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
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
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
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.