“Unlikley and Unexpected”

July 17, 2016
Jonathan Rumburg
Luke 10:25-37

Introduction

If you have conducted commerce of any kind in recent months, it’s likely you have been invited to “give your opinion” regarding your experience.  Often this comes at us in the form of a survey that says, “Rate your service” or some version of that.

At the end of a meal at a restaurant, the server might circle a web address on the receipt where you can take a survey and earn a free appetizer on your next visit.  Or, a local department store survey will give you a chance to win a $500 shopping spree.  While on hold with your health insurance provider, you may be asked if you would be willing to participate in a survey following your call.  If you fly, maybe you’ll get an email with a survey that queries about everything from the pilot’s tone of voice to the quality of the entertainment options.  If you stay at a hotel, you’ll be asked if the pillows were fluffed.  And if in the right place you might even be asked to rate your rest room experience.

The surveys are all about your experience as a customer with a business.

Did the host greet you warmly upon your arrival?  Were you able to find what you were looking for?  When you had questions, were the employees helpful, knowledgeable and courteous?  Did you wait longer than you expected?  Did your server go “above and beyond”?  The questions continue endlessly, which makes you hope they ask you to rate the survey itself.  Finally, however, you get to the closing question that appears on just about every survey: How would you rate your overall satisfaction?

From the restaurant to the restroom, the store to the doctor’s office, the utility website to the insurance agent on the phone, we are asked to rate the services we receive, on scale of one to ten; “Excellent” “Good” “Satisfactory” “Poor”; or my favorite: “Smiley Face” or “Frowny Face.”  Businesses covet this information because surveys have shown that quality service is the primary factor influencing how much customers trust a business.

70 percent have said the way they are treated is the basis of their decision to purchase or not.  55 percent say they are willing to pay a higher price when the service is better.  Conversely, 89 percent say they have stopped doing business with a company after receiving bad service.  Additionally, you are twice as likely to tell others about a bad experience as you are to share a good one.

This means that the quality of a product doesn’t matter much if the business’s service is terrible.  You can build a better widget, but if customers don’t feel you have served them well, it’s not going to matter.  With this knowledge, businesses have had to rethink what they do.  They can no longer simply look inward to products, processes and profits.  They need to also, and primarily, be aware of how well they are serving their customers.

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          This principle can be found in the teachings of Jesus— which conveys the message that if we are followers of Jesus, our essential job is to serve others.

And today he does this in the parable of the Good Samaritan—the story of a man who had been beaten and robbed and left for dead, passed over by religious authorities, until an unlikely person came along who was willing to serve in unexpected ways.

Move 1

The story of the Good Samaritan begins when a religious leader approaches Jesus asking what he has to do to gain eternal life.  Luke lets us know that this isn’t an honest inquiry.  It’s a test, a trick question, which Jesus recognizes, and immediately turns the question back on the man, who, being an expert in the religious law, gives the correct answer.

This lawyer, however, couldn’t leave well enough alone.  He presses further, asking a follow-up question through which he hopes to justify himself.  While the question may sound innocuous, a close examination reveals Luke’s observation—the lawyer is far less concerned about his neighbor than he is himself.  Note his use of first person pronouns, “What must I do to gain eternal life?”  “Who is my neighbor?”

Like a company solely asking if its products are good enough, its processes efficient enough, and its profits high enough; the religious leader is asking all “me” questions:  “What do I need to do?”  “What don’t I need to do?”  “How can I receive the reward of eternal life?”

Jesus’ story of a mugging victim left by the side of the road teaches that these are the wrong questions.  We cannot look only at ourselves.  We need to look at others—others who are in need.  Others who are pushed to the margins.  Others who are made to feel they don’t matter in the world.  Others who are being beaten and robbed and left for dead.  We should be asking how well we are serving others.  We should be serving the unlikely in unexpected ways.

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          The Samaritan is focused completely on the needs of the other, and treats the victim as he would want to be treated if he were in the same predicament.

Clearly the focus is on the response and so after quickly describing the priest and Levite crossing the street, and intentionally not telling us why because that’s not the focus of his teaching, Jesus goes into detail about the Samaritan’s action.  And he does this for a reason—to make clear just what the Samaritan did, and to make the crowd, and us, aware that Jesus expects the unlikely and unexpected.

The Samaritan bandages the wounds of the victim using his own oil and wine— unlikely and unexpected outlay.  He puts the injured man on his donkey, giving up his vehicle— unlikely and unexpected inconvenience.  He takes the victim to an inn to rest and heal— unlikely and unexpected detour.  He spends the night treating him— unlikely and unexpected delay.  He then gives the innkeeper money to continue the care— unlikely and unexpected expense.  He promises to pay whatever more it costs— unlikely and unexpected commitment.

Move 2

So, how would you rate the Samaritan’s service?  Was it excellent or just satisfactory?  A smiley face or a frowny face?  How do you suppose the victim would rate the service received from this Samaritan— service that was a surprising act of kindness, especially given traditional animosities between Samaritans and Jews?  On a scale of 1 to 10, how satisfied do you suppose our victim was with the service received from the priest?  From the Levite?  We would guess 1’s all the way around.  Not so satisfied.  Frowny faces.

When Jesus asks which of these three acted as a neighbor, the answer is clear.  The point, however, is not simply to recognize good customer service when you see it.  Jesus wants the religious leader, and us, to “go and do likewise.”  He is asking us to make “above-and-beyond” the norm of Christian service.

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          So how are we doing?  If we were rated for our Christian service, how might we be doing?  Some churches give customer satisfaction surveys to those who worship with them for the first time.  They ask them to rate the coffee and donuts, the music, the nursery, and (heaven forbid) the sermon.  Jesus, though, is more interested in our service to mugging victims— to those robbed, stripped and left by the side of the road.  Jesus is more interested in our service to those who society sees in pain and then ignores.  How are we doing?

If we asked those standing on street corners holding up cardboard signs, or victims of domestic abuse, or those in prison, or the addicts and alcoholics, would they be satisfied with the service they receive from the church?

When we consider the victims of racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty and the drug epidemic, how would they rate our service to them?  What results would we expect if we handed out satisfaction surveys to those closest to us?  How would our children, spouse, coworkers and next-door neighbors rate the quality of service and love they receive from us?  Do we go above and beyond?

What would people say if we asked them to rate our Christian service?

Move 3

The lawyer came to Jesus wanting to justify himself.  He wanted to hear that he was doing enough to get into heaven.  And when he started to hear what he didn’t want to hear, he asked a question he though would get him the loophole he wanted—who then is my neighbor?  But Jesus turns this question on its ear by asking a different question— Who acted as the neighbor to the mugging victim?

This perspective changes the focus from the neighbor as object to the neighbor as subject; from the one being acted upon, to the one doing the action.  Jesus shows us that the attorney is asking the wrong question.  Jesus wants him to consider, instead, if the people in the greatest need would say he is doing enough.

The goal, of course, is to offer the same quality of service the Samarian did when he went above-and-beyond everyone’s expectations, giving what he had to bring healing to one in need because the real proof is in the experience of the customer. This is what Jesus is teaching to the religious leader, and to us—that when it comes to seeing others, he expects the unlikely and unexpected.

Conclusion

Loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving your neighbor as yourself are more than platitudes to include in the mission and vision statements of a church.  They are to be lived every day.

We are to love not only with our hearts, but also with our hands and feet.  Like the Samaritan, we are to be moved with compassion to give of our time, resources and money to those in the most need.  We are called to do the unlikely and offer the unexpected in order to bring healing and wholeness to a broken and fragmented world.

So in a day when we are often asked to evaluate the service we receive from a restaurant or a business or even a restroom, let us dedicate ourselves to serving our community with above and beyond service—service that is unlikely and unexpected.  Because as businesses knows, no matter how great the product we are trying to share, if the service is lousy no one cares.

Let’s make sure people care, and are cared for.  Amen.

Pastoral Prayer

God of holy hospitality, you make the world your neighborhood.  Opening yourself to all, you care for those in special need, of body, mind or soul.  As those who long to re-create your beloved community, we discover many neighbors, far and near, sure often different than us, but then again, not so different.  And many are in great need.

Today we remember neighbors near and far, those around the corner and those around the world.  We lift up those in our community and those around the world who are injured or sick, who long for your healing, whose disagreements bring discord, whose differences keep them from seeing their common humanity.

We lift up those who have been pushed to the margins so that they are more easily forgotten and ignored, because such is easier than offering life changing help.

We lift up those who believe themselves to be too busy, or too important, or too insignificant, or too afraid to offer life giving service where it is needed, that you would change their minds and hearts.

And we especially lift up our neighbors in Nice, France, and all throughout the country of Turkey, who are struggling through the atrocity of more acts of evil that have befallen those countries.  May your grace and peace be an abiding presence, and may your resolve to persevere though such horrors inspire them to stand up and not cower away.

For all of our neighbors, Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer
Holy God, you tell us that the door is open to anyone who knocks.  You invite us to gather around your table to share the meal that you have prepared.

Help us then, to live as neighbors with all those who eat with us, and with all those who long to eat.

Teach us also to create new community with those who eat in other houses, around other tables.

Unite us with brothers and sisters everywhere, as neighbors of yours, and ours.

For your ways of loving you, and loving others as we would want to be loved is truly the only way our broken and fragmented world will find healing.

We ask that you would listen now to the prayers that come from our hearts, offered to you, in this time of Holy Silence.

All this we pray in the name of Christ Jesus, who taught us to pray, saying, “Our…”

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