Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Church, Funky Jesus, God, Grace, Inspiration, Jesus, Life, Mercy, Religion, Sermon, Spirituality, thoughts, Wholeness, Wonder
I have a strange habit that I have perpetuated since I was a child that led to an act of wonder last week. This habit is something that has become almost a weekly ritual now that I have an iPod. I would board the Vine Street bus and take it downtown to a couple blocks of buildings highlighted by a strip club and a Pawnshop. Interspersed between those businesses were a group of thrift stores that daily sold a new batch of other people’s donations. There was the more upscale Junior League, the Disabled American Veterans, a small church run store and of course The Goodwill.
I would visit these stores, one-by-one, and using my allowance would see if there was anything that I could use. In Junior High and High School this search was more refined to clothing. The new wave and punk music that I listened to made it cool to search for cloths at the thrift store. Old jackets, long trench coats, thin ties, baggy trousers and white shirts with collars. Soon I was sporting a mod look, a look that made my friends and I stand out from the typical fare at Culler Junior High and Northeast High School.
Yet, there was more in that thrift store that opened my eyes. As I scanned the clothing isles I noticed that there were shelves and shelves of books. I was drawn to them like a moth to a flame. In the early days it was Agatha Christie mysteries, but soon I owned copies of Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, Leo Tolstoy’s Essay on Civil Disobedience, Poems from the Sanskrit, J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland and Fran Liebowitz’s Social Studies. I had quite the subversive library.
As my last act of thrift store consumerism I would move toward the bins that were filled with records. Flipping one after another forward I would pass the Sing along with Mitch Miller’s until I would find one hidden gem. In the City by the Jam, Young Americans by David Bowie, Lou Reed’s Greatest Hits, Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life, The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour, The live Concert at Carnegie Hall with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, Take Five by Dave Brubeck and Harry James Connecting Bones. The stack of records next to my record player grew every time that I visited these stores.
25 years later I still find myself frequenting Thrift stores. I allow myself to look at the book, but only buy something if it is in perfect condition. The real reason that I go to the thrift store is to buy a $2 Compact disc to program into my iPod. I have been doing this all year long and the other day I found a gem. It was the two volume CD set Substance by the early 1980’s New Wave band New Order. I have to tell you I used to have this on tape and played it so much that I wore the tapes out. So, the other night I popped it into the CD player in my Honda on the way to a planning meeting for the 9/11 Unity walk. As the song “Shell shocked” poured through my speakers and the summer wind from my open windows flowed over my head I became overwhelmed by my surroundings. Passing the Kennedy Center, Lincoln monument, the Washington monument and the White House I was overcome by a sense of wonder.
How did I get here? I was still that same Junior High kid from Nebraska whose friend gave him a New Order tape. This was the same kid who had very little expectations for his life. As the synthesizer and electric drums pulsed I let my wonder turn to gratitude. Sure it hasn’t always been an easy life, but I have found many more Samaritans who have shown this world beaten traveler mercy along the way than who have hindered my path. I realized that it was mercy that brought me here. I just as easily could have not made it When I ran out of money to pay for college and an anonomyous donor helped me, when we were barely making it in seminary the developmental officer who helped us get a scholarship and when we were so poor in Lousiana that we could barely afford food the $100 in the mail sent from a fellow pastor and my Clinical Pastoral Education unit who lovingly helped me piece back together the confidence for ministry after I wondered if I should go on. All along there have been teachers who encouraged my learning, pastors who said that I had a gift, family whose pride has sustained me, friends who held my shaking hand and countless fellow believers who have prayed for me over time. The mercy of others has taught me how to show mercy for others and how to receive it graciously from those that I may initially want to refuse it from.
Even though I don’t know I am convinced that this is what impels the Samaritan to help the badly abused man on the road. He must have known something about mercy to not only have the man’s wounds treated but to pay his entire bill. Especially since the man was probably an ethnicity that he hated.
We could go into all the reasons that the priest and Levite passed by this badly beaten man, but then we would miss the point. Jesus is answering a very specific question. The question is not about why others don’t help, it is a question that is much more basic. This question is who is our neighbor?
Jesus answers with this story, and guess who the neighbor is in the end?. We say, “our next door neighbor is Randy and Kim, they have two wonderful kids.” It is a geographical thing, the people in close proximity. Having this type of neighbor is passive and non-threatening. For Jesus being a neighbor is to do something active for others. So, how do we become neighbors to others? We show them mercy.
Many people believe that for the pastor of the church to be a strong leader they must have a clear vision of what their church should be. I am not sure if this is true or it sets up the pastor’s ego, but what I do know is that the clear vision of being a human community is to be a good neighbor. This is not merely being nice to those who live in a close proximity, but to actively show mercy to others and to be willing to recieve mercy.
This is the same mercy that I am sure most of us have already been blessed to experience from others. Just in case someone has not received mercy, we should continually seek to return the mercy to others like we have already received. We could be the mercy that changes their desperate situation. By the way, we are not told to be good neighbors to the people like us, that we like or that seem to conform to a set of preconditions that we have arbitrarily laid out for them. We are merely commanded to go out into the world, showing acts of mercy and we will be neighbors to the world.
So, take time this week to be overcome by a sense of wonder that leads to gratitude. You will find that this will make it much easier to then turn toward acts of mercy to others and become a neighbor to all humans.
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