I love the story of the Good Samaritan. You will find it in the Gospel of Luke 10:25-37 in what we Christians call the New or First Testament.
Jesus tells the story of a man lying on the side of the road. He has been beaten and left for dead. At different times, two Jewish men come upon him. Both are religious and both cross to the other side of the road to avoid him. Then comes along a Samaritan man who has the courage to touch the victim, and take him to a place where he could be cared for, even paying the bill.
It is a story designed to make us feel uncomfortable. The audience was, I'm sure, shocked that Jesus would portray a Samaritan in such a positive light. Samaritans were outsiders. They didn't believe exactly like the audience did. The audience would have been able to understand the religious travelers avoiding the injured man. Who knew who he was? Was he dead or alive? Priests, in particular were told to avoid the dead, so who could blame the passers-by for avoiding an uncomfortable situation? Well, Jesus does. Jesus says to love your neighbor as yourself and your neighbor means everyone. EVERYONE.
Some months ago I read an article by Derek Powell on The Huffington Post called, "What if the kids don't want our church?"
Derek tells about a friend who was going through his mother's things after she had passed away. The friend began wondering what would happen if when he passed that his children didn't want his things. They lived in small spaces, weren't into antiques, and would rather travel than have a lot of "stuff." What would happen to his things, his mementos, his treasures? This got Derek to thinking about what would happen if our kids don't want the church we have created. It made me wonder if we love those young people enough to give them the church they need. It made me wonder if we love people enough to stop crossing the road to get away from them and their needs. It made me wonder how willing we are to allow people outside our churches into our midst to help change us.
Church has changed a lot since I was a kid when everyone we knew was in church on Sunday. We all wore the best clothes we owned. Women wore hats and gloves, never slacks. Men always wore suits, ties and hats. Only men served on boards and committees. We read only from either the King James Version of the Bible. Most women didn't work outside the home, so they were available for meetings during the day. We sang only hymns (as opposed to praise choruses) and attended church on Sunday morning, youth group and choir practice on Sunday afternoon, church on Sunday night and again on Wednesday night.
According to a 2011 Department of Labor report, people don't have time to be at church that much, nor do they have the inclination. At least 35 percent of working people work weekends and 57 percent of them are working multiple jobs.
Instead of youth group in the evenings on Sunday, many churches have it on Sunday mornings because the chance of getting the kids back to church later in the day is slim. Kids in our church come from five school systems and finding common times to get together is hard work.
Young people have told me they want worship that is meaningful. Some want contemporary worship; others want very traditional. Either way, they want it to be about being part of something that matters; they want to be challenged to think. They want energy. They want to feel welcome. They want to fit in and be comfortable, whether in jeans and flip flops or their Sunday best.
They want to serve, but they don't want to attend meetings. They want to build houses and feed the hungry. They aren't interested in coming to meetings to discuss whether or not we should do it.
Our children want to be noticed and cared about. They want to be part of something important, and I would imagine they would like teachers other than their parents.
Older people find it hard to get out early in the morning. They are up, but their bodies move more slowly than they used to. And they sometimes need rides to church and would love someone to invite them out to lunch.
People of all ages want community. They want to come into a church and understand things easily instead of trying to figure out the hidden language in the bulletin. They don't want to have to figure out what ABY (American Baptist Youth) is or wonder what are those songs they are singing and why aren't the words printed in the bulletin for everyone to see?
Are we going to love people enough to allow them to change the church into what they need or are we going to cross to the other side of the road to avoid them entirely?
As I read the story of the Good Samaritan, I think Jesus was asking that question way back then, too.
*Who is today's Samaritan? To a fundamentalist, it might be a liberal and vice versa. To a pro-life person, it might be a person who is pro-choice.