The Good Samaritan – 20/3/22

Opening Music: ‘Stabat Mater’ by J Rheinberger performed by Sandra Smith

Opening Words: ‘It Is Good To Be Together’ by Alison Wohler (adapted)

With thankful hearts we have come together this morning
to celebrate the bounty of this beautiful day,
to bask in the warmth of this community,
to share with friends the tides of our lives,
to entertain, perennially, our hopes for a better future.

We join together, this morning as always, to resist
injustice and inequality, wherever they may be found,
and to embody a different way of being in this world.

Our hearts are touched by the human need we feel around us,
whether it is far away or within reach of our hand,
and we bear witness to the suffering and struggle.

We come here, to be together, because this is how we believe our lives are best lived:
in questioning and in conversation,
in compassion and in service,
in gratitude and in joy,
in companionship, and in love.

It is good to be together with you this morning!

These opening words, by retired Unitarian Universalist minister Alison Wohler, welcome all those who are gathered on Zoom this morning to take part in our Sunday service. Welcome to regular members of the congregation, to friends and visitors with us today, and also those who might be listening to our podcast, or watching on YouTube, at a later date. For those who don’t know me, my name is Jane Blackall, and I’m Ministry Coordinator with Kensington Unitarians.

If you are here for the first time today – we’re especially glad to you have you with us – welcome! I hope you find something of what you need in our gathering this morning. Please do hang around afterwards for a chat or drop us an email to say hello and introduce yourself if you’d like. Or you might try coming to one of our various small-group gatherings to get to know us better. If you’re a regular here – thank you for all that you do to welcome all who come each Sunday. Even on Zoom, we have a part to play in co-creating this sacred space, this sense of community.

As we always say, feel free to do what you need to do to be comfortable this hour – it’s always lovely to see your faces in the gallery and get a sense of our togetherness as a congregation – but we know for some it will feel more comfortable to keep your camera mostly-off and that’s fine. Similarly there’ll be opportunities to join in as we go along but there’s no compulsion to do so.

This morning we’re going to be looking at one of the most well-known teaching stories from the Christian tradition: Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan. It’s a story which, perhaps, transcends its origins – it’s given us an archetype which has meaning for people who aren’t especially religious as well as those who are devout – an image embedded in the collective consciousness – though perhaps many people are a bit fuzzy on the details and some of the nuances of interpretation. So this morning we’re going to revisit the parable, and we’ll hear from our very own Rachel Hills, who will share the story of a memorable ‘Good Samaritan’ experience in her own life, before taking time to reflect on what the story might have to teach us and its resonance for the world today.

Chalice Lighting: ‘Love Can Transform the World’ by Maureen Killoran

Before we go any further though, I’ll light our chalice, as we always do whenever we gather. This simple ritual connects us with Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists the world over, and reminds us of the proudly progressive religious tradition of which this gathering is part.

Love is the aspiration, the spirit that moves and inspires this faith we share.
Rightly understood, love can nurture our spirits and transform the world.
May the flame of this chalice honour and embody the power
and the blessing of the love we need, the love we give,
the love-in-action we are challenged always to remember and to share.

Candles of Joy and Concern:

Each week when we gather together, whether it’s in person at the church in Kensington or here as an online congregation, we share a simple ritual of candles of joy and concern, an opportunity to light a candle and share something that is in our heart with the community. So we’ve got a good few minutes now, for anyone who would like to do so, to light a candle (real or imaginary) and say a few words about what it represents.

When you’re ready to speak, unmute your microphone so we can all hear you, and then re-mute yourself once you’ve finished. If you are going to speak, please be aware of how long you’re speaking for, so that there’s time for others to say something too. Let’s leave a pause between one candle and the next, so we can honour what’s been shared. And don’t worry too much if two people end up speaking at the same time, or there’s a technical hitch of some sort – these things happen on Zoom – please do persevere! At this point it’d be nice, if you can, to switch to gallery view so we can all see everybody.

(candles – thank each person)

I’ve got one more candle here and – as we often do – I’m going to light that to represent all those joys and concerns that we might be holding silently in our heart today, those stories which we don’t feel able to share out loud this morning. Let’s take a moment now to think of all those joys and concerns we have heard expressed… all those little windows into our shared human condition and the life of the world we share… and let’s hold them – and each other – in a spirit of loving-kindness for a moment or two.

And let’s take those joys and concerns into an extended time of prayer now.

Prayer: based on words by Bruce Southworth

You might first want to adjust your position for comfort, close your eyes, or soften your gaze. There might be a posture that helps you feel more prayerful. Whatever works for you. Do whatever you need to do to get into the right state of body and mind for us to pray together – to be fully present here and now, in this sacred time and space – with ourselves, with each other, and with that which is both within us and beyond us.

Spirit of Life, God of All Love, in whom we live and move and have our being.
As we turn our attention to the depths of this life –
the cosmic mystery and wisdom that abides in All-That-Is –
we tune in to your Holy presence, the light within and without.
Be with us now as we allow ourselves to drop into the silence
and stillness at the centre of our being. (pause)

Each of us here gathered comes carrying our own private griefs and burdens.
Sometimes we can share these, and for the open hearts which respond, we are grateful.
Sometimes the world bears heavily upon us; we struggle alone, search the depths,
and long for healing, for renewed hope, for strength, which give their grace and peace.

Each of us here gathered knows something of life’s blessing too.
So this bright morning, let us give thanks for all of nature’s bounty.
Let us give thanks for caring friends and compassionate neighbours.
Let us give thanks for the communion of all those who seek to serve others.

May we be strengthened in our efforts to be of service,
and may we always be mindful of all the good in our lives;
whatever privilege, success, and joy we have been blessed with.

May our prayer be that we always see clearly
and keep before us the commandment to care;
striving always to be generous, inclusive, and open.

On this day and every day, may we give thanks,
but let us also be dissatisfied with the world as it is,
for a new world, a realm of love, is still waiting to be realised.

May our spirits and bodies be nourished and nurtured
as we give thanks in praise of all that sustains,
heals, and holds – all that is holy and Good. (pause)

In a quiet moment of reflection now, let us look back over the week just gone,
and call to mind those challenging and unsettling moments we have lived through.
This week has brought many challenges for us, for our loved ones, for our community,
for ordinary people the world over. Let us hold all those struggles in the light of compassion.
(pause – 30s)

And let us also take a moment to call to mind all the blessings that have come our way.
Let us pay special attention, perhaps, to life’s helpers, and all their unsung acts of service.
This week may have brought us moments of uplift and delight; beauty and pleasure; or
maybe just a little respite and relief. Let us take time to give thanks for all that is good.
(pause – 30s)

Spirit of Life – God of all Love – as this time of prayer comes to a close,
we offer up our joys and concerns, our hopes and fears,
our beauty and brokenness, and call on you for insight, healing, and renewal.

As we look forward now to the coming week,
help us to live well each day and be our best selves;
using our unique gifts in the service of love, justice and peace. Amen

Hymn: ‘Blessed Spirit of My Life’ performed by the Unitarian Music Society

Time to sing now. Our first hymn is a recording of the Unitarian Music Society and it continues in this prayerful spirit: ‘Blessed Spirit of My Life’ asks for strength, serenity, and help to live a loving and compassionate life, in tune with our values. The words will be on screen so you can sing along – you might prefer to listen – we’ll do our best to make sure you’re all kept muted.

Blessed Spirit of my life,
give me strength through stress and strife;
help me live with dignity;
let me know serenity.
Fill me with a vision;
clear my mind of fear and confusion.
When my thoughts flow restlessly,
let peace find a home in me.

Spirit of great mystery,
hear the still, small voice in me.
Help me live my wordless creed
as I comfort those in need.
Fill me with compassion,
be the source of my intuition.
Then when life is done for me,
let love be my legacy.

Reading: The Parable of the Good Samaritan – Luke 10:25-37 – NIV (read by Antony)

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Reflection: ‘My Good Samaritan’ by Rachel Hills

All was going to plan! My son, Ben, rang and told me his wife, Anne Louise, had gone into labour with their much wanted, and anticipated, second child. Excitedly I packed a suitcase to stay a few days so that I could look after their first born son, George, and then I hurried over to Sandgate.

Hours later and in the middle of the night Ben returned to their home bewildered and with devastating news. Their baby, Arthur, was born with Patau’s syndrome: cleft palate, no eyes and an additional finger on his left hand.

Darkness descended on us all. Arthur was kept alive by a galaxy of machines while Anne Louise, and Ben, came to some kind of realisation as to what had happened. It took days for Anne Louise to find the reserves to visit Arthur.

Eventually Anne Louise was strong enough to have George, then aged two, visit his new brother. George and I set off taking with us a birth present for Arthur that George had chosen while out with me – a very large shiny red push along the floor fire engine!

Leaving George at the hospital with his parents and baby Arthur, I headed for the shops with a shopping list of food for Ben, George and myself together with a list of items Anne Louise wanted for when Arthur went home – reality, at that time, had not sunk in.

A large super market near to the hospital seemed just the answer. I parked and then struggled to locate the items on the list, a new supermarket and exhaustion seemed to make the task almost beyond my capabilities. However, flushed with success I returned to my car only to find it sandwiched between two huge cars with simply no possibility of me getting into the car through either door. And tears fell.

No more than a few tears later a slim young man, in fairly scruffy jeans, approached and asked what was wrong – I told him that I needed to get back to the hospital and could not get into my car – no problem, he said, requesting my keys. To this day I have simply no idea how he managed to get into the driving seat by wriggling in through the boot of my little 2 door Peugeot 207.

He then expertly reversed out of an extremely tight space. Hopping out he returned the back seats to their normal position, loaded my shopping into the boot and disappeared, without acknowledging the appreciative round of applause from the on lookers and my tears, of gratitude.

I have received countless acts of impulsive kindness in my life, manoeuvring three young children born within 12 and a half months of each other, brought many challenges which were often solved by strangers. When my mobility has been challenged passers-by have stepped forward to help, indeed I received such kindnesses just a couple of Saturday’s ago.

However, that slim nimble young man stepping forward – out of nowhere – assessing the situation working out a solution, giving his time and ability to getting me back to the hospital remains a significant few minutes in my life. An incident I will never forget.

Of course in hindsight there were other, less dramatic ways of solving the problem. I could have taken the number of the car parked on my offside and requested that the store tannoy a request for the owner to come and move it – but for me at that moment it was simply the last straw and there I was the person who was supposedly holding the family together in a supermarket car park in tears unable to imagine a way out of the jam I found myself in.

That young man was, truly, a Good Samaritan.

The story of the Good Samaritan in the Bible reads as though Jesus was explaining to an expert in Jewish law that neighbourliness crosses social boundaries, cultures and manmade laws – remember Samaritans were not considered proper Jews! The young man who rescued me was certainly outside my circle of friends! Indeed, a young man whom, I would have viewed with slight enquiry, had he turned up at my front door for whatever reason.

And recently Covid has taught us all many things but for me it has been the unexpected warmth in a stranger’s returned ‘hallo’ as we pass. They could well have been the only living person I would meet that day. A Good Samaritan? Yes! Surely it is those unplanned, impulsive acts of kindness, compassion and caring which just happen; which are truly the acts of a Good Samaritan.

Meditation: ‘I Know a Samaritan’ based on words by Joan Chittister

Thanks Rachel and Antony. We’ve now come to a time of meditation. I’m going to offer just a few words for reflection, on the theme of the Good Samaritan, by Sister Joan Chittister. This will be followed by a few minutes of shared stillness during which we’ll have our virtual chalice on screen. The silence will end with some gentle music from Sandra. So let’s each do what we need to do to get comfortable – adjust your position if you need to – perhaps put your feet flat on the floor to ground and steady yourself – you might like to close your eyes. As we always say, these words, images, and music are just an offering, feel free to meditate in your own way. (pause)

Joan Chittister writes:

I know a Samaritan when I see one:
They’re the people whose face I cannot read,
whose background I do not know,
whose reputation I do not like,
and whose heart is unknown to me. (pause)

There’s a Samaritan waiting in every one of our lives,
the scripture implies: someone from whom we expect very little
but from whom, if we listen, we can receive a great deal.
Think a minute. Who was your Samaritan this week?
Who surprised you with kindness or gratitude or insight? (pause)

Samaritans are people who remind us to be
what we insist we should be but seldom are.
They startle us with a glimpse of our better selves
just when we have almost forgotten the sight of it.
Think a minute. Were you, perhaps, a Samaritan this week?
Were there opportunities to offer kindness or gratitude or insight to another? (pause)

As we move now into this time of shared stillness, let us meditate
on the Samaritans we have known, and the Samaritan we might be.

Silence: 3 minutes silence accompanied by chalice video

Musical Interlude: ‘Ave Maria Othello’ by Verdi performed by Sandra Smith

Some Thoughts on the Good Samaritan by Rev. Dr. Jane Blackall

The Good Samaritan, as I mentioned at the start of the service today, is one of those parables that has transcended its origins. If you speak of a ‘Good Samaritan’ most people will probably have at least an approximate sense of what you might mean by that phrase – perhaps someone who unselfishly acts to help another person who is in distress – who shows an unusual degree of compassion and generosity – maybe in a situation where it is a bit surprising for them to do so.

Rachel, in her reflection earlier, hinted at the added dimension of the Samaritan being someone who’s ‘not like us’ – a stranger, someone from a different social group, perhaps a ‘foreigner’ – the story in its original context very much plays on (and upends) notions of respectability too. The Priest and the Levite – the ones who are supposed to be all holy and righteous – they ignore the broken, naked, man, and leave him lying on the ground. But the Samaritan – at that time people from Samaria were looked down on by those would have been listening to Jesus – the Samaritan is the only one who acts in the spirit of the commandment ‘love your neighbour as yourself’.

Arguably, Jesus told the story in such a way as to cut across the racist or xenophobic attitudes of that time and place, and to jolt his listeners awake. The one who might have been stereotyped as a ‘baddie’ showed compassion, and to an extraordinary degree, while the pious ones who were supposed to be the ‘good guys’ just walked on by. And so it underlines another aspect of what it means to be a ‘Good Samaritan’, perhaps, by reminding us that we should be open and ready to help those who are ‘not like us’ (and, for that matter, be ready to receive help from those who are ‘not like us’). None of this is particularly controversial to a modern Unitarian congregation, I hope.

It strikes me that with any teaching story, but especially one that’s taken on an almost archetypal status, like the Good Samaritan has, we have a certain amount of freedom to play with it, to turn it this way and that, to derive our own meaning from it and enable it to speak to our time and context. Each and every one of us will latch on to different aspects of the story, and perhaps it will ‘land’ differently on us each time we hear it, like an ‘inkblot test’ revealing our inner landscape, as we notice what leaps out at us this time, and what it makes it think/feel about ourselves and our lives.

So what do I hear in it – this time around at least? Well, in response to his questioner, Jesus endorses the great commandments, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. These are the most central pillars of the Law and as such should be our guiding principles for life. Jesus is asked ‘who is my neighbour?’ and this story is his answer. We might interpret it in various ways. Maybe the most direct interpretation is to say: Your neighbour is the person right in front of you. Your neighbour is the person within reach, the person it is within your power to help, regardless of their status, race, religion, nationality, social group, reputation, identity, or any other factors that might make them seem ‘not like you’. Any person in need has inherent worth and dignity, and if you happen to be in a position to help them today, just do it. Right?

There are other nuances we could draw out of the story, though, as we try to apply it to our own times. If the main point is that our neighbour is any person within our reach who we could help – well, what it means for someone to be ‘in reach’ is a bit different these days – we are constantly, painfully, aware of sufferings of all sorts going on around the globe. I hope none of us would argue that, by Jesus’ way of thinking, we only need to care about those who are in literal, physical, reach – those we meet by the roadside along life’s journey – or those who are our next-door neighbours. Nowadays we can reach out in compassion to those suffering, worldwide, in various ways – most obviously by donating, campaigning, or speaking out in support and solidarity. But given the scale and complexity of the world’s need, and our unprecedented levels of awareness, that can feel like a bit of an overwhelming ask. In some sense there are nearly 8 billion people ‘in our reach’.

Returning to the story, it occurs to me that Jesus’ questioner could perhaps have asked a second question, in addition to ‘who is my neighbour?’ If he wanted to know how he was supposed to fulfil the commandment to ‘love his neighbour’ he could have asked ‘what does it mean to love?’ The story of the Good Samaritan gives an interesting answer to this though. First of all, perhaps, to love someone means to see them – really see them – see them as a being with inherent worth and dignity – see their suffering and need – and not look the other way because it’s hard or inconvenient. And, secondly, it means to show practical compassion – attend to their basic (material) needs – administer first aid, give them a place of shelter and safety, food and drink, provide for their care. To love, in this sense, isn’t really anything to do with how we feel about our neighbour – whether we like them, approve of them, or agree with their politics – love is a matter of practical action. Stepping up to meet the immediate need, in service of one who’s suffering, whoever they might be. It occurs to me that some of our practical action might be collective, love enacted via the existence of a functional and generous welfare safety net… but perhaps that’s a sermon for another day.

And another key aspect of the story, for me, is that it acknowledges something about our limits. An important message for us in these times when we might feel overwhelmed by the scale of human need. Even the Good Samaritan – after personally tending to the wounded man’s immediate needs – takes him to an inn, pays upfront for a couple of weeks’ bed and board, and goes on his way (though he says he’ll pop in again on his way home to cover any extra expenses that arise). Perhaps each of us must discern what we can afford to offer; the Good Samaritan has money, and so can pay for someone else to look after him, while he gets about his own business. Someone else might not have been able to afford that, but could perhaps have taken him under their own roof, and cared for him themselves. In the past week we’ve heard about the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme where over 100,000 people in the UK have offered to take in Ukrainian families fleeing the war. But not all of us have got the capacity to do that. And knowing our limits is OK. We see the suffering, we don’t turn away from it, and we do what we can with the resources we have. And Ukraine is – sadly – tragically – just one of many situations that deserve our attention today. It’s important that we each do something to relieve the world’s suffering, but we must not berate ourselves for the fact that we can’t do it all, or burn ourselves out through taking on too much. To use a famous phrase: do what you can, with what you have, where you are. That has to be enough.

I want to bring this to a close with another short time of prayer. I couldn’t identify an author to attribute this to but these words are adapted from a piece from the Baptist Union of Great Britain. So let’s just take a moment to settle ourselves into a prayerful spirit once more. (pause)

Spirit of Life, God of All Love,
give us a deep and abiding love for you,
so that we can see the world as you see it,
feel the compassion you feel, and be a people
whose lives mediate your love to others.

Open our eyes that we might see what the Good Samaritan saw.
Grant us the insight to see the need in others around us,
the wisdom to know what to do, and the will to do it.

And so we pray for all those, who in many and various ways,
have been stripped, beaten and left for dead.

We pray for children who must grow up
in the most awful and traumatic of circumstances,
especially for those starved of love, or food, or shelter or security.
May they receive the future you have dreamed for them.

We pray for those we might cross the road to avoid, and for those
who have been marginalised and disadvantaged because of their race,
their status, their identity, their ability, or their history.
May the dignity that is theirs be restored to them.

We pray for those whose need we would rather not
face up to, because it requires action of us,
those who suffer because of war, unjust laws,
oppressive governments, or those who hoard wealth.
May the world receive a true understanding of their suffering
and the factors that cause it, that justice may be done.

Open our eyes, that we might not cross the road from human need.
Give us a deep and abiding love for you,
that we might see your love at work in this world,
and that we might go and do likewise, for the greater good of all. Amen.

Hymn: ‘Brother, Sister, Let Me Serve You’ sung by Kensington Unitarians

Time for one more hymn now. This is a recording of our own congregation singing a few years ago – so please excuse any rustling – it’s called ‘Brother Sister, Let Me Serve You’. We don’t sing it very often, and that’s a shame, as the words are very poignant and beautiful. The words are much more directly Christian than we typically have in our services; I hope we can each do any internal translation that feels necessary to connect with the spirit of this lovely hymn.

Brother, Sister, let me serve you,
let me be as Christ to you;
pray that I may have the grace to
let you be my servant too.

We are pilgrims on a journey,
and companions on the road;
we are here to help each other
walk a mile and bear the load.

I will hold the Christ-light for you
in the night-time of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you,
speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping;
when you laugh I’ll laugh with you;
I will share your joy and sorrow
till we’ve seen this journey through.

When we sing to God in heaven
we shall find such harmony,
born of all we’ve known together
of Christ’s love and agony.

Brother, sister, let me serve you,
let me be as Christ to you;
pray that I may have the grace to
let you be my servant too.


Just a few announcements: Thanks to Rachel for her reflection and Antony for reading. Thanks to Sandra for our music, it’s great to have her back on board, and thanks to John for co-hosting today. We’ll have virtual coffee-time after the service as usual so you can stay and chat if you’d like. If that’s not your thing, as I said at the start of the service, do get in touch via email if you’d like to say hello, or come to some of our other events during the week. If you can bear to hang around we like to take a group photo after the closing music.

Our online programme continues: we have coffee morning as usual at 10.30am this Tuesday, this week hosted by Liz, and there are still a few spaces left for our Heart and Soul spiritual gatherings (Sunday and Friday at 7) on ‘Accepting What Is’ – even if you’ve not been before it’s never too late to start. The congregation very much has a life beyond Sunday mornings; we encourage you to keep in touch during the week, drop each other a line, and look out for each other as best we can.

Last call for help: Next Sunday we’ll be back on Zoom having a congregational service for Mother’s Day. If you might want to say a few words, or perhaps a longer reflection, on the meaning of mothering in your life, please do get in touch so we can have a chat about ways in which you can contribute. We’ll be taking the subject in the broadest sense, and acknowledging that our relationships with our mothers and motherhood can be quite complicated, we won’t just be doing the Hallmark greeting card version, it’ll be a much more nuanced view of Mother’s Day and all it evokes in us. And looking further ahead, if you are able to get to in-person events please save the date for our next hybrid service, which will be on Easter Sunday, that’s 17th April.

We’ve just got our closing words and music now. So I invite you to select gallery view at this point, if you can, so we can all see each other and get a sense of our gathered community as we close.

Benediction: based on words by Robert F. Kaufmann

We have come together to share our deepest concerns,
speaking and singing words of inspiration and hope.

We have committed ourselves to do what we can
to ease the burdens of those who suffer,
to stand for decency and compassion.

We have pledged to work for a better world
for us and for all the generations that will follow.

But these are just words – the hymns we sing are just songs –
our reflections are just idle thoughts – until we give them life.
When we convert them into loving and responsible action
throughout the week – and throughout our lives – only then
will this morning truly be what we want it to be — a time of worship.

So let us take that spirit of true worship out with us as we meet the days to come. Amen.

Closing Music: ‘March Occasional Oratorio’ by Handel performed by Sandra Smith

Rev. Dr. Jane Blackall and Rachel Hills

20th March 2022