Life Sunday January 21, 2018
“Missed Opportunities” Luke 10:25-37
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
This is one of the great teachings of Jesus – the Good Samaritan. Along with the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) it is one of the Bible stories that many of the people in the world know.
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers.” (Luke 10:30). There was no mistake about literally “going down”! Jerusalem was about 2,300 feet above sea-level and Jericho, quite near the Dead Sea, was about 1,300 feet below sea-level. Within 20 miles you drop 3,600 feet. The trip was a dangerous one. It was windy and narrow and had sudden turns. It was just perfect for someone who wanted to rob you. That road was called “The Bloody Way”.
So that traveler got beat up and robbed and he was just left for dead. But then, as he looked up, he had some hope. Someone was coming by. He wasn’t going to have to lay there for hours, or through the night. Help was on the way!! But then the text tells us that the man who could have helped, the priest, “when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.” (Luke 10:31b) But for a moment, after being rejected by the first one, his heart could have started once again. Another man was coming. Maybe this guy was going to live out his faith and show some love and compassion. But no such luck. “So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.” (Luke 10:32)
I read that Jericho was filled with priests – 12,000 of them lived there – and each one of them wanted their time in the temple in Jerusalem. But if you touched something dead you were considered “unclean” and you could not serve for 7 days. You could lose your spot in doing the holy things of God. I read that sometimes robbers “planted” folks along that path – making them to appear injured and if you stopped to help, you bent down, a pack of hoodlums were ready to jump on you. Safety first had to be the thought of anyone traveling “The Bloody Way”, right?
Do you know this was all about? Missed opportunities. Jesus tells the story, the parable, to answer the question “And who is my neighbor?” The first two guys, the priest and the Levite, missed an opportunity to be a neighbor, they didn’t do as the Scriptures tell us, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
About a month ago I was heading to Ortho Colorado early in the morning to visit one of you prior to surgery. I am beginning to think that at least half of our congregation has something foreign in their body. Artificial knees, artificial hips, artificial shoulders – maybe Ascension Lutheran Church has a group policy and we get some type of discount!! I left the office about 6:00 in the morning and was heading west, traveling on Prince. I passed a lady who was running, full speed, in heels. I know she was late for her bus or for light-rail and as I drove past her I knew that I should slow down, stop and ask if I could give her a lift. But I didn’t. I had to get to Ortho Colorado, I had to hurry so I could sit and wait to see you. As I turned onto Church Street I thought about turning around and doing the right thing. I thought about that situation for a number of miles. In fact I still remember it. But I didn’t do the right thing. I should have stopped. I should have asked. I should have helped. It was a missed opportunity. You may know the word from James, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” (James 4:17)
Do you have some of those same sins? We call them “sins of omission”. I call them missed opportunities. We were silent when we should have spoken. We watched when we should have taken action. We drove by when we should have stopped.
Over the last three years we have hosted a service for the Denver area on the second Saturday in September. The event is called A Vigil of Repentance in Remembrance of the Victims of Abortion. The service is somber, in light of the subject matter that is being addressed. In the litany that is prayed the realization of the missed opportunities because of the abortion of these children is spoken. As I made that prayer my prayer my emotions got the better of me.
Let us remember the brothers and sisters who were never able to play with their siblings. Their laughter was never heard. Let us remember the teachers who were never able to teach and the pastors who were never able to preach. Wisdom that was never shared. Let us remember the physicians, nurses, technicians, researchers and other medical professionals through whom God’s hand of healing was never able to be extended. Mercy that was never shared. Let us remember business people and courageous leaders who were never able to extend a godly influence upon our nation. Godly examples that could never be followed. Let us remember artists and musicians who will never be able to express the joys and the sorrows within them for others to identify with and appreciate. Works of art never seen, melodies never heard. Let us remember little girls who will never hold and nurture a child of their own and little boys whom will never grow up to be fathers. Generations yet unborn never to be. Let us remember those children with special needs that will never touch our hearts in ways no one else could. God’s unique purpose for them never realized.
Children conceived but never given the opportunity to live is a sinful action in our country. Do we ever look at a child, in the womb, or outside of it, and see the great things that they are able to do with their life and the opportunities for good in our society?
No more missed opportunities!! The Proverbs instruct us, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9)
Two folks walked past the man who was beaten and robbed. They missed their opportunity to love their neighbor. They protected themselves, they got to keep on schedule and get to their next appointment, but they failed to do the greater good. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:46-48)
But one of the three that was walking from Jerusalem to Jericho that day didn’t miss His opportunity. “But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.” (Luke 10:33-34) This was his opportunity. This was his chance. This was the time to “love your neighbor as yourself.” St. Paul says, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:10)
Do you know who the Good Samaritan is in the story? It’s Jesus. Everything that I see in the life and ministry of Jesus tells me that He is the Good Samaritan. We are ones by the side of the road. We are hurt, injured, dying. We have missed way too many opportunities to love our neighbor as our self. We have failed to speak up for folks that needed us to defend them- pre-born, born, handicapped, bullied, mistreated, oppressed, hated, people of different colors than ours, people of different nationalities than ours, and people of different religions than ours. God gives us opportunity to help them. And when we are the ones who are injured with guilt and regret God seeks us out and takes us to the inn and pays whatever it will cost to make us well. Jesus, the one who doesn’t walk past us, comes to us and takes us into His care.
I John 2 says, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only ours but also the sins of the whole world.” (I John 2:1-2)
The opportunity for us to know the fullness of God’s love for us is something that God doesn’t want us to miss. He delights in restoring His people. He wants us to have faith in His love and forgiveness. His opportunity to bring us peace in our soul and hope for our eternal life is something that God doesn’t want us to miss.
We, too, are given opportunities to be Good Samaritans in this world – in countless situations. We get to speak and love and care for those who need compassion, defense and mercy. No more missed opportunities!! Let everyone live, fully, in Christ. Amen!!