This one comes to us from our friend, Cody Gainous.


I get tasked with the Sunday morning sermon pretty regularly at the parish I serve, even though I’m only the Youth Minister. I’m always grateful for the invitation, and I’m always humbled by the opportunity. Beloved Father Capon says in his excellent The Foolishness of Preaching that “Good preachers should be like bad kids. They ought to be naughty enough to tiptoe up on dozing congregations, steal their bottles of religion pills, spirituality pills, and morality pills and flush them all down the drain.” Well and good, but a bit intimidating if you are still relatively just a kid. The opportunity came again this past week, and if I ever felt unprepared to speak into a situation at hand, it was this last Sunday morning. America woke up pretty much every morning last week to a heartbreaking news cycle. Frankly, I stared at a blank document labeled ‘Luke 10:25-37’ for the better part of the week. (A word of thankfulness for the Revised Common Lectionary — God knows I wasn’t ready to pick Scriptures out of a hat last week.)

Eventually I got some thoughts together that I thought may articulate just what the Good News of God’s grace and forgiveness may have to do with such a tumultuous time — thoughts on how we all seek to justify ourselves just as this lawyer did, on how the question “Who is my neighbor?” was really just the lawyer playing the church’s “favorite indoor sport” of picking who’s in and who’s out, and how Christ comes to us as the truly good Samaritan and binds up our wounds. By Saturday morning, things seemed to be shaping up pretty well, but I was still nervous — will I say anything unnecessarily offensive? Am I leaving out anything that needs to be said? (The blogposts were legion last week on what preachers must say, and perhaps rightfully so…But then again, I’m just a kid and life is a nightmare, you know?)

Sunday morning rolled around as it does and I meandered around the church building as I do until around 9:50 — 10 minutes before our principal service began. As I made my final preparations — double checking the order of my manuscript, scrambling around for lukewarm water — a friend and musician grabbed my arm — “There’s a guy in the prayer chapel who wants to talk to the preacher, and today that’s you.” Today of all days? I have to preach the word to fix America this morning, and some guy I don’t know wants to chit chat? But I couldn’t convince myself to pass him by — not when I knew I was about to have to read aloud Jesus’ story of a priest crossing the road to avoid a hurting man.


In the prayer chapel, I was confronted with an individual sufferer in the most literal way. This man had come from another state to ‘escape — to run from his problems’ (his words, not mine), was passing through our town by chance, and stumbled into our sanctuary looking for shelter from the storm of his life. He told me the truly sad story of how his romantic relationship had completely fallen apart in the past week and apologized for being an emotional wreck. He didn’t ask for a dime — all he wanted was good news. I prayed with the man and told him we could meet longer after the service. But as I walked back into the sanctuary, I was confronted with a reality I had neglected all week long — the individual sufferer.

Paul Zahl’s advice on Church-shrinking from the latest issue of The Mockingbird began to ring in my ears. The first way to shrink your congregation according to PZ: “Preach to them not as individuals but as a ‘worshipping community.’ This way, no individual sufferer will get the idea that God has a word for him or her concretely.” It’s doubtful that the hopeful wanderer who ended up in our congregation on Sunday morning had heard a Morning Edition all week long. His life was falling apart. Undoubtedly, the parable of the Good Samaritan has a lot to say concerning the events of the past week.

But for the person who is on the outside, hurting, bleeding out, social justice is not the oil and wine that his or her wounds demand. I couldn’t stand up in the pulpit and speak truth to the people who would never hear my words — I had to offer real good news for the real people sitting in the pews before me. And God graciously sent a man into the prayer chapel to remind me of that yesterday morning. So, once again, Capon: In most sermons, he says, “we’ve hidden the Gospel of grace under a bushel of moral judgments. We’ve eclipsed forgiveness as the Good News and made guilt the touchstone of our relationships — with God and everybody else…The free gift of grace, without a single pious response, is all that counts.”