AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.
A 3-Minute Read
by Eric Seidel
On Sunday morning, before we left for church, Morgan shared with me that the AC in the church worship hall went out overnight. Bad lightning storms knocked the power out and blew a fuse in the AC unit at the Kalen center. Somehow, I missed that key significant detail. I proceeded to get ready in dark jeans, black shirt, and hot coffee. Sunday morning per usual. The moment we walked into the worship hall though, it hit me. “Woof! It’s warm in here.” “Yeah, remember, I told you the AC went out this morning,” Morgan responds. Yikes! How did I miss that? It was hotter than a Billy Graham tent revival. My son, who was in shorts and sandals, was better prepared to sit through the service than I was. I pondered telling Morgan the preschool class, in the nice cool basement, was about to have a third volunteer. It was uncomfortable. I had never seen the Parish Visitor cards get so much usage. Church staff will have to tell Jordan that a new order of connects cards will be needed, but not because of some extraordinary amount of visitors. They made great fans for everyone!
As we took our seats and tried to get comfortable, it occurred to me that it was so warm, hot coffee wasn’t appealing. No hot coffee for me during church this morning, unfortunately. Just too hot. Hmph. Now that was a disruption for me. Hot coffee during church isn’t just a comfort…its tradition. Bread, wine, coffee. Required elements for every service. I can’t get through a service without them. I know I’m not alone. Jordan inspires in many different ways in his leadership, but one way in particular? He clutches his coffee cup like a bible at every service. Yep. That’s my pastor. Coffee during the sermon is akin to my grandparents’ reverence for the old Baptist Hymnal…its tradition. Not today though.
No AC or coffee during church was fine, honestly. God bless the staff; they were doing all they could. It just threw me off. It was…disruptive. An uncomfortable disruption to how I do life.
Interestingly, it was the perfect condition to hear the word from Jesus that we did. Sitting and wrestling with the sentiment that often prevents us from doing the thing that Jesus invites us to, especially what he invited us to this Sunday. Feeling disrupted and uncomfortable.
Sunday’s question is a question God has laid on the heart of the Parish family lately. The question, “Who is my neighbor?” Members of our community recently finished a six-week study led by Jennie Wheaton, asking and praying over the question impressed upon on all our hearts by Jesus. Looking ahead, it’s also incredibly important for us to discern that as we enter a season of house churches at the Parish. The question permeated every aspect of our worship this weekend.
Rev. Benjamin Wills, founder and head of school at Peace Prep Academy, preached for us on Sunday. He preached from Luke 10, the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It was the perfect text and perfect person to teach us about who our neighbors are. In the text, we see a lawyer ask Jesus, quite literally, “Who is my neighbor (10.29)?” The lawyer doesn’t seem to be asking questions to earnestly know the way of life with Jesus. He’s trying to obtain reassurance that he’s already achieved what Jesus is asking. Jesus responds the way you’d expect. He responds by telling a story that transforms the thinking and beliefs of, not only the lawyer, but all the listeners. Luke 10:25-37 ESV
What struck me was the observation Benjamin made about the Priest and the Levite. The two of them saw the need of a man in distress. Instead, “faced with the possibility of disruption, they chose to look the other way and ignore the man in need.” Yeah…I get that. Raise your hand if you’re guilty of that. Benjamin continued by saying the Priest and the Levite were driven by a scarcity mindset, which prevented them from seeing this man as nothing more than an uncomfortable disruption to the way they do life. Helping the man meant a loss of something for them. A loss of coin, time, well arranged plans or prestige. Helping the man was…well…disruptive to their lives and it was their scarcity mindset that made them think so. Wow…now its Benjamin bringing the heat. Now I’m cooking in my chair and its not because of the AC.
Scarcity. I shudder at the word scarcity. To an Enneagram 5 such as myself, “scarcity” is a bad word. It’s a shot across the bow to me. Whenever Jesus, Morgan, Jordan, or anyone else I look to remind me to shed a scarcity mindset, I shut down and almost immediately begin a self-audit. I shut down because I know it is the base emotion of my false self that constantly creeps up when I’m not self-aware. It’s my natural reaction when feeling threatened. When things get dicey, I hoard, conserve, and withhold. I circle the wagons and keep everything we have for myself and my family. A scarcity mindset isn’t just a refrain from spending money, it’s a self-preservation mode applied to all resources. It makes giving grace to anyone in need really really difficult. I hate to admit it, but if I’m anyone in this story, by nature, I’m probably the Priest and the Levite.
Isn’t it interesting though, that Jesus uses the Samaritan as the instrument of grace when answering this question. Sadly, Samaritans were poorly treated by the Jewish people of Jesus’ day. Because of a long, antagonistic history with the Jewish people, Samaritans were treated like foreigners in their own land, definitely not as neighbors. Because of this, it’s likely that the Good Samaritan knew something about suffering. In fact, his response was likely shaped by his own suffering being treated as an outsider. He could empathize with the man’s suffering. So, he was moved with compassion on the man. The Greek uses a word that translates, “he was moved deep within his inner being.” His compassion moved him deeply, so much that it moved him to take on the man’s burdens with him, offering aid, sparing no resource of his own. Jesus identifies the Samaritan as the good neighbor because of his mercy. As Benjamin put it, the Samaritan entered into the man’s suffering with him. The Samaritan had a compassion-filled heart, intent on mercy.
Benjamin observed that the Samaritan’s response is an invitation by Jesus to embrace our shared humanity, which includes suffering. Suffering is a part of the deal, isn’t it? We all have our seasons of suffering. There is no word from God that promises an absence of suffering, but there are promises God will be with us in our suffering. I can’t imagine God allowing himself to apply a scarcity mindset on me despite the moments of weakness I have when I see someone in need. What an abundance of grace! Despite the power my false self can have over me when I see need, God is moved with compassion on me and gives mercy in response to my suffering. He enters into my suffering. He doesn’t run from it or see it as an uncomfortable disruption. He shares it with me and walks through it with me. God doesn’t hoard all the available resources, driven by scarcity. God doesn’t see our need as uncomfortable disruptions. God is compassion filled, intent on showing mercy. Always.
While listening to Benjamin share a story of colleagues he had who were full of joy despite struggles they themselves had experienced, I was reminded of an exchange I saw some time ago between two young boys. I was watching my son play with the neighborhood kids one day. I became aware of the fact that one of the kids was autistic and had special needs. This young man is a sweet, endearing presence in the neighborhood, who everyone adores. He struggled with boundaries though. He didn’t always understand the difference between what was his and what someone else’s. This was his struggle.
On this day, a lot of the neighborhood kids took a keen interest in the same toy: a remote control car that was cooler than the average remote control car. One of the neighborhood kids was a 9-year-old African American young man. I’m pretty sure the remote-control car belonged to him and his brother. He took it out for a spin for all his friends to see. But suddenly, the child with special needs saw the toy, went up to him and abruptly grabbed the remote control from him. The child with special needs ran off, unknowingly violating the special rules of ownership. Having a child of my own and knowing how possessive kids can be at young ages, I thought a conflict was surely about to explode on the scene. I was ready to step in and start remediating.
To my surprise, I was so wrong. The 9-year-old watched the child with special needs run off with his toy. Rather than protesting, he simply shrugged it off and went on to play with something else without complaint or protest. Didn’t say a word. In fact, you could later find him celebrating the other boy for how he used and played with his remote-control toy. The 9-year-old knew the other boy’s struggle with boundaries. Rather than being driven with a scarcity mindset and seeing the other boy’s struggles as disruptive to his own well-being, he had compassion, surrendered what was his and gave grace where the other boy needed it. Wow…what a beautiful display of compassion from this young man. Lord – give me a heart of compassion and mercy like this child of the kingdom versus the heart of scarcity I so easily fall prey to.
Jesus establishes who our neighbor is, doesn’t he? It’s anyone. It’s anyone we meet, regardless of race, religion, creed, or status that comes to us in a time of suffering. Jesus’ invitation to love and serve our neighbor, is not just a call to shed our scarcity mindsets for the sake of it. Rather, its Jesus impressing upon us that our shared humanity includes suffering and that a community of people with compassion-filled hearts, intent on mercy is what helps us walk through suffering …the same way God walks through it with us.