Monday, July 8, 2013

Looking FOrward to July 14, 2013--8th Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 10C

The Scripture Reading this week is Luke 10:25-37.

The Sermon title is What Stops Us??? 

Early Thoughts: The Good Samaritan.  It may well be one of the best known stories in Scripture, a story that those of us who grew up in the church have heard many many times over the years.  And a story with so so many possible sermons in it.

One could preach on the commandment to love your neighbour, about how love is a verb and not an emotion.  Or one could preach on the whole "who is my neighbour" piece, the call to think beyond the box (arguably this is one of the most common directions to go with the parable).  One could read it from the point of view where the Samaritan is the hero, reaching out beyond the lines of culture and acceptance.  Or one could posit that Jesus' listeners may have felt more for the victim, waking up to find out that he has been helped by, of all things, a Samaritan.  Sometimes loving outside the lines means accepting help as well as giving it.  But I think there is another, more important question.

When we read the story, we sometimes tend to slide over the ones who didn't stop.   We might make some note about possible reasons why they didn't stop but they are rarely the focal point.  We choose to focus on the positive.  After all, we want to encourage or exhort each other to be like the Samaritan.  But let us be honest.   We don't do that, at least not all of the time.  So what stops us????

I am quite sure that if you did a poll of the general population you would find that the majority of folks think that helping someone in need is the better choice.  I even suggest that this would be true regardless of religious affiliation (or lack thereof).  But I am equally sure that the majority of people are often reticent about offering that help.  What stops us???

It is somewhat fashionable in theological circles to claim that it is selfishness and self-centredness pure and simple.  WE don't help because we don't believe it is in our best interests.  There may be times when that is the case.  But I have a higher opinion of people than that.

One study done a number of years ago suggested that we are too busy, in too much of a hurry (or at least we believe that we are) to stop and help.  Here is a description of that study (taken from this site, emphasis added):
In the book you give a wonderful example of the power of context: the experiment done on the seminarians.
Oh, yes. There was a study done at a seminary in the 1970s, in which seminarians were told to prepare a religious paper that they then were supposed to deliver as a speech in a conference hall in a nearby building. The architects of the experiment made sure that as the seminarians were walking to the conference hall they would pass a man writhing on the ground in pain. The question was, Who would stop and help? The experiment was set up with three variables. First, all of the seminarians were given a questionnaire asking them why they had gone into the ministry. Was it to help people? Was it for spiritual and intellectual stimulation? Second, some seminarians were told to prepare their paper on the story of the Good Samaritan, and to make it the subject of their speech. Finally, some of the seminarians were told that they had to hurry, that they only had a very limited amount of time before they had to give their speech; others were told that they had a lot of time. The question was, Which variable would be most important in determining who would stop to help the man writhing on the ground?
The seminarians' stated reasons for being in the ministry didn't seem to have much impact on their behavior as they passed the man writhing on the ground. Whether they had just studied the story of the Good Samaritan had no impact. The only thing that really seemed to matter was whether the seminarians were in a hurry: those who were didn't stop. To me that's just a wonderful example of how important our immediate context is in determining our behavior. I'm sure these seminarians were all very kind, thoughtful, generous people, but the point of the story is that there are certain contextual conditions in which all of those intrinsic personality traits can be thwarted. To me, there's a powerful lesson there, which can be applied to the control of problems like crime -- namely, that there are conditions that can allow people to express their better side. Maybe what has happened in a lot of our inner cities is the equivalent of the seminarians' having been told to hurry: situations have been created that cause people to act like jerks.
When we are busy or in a hurry we are less likely to offer help.  I suspect many of us can feel the truth of those words in our own experience.  This is part of the answer to my question.

But I think probably the biggest reason why we don't stop is that we have been convinced that it is not safe to do so.  There are urban legends about the use of an injured child as bait for a mugging/sexual assault/murder plot.  There are plentiful stories about people who stop to offer assistance and then it goes bad.  Every day on Facebook I read people in Grande Prairie saying they would never offer help, or open their door to an unknown person at the door, because they are convinced the person is trying to do them harm.  This is the real problem.  Not that we are uncaring, but that we are afraid.

Why don't we stop?  Why do stories of Good Samaritans still appear to be the exceptions rather than the rule?  We need more than encouraging each other to do what, in our heart of hearts, we know is the better choice.  We have to seriously talk about the things that keep us from helping.  We have to address the twin taskmasters of busy-ness and fear.  Then maybe more people will stop.  And that can only make us a better society as a result.

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