by Tony Gruenewald
Whenever we're in the community at an event like the Metuchen Country Fair it's always heartening to see people's reaction to these shirts that say, "God's Work...Our Hands." At the Country Fair we were selling rubber ducks for a buck to send to the ELCA's God's Global Barnyard program. Of course, most people wanted to add to their duck collection. Who knew, well Billy Orcutt knew, how many people collected rubber ducks? But some people just gave money and said, "Thank you for what you're doing!" Like I was God's ambassador in the world or something. And then I realized, "Oh yeah, I AM God's ambassador in the world." How humbling is that...that God shows so much grace that he allows a sinner like me to be God's ambassador in the world?
It's like in the parable Jesus tells about the Good Samaritan. These days we think of Samaritans as good. But it's lost to us now that to the people first hearing it, the idea that a Samaritan could be held up as an ambassador of God's mercy must have been totally shocking. To the Jews of Jesus' time Samaritans were heretics, the lowest of the low-a despised people to be avoided at all cost. But while others who considered themselves righteous avoided helping a stranger, the Samaritan came to his aid and did God's work with his hands. Jesus' original audience must have thought, "If even a Samaritan can show God's mercy, why can't I?"
These days it's called paying it forward: Repaying unexpected kindness by being kind to someone else, by doing something even as small as buying the stranger behind you a cup of coffee at McDonalds. Or, as Jesus put it, loving your neighbor as you love yourself.
Now we've ALL been gifted by God's grace. How do we respond to that greatest gift of all? How can we at St. Paul's pay God's grace forward? How can we at St. Paul's love our neighbors as we love ourselves? How can we at St. Paul's be like that Good Samaritan that Jesus uses as an example of showing mercy?
Over the past few weeks we've donated over $1,300 to Lutheran Disaster Relief to help our neighbors in need in Texas, and Florida, and Puerto Rico, and all the other places devastated by this year's hurricanes. One hundred percent of your donations have gone and will continue to go to buy and distribute things like food and water, blankets, and generators, to provide clean-up help, and to operate temporary shelters.
Why can all of that money be used for relief? Because St. Paul's and congregations like ours across the state and country decided to pay it forward with mission support. We take the gifts that have been given to us and pay it forward as mission support to the New Jersey Synod who then pays it forward to the ELCA who uses it to make sure:
That mission support we pay forward helps build and maintain the infrastructure that allows the Synod to help our neighbors in need. So, why is that infrastructure so important to build and maintain?
Well, here's been a lot of talk about infrastructure in the news. Roads, bridges, tunnels, airports...all in need of tax dollars for repairs. And what happens when that infrastructure isn't kept up and breaks? We've seen it here recently with New Jersey Transit and Amtrak...tracks and tunnels falling apart and trains derailing leading people getting injured and even killed...and if you tried to travel to and from New York this past summer...you may have experienced some long delays and cancelled trains as long-overdue repairs were made...emergency repairs they were called...that wouldn't have been an emergency if the tracks and tunnels...the infrastructure...had been maintained.
You may be wondering, what does this have to do with God's role in the Good Samaritan parable and our role with our neighbors?
Well, as much as we might want to personally do God's work in Texas or Puerto Rico, most of us can't go there, but by paying it forward through mission support we can make sure that Lutheran Disaster Relief can have people there to do God's Work. And like the Good Samaritan came back to check on the injured man, they'll continue to do God's Work in those places long after the television cameras and first responders have gone home.
So, what is our role in this? We've been given the gift of God's grace and mercy...how do we pay that gift forward? How can make sure God's work gets done for all of our neighbors? If our hands can't personally be there we can send mission support to make sure someone's hands are there is our name doing God's work. That portion of your offering you designate on your envelope to mission support goes a long way to paying it forward to make sure the infrastructure is in place and maintained so it's ready to help around the state...around the country...and around the world...to as Jesus said, "go and do likewise" in paying God's grace forward to help all of our neighbors in their times of need.
I'm humbled to think that God has chosen someone like me to be a Good Samaritan and pay forward his mercy in this world. Hey, I'm more than well acquainted with my own faults to know I'd probably not choose myself as an ambassador to much of anything. But God's given me the grace to pay it forward or as Jesus put it, "go and do likewise." And it's amazing to know that here at St. Paul's I'm surrounded by all of you, who God has also chosen to be Good Samaritans, God's ambassadors to "go and do likewise." Now, just think of all the mercy we can pay forward in this fallen world. Amen
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