The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - July 10, 2016
Scripture Reading: Luke 10:25-37
Sermon Title:
ďWho is my Neighbor?Ē

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     The problem with popular scriptures is that they often take on their own non-Biblical meaning.  Everyone knows what the Good Samaritan laws are.   If you offer to help someone you will not get sued.  Well, it does go a bit further than that for some people, and in todayís world you will be sued, but overall if you what you can, and donít cause them any further harm, you are pretty safe. 

     So the Samaritan is the good guy.  All of us want to be Samaritans.  But in Jesusí time the Samaritans are not the good guys.  You see, in Jesus time, God lived in the temple.  It is a bit unclear what happened to the tablets of the 10 commandments, which were housed in the ark, which was held in the temple, which was where early Israelites felt that God lived.  But the idea was still that God actually lived in the temple in Jerusalem, even if the 10 commandments were no longer there.  And many of the Jewish rites involved the temple.  That was where you went to preform your sacrifices, that was where went to pray.  Even if you didnít life in, or even near Jerusalem, you probably would still go there a few times in your life.  But the Samaritans didnít worship at the temple in Jerusalem.  Their temple was at Mount Gerizim.  Really it is unclear where some really old events took place, so they thought it was on Mount Gerizim, and the Jewish through it was in Jerusalem. 

     It is interesting to note, as I learned when I was working on this sermon, that there are, as of 2010, still about 800 Samaritans in the world.  Obviously the Jewish who worshipped in Jerusalem became the prominent group, but even a few years ago, and I would imagine still today, there do exist a small population of Samaritans. 

     So, if you believe that God lives in Jerusalem, in the temple, even if you are practicing all the Jewish laws someplace else, it is not right.  We, today, believe that God is everywhere, so if you live in California, you can go to church there and nobody will fault you not worshiping on this hill in Marlborough New Hampshire.  But in those times, if you didnít worship in Jerusalem, you are not following the Jewish laws, therefore not clean, therefore good Jews donít want to associate with you. 

     So to turn this into todayís terms:  A man is walking down Main Street in Marlborough, he is robbed and beaten, hurt very badly, needs help.  First the minister of the Federated Church is walking down Main Street, on his way to Assembly Ice Cream, which is closing in about 30 minutes.  He is rushing, and does not have time to deal with this guy who was badly beaten.  Next comes the police chief.  Clearly you expect the police chief to help this poor man.  A crime was committed, and he needs medical help or he may die.  We donít know where the police chief was going, but clearly didnít have time to deal with his guy, walks by on the other side of the street, pretending he does not see this man or someone may see him and ask him to help.  And then a third person approaches.  She is strange and different.  Maybe she is homeless, appears to be dressed in rags.  She is clearly not a Christian, maybe Muslim, maybe Hindu, but more likely witchcraft.  In some areas we would say that ďShe is not from around here.Ē  Kind of sketchy, not sure about her.  But she walks over to this man, has some gauze in her bag, cleans up his wounds.  And then she takes him all the way to Keene, checks him into the hospital and says ďhere is my credit card, just put his bill on that, whatever he needs to have done.Ē 

     Until you can really understand who the Samaritan is, we donít understand the total impact of this story.  The one we would never expect to help, is the only one who did.  And, in Jesusí time, this Samaritan is the unclean, the one who is kind of Jewish, but is totally messing it up.  Who acted as the neighbor, the one who picked up this man.  The one who saw this man, beaten, as a child of God, created in the image of God.  The one who, although everyone through he didnít count, did something unexpected where others would not. 

     That would make a good sermon right here.  You could leave here today, with the message that you should stop and help someone if you see they are dying on the side of the road on the way home.  And certainly I hope you would.  But as I was reading this, I started to question who my neighbors are. 

     When I was living in Michigan there was one house I could see year round.  Bill, the maintenance man at the camp lived in that house with his mother.  Bill has spent most of his life in the Air Force.  He had retired, was divorced a few times, so moved in with his mother.  In the winter we paid him for about 20 hours a week, and in the summer we hired him full time.  But since he lived to close if anything came up, he could run over and take care of it. 

     We had some big snow storms when we were there.  My last winter we had over 100 inches, and while it snowed a little bit every day, when the winds set up off Lake Michigan just right we could get a good 10 inches pretty quickly.  The camp had a big old Ford F-250 with a plow on the front.  It was primarily for the camp.  If we had groups in, they had to be able to get in and out.  Even if there was not a group that day, many weekends we had some group in camp.  Once camp was plowed out, at least a first pass, we would go over to Billís house.  We would plow him out, then go down and do his neighbor.  Not really sure how we got into plowing out his neighbor, but they were really nice and I didnít mind running down their driveway.  Then we plowed our behind our camp.  There were about 20 houses back there, some only summer, some year round.   We plowed the road, it was a private road and so just had been something that we started doing at some point in the past and never stopped doing it.  We went way off our property, down to a single house at the end of the road, probably a mile back into the woods. 

     One day I woke up and saw it had snowed the night before.  Often Bill would drive over early in the morning and start plowing before I got up, but this morning I looked out, saw his truck over in his driveway, and our plow truck still sitting outside.  I had my two cups of coffee, and must have been coming down with a cold.  I felt crummy.  I didnít want to spend the next 2 hours in a truck plowing.  So I waited for Bill.  Finally, I called him and he had the same cold I did.  He was hoping that I was feeling up to plowing that day. 

     It occurred to me that my neighbor and I had a lot more responsibility than just ourselves.  Until we plowed nobody could get in and out of one road.  We had responsibility for each other, would plow the other out, but through our relationship many more were affected.

     I wonder if that is what Jesus was saying when he was asked who our neighbor was.  Certainly there is a responsibility on behalf of the giver, but rarely do our actions only affect us.  There is a ripple effect.

     We so often focus on the giver in these relationships, but that is only half of the relationship.  Many times, when we get called out for an ambulance call it is really not an emergency.  There are families that call us regularly.  They know that if we bring them in by ambulance we go right into the back of the ER.  When we drop them off, most of the time we leave them on a bed in a room.  If you walk, or even get wheeled into the ER in a wheel chair, it can take a long time before they bring you into the back.  So we load them into our truck, there is really nothing we can do for them, they need to be seen by a doctor, but not a rush.  Their loved one follows behind in a car that they probably should be riding in.  But then we have those that never call us, but should.  When they finally do call, they are in bad shape. 

     I am sure we all know people like that.  If I call the ambulance to bring me to the hospital, what if someone has a heart attack and really needs the ambulance?  They visit food pantries because they are a little short for food, but donít want to take too much, someone else might need it more than they do.  How about the person who will never tell you of their problems, because someone else has what is perceived as bigger problems? 

     There is a vulnerability to being in that relationship.  Of course today, we avoid many of those relationships.  It is easier to give than to accept for many. 

     When I was in Nicaragua the family I was staying with cooked me a hamburger.  I was only able to eat about half of it, it was big.  The father of the family had some after I was done, then it went to the kids and then last little part went to the dog in the family.  This family, at least from our North American view had nothing.  Their house was probably one of the nicest in town, had a flush toilet and indoor shower.  They even had a gas cooking stove inside the house.  But there was no heat or air conditioning.  They did have electricity when the town had electricity, which was for at least part of every day.  Their house had a table with chairs, a family room with a few more chairs and a TV that got one channel.  Strangely they showed Bay Watch over and over, or they tuned it in for me to watch, subtitled in Spanish, makes me wonder what they really think of us North Americans.  And they had two bedrooms, one for me, and one where the 4 members of the family slept while I was there.  There was no furniture in the bedroom except for a bed. 

     It was very hard for me to accept food they wanted to feed me.  Nothing went to waste because they could not afford it.  Of course we were warned not to eat anything that has not been cooked, drink only bottled water and soda with no ice.  But when that burger came with lettuce on it, I could not pull it off.  They wanted to give, to make me the biggest burger they could.  We went to Nicaragua to bring medical supplies for their hospital.  To bring books for their schools.  To learn about their small loan program in the town, and how our churches could support both giving of those loans, but also the starting of small businesses. 

     I went to give, and was not expecting to get in return.  Our neighbors, across the street or around the world are about relationships.  And relationships are not one way, if one is always the giver and one is always the one receiving, those relationships donít last long. 

     This makes me question my relationship with God.  God has given me so much.  I have life, I have health, I have a great family, I am working with a great church.  What little I have to give to God but my praise, but I think in that relationship, even if unequal, it still can last because there is back and forth.  God created me in Godís image, God loves me, and I will do what I can to share Godís word with others.