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From the Archive: A Plan and a Prayer – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist originally preached this sermon on July 15, 2007.  In it, he offers his thoughts on Luke 10:25-37, also this week’s proper.


You may know the term “proof-texting” when it comes to the interpretation of the Bible.  Proof-texting comes down to deciding whatever it is you want to say about the Bible, and then searching out the scriptures to find the verses or the stories to support or prove your point.  By being very selective in your Bible references, by choosing and mixing and matching verses, you can make the Bible say almost anything you want it to say. For example, “Judas went out and hung himself.”  “Go and do likewise.”  That could be a rather extreme example of proof-texting: patching together two things which really are not related to one another.  Another form of proof-texting is taking a verse or story from the scriptures out of the larger context – making more of it or less of it than should be, were you to look the whole picture.

I want to say that this gospel lesson appointed for today could lend itself to proof-texting.  If we were to take Jesus’ story of this good Samaritan as a kind of normative template for how we are always to navigate in the world, we might miss the mark.  Now I know this is rather risky ground for a preacher to tread.  The Good Samaritan gets such good press in the Bible.  Who am I to impugn the actions or motives of the Good Samaritan?  So I won’t.  Rather, I want to extol the virtues of the priest who gets very bad press.  This is the priest who passes by to the other side of this man who has been beaten and robbed.  I admit to identifying with the priest.  I have passed by many people, many, many people in life who are in great need.  They may not be bloodied by robbers, as in Jesus’ story, but they are clearly wounded by life.  Something has happened to them, and you need go no further than the streets surrounding Harvard Square to find such poor souls.  Whether they have struggled with substance abuse, or mental illness, or joblessness, or some kind of terrible trauma, whatever, they are clearly in need, a good many of them standing or sitting or laying beside the roadway.

Looking backwards in my own life, I recall being traumatized in the work I did right out of college in international development.  I made a trip to Haiti and saw a level of abject need that was absolutely overwhelming.  I had never before seen such poverty, and this just miles off our Florida shores.  I returned to the States intent on simplifying my life, giving more and more away to those in need, eating less, sleeping less, working more.  It was my kind of intentional identification with these dear, so-poor people I had come to know in Haiti.  Less for me was more for them.  I remember waking up one morning realizing my own downward spiral was mostly fueled by guilt because of my many privileges as a white, North American male in good health and with the benefit of some education.  I felt guilty about that, and I was atoning for my guilt by practicing incredible generosity meanwhile making myself as miserable as those whom I had met.  And I was miserable.  And so were the other people who had to put up with me.  To overlay my story atop the story that Jesus tells about the Good Samaritan, it’s as if I took the action of the Good Samaritan as inviolable marching orders, always, and with everyone in need.  Finally someone rescued me and told me this wasn’t the only story in the Bible.

My point is twofold.  I think we need a plan and we need a prayer.  The prayer is about our own individual place as a child of God in a world filled with God’s children.  We need a prayer – a way of praying our lives – which acknowledges the dignity of our own birth and the benefits of our own life.  And we need a prayer for how we desire to steward this gift of life entrusted to us.  It’s how to pray gratitude for all we are and all we hold.  It’s to see it all as what God has entrusted to us (very temporarily) to steward in this life.  All that we are, all that we have we hold in trust.  I would say we need to hold it all very gently.  Don’t cling.  Don’t hoard.  Hold like in the palm of your hand.  Be ready to part from it sooner rather than just later.  I would say we all need a way of praying our lives that acknowledges our own place in life, and  that allows, encourages, and enables others to live, also.  If this is not your practice already, a way to begin is to pray the front page of the newspaper.  Pray the front page of the newspaper as if you would looking into a family photo album.  We belong to one another.  We who are children of God read the stories, see the pictures of these other children of God.  That means we’re like siblings to one another: the greatest and least are all among us.

Momentarily, as we draw our focus to the altar, we will be invited to pray the prayer that Jesus taught us, what we call the Lord’s Prayer.  There is this phrase in the Lord’s prayer, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  This kingdom comes to be on earth by all of us taking up our distinctive responsibilities as builders of this kingdom.  I was saying that we all need a prayer.  And we all need a plan.  This is about the plan.  What is your plan?  We cannot all do everything; but we all can do something to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.  (Those words are Jesus’ promises of what he, that is, “we,” will do.  We will do in Jesus’ name and power: to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.)  All of us have a different constellation of gifts, a different reach, a different cultural heritage, a different ability to connect with people, different ground on which we stand and navigate.  What’s your plan?  I think we all need a plan to embrace for where our own lives touch and transform the world which God so loves.

Which brings me back to Jesus’ story of the good Samaritan whom Jesus extols as a worthy neighbor.  The Good Samaritan clearly does what is good, and right, and helpful.  I suspect that all of us here have our own version of being a Good Samaritan, whether it was one particularly significant experience in our life, or whether this is an ongoing pattern how we respond to need.  I can identify with the Good Samaritan, as I’m sure all of you can.  But I said earlier that I can also identify with the priest who passes by on the other side of the road.  What’s his story?  From where has he come and where is he going?  We don’t know.

I’m reminded of my own experience this past December around Christmas.  I was at a shopping center where I passed by someone who was collecting money and supplies for needy children and their families.  I had several sacks of purchases in my arms.  I passed by this collection point and made no contribution.  The person overseeing this collection station called to me made several rather-badgering comments to me about why I should be contributing to this worthy cause.  I simply passed by, a little offended, mostly saddened, and I made no response to this person.  What he did not know was the sacks in my arms were supplies and gifts for poor children and their families in Tanzania and Kenya, where several of us brothers traveled on mission just after Christmas.  That was our plan.  I was on a mission.  This other man – a good soul, undoubtedly – simply did not know that he did not know that I was already on a mission.  And I would say we’re all on a mission and we don’t usually know the full story of one another.  It seems to me we should err on the side of dignity as we look on one another as they make their own way.

I admit that this may be proof-texting, but I want to think that the priest in Jesus’ story was also capable of being a very good neighbor.  Maybe he was on the way to the next accident scene.  Maybe he just came from one?  We don’t know.  We never know.  What we can know is the truth of our own lives: all that we are and all that we hold is gift, entrusted to us for a very short while on this earth.   The Lord gives; the Lord takes away.  Be prepared to give away what inevitably is taken away at death.  Have a plan that fits your life.  Let your plan spring from your prayer, that all of your life be hallowed.  In the doing, we all share in what Jesus had in mind, now and for all eternity.

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14 Comments

  1. Charlotte Weaver-Gelzer on April 20, 2015 at 06:16

    A yielding interpretation of the Good Samaritan parable. For example, this comment is 2 years after the last one, which is at least 2 years after the first one! I am given to the idea that if the priest had aided the wounded, the Samaritan could not have. .. probably not a good line to take…leave it to the next Comer is why we have short term solutions to terrible problems. And again, about poverty itself, we Americans tend to see it always by comparison with more, but we find ourselves overlooking what makes for enough. In considering this story using your personal account of passing a different kind of beggar, a ‘righteous’ beggar, in fact, the collecting point is a good example of the absence of true connection in God, because the opportunity to give satisfies a guilt, but creates or sustains no relationship. I wonder, now, what Christians have to offer people of our culture, besides the opportunity to share material benefits. Consider the large number of charities that ask no questions about community. Each of the actors in Jesus’ story represent whole communities within (and beyond ) the nation. The thought that we should look on each other with respect seems new and odd today, doesn’t it?
    Thank you for reposting this sermon.

  2. susie mcniff on April 18, 2015 at 18:14

    Curtis – this is probably one of the best sermons I have ever read. It is relevant and powerful . I will read it again and again as I discern what and what I need to do next as a Christian Educator. Thank you.

  3. Evan Lassen on April 18, 2015 at 10:56

    Brother Curtis,

    You are very introspectively gifted.
    Your “Proof Text” as to the Priest who diverts to the
    opposite side of the road may be abiding to what we
    now call a rule of First Aid. “Do Nothing if you are not
    trained .” He might have been going on to find help
    and being a Priest of his time was unable to have to
    go through ritual cleansing if he were to attempt
    aiding the victim. He just carries his gifts in a different
    basket.

  4. Michael on April 18, 2015 at 09:37

    The idea that we need to be kind to ourselves and allow for our humaness that inevitably brings with it some hardships, mistakes and questionable actions is always welcomed. While we work with with whetever the gifts God has given us to make a better world, let us never forget to gift ourselves as well

  5. Lisa on April 18, 2015 at 09:21

    Thank you. I have heard reference to praying the newspaper in the past, this time it resonates for me in a new way.

  6. Roderic Brawn on April 18, 2015 at 06:36

    I’m sure flummoxed by this sermon. From what I see around me every day I am confused. I am just in May of 2016 I will be 61 years old. I am retired. When I have worked I think I have given everything I have had to give. I think in a loving considerate way. I became a teacher when I was 43 years old. I am a music teacher, and I can teach French and History. I made some mistakes along the way, but I kept teaching. In the end I remained an occasional teacher, you a substitute teacher for over seven and a half years. In that position I was seen as suitable for target practice by my students. By other regular teachers in those schools as something beneath them. Administrators well, it was easier to blame me for difficulties than to make children in their schools behave. It was a tough way to make a living. Then I had apparently misbehaved, and was fired. At age fifty four I had to start again. Well, I drove a truck for a time. Thankfully, my wife will support me. I have a small pension from my teaching days, and I have a small Canada pension. I sing in my church choir, and play the trumpet and cornet in a community concert band. My wife and I have two young men from a former refugee family sponsored by our church living in our home. It is my wife’s teachers’ pension that funds all of this. I work on our home, maintaining it in the way I can. I support our godsons, as I can in body mind and spirit. I think I imagine troubles that are not there.

  7. Claudia Booth on October 19, 2013 at 18:36

    Thank you for the encouraging words, Brother Curtis. As I age, I have been troubled with physical issues; a bad back and torn rotator cuff that cannot be repaired. This situation has interrupted my life and made it impossible for me to continue work as a nurse as I am unable to either sit or stand for long periods and cannot lift heavy objects. Over the last couple of months it has been remarkable to see the Spirit at work giving my life new direction and new meaning. Every day is like Christmas!

  8. Janet Campbell on January 6, 2012 at 14:33

    Thank you, Curtis.

  9. Nancy Frey on January 5, 2012 at 07:10

    I do not want to detract from the overall emphasis of Brother Curtis’ remarks which are significant and worthy. I do however want to add some remarks about poverty and misery since my mission seems to be to work in some of the poorest countries in Africa.

    I have visited Haiti three times. I also lived in Benin (West Africa) for over nine years. I have seen poverty and need first hand, but I do not think we need to equate poverty with misery. I have seen hopelessness and despair in the lives of well off people. It also seems to me that suicide — one indicator of despair — is more prevalent among the wealthiest nations. My Beninese brothers and sisters have taught me the practice of gratitude — being grateful for the things we tend to take for granted in the West. I am grateful for a good night’s rest, for the air that I breathe, for life. They have also taught me how to worship joyfully, to trust wholeheartedly, to hope continually. My experiences among the poorest and most disempowered people have enriched me greatly with spiritual resources I could not find in North America.

    I do not want to dismiss the very real needs or suggest that we should leave the “happy poor” alone. Rather I want to suggest that even while we see the needs of others we should see them as more than just needy. They are also people with much to teach and give. When God presents us with the opportunity to engage in acts of self-giving love (such as the Good Samaritan) it is a gift to us! Of course, the trick is to know when God is inviting us to respond — to discern what is our mission. We are not required to save the whole world, but just to do our part.

    • Anne on April 18, 2015 at 08:09

      Yes, Nancy! Thank you! EVERYONE has so much to teach and give! Worship joyfully! Be grateful! Amen and Amen!

    • Janet on April 18, 2015 at 10:47

      Thank you Nancy for adding another dimension to Brother Curtis’ excellent sermon. So much to meditate on and be grateful for on this, my birthday morning.

  10. Brenda Donahue on January 5, 2012 at 05:59

    Thank you for the daily message found in my email today to remember Gratitude. It can put a new face on every facet of my life when I remember to ask my brain, soul, attitude to be in the mode of gratitude. I have recently been grateful for health and have been placing my body in the realm of my being only its steward, thereby treating it as God would want. (I have lost 3 lbs. and my torn meniscus is responding well to the physical therapy exercises I do 2x daily…do I want to do them? No. When I remember that God would ask me to be grateful for the opportunity to heal, I do the ‘right’ thing….get down on my Yoga mat and exercise.)

    Thank you.
    Brenda Donahue

  11. Nancy sparrow on January 5, 2012 at 05:47

    Brother Curtis, I read your words the morning I am to bury my father David. He lived his life as the kInd of steward you speak of. This will help guide me as I discern how to follow in his footsteps as my own piece of the body. Thank you.

  12. Christie Robinson on July 18, 2010 at 01:05

    Thank you for sharing again this wonderful message. I am reading this sermon from a city on the Tibetan Plateau, where I’ve come to do some research related to my graduate studies in Buddhism. What a blessing to share in the life of this community, even from across the world.

    This message comes to me during a time when I am struggling to clarify my vocation as an academic. How will I use my life of study and teaching to bless others, to share the riches of God’s kingdom? The situation here among the politically dispossessed seems desperate sometimes, and I feel myself tempted to either fling myself into the Good Samaritan role (out of guilt rather than calling) or to walk by with blinders on, unable to face the often disappointing reality. Your message of “a plan and a prayer” keeps us humble while also keeping us engaged. Small steps, small graces, small people build the Kingdom.

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