Address The Mess Part 4: Move Toward The Mess
On Sunday 22nd January at our morning service,we continued our new series 'Address The Mess' with the topic 'Move Toward The Mess'. In this blog you will find a summary of the talk and then some questions and reflections for you to think through on your own or to discuss in your small group.
To listen to the talk on-line, please click here.
To download the talk to listen to off line, please click here.
Sometimes we can look around at the mess around us and it seems overwhelming. We don’t want to begin to face it, so avoid it and try to distract ourselves from it. Maybe you look at the big problems in the world or locally and you feel like a rabbit caught in the headlights. What can you possibly do that could make a difference? Where do you start? Our instinct is to walk away from the mess rather than move towards it.
Whether you are a person of faith, or someone exploring faith; I am sure that you would want to be the person that tries to sort out a mess.
Jesus tells a story about two people walking away from a mess and one person with courage enough to move towards it. It is the very well-known story of “The Good Samaritan”. It can be found in Luke’s account of Jesus life.You can read this by clicking here.
The two walking away were the Priest and the Levi. Both apparently godly men who knew the God’s command to love their neighbour as themselves. But knowing isn’t the same as doing. They both avoid the mess. Why? The Samaritan had compassion and stopped. Why?
In an experiment conducted to find out why we are sometimes compassionate and sometimes not; they asked students at Princeton Theological Seminary to prepare practice sermons. Half of them were given the parable of the Good Samaritan and the others different texts. At intervals they were called to go across to give their sermons. On the way each of them came across a person bent over and groaning. Only some of them stopped to help. It made no difference whether they were meditating on this parable. The key factor was time. Those with time stopped, those in a hurry did not. They were too absorbed in their task, too self-absorbed.
Our default as humans is to help, especially if we attend to the other person. If we look them in the eye it triggers empathy
Self-absorption, hurry and fear blinds us and destroys compassion.
We need to stop looking in and look out.
There is a spectrum of attendance that runs from self-absorption, to noticing, to empathy to compassion.
This parable demonstrates this. The priest and the Levite are self-absorbed. They saw and looked away. They don’t want to stop.
They might become contaminated by contact with this person. They are important busy people. They might even be more concerned about their own safety and welfare. It could be a trap. It could be dangerous to help. That may be how we feel when faced with a mess. Then along comes a Samaritan he sees and does something. Jesus is telling us to be less self-absorbed and more attentive and compassionate he says “go and do likewise”.
We need to open our eyes and attend. I used to avoid eye contact with big issue sellers or homeless people in the streets. I now give eye contact and say hello. I used to be a Levite but my aim is to be a Samaritan. If hurry is an issue then we need to ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives. Hurry and rush is corrosive.
The story of the experiment at Princeton comes from a TED talk by Daniel Goleman. He finishes his talk with the story of a trip to New York. He spends some time amongst the homeless with those who work with them, getting to know them. The next day he is on the subway during the rush hour. At the foot of the stairs a man, shirtless and unconscious on the ground is being stepped over by hundreds of people. Dozens would probably be Christians. Daniel stops and attends to him because he sees things differently. As he does; others join him and start to take care of the man. It just took one person to notice and have empathy and compassion for others to help. Sometimes it is easier to join with others.
Today is homeless Sunday. Did you know that any one of us is potentially only three payslips away from being homeless? This church has joined with 8 others to help run a night shelter for homeless people in Bracknell over the winter. Last year 40 names were registered and on average 15 people stayed each night. We decided to move towards the problem. It is easier to join with a group. It was scary to start with, but when you notice them, attend to them it triggers empathy and compassion. These men and women are not statistics, but people with a story. In 2015, BFC spent about £1m on emergency temporary accommodation.
It can make all the difference for them and us – our being alongside them brings us closer to God, builds our compassion, makes us appreciate our blessings more, changes and grows us, teaches us to love more, judge less.
It doesn’t have to be about the homeless. But you need to move towards the mess whatever that means to you. Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone – don’t feel guilty that you can’t move towards all the messes. Move towards the one God brings you. God uses messy people to love messy people.
Questions and Reflections (for you to think about on your own or to discuss in your Life Group)
1. Are you the sort of person who avoids mess or moves towards them? Why do you think that is? Does it depend on the type of mess?
2. Read the text a couple of times. What is it that strikes you when you read the story afresh? Which phrase or word stands out for you? why do you think that is?
3. Think about all of the characters in the story including the victim, the donkey and the innkeeper.
Which character do you most relate to and why?
4. Where are you in the story right now?
5. Why do you think all of those New Yorkers walked over the body in the subway? Do you think that you would do the same? If so what is it that would make you do that; self-absorption, fear, hurry, or something else?
6. What is the mess that God is asking you to move towards?
7. What is going to be your first step?