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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Good Samaritan of Mammoth Caves - 07/14/2019

When my little sister Kate graduated from High School, she wasn’t living in Dubai yet, but she and my parents were living in Texas, which can sometimes seem as far away and foreign to this child of the north. They actually lived in that area for most of Kate’s K-12 years, so we were kind of used to them being far away at that point. When it came time for Kate to graduate my sister Sarah, Larry and I and all our kids decided we would make the trip down.

And, since we were driving from Michigan to Texas, Sarah and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to take Larry and the kids to our favorite vacation destination from when we were kids – Mammoth Caves National Park in Kentucky.

Don’t tell Kate, but I think we may have been as excited about taking our families to the caves as we were about Kate’s graduation. So excited were we that we got to the park a little early and had to hang out for a while at the front gate.

I remember that last little bit of patience was hard to muster and when the park finally opened and we got in there, it was everything I imagined and more as I retraced my own kiddo steps and as Sarah and I watched our families experience that magical place for the first time.

As memory-making as exploring the caves there was, however, it is something else that happened there that comes forward as the most vivid memory.

While we were standing outside that gate waiting for the park to open, a delivery truck pulled up and a guy began his work of loading up his hand truck with flats of soda cans, presumably for vending machines in the park. Just as he started pushing the hand truck toward the gate, his load failed and pop cans started falling and rolling everywhere. I remember feeling compassion instantly and thinking what a cruddy start that was to that guy’s work day.

But before I could really think about anything else, Larry had jumped into action and was running toward the guy and his delivery fiasco to help him out. And in an instant after that, the two littlest kids, Max and my nephew Tommy, were following his lead, and they too began to chase the cans and bring them back to be stacked up again.

I felt very proud of Larry in that moment and also very thankful that the boys witnessed his response to the situation and then joined right in to help out a neighbor in need.

Helping at Mammoth Caves National Park

I mean, granted, it wasn’t like the life or death situation in our story. This soda delivery man wasn’t completely incapacitated and vulnerable in the ditch, so I know it isn’t exactly the same thing – but on the other hand, who knows?

Maybe this guy was one mistake away from losing his job and one paycheck away from not making the rent. He could very well have been in a proverbial ditch none of us were aware of … and, he was the neighbor in that moment. WWJD?

Afterwards, I told Larry that I thought of this story when I watched the whole scenario unfold … that he was very much like the Good Samaritan.

That whole experience at Mammoth Caves is the first thing that pops into my head whenever I hear this story now.

This connection is a treasure to me for a couple of reasons. I love it when I can connect the experiences of life and the people around me with what I read in scripture … when the stories of how God relates to creation I read in the bible connect to the stories of my experience in my walk of life. I helps me to see that I and all the people around me are part of that enormous and infinite God story.

It’s also a treasure to me for another reason. This happened in 2003 – a time in my life when I as not connected to any particular Christian tradition or community. It’s part of my wilderness time – that period when I had left my Roman Catholic upbringing and before I found that faith family in Ishpeming that nurtured me so powerfully.

But the seeds had been planted nevertheless by my parents and grandparents who had me in church as a child … and by my own seeking and searching for meaning and purpose in life. And it was because of those seeds that I thought of scripture, a story of God and humanity, when I watched the scene of the unfortunate soda delivery man and the Good Samaritan of Mammoth Caves unfold before me – even though I wasn’t active in a church at the time.

So for me this is also hope-filled reminder that God is at work in people who we wish were in worship with us right now … in the young people who seem to flee from church once their confirmation expectations are met … in people who have never been involved in a faith community at all, but are still created by God to seek and search for meaning and purpose in their lives.

So we keep telling the story and inviting and encouraging people while holding fast to our faith that God has skin in this game too – quite literally when you really think about it and as we will remember again with our very bodies at this humble and holy table of bread and wine.

So as I’ve studied this text this week and talked about it with others, I’ve realized there was still more to learn from Larry, the Good Samaritan of Mammoth Caves National Park.

When we hear this story, we often talk about how awful it is that this priest and religious person cross over to the other side of the road and pretend they do not see the man in the ditch.

We can probably all empathize with the beat up man, right? We want to be seen when we are in our ditches – when we become the neighbor in need.

A widower might feel as though he is in a ditch when two years after his spouse has died –the rest of the world seems to just march on like nothing has happened.

It is definitely a ditch of some kind for the single mother trying to feed her children and provide a safe place, a mother who has to take a whole lot of judgment along with that box of food from the pantry.

It can be a challenging ditch-like experience for parents and family who walk with their teens and young adult children through the good, the bad and the ugly as best they can … along with a whole lot of opinions about what’s really wrong with their kid and their parenting.

The widower wants the world to still feel that pain of separation as he does. The single mom wants the world to see the spirit and back-breaking jobs she works that still don’t provide enough to put food on the table every day. The parent of the kid who gets caught vaping or does something impulsive and of poor judgment wants to be seen as someone trying really hard to parent in a world made drastically different in many ways by screens and social media.

We want to be seen when we are in our ditches – when we become the neighbor in need.

And it’s not just that, I realized as I was studying this story again, and thinking about Larry, the Good Samaritan of Mammoth Caves again. The relationship with neighbor didn’t stop at just seeing. What made Larry’s neighborly response so memorable was that he saw, felt compassion and was compelled to act on his neighbor’s behalf.

There were plenty of people that morning who saw that delivery guy’s mishap, including me. It was only Larry and the kids following his lead who acted – just like the Samaritan in our story today. I, on the other hand, stood by and watched the whole thing and snapped this picture.

Larry’s response highlights an important part of this story that I think is worth getting quite specific about. It’s not only that we are called to see the widower, the single mom, the stressed out parent or guardian, the guy who apparently doesn’t know how to stack a hand truck very well.

It is also that we let what we see compel us to act. The truth is, just being seen, just being the cause of someone else feeling compassion is often not enough, Jesus reminds us here. It’s not only that we are to say, “Everyone is the neighbor,” it’s that people can see that statement in how we act and the choices we make too. We see, we have compassion, we leave the judgment to God and we let our neighbor-loving Christian ways compel us to act on behalf of that neighbor.

The last thing I’ll say about this parable is to acknowledge that at different times in our lives, we embody all the characters – we might be the one in the ditch or the Samaritan, or we are the priest, the religious person or even the lawyer wondering how Jesus defines neighbor.

So I’ll end with a prayer for us, for wherever we find ourselves in this parable.

Let us pray,

God, help us to see our neighbor in the ditch, compel us to act boldly on their behalf – to walk and rest with them, laugh and cry with them, live and die with them.

And God, when those times come and we are the neighbor in the ditch, deliver us through neighbors with eyes to see and courage to act on our behalf too.

Finally, Lord, stay with us in those times when we behave more like the ones who turn a blind eye or need to be reminded of your love for all of creation; call out to us clearly when we let our own fears or tight schedules convince us it’s not our place or it’s none of our business anyway

And in all these things and more, let us hear Jesus’ teaching loudly and clearly: “Go and do likewise.” Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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