God’s fragile people: a summary of Duncan’s sermon this morning

Good Sam5

This morning Duncan continued reflecting on the story Jesus told which we know as ‘The parable of the good Samaritan.’ (Luke 10:25-37)

In the introduction to the story, the Shema, which we have bee reflecting on over the last couple of months, is quoted by a religious expert when Jesus asked him what the Law taught on how to inherit eternal life:  ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”; and, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”’ (Luke 10:27)

Two weeks ago, Duncan encouraged us to reflect on people in our lives who in our times of need and challenge have stepped aside to help us.

Rough Sleeping Gare do NordPeople by the roadside

Duncan said that preparing that sermon left him ‘more sensitive and conscious of the needs of people we see at the side of the road every day. He’d been in Edinburgh for a meeting, and was struck by the number of people he sae sitting at the side of the road in the half-mile from Waverley Station to 121 George Street. And last weekend, visiting his son Rory in Paris, he was taken aback by the number of people – more than a hundred of them – sleeping rough in wintry conditions close to the Gard du Nors, the main Paris railway station. ‘It was,’ he said, ‘a pitiful sigght to see so many people wrapped up in cardboard and blankets trying to sleep and keep warm.’

Actions matter more than words

What does the story of the Good Samaritan say to us in the light of this reality?  And also – does being familiar with the story make any difference to our behaviour when we see people in need? Why did the two religious  people in the story not stop to help? Were they busy – busier perhaps than the Samaritan? Or was it simply a matter of religious people failing to live up to the values of the faith they followed?   As Phil has been reminding us in his sermons on James, our faith is ultimately seen in what we do. It’s actions, not words which count.

Duncan described a fascinating experiment run in the United States some years ago with a group of students training to be ministers. It involved them being given a task in one building, and then being sent to a second building to undertake a second task. None of them knew the details of what they were participating in.

When the time came for a student to be sent from building A to building B they some of them were told they were late for the next assignment, while others were reassured that they’d plenty of time to get to the second location.  And some of them had their minds fixed on writing a talk about the Good Samaritan story, the others on another task.  Between the two buildings, it was arranged that each student would meet – even have to step over – a person lying on the ground, who might have been ill, or homeless.  What would they do?

Overall roughly 40% of the students helped the person in need. Roughly 60% didn’t/.  Of the students who had been told there was no need to hurry, 63% helped; but of the students who’d been told they were under time pressure, only 10% helped.

The students in a hurry were less likely to help – even if they had been thinking about the Good Samaritan story.

This experiment demonstrates that just thinking about the story like the Good Samaritan doesn’t mean that someone will necessarily act on it. It suggests that the pressures we feel under, and the hurry we are often in have a major impact on how compassionate and neighbourly we are.

Where do we see ourselves in the story?

Anther question arising from Jesus’ story is this, said Duncan. ‘Where do we see ourselves in Jesus’ story?’

Duncan told us about an Elders’ Retreat he had organised recently. There was no formal agenda, but he began the day by asking each elder to sit on their own with pencil and paper, and make a list of the most important issues the Kirk Session needed to be discussing in the light of where Hilton Church is currently ‘at’.

Among the many issues raised, two predominated. One was the need for a new vision for the use of the Light House; the second was ‘how do we look out for and care for one another better within the congregation.’

This second question is one the Elders will be continuing to reflect on. The name badges and the recent changes in the seating plan are ways of encouraging a greater knowledge and connection with one another within the congregation.

But another issue relating to our care for one another as a congregation which arises from the Good Samaritan story is a mindset issue.

Smokey mountainDuncan told us about two friends of his who, while attending a major Christian conference at Manila in the Phillipines were taken to Smokey Mountain, a famous landmark in the city. Smokey Mountain is a mountain of garbage, and people actually live there, and make a living by sifting through the rubbish for anything of value. There is even a Church on Smokey Mountain, serving those who live there. Duncan’s friends were invited to join in a Bible Study attended by rubbish pickers who were part of this Church – the study was led by an 18-year old girl.

The passage they were reflecting on was the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The 18-year old asked the group ‘Who,’ she said, ‘are you in the story?’

And that’s a question for us too.

One of Duncan’s theologically literate friends mused. ‘Mmm! Perhaps I’m like the priest or the Levite, though I wouldn’t want to be like them. Perhaps I’m the donkey, bearing a heavy load. But I’m in full-time ministry – perhaps I’m like the inn-keeper, being rewarded financially for helping?

But every single one of the rubbish pickers in Manila saw themselves as the man left for dead at the side of the road.

We have been trained to look at the story from a position of power and strength, Duncan said. But in fact, Jesus is also pointing us to consider our fragility. It doesn’t take much for any of us to suddenly find ourselves helpless, in need of someone to be a neighbour to us.

Jesus story shifts the focus from ‘Who is my neighbour?’ to ‘Who was a neighbour to the man lying at the side of the road in need of help?

God’s fragile people

Said Duncan ‘I think Jesus story is saying to us that it’s important to take a fresh look at how we see ourselves individually and together. I believe that God calls us to a life where we are defined first by our shared needs rather than our shared strengths. We are all so fragile. We are called to be a church where God helps us to see afresh that our needs are met through others.’

He continued ‘We’re interdependent and sometimes we are helped through those we would least expect or want to help us. We are also invited through this story to look around and care for those similarly in need.’

And he quoted David Lose ‘Might we see ourselves…as those who, having recognised ourselves as the traveller left for dead in a ditch by the road, can now arise to reach out to others in need.’


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