Sermons

July 14: Fifteenth Sunday

“Christ is the image of the invisible God.” Colossians 1:15-20.

Today’s gospel story, probably the most popular in scripture, tells of a traveler who had taken notice of a half-dead man on the side of the road. He was the victim of robbers. Compassion moved the man to action by caring for the other man’s wounds.

The Samaritan man did the right thing while the priest and Levite walked by.

Jesus too is traveling with his disciples from his region on the Lake of Galilee to the all-important city of Jerusalem, a distance of 111 miles. There was the location of the temple and the seat of Jewish learning and power. Jesus too, was teaching life lessons.

According to Luke’s gospel, along the way Jesus told many stories or parables about a lost son and a loving father; and a Samaritan who came to the aide of a hurt man lying on the road.

Recall that doors to the Samaritan villages were closed to Jesus but now he reminds his small band that there are good, very good Samaritans. His message is that mercy, and compassion and the possibility to reach out to others know no limits of race or status.

Over my years as a preacher, I count five or six sermons for this particular Sunday of the year, and they deal with issues of compassion and mercy.

All of which have a predominant theme: Take time for compassion!

During this past week, I encountered software problems with my Word Press editor site for francisfactor.com, my website. I may have hit the wrong key, and something went haywire with the photograph of Pope Francis on the landing page.

Well, things like this bother me greatly. So I called Ginny, my “lifeline” when it comes to Word Press, and she told me that after some efforts of hers, she could not figure out the fix. But she would send an email to the helpdesk at Word Press to find a solution. Of course, I’m very impatient, but I waited it out.

Early Saturday morning I dialed back into francisfactor.com and my website was back to normal. A miracle had taken place, and all was well again! I was very happy!

Moments later, we received an email from Word Press telling us of the fix, and what I had done to create the problem in the first place.

Now here’s the point: the software repair person who had rescued me from this calamity, signed his name and added his official title. He’s a “Happiness Engineer.” Wow, now that’s a title! All of us need a “happiness engineer” in our lives.

So it got me to thinking, today’s gospel about the Good Samaritan who comes to the rescue of the man on the side of the road is a happiness engineer of the first rank.

Moreover, happiness derives from the “moral joy” that comes from looking out for the other guy. Writer David Brooks call this “second mountain.” More from David Brooks and his new book later.

To to be a Christian, you and I must take time for compassion; and like the good man in the gospel, assess the situation of the hurt man and look out for him, and take action.

Here’s where the parable of the Good Samaritan becomes more like that the drama found in the ER or emergency room of a hospital where we must telephone 911 for the assistance of a “first alert team” of emergency and medical professionals.

Recently a friend of mine sent me a listing of Martin Scorsese’s films, some twenty-five of which are arranged from the worst to the best of his movies. Ok, we all have good days and bad, even for those of us who are fans of the great director.

Back in 1999, film director Martin Scorsese produced a film entitled “Bringing Out the Dead.” On the list, this was among the best and listed as Number 8, and always a favorite of mine. And I used this film in my course on Martin Scorsese at Saint Mary’s College.

Actor Nicholas Cage plays Frank Pierce, an ambulance driver, who along with his sidekick John Goodman has, mid-town Manhattan as their territory. Together at night on the “graveyard” shift in the heat of summer – they are hot, sweaty, and everything around them smells.

An unseen radio dispatcher, played by Scorsese, alerts the two to emergencies of all kinds and the team race from city block to city block and too gruesome automobile accidents, heart attacks, and drug overdoses.

All so many people in such grief, and, in such random order, make these “guardian angels” dizzy with their fall out. Both are worn out and worn down. There is an urgency here to help people in need, and both men are deeply touched by — what they see but cannot control.

Nick Cage as Frank Pierce is “God’s exhausted man,” coming to the aide of dying people, and even Mr. O who is having a mental breakdown, wants attention and suffers from the “long loneliness,” a spiritual illness.

As the narrator of the film, Nick Cage says:

“I realized that my training was useless in less than ten percent of the calls, and saving lives was rarer than that. After a while, I grew to understand that my role was less about saving lives than about bearing witness.”    

Yes, “bearing witness” that’s what we do as Christians or Good Samaritans, and like these “Guardian Angels” in the film — we too have less control over our lives.

Let’s continue on our journey with the Lord, and here’s my ending.

In his recent book, “The Second Mountain, The Quest for the Moral Life,” writer and political analyst David Brooks turns moralist.

He points out that for many of us — we have climbed the first mountain that is “motivated by prominence, pleasure, and success.” In some case, this is a lifelong quest for happiness, but we never fully reaching that goal.

Instead, some rebel against the mainstream and find themselves down in the valley and now their motivations radically change.

They glimpse something more significant than personal happiness. That something more prominent is the “second mountain,” which promises a “moral joy” that comes from shedding the ego and losing the self. At the summit of the second mountain is a life lived for others.

So our Good Samaritan, the man in the gospel who gave comfort to the wounded, hurt man, was the faithful witness as someone possessing “moral joy” the very spirit that David Brooks writes about, and in doing the right thing, this man becomes the model for all believers.

Saint Perpetua, Lafayette, CA.

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