Last week I met a retired pastor who told me about the church he attends in Sahuarita, Arizona, The Good Shepherd United Church of Christ. He is proud of the ministry being done there, a commitment to save migrant lives in the desert. The ministry is called Samaritans or Los Samaritanos.
- Come to a meeting
- Desert searches for migrants needing assistance
- Basura clean-ups of the desert
- Humanitarian visits to Mexico to aid returned migrants
- Preparing food packs for searches
- Maintaining search vehicles
- Public education
- Writing letters and articles
- Make a tax deductible donation
Of course, not everyone likes the work the church is doing, my retired friend told me. In fact, the church attracted a picketer, who would walk back and forth in front of their building carrying a sign that said, “Good Samaritan, Bad American.”
Why would we want to help people who don’t look like us, talk like us, worship like us? That seems to be the frame of reference of the picketer, who also sometimes carried a sign reading “Say No to Social Justice.” That particular church understands its faith in one way, and the protester understands the same faith in another way. This is much on my mind as pundits argue over whether the ISIS-encouraged/planned attacks creating horror during Ramadan are a blot on all Muslims, or a sign that ISIS isn’t really Muslim at all. We may want the latter to be true, in order to make the case that our Muslim neighbors are not all the same. Sound bites are too quick for nuance.
In a sermon, we get more than a sound bite, somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes to unpack the things we find important in relationship to a very familiar story told by Jesus to explain what it means to be a neighbor. (Find all the texts for this week here.) Who are the neighbors your church community passes by on the other side?
Here’s the moment in my retired friend’s story that confirmed for me how much Good Shepherd Church is doing right. One day the picketer came to the door of the church and asked to speak to the pastor. “I’ll be away for a few weeks,” he said, “and I don’t want you to worry that something has happened to me.” He figured they would care. He knew they would be a neighbor to him, too.
Martha Spong is the Executive Director of RevGalBlogPals and a United Church of Christ pastor; she lives in South Central Pennsylvania (US) and blogs at marthaspong.com. She is the editor of There’s a Woman in the Pulpit (SkyLight Paths, 2015).
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