Sermon Preached on July 14, 2019 – Pentecost +5
By The Rev. Anne C. Fowler
St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Yarmouth, ME
Save the weak and the orphan; *
defend the humble and needy;
Rescue the weak and the poor; *
deliver them from the power of the wicked. Psalm 82, v.3-4
Who is my neighbor? Luke 10:28
Oh, People of God! I am so glad to be here! I am so glad to see all of you again! I have so missed this wonderful community, and I am so blessed to be back among you.
I’ve been casting about to find something to say about the Good Samaritan. Because what hasn’t been said?
Have I ever been a Good Samaritan? Most examples I could think of fall into the category of humblebragging. Oh, recently I was standing in line at Walmart behind a guy who was trying to buy a carton of soda and some toothpaste with a food card. Interestingly, the food card would cover the soda but not the toothpaste, and the man did not have enough money and little English. So he took the toothpaste off. I said, “Let me pay for his toothpaste,” thinking with unusual speediness. “And brush your teeth!” I told him.
Doesn’t quite measure up to rescuing a historical enemy from certain death and paying for his convalescence, does it?
But then I remembered an example very close to home. I have a dear long-time friend who has been struggling on many fronts for many years. Her husband died 20 years ago and, I believe, she’s never grieved properly– whatever that might look like. So she’s stuck in an endless loop of missing him, lamenting all the things he used to do to keep their households running, all the Mr. Fixit jobs he did, and not doing those things herself or hiring someone to do them.
She’s also addicted to alcohol, and she’s a genteel hoarder. So she owns 3 houses, all filled to the brim and overflowing, and she can’t seem to get out of her funk and do anything that needs done.
And you may not be surprised to hear that she’s a frustrating and sometimes infuriating friend to have. But I love her dearly. We met when we were both pregnant with our first children (my only). I had been abandoned by my husband and came home to be cared for by my parents. And my friend and her late beloved husband saved my life, emotionally, during my first year as a young single mother in Portland.
So I love her, and I am loyal. And I am a fixer, so I have been trying for year to get her sober, to get her tomake decisions, to help her move her life forward. Pretty much to no avail.
But lo and behold, she has recently taken in a student and asylum seeker from Zambia as a long-term houseguest, and she’s paying his tuition at SMCC. She’s helping him acclimatize in all manner of ways, with the kindness and generosity which is bred in her bones.
And how did all this come about, you may well ask? It came about, somewhat circuitously, because of her decision to donate her dining room furniture to a New Mainer family. Now in principle that decision will, I hope, pave the way to more systematic and thorough decluttering. Samuel’s presence in her house acts as a deterrent to her excessive drinking. And she has someone to talk to and take places, getting her out of her extreme isolation. All good.
And make no mistake, these secondary effects of her kindness do nothing to diminish the generosity and goodness of her decision to host Samuel.
We don’t know what spiritual benefits the Good Samaritan may have received as a result of saving the Levite. That’s not the point of Jesus’ parable.
But if and when the results of helping a stranger/neighbor may bring their own rewards to us, as has happened with my friend, we should not feel that our act is somehow diminished. Here, it is truly the intention and its impact on that stranger which counts, not any possible benefits to us. Blessed are the pure in heart, remember.
This year I am at last unequivocally proud and happy again to be a Mainer. So much good is emanating from Augusta since January! And I am especially proud to be a Portlander, given our wholehearted embrace of all the incoming immigrants.
I saw our Mayor, Ethan Strimling, in Coffee by Design a couple of weeks ago. “Are you the Mayor,” I asked, “or just someone who looks like him?” I’m not a big fan of our Mayor, as you may already detect, but I did tell him that I was very grateful for how he had told Trump to ‘bring it on’ when Trump ‘threatened’ to send new immigrants to sanctuary cities.
Then a few days later I went out to turn off a sprinkler and lo and behold, there’s the Mayor walking up my driveway. “Oh,” he said, when I reminded him that we had recently met, “you’re the one who’s glad about the immigrants.” “I hope I’m not the only one,” I told him.
And I know I’m not. I know some of you come in to help at St. Elizabeth’s Essentials Pantry at the Cathedral. I know you have other programs to welcome new Mainers. I know that countless organizations and individuals have stepped up with their time, talent, and treasure to meet the needs of our newest arrivals. And we do all this not for personal gain but because it’s the right thing to do.
The right thing, the Gospel thing.
Who is my neighbor?
The one who showed mercy
Go and do likewise, Jesus said.