Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wesley's General Rules: Rule #2 - Do Good.

(Read Luke 10:25-37)

As a child, I felt bad for Tim Kassuf. He was the kid who everyone made fun of and pushed around. In 4th grade, he had big, thick brown glasses. His feet turned out so he kind of walked like a duck. He was short and chubby. He dressed like a dad. Not that any of these things really matter or say anything about what kind of a person Tim was, but they were reason enough for a bunch of insensitive children to be cruel.

I felt bad for Tim Kassuf, but I never defended him, and I never befriended him. I didn’t tell the other kids to be quiet, and I didn’t go over to him and say hello. I actually really liked Tim Kassuf’s laugh. I can still remember it. It was a happy, jolly giggle of sorts that spread across his whole face and squinted his eyes behind his thick, brown glasses. I never told Tim this of course, and I never told him jokes to get him to laugh. I just felt sorry for him from afar. Even worse, I ignored him.

Can you remember someone in your past who you were weren’t good to? Someone you didn’t know how to help so you just ignored them? The dorky kid in school? The crying lady from your office? The old guy who lived across the street? Your own child crying but you couldn’t deal with it? Your parents or grandparents? The bum on the street who asked you for money and smelled like urine? I bet we can all remember people that we would go back and treat differently. Or maybe you were the one who other people didn’t stop to help when you wished they would have. On behalf of all the people who don’t know better, I apologize.

John Wesley’s second rule is to do good. Last week, we talked about his first rule, to do no harm. Next week, we will talk about his third rule, to stay in love with God. Today, we explore his second rule: do all the good you can, in all the places you can, to all the people you can. It’s a tall order to fill like most of Jesus’ instructions. It challenges us to be more generous and courageous than we typically are.

I started thinking about all this when I read the parable of the Good Samaritan. I wasn’t the one who really inflicted much pain on Tim Kassuf, but I walked right by him. In this most beloved of parables, there is a man stripped, beaten and suffering. The robbers who inflicted his pain quickly disappear, and two strangers, one after the other, walk by him laying there on the ground practically dead. The first two, a priest and a Levite, they look at the hurt man, and they look away. They pass by him on the other side of the street doing nothing to help. The third stranger, however, the one known as the good Samaritan, he is moved to pity when he sees the man, and so he bandages his wounds, he takes him to an inn and pays for a place for him to stay as he heals. The good Samaritan has mercy and compassion. He takes care of someone he doesn’t know and didn’t hurt himself and nurses him back to life.

We all admire the helpful Samaritan, and we know the point of the parable is to be like him, which is easier said than done. Actually, I found it quite easy to think of possible reasons why the priest and the Levite passed by on the other side. They are the same reasons we have today for not helping those who are in need.

In no specific order of importance, here are some reasons, or perhaps I should say excuses, why we might not do all the good we can, in all the places we can, to all the people we can.

• Afraid-

Most of the commentaries on the good Samaritan raise this issue. What if the robbers weren’t that far off and were waiting for another victim. If you came across the victim of a violent crime, might not you be afraid to go near? Perhaps you have heard this before, but law officials recommend yelling “fire” not “help” if you are ever being attacked. People are curious about fires; they are afraid of crime.

Another example is that you might actually be afraid of the person in need. It wasn’t that long ago that no one would touch a child with AIDS. And what about homeless people and drug addicts. Our fear of them prevents us from reaching out to them.

• Don’t think its any of your business/don’t want to interfere

Anorexic girl at college that I never approached but who desperately needed someone to help her.

• Insecurity/indecision/do not feel empowered-

“Do you think they really need help?”
“What can I possibly do to help”
"I have too many problems of my own to offer any sort of help to another."

• Self-oriented-

You have your own agenda in mind, and thus, rationalize to yourself that they do not need your help. An experiment done on people who had time versus people who “didn’t.” In this experiment, an actor who looked desperately in need of help lay on the steps of a college building where students were going for interviews. There were three groups. The first had a wide window in which to do their interview. Several approached the broken man. The second group had a more specific time to do their interview, but there was some lattitude. A few approached the broken man. The third group had a specific time in which they had to do their interview. Few if any stopped to help. The message: when we believe our needs and responsibilities are greater than the others, we will ignore them.

• We don’t see or don’t want to see the people who truly need our help.

Many people unconsciously put blinders on we get near people who don’t look like us, who aren’t familiar to us, or people that make us feel uncomfortable. And because we don’t really “see” them, our consciences don’t become too troubled when we walk right by. I was able to ignore Tim Kassouf because I chose not to really look at him, to see the pain he must have felt being ignored and ridiculed by a few kids every day while many kids pretended nothing was wrong.

A great example of this was made clear to me from the movie, Music Within. In this film, Richard is a Vietnam vet who lost his hearing during the war. In time, he realizes that the only person he can hear is a man named Art, who has Cerebral Palsy. For those of you who don’t know, CP often confines people to a wheelchair and affects their motor skills so that their movements are uncontrolled and spasmatic, and they often speak in a slow, fragmented style. Those with CP have difficulty speaking clearly, but they are highly intelligent people. This means that some perceive them as mentally retarded when in actuality, they are as mentally capable as any of us. Cerebral Palsy comes down to nerve muscle dysfunction.

In an interesting twist of fate, and this is a true story by the way, Richard realizes that the only person he can hear and understand is Art. So they become great friends. Through Richard’s friendship with Art and other Vietnam vets he relates to, Richard sees that these essentially good people are being treated terribly because of their disabilities. His calling comes in the form of a career where Richard gets people with disabilites jobs. The movie takes place in the 70’s and 80’s before people with disabilities were treated fairly, kindly.

Richard’s work is so groundbreatking that eventually the government asks him to write the first manual for employers on how to hire, train and work with the disabled. As anyone who does groundbreaking work is prone to feel, Richard is insecure about what he has to say. He spends a year writing the manual, and then gives it to Art, someone who has been discriminated against and treated as though he were disgusting, most of his life. When Art reads the manual this is what he says to Richard:

Art’s monologue: "You don’t have a clue how good this is. You know what we cripples want…to be seen. When they look at me, you know what they see? Nothing. I’m ignored. How can you ignore this? But they ignore me because I am so disturbing to their definition of human that I make them feel…What you have created, will make them see us."

Richard’s manual went on to become the first training manual for employers to hire the disabled. And Richard’s work on behalf of those who are not seen and are being discriminated against lead to the American with Disabilities Act being passed in 1990. It is because of this act that we have wheelchair accessibility, wider stalls in bathrooms, legal rights for the disabled, etc.

Rule #2: Do all the good you can, in all the places you can, for all the people you can. We as a church, and you as an individual have the power to go good and increase the quality of people’s lives, ease their suffering, carry their burdens, show them love, help them laugh.

The parable of the Good Samaritan began, “Teacher, how do I inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded by saying, love God, love your neighbor and show mercy to all. Then he instructed them saying, “Go and do likewise.” Friends, don’t let excuses prevent you from fulfilling Christ’s command. Go and do likewise.

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