prayer for them.
What you give to them might be discarded, never used, or ignored. That is not your responsibility. Our responsibility is to go and do likewise, as Jesus said. Help where we can. Will it change the world? It won’t. But it might help, and you might learn a stranger’s name, and you might find yourself praying for someone you only met once and likely will never see again. That is not a bad thing. That is a holy thing. And holy things will change us, and the world. AMEN.