Sermon: “Seeing a Neighbor”

So, like everybody, there are things I’m pretty good at, others that I’m not as good at, and a handful of things that make me truly bananas.  

High on the “bananas” list are those automated checkout lanes at the supermarket.  Those are not for me.  

Along the same lines, there are those restaurants that have you order on an iPad that they have bolted to the table.  Yuck. 

I don’t like how the gas pump talks back to you now.  

That chip they put on your credit card? Yeah…not a fan.  

Ok…so maybe it’s a little more than just a handful of things. 

But the thing that makes just come completely unglued is calling on the phone to try to make an appointment or deal with a bill. 

I am a really nice guy.  I am actually a pretty patient guy.  When it comes to doing unto others as I would have them do unto me, I am a committed guy.  

The whole phone thing tests All. Of. That.  

Every time.  

“Please enter your twenty-digit personal i.d. code followed by the pound sign.” 

“I’m sorry, Richard, I didn’t get that.” 

“To return to the main menu, say ‘Main Menu.’” 

There’s a scene in the old Charlie Chaplin movie, “Modern Times” when Charlie is working in a factory and somehow he falls into a machine and just keeps going around and around and around the gears. 

Anybody remember that? 

This is pretty much how I feel whenever I call Citibank.  

It’s an experience I truly dread.  

But there are times when, like it or not, you just have to.  

There’s the tuition payment that gets declined.  

There’s the Christmas shopping you absolutely need to get done this weekend.  

There’s some sort of mysterious charge that doesn’t look right.  

Yesterday, I couldn’t figure out how to make a payment for one of my cards. 

Which is to say: I was trying to give them money.  

Couldn’t do it.  

And you just feel so helpless as you’re stuck there, right? 

Finally, after forever, you get a person on the phone—but as you know, even that doesn’t mean that you’re exactly out of the woods.  

Oh no.  

I feel like I can tell within the first five seconds if I’m finally saved or if I’m just taking another turn around the gears of the big machine.  

I find that so interesting.  

Because you know that everyone at the company received the same training.  

You know that when the call really is being monitored for quality assurance, it’s the same supervisor who’s checking the same group on all the same stuff.  

You know that wherever these folks are, they’re all sitting side by side with their headsets and their computer screens, punching in and punching out at the same time.  

And yet the difference between Danielle at USAA Savings Bank and Anthony at USAA Savings Bank is like the difference between Dolly Parton and Lurch from the “Addams Family.” 

Danielle is going to talk you through it.  Danielle is going to figure things out. Danielle sees you down there in that ditch, and she actually wants to get you out of it.  

Anthony…not so much.  

By this, I don’t mean that Danielle will solve your issue and Anthony won’t.  

I mean that, in solving your issue, Danielle makes you feel cared for.  Cared about.  Seen and heard.  

Whatever it is about life that seems to grind us down hasn’t managed to grind her down one bit.  

She doesn’t treat you like a customer.  

She treats you like a neighbor.  


Our story from Luke’s gospel this morning is trying to get its hands around just what it means to be a neighbor. 

Clearly, he sees it as much of the ancient world and much of the current world (in other places) do, which is to say, as far more than just an accident of proximity.  

To be neighbors involves a certain amount of obligation to one another.  A certain sense of a shared destiny, somehow.

That’s why Jesus tells the parable in the first place. 

A lawyer has approached him and asked “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus puts the question right back to him, saying, “What do you read in the law?”

The lawyer replies, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus commends that answer.

But the lawyer persists and says, “But who is my neighbor?”

What being neighbors ought to entail does not seem to be his question, although it is a key part of where Jesus takes the parable.  

The lawyer is more focused on who rather than what. 

And by way of response, Jesus tells this story about a man who is attacked, robbed, stripped, and left half-dead in a ditch along the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.  

He tells it in a way that if you’re focused on who rather than what, the story becomes particularly hard to hear. 

Not one, but two emphatically “religious” men…men of a certain consequence and reputation…men who, not for nothing, have business in Jerusalem related to the Temple itself…they take one look at this crumpled figure in the dirt and cross to the other side of the road without stopping. 

The one who does stop is, of course, designed to have kind of a maximum yuck factor for the lawyer. 

The one who stops is a rich Samaritan—a person who would have been hated, and if at all possible, avoided—someone for whom the feeling was, in most cases, mutual.  

Except that, in this case, it’s not mutual.  

Not at all.   

And this is the whole point.  

The two who might have been expected to stop do not stop. 

The one who would have been excused by everyone for not even slowing downnot only does that but does so much more.  

Shocking as it is to imagine, he goes far beyond any formal expectation of what care requires. 

Because what he sees is a person who needs care. 

He sees what all of us really ought to see…what we hope we’ll see…at a moment like that.

Of course, if you’ve ever had a “Good Samaritan” moment of your own, you may remember that it wasn’t entirely easy to see. 

Or, to put it differently…you may remember that it can be easy enough to seesomeone who seems like they are having trouble. 

Even if the moment happens suddenly…as such moments often do…you can see it.  

But alongside that, there are other things.   

Hesitations that rush in. 

Things that can be hard to see past for one reason or another.   

And the point is that Jesus suggests that this is not seeing, but a deeper kind of blindness.

It gets in the way of the good that needs doing – the good that is ours to do in that moment. 

But the Samaritan does not hesitate.  He is not blinded in this way.

He sees a neighbor in distress.   So he responds.  

Because whatever it is about life that seems to grind people down hasn’t managed to grind him down one bit.  


What’s that supposed to teach us? 

Faith is often described as a kind of innocence – a form of naivete.  

Even Jesus describes it that way, as he warns his followers that he sends them out as sheep in the midst of wolves.  

Life can be very hard on our hope in redemption, or at least, on our hope in easyredemption.  

There are some things we can’t do, even if we want to.  

But if life teaches us to stop wanting to, then we’ve learned the wrong lesson.  

Because if we stop wanting to help – if we stop trying to see – if we stop opening ourselves up to the claims of our neighbors, then the wolves win another round. 

The vulnerability of faith is the thing that makes it strong.  

It’s what makes God’s transformation possible…what gives Jesus some room to work.  

It’s not a refusal to see or face the facts—it’s an argument about what the facts really are.

If you’ve ever been out there, lying half-dead in one of the ditches of life, you can hear the sound of the people who pass by. 

You come to have a very different understanding of the relevant facts.  

You can hear the abrupt silence when they notice you…and the sound as they do their best to tiptoe away swiftly.  

What you’re praying for is the sound of the person who comes to help…the approaching footsteps of the one who comes in peace. 

You’re praying for someone who will see you as their neighbor.  Who will remember that fact. 

The best of us do. 

In a world that seems so determined to grind us down, there are those who have the courage to live differently.  

To stand for something else. 

To believe that something better is possible for us all.  

This is who Jesus calls us to be.  

“Go thou and do likewise,” he says.  

Whatever our own burdens and frustrations…whatever we’re pretty good at, not so good at, and whatever it is that makes us truly bananas…may we heed that call. 

May we remember the Samaritan and go and do likewise on any road we travel. 


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