A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Sermon (June 29) by Kristi Bope - "A Life of Service"

Dear heavenly father, open our hearts to the message 
that we are about to hear. Be with us and guide us to become 
like the good Samaritan, in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ. 

The human brain is an incredible creation. It is the most 
complex network of cells that exists in the universe. Even with 
this award winning distinction, our brains can't do everything. 

To accomplish all it has to do in a day, the brain takes 
shortcuts. It simplifies the innumerable sensory inputs in a 
variety of ways. One established method of simplification is to 
label the world. We do it all the time. It is not bad; it is 
essential to be able to handle everything bombarding the ears, 
skin, eyes, mouth, nose, the need for threat assessment, and 
handling emotions attached to the sights and sounds. It is 
exhausting just to think about what the brain has to do.

So there is a need for labels. For example, if something is 
labeled safe or dangerous, then there is no need to think about 
what to do. One embraces the first and avoids the second. One doesn't have to deal with why it is dangerous or how 
dangerous or even if it is really dangerous at all or just a false 
alarm. It is dangerous, and that is that.

This is all good, but you can see how labels can be a 
problem. They have a tendency to stick even though times or 
thoughts have changed. Labels are attached to all sorts of 
things, including people and ideas. 

I have had many labels bestowed upon me. Labels like 
Daughter, Sister, Mentor, College Student, and of course 

 However, there was a time in my life when I was hesitant 
to be labeled a Christian. Back then, I felt isolated and 
alienated by friends who looked down upon the label of 
“Christian.” They gave it a negative connotation. So I 
suppressed my enthusiasm. I was trapped.

Fast-forward to 2012, and that label took on a diferent 
meaning. During our church’s Bicentennial Celebration, I stood 
up there on that balcony looking down upon all of our past and 
current pastors. That is when I realized that being a Christian was something that I should be proud about. I decided that I 
want to be as influential to others as those pastors have been 
to my family and our congregation and community. 

However, even in my studies at Ohio Dominican 
University, I still sometimes feel boxed in by this label. Ohio 
Dominican is a Catholic University. During an academic 
advising session, I informed my advisor that I planned to 
attend seminary after graduation. My advisor stood there in 
shock, as if I had said that I was going to turn water into wine. 

Seeing Pastor Cheryl standing before our congregation 
with all the other male pastors during that Bicentennial 
celebration inspired me. I felt that she was a beacon of light 
for me, illuminating a path that I wasn’t sure existed for me. 

The thing is, embracing a label and making it your own 
doesn’t change the fact that it’s still just a label. Our labels 
alone fall short of describing who we really are.  We don’t 
actually believe that one, two, or even three words, can 
adequately describe the entirety of a person. 
The labels, no matter how empowering they may seem, will always be the walls of a box.  Labels make you less of a 
person, not more.

We cannot just search for our labels; we need to find our 
Identities.  Our identities cannot be found in adjectives or 
nouns, but in the intangible things ─ things that are universal 
and timeless.  Things like love, and faith, and relationships, 
and service. 

Even though we may identify with a label, that label 
proclamation doesn’t mean we always live up to it or 
incorporate it into our identity. In the gospel reading today, 
Jordan read the parable of the Good Samaritan. In Jesus’ 
response to the lawyer’s question of “Who is my neighbor,” he 
painted a picture of three individuals who had labels bestowed 
upon them. The Priest, The Levite, and the Samaritan. 

The first passer-by is introduced as a Priest. He came 
down the road, but when he saw the man he crossed to the 
other side and continued his journey. The priest has been 
excused by some down through the years, by saying that he 
didn’t want to touch the man because he might have been dead, and this would have made the priest ceremonially 
unclean and he would have been unable to carry out his duties. 

But I want you to notice it says that both he and the Levite who 
came along next are coming “down the road” thus they were 
leaving Jerusalem and had already performed their duties. 
This was one of the most shocking aspects of this parable 
when Jesus told it. 

The priest was considered the holiest person among the Jews. He was taught the Scriptures. He was entrusted with ofering sacrifices for the sin of the people. He was allowed to go further into the Temple than “regular” people were. If anyone was going to reflect the character of God, it would be the priest.

The second passer-by is introduced as the Levite. The Levite at 
least looked at the man, but perhaps it was no more than the 
current practice of “rubber necking” at the scene of an accident 
to see what had happened. He too did not feel a need to do 
any thing to help. Both of these men, saw the man but ignored 
the need. These two religious professionals were caught up in 
a life-less religion. They played their role at church,but that did not afect the way they lived outside the walls of the 

In verse thirty-three we read, “ But a Samaritan while 
traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved 
with pity.” It would have been shocking for Jesus to have told the 
people that this man was helped by just an ordinary man. But it 
is not even a Jew helping a Jew, but rather a Samaritan helping 
a Jew who had been ignored by his fellow Jews. 

Given the mutual hatred between Jews and Samaritans, it would have been more likely to have expected the Samaritan to finish the 
guy off. Today we call this story “The Parable of The Good 
Samaritan.” In fact the very phrase, “good Samaritan” has 
become part of our common language. But this was definitely 
not a phrase in use by Jews of Jesus’ day. In fact, they probably 
couldn’t have even considered saying the words “good” and 
“Samaritan” in the same sentence. 

When that Samaritan looked at that sufering man lying 
half-dead by the side of the road, something happened in his gut; something that made it impossible for him to walk away. 
He didn’t decide to help this guy on the basis of how worthy he 
was. He helped him because of how needy he was.

There is no a logical reason for the Samaritan to 
rearrange his plans or to spend his money to help an “enemy” 
in need. Of all the people who passed this injured man, the 
Samaritan had the least reason to help, he was a no body in 
society before this incident and his good deed would not 
change his label in the community at large.

We struggle in our daily lives to be like the Good 
Samaritan. How many of us here are like the priest that just go 
through the motions of the Christian label but do not actually 
identify when faced with an opportunity of service. Too many 
times in our lives, we are caught up with the hustle and bustle 
of society that we forget to take the time to look at our 
surroundings. There are moments in our lives that may seem 
insignificant with no opportunities for service, however, if we 
just slow down, these opportunities easily present themselves. 

For example, this past Christmas, I was shopping with my sister, Ashleigh, at Elder Berman when we noticed a frail 
woman struggling with a mattress pad that she had just 
purchased. She was about the same size of the mattress pad. I 
immediately looked and my sister and it was almost as if we 
knew what each other was thinking. 

We decided to assist her with carrying the mattress pad out to her car. We learned that when she had purchased the item, she had asked for a cart to take it to her car. The check out clerk unfortunately informed her that there wasn’t one available for her to use and went on to the next customer. 

That clerk saw the need but ignored it just like the Priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan. I’m not saying that the clerk was a bad person, but it is an example of how we get so caught up in our busy lives that we ignore the people in need around us. 

The story of the Good Samaritan also gives us another life 
lesson. Don’t shine so others can see you; shine so that, 
through you, others can see Him. Again, there was no a logical 
reason for the Samaritan to help the man in need. He was a 
man of no status in the world that he lived in. He didn’t help the man to gain favor in anyone’s eyes. He was simply letting 
God’s love shine through. 

 For my closing thoughts, I leave you with these questions. 
Are you like the Priest in the Parable, or are you like the 
Samaritan? Are you living a life of service? What changes in 
your life do you need to make in order to let God’s love shine 
through? I leave you with the same words that Jesus left the 
crowd and the lawyer…. Go and do likewise. 

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