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Would You Stop?
A sermon based on Luke 10:25-37
By guest preacher, Rev. Heather McCance

A few years ago, I was driving a group of young people to a youth service at another church. As we drove down the 404, a car cut in front of us, then to the next lane, weaving back and forth all the way down the highway. And as the driver moved in front of us, he quite clearly gave us the finger.

A little later, the same drive, we passed two cars stopped at a traffic light. Evidently one had bumped into the back of the other, although no damage had been done. And the two drivers were out of their cars, yelling and screaming at each other some words inappropriate for a family-rated sermon.

When we finally got to the service, one of the young people in my car turned to ma and sighed. At 14, she asked me, "Why can't people just be nice to each other? It's not that much extra work, and the whole world would be a better place!"

In some ways, it is that kind of exasperation at the human condition that Jesus expresses in his parable of the Good Samaritan. Why can't people just be nice to each other? Why can't people love the Lord our God with heart, soul mind and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves? It's not that much extra work, and the whole world would be a better place.

There's a certain amount of naive innocence in the question when asked by a young person. For surely the world is such a complex place, with factor like other people's expectations of us, and our desires to succeed (whatever success means), and our desires for safety and comfort and security for ourselves and our loved ones, and sometimes the desires of one person conflict with the desires of another person.

But Jesus was not naive, nor was he particularly innocent of the ways of the world. His very telling of a story of a Levite and a priest walking away, two folks who could be expected to care for the wounded and the downtrodden, tells us that Jesus was anything but ignorant of the way things really are. And yet, despite this knowledge, Jesus has the courage of his convictions, has the internal fortitude, to say that all of that aside, we are actually expected to live as people of love.

Two psychologists at Princeton University did an experiment a number of years ago. They interviewed students at the Theological College at Princeton about their motivations for studying theology. The students were then given one of two assignments. They were to go to another building to give a five-minute presentation on either the Good Samaritan or the impact of religious calling on one's choice of vocation. Finally, the researchers told each student one of two things. He either looked at his watch and murmured, "Oh dear, you're late, they were expecting you now and it's a five minute walk from here," or he told the student "You've got a few minutes, but why don't you head over now?"

Then came the experiment. An actor had been hired by the researchers to sit on a bench along the pathway to the presentation building, and the actor was to double over, apparently in pain, and moan and groan as the theological student walked by. Now who, of this group of people being trained to become priests and ministers and pastors, would stop to help?

When I first heard of this, I thought that the ones who had been assigned the story of the Good Samaritan would be more likely to stop, but apparently having this story uppermost in their minds had no impact on whether they would stop. The results are shocking. 63% of those who were told they had some extra time stopped to help. Of those who were in a hurry, only 10% took the time to see whether there was anything they could do for the man in pain.

The experiment tells us two things. Firstly, and rather depressingly, it tells us that even among those who had the time to help, among a group of people one would expect to be compassionate and caring, 37% didn't stop. But perhaps more importantly, it tells us that when we are busy or in a hurry, and so many of us spend so much of our daily lives busy and in a hurry, 90% of us don't make the little extra effort to just be nice to each other, to love our neighbors as ourselves.

There was a heartbreaking story out of North Carolina a few years ago of a veterinarian, a man who spends his professional life caring for animals. He put his six-month-old baby in the car seat in the back seat of the car at the house that morning to take to the babysitters on the way to work. The baby fell asleep, and the vet was already thinking about a few of the animals that had stayed in the animal hospital overnight, and he forgot to stop at the sitters, and went into the office leaving the sleeping baby in the backseat of the car, all the windows rolled up, the doors locked, the temperature outside soaring into the 90s in the southern sun and the baby never woke up. Only when the babysitter called an hour later did the father remember, but it was too late.

I know it's a horrible story, but I tell it not to distress you but to make a very important point. The question I started with this morning, "Why can't people just be nice to each other?" makes it all sound so easy. Even the Samaritan experiment at Princeton makes the seminarians sound callous and uncaring. But nobody can imagine that this father didn't love and care about his baby.

Failing to love our neighbors isn't always about being mean or uncaring or callous or rude. All too often, it's about the pull and tug of so many demands, so many needs, that pull on us from so many directions that we lose sight of the things that really should count. Commentators on the Good Samaritan have long hypothesized that the priest and Levite were concerned about being ritually impure if they’d helped the wounded man, so that they would be unable to carry out their roles in the worship of the Temple, they would be unable to touch anyone else, even their own wives and children, for 14 days if they had stopped to help. Others have suggested that they might be worried about their own safety, that the man in the ditch may have been a decoy and a band of outlaws was waiting in ambush. Whatever the case, these were not evil men. They did not intend to leave a man to die. They just had other things on their minds, they were in a hurry, they had other duties, other people were depending on them, someone else would look after him, surely.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Love is a verb, yes, but it's also an attitude. When St. Paul wrote about love in the first letter to the Corinthians, that reading we so often hear at weddings, he wrote about a quality that would ensure that all who possess it would hold all things in balance, that the important things in life would be attended to and the unimportant things shrugged off.

Hearing the story of the Good Samaritan, it is so easy to condemn the Levite and the priest for their coldness and uncaring. But let us this morning pray for ourselves, that our buy-ness and our desires for safety and security, our hurriedness and our sense of all the demands that face us everyday will never, ever keep us from our primary job, from living the first and second most important commandments of them all.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. Amen.