Sermons from Rev Canon Dr Ian Davies
Sunday 10th July
Luke 10 The Good Samaritan – What’s really going on here?
When we met as a Llwchwr Ministry Area Council last Tuesday we were arranging for a monthly bulletin to be available to all 6 parishes – so we know the variety of what’s going on and so we can support one another – ‘Better Together’ as our wonderful Welsh football team discovered. So look out for the notices which you’ll have with our own Pews News – and hope they’re not like some of these:
Scouts are saving aluminium cans, bottles and other items to be recycled. Proceeds will be used to cripple children.
For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery in the hall.
Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. So ended a friendship that began in their school days.
A bean supper will be held on Tuesday evening in the church hall. Music will follow..
Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered..
The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the hall on Friday afternoon.
This evening at 7 PM there will be a hymn singing in the park across from the Church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin.
The vicar would appreciate it if the ladies of the Congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday.
And this one just about sums them all up:
The Associate Minister unveiled the church's new campaign slogan last Sunday:
'I Upped My Pledge - Up Yours.'
The best-known stories are sometimes the hardest to understand – because there’s so much going on at different levels. Sue and I have been listening to the actor Michael Hordern reading the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, stories that even his fellow Inklings in Oxford - like JRR Tolkien thought were quite simple and a bit ‘twee’ at one point when Lewis shared some of his ideas. But apparently there was much more to them than meets the eye. Back in 2008 Michael Ward published some PhD research that argued that each of the seven books actually related to one of the seven heavenly bodies or "planets" known in the Middle Ages, according to the Ptolemy’s classic model of cosmology – so how about that?! ….perhaps more to simple stories than meets the eye – and I love to think C.S. Lewis was having a bit of chuckle at his eminent academic colleagues.
Anyway this gospel story of the Good Samaritan has passed into folklore – and if someone asked you how you understood the meaning of this much loved story, I’m sure like most people you’ve have heard the basic moral message: if you see someone in a ditch, or in trouble go and help them. But then you have to remember that the Samaritans and Jews in Jesus’ time actually hated each other like poison – so we’ve expanded this into a further moral lesson about the wickedness of racial and moral prejudice – and we certainly need to hear that in light of recent developments in the UK. Joel told me that one of his university pals from King’s in London was hit in the face while walking on the Strand just because of his skin colour.
But let’s try and have a fresh look this morning, because if we’re to have any chance of getting at what Jesus himself might have been meaning – and what was at stake in his conversation with this lawyer, we need to go a little deeper.
At the time Jesus told the story, the hatred between the Samaritans and the Jews had been going on for hundreds of years - and is still tragically reflected in the tension that smoulders between Israel and Palestine today – both sides claiming to be true inheritors of the promises of Abraham and Moses; and both sides regarding themselves as rightful possessors of the land.
Few Israelis today will ever travel from Galilee to Jerusalem by the direct route because this would involve going through the West Bank which is under Palestinian control. And in exactly the same way, most first century pilgrims making the same journey would prefer, as Jesus himself did, to travel down the Jordan valley to Jericho and then turn west up the hill to Jerusalem. It was much safer. But it still wasn’t completely safe. The desert road to Jerusalem had many twists and turns, and robbers could hide in the hills ready to strike out at any unsuspecting traveller – especially those who travelled alone and were defenceless. So when the man in the story – presumably a Jew - was left half dead, those who happened to pass by wouldn’t have been able to tell whether he was dead or alive. So it was important for the two Temple officials mentioned in the story – which is was what the priest and Levite were – absolutely NOT to make themselves unclean by touching a corpse – because this was forbidden. It was better to remain aloof, and preserve one’s own sense of personal purity – but at what cost? (is Jesus’ point…) – and he goes on to illustrate that this religious ‘rectitude’ would be at the cost of really obeying God’s law of love. (And how we’ve continued to get this so wrong through the years –– every time our religiosity becomes more important to us than practically sharing the love of God.
The lawyer’s question and the answer Jesus gives him don’t quite match up. (And by the way he wasn’t a solicitor or a barrister – he was supposedly a specialist in Jewish religious law). He wants to know who counts as ‘neighbour’ - but in his mind because God is the God of Israel alone ‘neighbours’ would (by definition) of course be Jewish. And this is where the Gospel is so relevant with all the talk of “immigrants” - for Jesus (and Luke, -who was, you’ll remember, a Gentile physician and really highlights this theme in his gospel), Israel’s God is the God of grace for the whole world – and a neighbour is anybody in need.
Jesus’ telling question at the end is asking who was it that turned out to be the neighbour of the half-dead Jew lying in the road? So underneath the apparently straightforward moral lesson about ‘going and doing likewise’ is a much, much sterner challenge –can you recognize the hated Samaritan as your neighbour?
But then even THAT doesn’t get right to the heart of it! Jesus himself is on the road to Jerusalem – and it’s probably significant that the first story he tells is about people on the same road he’s just about to take. The main point being? – well...that the way of violent confrontation with Samaritans, Romans and pagans of whatever sort, is not the way of living and of showing God’s grace. Jesus’ way – the way of the kingdom – is a way of peace – and only the children of peace will escape the self-inflicted judgement that follows those bent on violence or hatred.
You see what’s at the heart of this confrontation between the lawyer and Jesus is a clash between two completely different understandings of what it means to be Israel – to be God’s people. You can imagine the lawyer detailing the key requirements for entering the age to come as someone might recite a memorized piece of script – because his was the standard, legalistic answer. And (let’s face it) he was trying to smoke out this upstart of a young Rabbi with his outrageous views on God’s plans for his world. And Jesus doesn’t disappoint him does he?
In response to the lawyer’s challenge he tells him about the amazingly wide-ranging grace of God – but (big but!!) he makes it clear that these views are not heretical, or off-the-wall – quite the opposite - it is Jesus’ view of God’s grace that is the real fulfilment of the very command that the lawyer claims is so vital.
So here for all of us is a story that illustrates the dangers of getting tied up with all sorts of baggage based on our own feelings - our likes, dislikes and prejudices – our traditions, what we’ve been used to in the past. (You should have been there when we were tidying up in the church yesterday!). And it never ceases to amaze me how people hang on - like grim death, it seems - to these ideas, let alone the clutter that goes with them). It breaks my heart to see people held captive by things that have gone on in the past. It must’ve broken Jesus’ heart looking over Jerusalem longingly wanting his people back – and they wouldn’t have it – or him! They refusedl to budge.
So what is this well-known encounter and much used story about? Well if you think about it, what’s at stake – then as it still is today – is the question of whether we will use the God-given revelation of love and grace as a way of boosting our own sense of isolated security and purity, or whether we will see this good news – the gospel - as a call and challenge to extend grace and love to the whole world. This is how Bishop Tom Wright puts it:
“No church, no Christian can remain content with easy definitions which allow us to watch most of the world lying half-dead in the road. We need to find fresh ways of telling the story of God’s love; fresh ways of living this in our attitudes and behaviour – which will do for our day what this brilliant parable did for Jesus’ first hearers.
May we– with the help of God’s Spirit living inside us – be people characterized by the gentle and strong Kingdom – be prepared to jettison whatever wrong ideas we might’ve been fed or which we’ve simply absorbed unthinkingly through the years – stereotypes that still persist about church and Christianity having to be dulll and boring and samey – and may we be joyfully freed up to share & indeed ‘be’ the good news of God’s love and grace in Jesus our Lord in whose name is all honour and praise, majesty and glory Amen.