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Strip Bars & Good Samaritans

There is a little stretch of highway in North Dakota between Medina and Oriska that I have often referred to as my own personal Bermuda Triangle because mysterious and unusual things have frequently happened to me there.

It began simply enough – in college, two friends and I were on our way from Concordia out to Montana when the car we were in broke down outside Medina.  A tow truck came to rescue us and we ended up staying together in a hotel nearby. By the next day we were on our way.

It was about 7 years later when during seminary I decided it would be a great idea to drive my bedraggled paneled stationwagon that I bought for $300 from Saint Paul out to Western North Dakota one winter weekend.  I knew it was perhaps unwise. I knew my car was terrible, I knew winter was unpredictable, and yet – the road was calling me and I had to go.

I made it out there fine. However, on the way back my car broke down at night and fortunately someone stopped and gave me a ride to the next town where the only thing open was the bar. I used the payphone there to call a friend in Fargo to come get me.  My friend said he would leave right away to come and get me. Meanwhile, an ice storm was coming in. I waited and waited in the bar for my friend. People were emptying out quickly to beat the ice storm. Finally, the bar phone rang and the bartender comes over to me. She said, “Are you waiting for a ride?” I said, “Yes,” and went to the phone. It was my friend on the other end, “Ruth, the roads are terrible – it’s like a skating rink and now they have closed the freeway. I won’t be able to come and get you tonight. I’m so sorry.”

I had no idea what I was going to do. My car was still somewhere along the freeway waiting to be towed. There were no hotels here by the lone bar, not that I had any money with me to stay in one. I was in big trouble. I kept thinking, “this is all my fault.” I should have known better! What had I been thinking to go out in my crummy car in the middle of winter, nearly broke?

I really don’t know what I would have done that night if the bartender hadn’t turned out to be a really nice person who took pity on me. She knew I had been waiting for a ride and the phone call probably meant that ride wasn’t coming – and she offered that I could stay with her in their guest room that night. A bartender and a good Samaritan.

Our Bible story today of the Good Samaritan – is probably one of the best known stories in the whole Bible.

Everyone knew that the road from Jericho to Jerusalem was dangerous. People avoided that road if they possibly could – especially at night. Lonesome travelers became prime targets for the robbers who hid along that road. The guy in our gospel for today, he really should have known better. He was all alone on that Jericho road. No wonder he got robbed. It was his own fault.

Walking alone on that Jericho road would be the equivalent of walking alone in dark alleys in the scariest city you can think of.

Jesus is very specific as he tells the story. He could have been more general – just said that a man fell in with robbers as he walked along a road – but Jesus specifies this road – the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. From Jerusalem, the city on the hill this road twists and winds down to Jericho and down to the Dead Sea. The terrain here is harsh. There are caves where people could hide and boulders which could easily camouflage anyone who might not wish to be seen. Walking this road was a risky venture.

So – could we really blame anyone if they looked at this guy and thought, “this is really his own dumb fault.”

We do that kind of thing, don’t we? Sometimes we are tempted to pass judgements when we see other people’s sufferings. But sometimes we are the ones who are judged for our dumb actions.

Speaking of dumb actions – So it was on that same stretch of road in North Dakota a couple years later when once again my car broke down – I drove a lot of really bad cars back in those days – and once again it was at night and once again someone stopped to give me a ride to the next town where once again the only thing open was a bar. I once again called my friend in Fargo to see if he could come and get me and there’s no answer.  In retrospect he was probably screening my calls by this time because I was always needing to be bailed out of some situation it seemed at that time. 

Meanwhile, I’m noticing that this bar has mostly men and the few women aren’t wearing much at all and that perhaps this was one of those adult entertainment sorts of bars that you know, no judgement, but this private Lutheran school/seminarian just hadn’t been in before.  So, I’m getting more and more anxious and leaving message after message for my friends in Fargo and it’s getting later and later.  I could hear my mom’s voice in my head saying “Ruth, you should have known better than to try to take a road trip with that car”– I was feeling so dumb and had no idea what I was going to do.

It was getting so late when two guys come up to me and start talking.  They said, “hey, are you waiting for a ride?” I must have looked so terrified – so completely out of my element and now two strange men trying to engage me in conversation. So this is what they said – “hey, we are heading over to a strip bar in Moorhead. We could give you a ride.” And I can hear my mother’s voice in my head shrieking, “Ruth, don’t you get in that car with those strangers you just met in that bar in the middle of North Dakota.” But what came out of my mouth was, “ok”. I left one final message for my friends alerting them that I was taking a ride with two strange men and I might be there soon or this may be the last time they hear from me.

But as you may have guessed since I’m still standing here, it all turned out fine.  They turned out to be so nice and so kind and brought me right to the door of my friend’s house – even carried my suitcase in for me. Two guys from the strip bar in Oriska, and good Samaritans.

What that stretch of highway in ND reminds me of is that so many times I’ve made dumb choices or just ended up in a predicament I couldn’t see my way out of, and every time someone has offered help.  They could have just said, well, it’s her own dumb fault she got in this mess, she better figure it out – but instead they chose to help. Probably in your own ways you have been in situations like that, too.

So there he is, that guy on the side of the Jericho road. He is hurt to the point he can’t help himself.

There are many people in this parable – like the priest and the Levite, who walk on by the man on the other side of the road. Maybe they are mumbling as they go by, “It is his own dumb fault.”

There is the Good Samaritan – although in Jesus’ time, that would have been an oxymoron to call someone a “good” Samaritan. Jewish people did not like Samaritans and vice versa. The history was long and messy – but to sum it up, Samaritans and Jews loved to hate each other. So Jesus makes the Samaritan the surprise hero of the parable.

But today I invite you to take the place of the injured man. The hurting man on the side of the road.

Sometimes we need to be rescued. Sometimes we are hurting and we need to let others care for us. Sometimes we need a Samaritan to help us – even if the mess we are in is just because it’s our own dumb fault.

There are times in life we have made bad choices, chosen a selfish way, a sinful way. We end up in a dark or dangerous or lonely place and wonder how we ended up here. There are days we are the one on the side of the road.

And maybe we end up disappointed that the ones we thought might help us end up walking by and mumbling about how it is our own fault.

We know that already. We don’t need a lecture. We need love.

And along comes a Samaritan, a Savior, and his name is Jesus. Jesus never looks away, averts his eyes. He sees us and he draws near. He knows how to get us to a place of healing. He looks at us with love and forgiveness and grace.

And if we remember the kind of grace God has had for us, then maybe we will be less likely to pass judgement on others, and extend grace instead.

Brene Brown wrote, “My mom taught us never to look away from peoples’ pain. The lesson was simple: Don’t look away. Don’t look down. Don’t pretend not to see hurt. Look people in the eye. Even when their pain is overwhelming.

And when you are in pain, find the people who can look you in the eye. We need to know we are not alone, especially when we are hurting. This lesson is one of the greatest gifts of my life.”

Sermon from 7/10/22 on Luke 10:25-37

Thanks to Father Michael Renninger – it was a sermon of his preached in 2016 that provided some of the foundation thoughts of this message as I thought of this story of the Good Samaritan from the perspective of the injured man.

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