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Dying in a Ditch...And Then It Gets Worse

 Image by Shift and Sheriff from Pixabay

What if the hated worthless one could save your life?

Dying in A Ditch
a sermon by Rev. J. Christy Ramsey
Click the title above for a mp3 recording 

Audio from Truckee Lutheran Presbyterian Church, on July 28, 2019
edited from a flawless transcription made by edigitaltranscriptions; all errors are mine. 

Luke 10:25-37


Sermons also available free on iTunes


Ditch the name “Good Samaritan”. It’s not in the Bible. It’s just something we call it, and we’re wrong. It is not the story of the Good Samaritan, at least for today. It is the story of Ditch Man. That makes it our story, because that is where Jesus needs us to be to hear the Gospel. We need to be in the ditch beside the man who asks the question.

Did you notice the switch in the question between the beginning and end of the story? The first question was from the man: “Who is my neighbor?” Then Jesus says a man, about as generic as the Bible gets, so you can put yourself in his place. You, questioner, you are walking, and this happens to you. Not really talking about the qualities of a neighbor…but of you the questioner. The question at the end of the story posed by Jesus was who was a neighbor to the man. You see the switch? From the labeling of others to the personal relationship. We love to do the opposite. Oh, we love to do that. We love to take what is personal to us and put it out there as a generic label of other things and other people so we could say neighbor yes/no and judge others or even ourselves by external actions and appearances…never pausing to consider what it means to our soul and spirit when someone unexpected is a neighbor to us.

Now, in technical terms, if you go to seminary, you learn that this is where you cross from preaching to meddling. Preaching to meddling. Meddling is about getting into my soul and spirit instead of Preaching about morality for other people, how they should act, so I can judge them. The question isn’t find generic neighbor and put a sticker on them. It is about who do you accept as your neighbor. Not the other’s behavior but your own bias. YIKES Meddling alert!

You see, us Christians especially, us wonderful, fairly well off, First World Christians, we love to take these Bible stories of personal transformation and spiritual challenge and make it into some kind of morality play. We do it all the time. We say this is the way you should act. Here’s the rules for nice people in nice places. This is what we do best. We want to make, measure and mark Good Samaritans.

That’s not what Jesus wants for us. Jesus is telling us about everyman and everywoman in the ditch. And that’s where we need to be, in a ditch. Stay in the ditch where Jesus puts us. Can you imagine? You’re having a bad day. You are going from Jerusalem to Jericho, not an easy trip, lot of low hills, lot of desert, not a good time, not a good trip. And it is the way to say, if you want to say “bad neighborhood,” you wouldn’t say “infested.” You wouldn’t say “Baltimore.” You wouldn’t say that. You would say as bad as “Jericho Road”. When folks heard on the road to Jericho, people were bracing themselves – that is a tough road. And ditch man gets robbed, beaten up and left for dead. And people walk by, and they go, yeah, that’s how it happens. I could get in trouble for helping the foreigners, they’re bad hombres, should have come in the country the right way. I wouldn’t do that, he’s on his own. You know it’s a bad part of the country, it happens, should have stay in their own country.

Just when the audience knows this is the low point, Jesus kicks it up a notch, “And then the Samaritan comes.” And everybody gasps, “Of all the things, I thought we were at the worst part of the story passed us. But now that Samaritan comes.” The Samaritan was a half-breed. He was a half-breed traitor. He was a half-breed traitorous blasphemer. Wrong Race, Wrong Religion, Wrong Region. He didn’t do anything right. A collaborator with the enemy, probably a drug mule. They were they did worship all wrong, knelt when they should stand. Horrible sub-humans! You did not set foot in Samaria. You went around Samaria. If you touched Samarian sand, you made sure to take it off your feet because it was the original “S”-hole country.

So get in the ditch. Imagine you’re in the ditch. You’ve been beaten up. You’re dying. You’re robbed. You’re naked. And your worst enemy comes down the road. What do you do? Maybe you crawl a little bit further down in the ditch, saying, “Oh, I don’t want THAT GUY to see me like this. He’s probably going to kick me again.” How can your day get worse than to have all this happen to you, and then be dependent, not on the help of strangers, that might be okay, but on the help of your worst enemy? The person you don’t want to be around, that doesn’t want to be around you. You totally agree on that, and that’s all you agree on. Your worst enemy. I don’t know, for some of you, maybe they’re wearing a MAGA hat. Some of you, maybe they have an Antifa shirt on, huh? Maybe they don’t speak English…maybe it is your EX! Whatever riles you up, that’s what they are.

And they’re coming down the road, and you’re lying in the ditch. I can almost imagine the Good Samaritan coming over to help. The guy dying, he goes, “No, no, get away. I’m okay. I’m all right. I’ll be fine. It’s just a flesh wound.” Who comes to help changes how much I help I’ll accept. The one you hated helps you. That is a bigger soul struggle than a sermon on the five steps to being a good neighbor. Can you let someone that you hate help you? Can you see the hated other, the thing, the enemy, the traitor, the one we don’t need, the one that should go back where they came from. If you can talk, worship, clothe, salute right like us: Go back to your own place, help them not me. What are you doing here in decent people land? That one. Someone you need for your very life. Someone you need the help of right now. Can you be in that ditch of decision?

You see, Jesus wants us in the ditch so that we are faced with that question. Soon as you jump out that ditch and start walking along, whether you’re the priest or the Levite, the religious person or the Good Samaritan, soon as you get out of the ditch, you’re out of the story that Jesus wants you in. Jesus wants you in that ditch. Jesus wants you in that ditch and seeing your hated enemy coming by. And he wants you right there. And he wants you to answer the question, who do I allow to be neighbor? Who do I recognize as my neighbor?

Well, he didn’t used to be my neighbor, but I might reconsider now. It’s not just giving a dollar on the street to the guy who needs the help. It’s not giving a gold coin in the Salvation Army kettle at Christmastime. It’s not even going up and down mountain roads and picking up tourists that just can’t believe that the road is closed, like my daughter, God bless her. She was the one got picked up, not the truck. You see the other, the foreign one, the hated one is necessary for your survival. Not tolerated. Not put up with. Not diversity. But someone I need for my very survival.

Now, I don’t want to tell you you shouldn’t help the poor. Or that you shouldn’t be a neighbor. Spoiler alert, yeah, you should. But we’re bigger. We’re better. We’re further than that. I mean, that’s Mr. Rogers, a Presbyterian minister, by the way. But I expect more of you, just like Jesus does. He expects you to be in the ditch and to consider who your neighbor is from the ditch, not the safety and superiority of the road. Who do I discount? Overlook? Discard? See as worthless? See as a drag on society? See as a pain in my side? See as someone I don’t need, someone I’d be better off without? Who can I see from the ditch that is necessary for my life to continue?

Two out of five Fortune 500 companies, 45 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded either by immigrants or children of immigrants. If we had banned them, if we went to zero immigration level, as some would like, we would still be an okay country, I suppose. But 45 percent of our Fortune 500 companies would not be there. Almost half would be gone. 3.2 million immigrants run their own business here and employ vastly disproportionate amounts of people. We would be okay…but not great. Are they the enemy? Are they the foreigner? Are they an invader? Should they go back where they came from? Or do we need them to get us out of the ditch? Jesus wants to know.

Now, Jesus leaves us with a question. I ain’t going to tell you about how to be a good neighbor or look over there a neighbor acting person. He asked me the question of the ditch to me inside of me. Who is a neighbor to the guy in the ditch? And you can just hear the teeth clenched response. “I suppose it was the Samaritan.” He got it. No more questions wanting to justify himself as neighbor labeling pro. Can you hear his muttering? “Jesus, I’m never going to ask him another question. I could have quit when I was ahead, he said I had eternal life! But no, I just had to go on to justify myself.

I don’t know who makes you clench your teeth when if you have to admit you are related to them and NEED THEM TO LIVE. That’s your neighbor, thank you Jesus.

So I got installed in the first church I served for a time in a small, small town. Well, I guess compared to Truckee it wasn’t small. It was an average size town. It had one, one, count them, one hotel. One. The Rosedale. One hotel. That was it. You either stayed there, or you just kept driving. There was no bed and breakfast. There was no Airbnb. There was nothing like that. It was Rosedale or on the road you go for at least another hour.

Well, a couple came up from – God bless them, Alice and Tom Derson, they drove hundreds of miles to come to my installation – from my home church where I grew up. They didn’t tell me they were coming. They just wanted to surprise me. They came and stayed at the Rosedale Motel. Just as they were checking into the only itty-bitty hotel in this itty-bitty town, far away from where they live, comes roaring up two dozen motorcycles. It was thunder on the plain. This amazingly clean-cut motorcycle gang gets off their bikes, come swarming in the hotel, and buys up every room there. And they all had guns. Every. One. Of. them. This was before open carry was a fashion statement.

Well Alice came to my installation with barely opened eyes. She did not get one wink of sleep because she was surrounded by armed motorcycle gang. Trapped. There was nowhere to go. She was frightened for their lives. Any minute they were going to start carousing and break down their door. What could she do far from home and unarmed? She stayed up all night, and her husband with her.

They checked out the next morning, bleary-eyed. Nothing had happened. The bikers were gone. She looks at the clerk and asks, “What was that motorcycle gang that was here last night?” And the hotel clerk says, “Who, them? Those were the Association of Motorcycle Police. They were on their way to the conference in South Bend.”

Telling me this, Alice looked me in the eye and testified, “Last night I was the safest I have ever been in my entire life, and I spent my whole night in terror and fear.” That’s some ditch talking there.

The people that you hate, don’t want you in the ditch, the people that don’t belong here, the people that you KNOW are against you, guess what, you need to see them as neighbor, your eternal sould needs to see them as neighbor. Not just they’re allowed to be here, if they behave and are grateful. It isn’t about how good you are at labeling them, You need them to live. We need them to live. Don’t stay hidden in your hotel room in terror. Helps all around, you’re the safest you’ve ever been.


Rosedale Motel, Rochester, Indiana