The sermon for week May 31, 2015
When we lived in Lancaster, PA, we often took our greyhound Sonny over two blocks to the dog park. Sonny would race around and play with the other dogs, and we’d chat with the other dog owners. If you’ve never owned a greyhound, let me tell you something about them: they are racist.
They have a secret handshake, or something but with other dogs they largely ignore them. They sort of like other dogs, but when they see another greyhound they freak out. They pal around with that greyhound and ignore the other dogs. Sonny did this time and time again when he saw other greyhounds. All except for one time. One time a young greyhound came into the park, and Sonny got all excited. But in the initial meet and greet, something must have rubbed Sonny the wrong way, maybe the other dog's puppy-ish antics, and Sonny got aggressive and ended up pinning the other dog to the ground.
I panicked and separated the dogs, got Sonny back on his leash and apologized profusely. As we spoke, the owners of this other greyhound explained how they had gotten it as a puppy. This greyhound had never been to a racetrack, was never rescued, and had no experience with other greyhounds until now. For Sonny, apparently this was an unforgiveable offense. He was a racetrack rescue as was every other greyhound we had met until then.. From then on, anytime that dog was at the park, we’d keep walking and not stop. It was the only time I have ever witnessed Sonny being mean toward another animal or human, ever.
I’ve since thought about this and realized that our species does the same thing. Have you ever met someone who shares a common interest, and you’d think you’d have a lot to talk about only to walk away wishing that you’ve never met them? It’s like meeting a Green Bay Packers' fan and talking about who was the best quarterback. For the uninitiated, uninformed, or unconcerned, this is easy because you have three options: Brett Favre, Bart Starr, or Aaron Rodgers. Yet if someone starts talking Lynn Dickey, the only option is to shun this person because they have no idea what they’re talking about.
I don’t know what your Packer analogy would be. If you’re into wine, it might be if someone talks up the merits of a $15 merlot. If you’re into rock and roll and someone starts talking about how The Beatles are overrated.
I share Sonny the greyhound's story because it’s related to our scripture today. It’s a parable of Jesus, and the main character is a Samaritan. The good guys SHOULD be the priests of the Levite. They’d be the ones with the racetrack experience or the right opinion on who is the best Packer quarterback. Instead, the good guy is the Samaritan. Samaritans believe theirs is the true religion of the ancient Israelites prior to the Babylonian Exile, preserved by those who stayed behind in Israel. They claim Judaism, an altered and amended religion, was brought back to Israel from Babylon (wiki). This is an extremely unpopular opinion in Jewish circles akin to saying merlot is the king of the red wines or that The Beatles aren’t that important to rock music. To make this more religious, this is like saying a fringe Mormon polygamist sect is practicing the only right biblical faith as compared to mainline Christianity.
So that’s who the Samaritans are. They’re the weirdos, the ones with the unpopular opinions, those people who we should have a lot in common with but simply can’t be around. They are the greyhounds that were never on the racetrack of the Babylonian exile.
So that’s the setting, but I’m wondering what that means then on how we should live? To help, I have Jacob and Troy here to share their reflections.
Jacob and Troy have the distinction of being my first group of confirmands. They were in 8th grade when I first came here. They are the first group of seniors I have had the pleasure of journeying with through their 4 years of high school.
What this means for me is to always be on the look out to be a good neighbor. Often we aren’t. Often we’re looking to be a good neighbor to those who live next to us, our literal neighbors. Jesus is asking us to think beyond that. Sometimes we’re looking to be good neighbors with those who look like us, buy the same brands we do, shop at the same stores, have the same credentials, careers, and education as we do. Jesus is asking us to think beyond that.
Jesus is saying, “Be on the lookout to be a good neighbor always.”
When Glennon Doyle Melton was here in March, she said, “The priest and the Levite weren’t bad people. They might have been going to a peace rally or to work in a soup kitchen. Yet they missed the Jesus in the ditch. Always be on the lookout for the Jesus in the ditch. We can't pass the man in the ditch for our preferred man in the ditch.”
The priest and the Levite aren’t bad, but they are blinded by their expectations: they had some place to be, they didn’t want to be late, they couldn’t take time out to help. Sound familiar? We’ve all been there. We might be there now. Did you pass someone with a flat tire on the side of the road on your way to church this morning? I don’t know, I’m just asking. You might not even have noticed because we’re so locked into our destination we overlook the journey.
The priest and Levite are symbols of those who are locked into their expectation, locked into an impersonal system that can’t respond to the need right in front of them. We’re in danger of this personally and as a society.
Dmitry Orlov puts it like this. Our society contains “Each individual, each married couple has a separate bank account and little, if any, property is held in common. The ideal toward which we all strive forces each person to function as a lonely, helpless individual at the mercy of an impersonal system.” (39) You can’t pass the man in the ditch for our preferred man in the ditch.
What Jesus is saying to our graduates here is “don’t be so locked into your major that you forget to serve others.” Be in community. Be a good neighbor to every single person. I think both Troy and Jacob embody these things. They are both Eagle Scouts. They are both in band, excel academically, yet have a heart for people. They have a bright future. Yet be willing to risk. If you see a need, respond to it.
In church, we’re challenged as well. We’re challenged to be community in a society that doesn’t value community. Sure it values communities that produce something like a product or service… but a community for community’s sake? That’s crazy talk! A community that throws birthday parties for people who are over 75?! Who bring meals and take time out just to hang out?! Yet that’s what Jesus is striving for us to become. Often our trust is transactional: a person needs a reason to trust you, and you need a reason to trust that person. But a person acting in trust, taking a person who is completely vulnerable and helpless and picking them up, bringing them to safety and paying extra for their care… that’s a different way of living.
It’s a counter cultural way of living. It’s a way of living that states, this is not about the survival of the fittest but the survival of the most compassionate. It’s cooperation rather than competition that has made our species great, at least that’s what was argued in 1902 by Peter Kropotkin. I tend to agree. May we be compassionate and cooperative in risky ways.
May we risk community, even with the greyhounds who haven’t run on our track.
Melton, Glennon Doyle. From #momasterySYL event held Mach 21, 2015
Kropotkin, Peter. Mutual Aid: A factor in evolution. Published in 1902, but found here: http://www.complementarycurrency.org/ccLibrary/Mutual_Aid-A_Factor_of_Evolution-Peter_Kropotkin.pdf
Orlov, Dmitry. The Five Stages of Collapse. New Society Publishers, 2013.
Wikipedia contributors. "Samaritans." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 24 May. 2015. Web. 28 May. 2015.