Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Jesus is Your Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37)
July 14, 2019
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Many years ago I was taught that when it came to sharing your “testimony” about your conversion to Christianity you needed to break it down into three parts: what your life was like before your conversion, your conversion experience, and how much better your life has been since your conversion.  For example: “Before my conversion I was a self-centered narcissist who believed the world revolved around me.  I was completely broke, didn’t have a penny to my name, and had mountains of debt.  My marriage was on the rocks and my children would not even talk to me.  I was grossly overweight and wasted tons of time watching TV and devouring bags of Doritos and cases of Mountain Dew.  I was also a drug addict and a convicted felon.  I was even mean to old ladies and little children.  I was a devout atheist and a complete reprobate.”

Your testimony would continue: “Then I saw the light and converted to Christianity.  Since my conversion…well, where do I begin?  My entire life is now all about helping other people.  I never do anything from a selfish motivation.  I conquered all my addictions and now walk in victory.  I retired all my debt and started a company that is now in the Fortune 500.  I lost all my extra weight, am in the best shape of my life, and I only snack on carrots and celery.  I even became a CrossFit instructor at my local gym.  My marriage is the best marriage ever—we always communicate well, never make any major decisions until we are in 100% agreement, and our intimate life is off the charts great.  Every single Father’s Day my children send me cards with long thank-you notes about what an awesome dad I am and how grateful they are for me, and all of them named their firstborn sons after, you guessed it, me.  I gently hug every old lady I ever meet and even help them cross the street.  Little kids flock to me like I am Santa Claus and they think I’m the coolest.  God has blessed me with a thriving global ministry as a Christian motivation speaker as I teach others how to stop being a reprobate and become as amazing a Christian as I am.  And of course, I give all the glory to God… #Victorious, #Blessed.”

You might think this sounds farfetched, but trust me, while this example is extreme, such thinking is alive and well in the church.  But in many years of parish ministry, many years of personal experience I have seen a different kind of testimony that has a much lower “wow” factor but is much more true to real life.

The “before your conversion” part of your testimony may be similar.  Maybe you were a self-centered narcissist with serious financial issues, strained family relationships, and a questionable diet.  Maybe you did not believe in God at all, only to have a conversion experience that left you “on fire for the Lord.”  Or maybe you did not have a radical conversion.  You grew up in the church and although have had periods in your life when your involvement waned, you hung in there, but your fire for the Lord has dwindled to ashes that are barely smoldering.

Maybe the “after your conversion” part of your testimony is not flashy.  Maybe you are still stunned by how self-centered you really are.  Maybe your credit card balances are higher than your savings and you live paycheck to paycheck.  Maybe you still feel drawn to addictive behaviors and for whatever reason carrots and celery just don’t cut it and you secret indulge in Doritos and Mountain Dew when no one else is around.  Maybe you tried a gym membership but have never fully committed to it.  Maybe after your conversion your marriage became even unhappier or fell apart—you tried to save it but you couldn’t.  Maybe your kids send you a Father’s Day or Mother’s Day text, or maybe not.  Maybe old ladies grate on you and little kids annoy you, although you would never ever admit it.

And yet somehow you still know God’s love for you is real.  Somehow your heart is still moved by the gospel.  Somehow through all the disasters and downturns in your life, you have seen that God’s grace meets you as your life actually is, not as it perhaps “should” be.  Somehow you are still here in church this morning.

In the beginning of Brennan Manning’s classic 1990 book The Ragamuffin Gospel, which is one of the best books about the actual gospel ever written, he writes:

This book is not for the super-spiritual.  It is not for muscular Christians who have made John Wayne, and not Jesus, their hero.  It is not for academics who would imprison Jesus in the ivory tower of exegesis…It is not for Alleluia Christians who live only on the mountaintop and have never visited the valley of desolation.  It is not for the fearless and tearless.

Brennan Manning continues:

(This book) is not for red-hot zealots who boast with the rich young ruler of the Gospels, “All these commandments I have kept from my youth.”  It is not for the complacent who hoist over their shoulders the tote bag of honors, diplomas, and good works, actually believing they have made it.  It is not for legalists who would rather surrender control of their souls to rules than to run the risk of living in union with Jesus (13-14).

In today’s gospel passage someone for whom The Ragamuffin Gospel would never have been written asks Jesus a big question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus replies, “What is written in the law?”  The seeker states, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus commends him, “You have given the right answer; do this and you will live.”  But getting the right answer was not enough for this man, and so as Luke writes, “wanting to justify himself” he digs a little deeper, “And who is my neighbor?”  Jesus answers with his Parable of the Good Samaritan:

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them.  Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend” (Luke 10:30-35).

Jesus then asks a follow-up question, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”  The seeker answered, “The one who showed him mercy.”  And then Jesus commanded, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:36-37).  The gospel is for ragamuffins who have in one way or another fallen “into the hands of the robbers”, who are helpless, who need mercy.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan indeed shows what it looks like to love your neighbor as yourself.  Along those lines we often briefly peruse the parable (because we know it already, right?) and jump to Jesus’ command, “Go and do likewise.”  So in preaching about this parable I should encourage you to identify the people in your life who need your help.  I should tell you to not be like the priest and Levite, both of whom should have known better, and walk by the helpless man but actually do something to help him.  I should tell you to strive to be like the Samaritan, the one whose ethnic group was despised by Jews and Romans alike, who stopped and personally and generously cared for the helpless wounded man.  And all of that is true.  But a gospel sermon never centers on what you are to do, but rather on what God has already done for you in Jesus Christ.

Yes, each of you can think of people in your life whom you may be called to help.  But some of you, perhaps many of you, are yourselves the one in the parable who in some way has fallen “into the hands of robbers,” who in some way has been stripped of something that really mattered to you, and has been beaten up by something or someone in your life beyond your control.  Perhaps in some way you are wounded, helpless, and in need of mercy.  This is not only a “before your conversion” kind of experience.  In fact, more often than not, it is actually an “after your conversion” kind of experience.  At least that has been the case in my life.

Many years ago when I was a youth minister one of my favorite Christian recording artists was the late Rich Mullins, who tragically died in a car accident when he was only 41 years old.  On his 1988 album Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth, he had a beautiful song called “If I Stand” which describes what we need from God when we find ourselves fallen “into the hands of robbers”:

If I stand let me stand on the promise that you will pull me through
And if I can’t, let me fall on the grace that first brought me to You
And if I sing let me sing for the joy that has born in me these songs
And if I weep let it be as a man who is longing for his home

The truth is those of you who stand, do so only because God always keeps his promises, and those of you who have fallen “into the hands of robbers”, even after your conversion, have also fallen on the grace that first brought you to God, the grace of God for you that never changes, which is why you are here today.

Back to The Ragamuffin Gospel for a moment…After making it clear for whom this book was not intended, Brennan Manning made it even clearer for whom it was intended.  See if any of this relates to you:

The Ragamuffin Gospel was written for the bedraggled, beat-up, and burnt-out.  It is for the sorely burdened who are still shifting the heavy suitcase from one hand to the other.  It is for the wobbly and weak-kneed who know they don’t have it all together and are too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace.  It is for inconsistent, unsteady disciples whose cheese is falling off their cracker.  It is for poor, weak sinful men and women with hereditary faults and limited talents.  It is for earthen vessels who shuffle along on feet of clay.  It is for the bent and the bruised who feel that their lives are a grave disappointment to God.  It is for smart people who know they are stupid and honest disciples who admit they are scalawags (14).

Sounds like the actual church, so if you relate to that, you are in the right place.

Not too long after telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus himself became the traveler in the parable.  In the same way the traveler fell “into the hands of robbers” Jesus fell into the hands of sinners, who nailed him to a cross.  Like the traveler in the parable Jesus was stripped, and Jesus was beaten.  Like the traveler in the parable Jesus was left half dead on the cross until he was completely dead.  And as Jesus suffered, yes, even priests and Levites passed by on the other side.

And yet it was in becoming the traveler on Good Friday that Jesus became the Good Samaritan for the world, and the Good Samaritan for you.  The One who commanded, “Go and do likewise,” indeed went and did likewise.  Like the Good Samaritan, Jesus was and is moved with pity for those who have been wounded on the road, including you.  Jesus tenderly bandages your wounds, and generously pours the oil of the Holy Spirit and the wine of grace where you need it most.  Jesus has brought you to the inn, the church, to join the other wounded travelers and ragamuffins, and has already paid for everything.  Jesus has had mercy on you and justified you because there is no way you could ever justify yourself.  #Grace.

Jesus is your Good Samaritan.