Sunday, July 15, 2007

Good Samaritan Sunday

The shadow of dissolution of the city centre social services team as part of an 'improvement' to local authority social services provision has loomed for eighteen months or more, despite high level denials by the political leadership. This is a great worry, as it will have an impact on those who suffer, and on the rest of those who work in, use or visit the city at any time. Last Sunday I found myself preaching about this, and again today, perhaps more searchingly, conscious as I am of our limitations as a city parish church, and of the ambitions of the missionary newcomers in Tredegarville. Here's what I said.

"The story of the Good Samaritan is so familiar and can be applied universally. Jesus wants the world to know that it’s compassion for others in their suffering and need, couple with practical action to help them, that is the true measure of faithful religious believing, and of what it means to love one’s neighbour. Would that life were so simple.
Beggars outside the church gate, the same faces year in year out. Destitute certainly, but also begging to feed the drug habit that has them excluded from hostels, and in and out of court and detention, since there are few sustained programmes to help them stay off drugs, and able to heal the inner wounds that drive them to drug-taking to start with.
People give money so often because they need to make themselves feel better, they give despite being informed that they are contributing to that sufferer’s slow death from drugs.
What is compassion in such a case? Is it feeding the habit? Is it getting beggars moved on arrested, then pressurising the establishment for solutions that work? Is it donating to a charity that directly deals with addiction problems? Who has the time, the energy and the resources to do as godly a job as the Samaritan did on the man who fell amongst thieves? What would Jesus do, where would Jesus start with such a complex social, moral, spiritual problem? Would he preach? Or would he listen? Would he ask ‘Do you want to be free, well, doing something you’d prefer to do with your life?’ and wait for an answer? Would a miracle take place just because he was there? We read that sometimes it did, and other times it didn’t for want of faith among people in places he visited.
The old man who sings Gospel songs in the alley will preach to anyone sitting there, as well as anyone passing by, hand them tracts, even distribute bibles if requested, and do so with much love and kindness. But does he, do we, actually have time to listen, to befriend the sufferers. Do we even know they care about any attention we give them, as opposed to money? I confess I don’t have any answers, and don’t know where to start. Sometimes I pray for the right words to be given, but they don’t come, so I stay silent, and I just look, not knowing if there’s anything I can do that represents that saving grace of God demonstrated in the Samaritan’s compassion. Even the kindly tea and sandwich offered could mean a few quid saved towards the next drug fix. It’s a hard dilemma to face.
Some think that such manifestations of untreated chronic mental health problems should be eliminated from our shiny new streets, tucked away somewhere else anywhere but here.
The Nazi mind-set lurks in the shadows of many a heart and mind. The true test of the moral and spiritual worth of our proud capital city is how well we deal with such deep suffering, how successful are our rehabilitation measures. But there’s not much about any of this in the city’s development strategy and action plans. What can we do to help people get better, conquer addiction, make a new life for themselves? I’m at a loss to know. Maybe you’re the same. Let’s go back to the Samaritan.
He was in hostile territory. Jews treated Samaritans badly, vilified them, excluded them for being only a little bit different in faith and culture. So maybe he had some experience of being hurt, victimised. Maybe he was only doing what someone had once done for him, and acting out of gratitude when he rescued this mugging victim, identifying with him in his broken loneliness.
What happens to us when we are hurt, and nobody notices, nobody cares? We become sad, depressed, inwardly isolated, whatever’s going on externally. And we have all sorts of ways to cover it up – being very busy, over-working, over-indulging and so on. It helps to talk, but only with someone who gives you space, and enables you to feel you’ve been listened to at a deep level, who lets you tell your story, and feel your real feelings. So often the best and wisest of counsellors have come through much suffering themselves. Is there someone here with the gift of listening in healing depth to those whose broken lives are shrouded in a narcotic haze? Is it me? Is it you? If it is, Jesus will be there with us, where two of three are gathered together.
If we can’t face it. If it isn’t our calling, let’s not ignore the discomfort before our faces, but take it into our deepest prayer of intercession for those who can and will help, and those who need it, but stay inwardly restless about it, until we see a real change for the better in the poor who are, as Jesus said: ‘With us always’."

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