It was a conversation our own Carol Cunningham had with Captain David Addison, of police substation 3 down the hill, which changed everything. About a year ago some consultants from Executive Service Corps had led us through an internal assessment of numbers, data, lists of programs and groups. Then it was time to turn outward – we are a SENT people, called from the church to the world. We serve in amazing ways throughout Durham, but we also had this sense that we had some work to do in the neighborhood around us. We did a lot of learning and looking and talking, but Carol drove right down to the police substation and introduced herself to Captain Addison (he moved to an administrative post downtown, but we spoke again this week). She asked him, "What does this neighborhood need?" "You’ve got to help me with these kids after school," he said, "and you’ve got to start early – by middle school it’s too late."
That kind of response by someone with his credibility gave us focus. What began to emerge was a vision of Westminster being a catalyst for mission here in SW Durham, particularly for the kinds of kids Captain Addison mentioned. There are amazing agencies downtown, many of whom we helped start, that are always going to be key partners. But we also have significant needs right here, where God has planted us – that simply didn’t exist when this church started.
Those of you who have been around awhile know this well – when this church was built 52 years ago the area was quite different. The older sections of Hope Valley were here. The land we bought in March next door was a horse farm, and so much of the development we see from the restaurants across the street down Shannon to MLK, was not there. When Barb Schmidt moved in on Buchanan Blvd., across from where Githens Middle School is now – when Barb moved there in 1973 that area was a pig farm. This wasn’t Old Chapel Hill Road, it was THE Chapel Hill Road, the way from downtown Durham into Chapel Hill, before the big 15/501 we ride on now. Present Githens moved from up by Jordan in 1988 as I-40 was being completed. South Square opened 1975, closed 2002. University Tower – 1985. Oak Creek Village Apartments at Garrett and 15/501 has experienced significant crime in the last year. Colonial Heights off Academy isn’t new, but the population of folks who live there has changed a lot. Our zip code comprises a fascinating mix of very well off and fairly poor, more diverse and younger than the state average. Sixty-three percent of Hope Valley Elementary children on free and reduced lunch.1
A lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus gave the lawyer a quiz that the lawyer passed with flyer colors, quoting Deuteronomy and Leviticus.2 Jesus affirmed him, which is what it seemed like the lawyer was looking for. Do this, and you will live. But he couldn’t let it go. Wanting to prove he was righteous, he asked, And who is my neighbor? Jesus took a deep breath, probably smiled. He told a story about a man on a journey, robbed and beaten, left on the side of the road bleeding. A priest walked by…saw him…and I’m sure was concerned about ritual purity, probably had a very important meeting, and he passed by on the other side. Same thing with a man from the tribe of Levi, another religious leader.
A Samaritan came next -didn’t go by on the other side, came near to suffering – was moved with pity. There was – and this is key to understanding this text – a bitter hatred between Jews and the Samaritans. Samaritans were descendants of folks occupying the land following the conquest by Assyria in 722 BCE. They opposed rebuilding of the temple and of Jerusalem, built their own place of worship. Ceremonially unclean, socially outcast, religiously a heretic, the Samaritan was the opposite of the religious leaders.3 Deep animosity over centuries, as one preacher has said, like "a Protestant helping a Catholic in Northern Ireland; or a Jew helping Palestinian in Israel; or a Serb helping a Croat in Eastern Europe……"4 But compassion moved him, and the Samaritan bandaged him up, pouring oil, wine, got him up on his animal, to an inn, took care, paid for him to be nursed to health. Now which one of these three, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers, Jesus asked?
And so we feel called, and the session has been thinking about this a lot in the past year, to work to pull resources together from throughout the community to be even better neighbors. Some of that will involve events to get to know them. Some of that is augmenting local school support – our schools as the institution that serves ALL families, critical to strong communities. Some of that involves conversations about partnering with the YMCA and Hope Valley Elementary to maybe even have an afterschool program here, for some of these kids that Captain Addison talked about. We get to know families, uncover more needs, then we pull in more- it is in the leveraging of relationships and people and resources that this church has done so well and, as far as we can tell, there really isn’t anyone doing this work in this part of town. Is food needed? Clothing? English classes? It is notions of partnership and mutuality that inform ongoing work here, downtown, and around the globe. We’ve got a team going to Haiti in a month to serve in wonderful ways but also to discern with us if we are called to a deeper, longer term, sustainable partnership. So we can serve and be served, transform and be transformed, and be drawn up, together, into a glimpse of the kingdom of God, all of us, neighbors.
BUT none of this just happens. It is GOD who gives us every gift we have been given – money, energy, time, the many talents you have in a spades. And every light that comes on when you flip the switch, every meal served out of one of your hands, every hug offered, every email sent, every listening ear, every program planned and executed and tables and chairs set up and every anthem sung. ALL of it happens because you give. Of your time and your energy and your strength and of the money that God has entrusted to you for this season of your life. It happens because you, and others long since in the church triumphant, gave for a Christ’s work here in the past, so we might be who we are because of those who went before. And WE are called to give now. So we can continue to be who we have been for 52 years, baptizing babies and feeding the homeless and going on retreats and studying with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. There is much to do, but we all must give – we’ve had a ton of people move out of the area and have had an essentially flat budget for a couple of years, and we’ve been limited – we certainly haven’t been able to support some community partners in ways that I would have liked. But now is the time to step forward.
It is important you know that all three of your pastors tithe to the mission and ministry of this church, as a demonstration to you how much we believe in tithing as an act of discipleship, and how much we believe in what God is doing here. The tithe, 10%, however you and God work that out pre-tax and post-tax – the tithe is the biblical model bequeathed to us. But none of it works without ALL of us. As we continue to build towards 50 or 100 years from now, that people continue to thank GOD for the vision of those that prayed in Hope Valley School in the early 1950s, who called a pastor before they had land or a building, who built partnerships and started service organizations, who provided places for children to learn and youth to grow and adults to hold hands in prayer and be formed more in the love of Christ Jesus our Lord…
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did some great work on this text. But one nugget that struck me this week was what he thinks changed in the Samaritan. The Levite and the priest were going places, things to do, maybe they had decent intentions. Maybe, King says, they were going to organize a meeting of the Jericho Road Improvement Association. But, King says, "And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ "But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’" If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’"5
That’s what this is about – being a part of God’s reign in a world where hurt seems to winning, from rooms in Duke Hospital to refugee camps in Syria, from the doors of Urban Ministries to the classrooms of the Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. And we are called to think even more about them than about us. If we are serving out there in the ways we are called, the hungry and homeless, those kids right around us that don’t have anyone FOR them, the rest, with all of our support, will take care of itself. Mission must be the engine that drives the church.
And the lawyer, a good and kind man who was trying hard, stood in silence. He mumbled back to Jesus….the one who had mercy was the neighbor. The one who showed compassion. And Jesus looked him, and us in the eye. Go and do likewise, Jesus said. Go and do likewise.
All praise be to God. Amen.
1. Free & Reduced Program, Durham Public Schools.
2. Deut. 6:4-9, Leviticus 19:18.
3. Fred Craddock, Interpretation: Luke, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), p 150.
4. From Rev. Jim Lowry’s sermon, "The Samaritan," preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC, on February 4, 2007.
5. Andy Rau, "Why Didn’t They Stop? Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Parable of the Good Samaritan," Bible Gateway Blog, April 4, 2012.