Traditional Sermon Pentecost 5
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”Luke 10:25-29
When Erik and I lived in the mountains of New Hampshire we were avid hikers. It’s part of the Teichmann heritage. Erik’s Grandpa Fred hiked up Mount Washington when he was 65 years old, and instilled the sense of wonder of hiking in his kids and grandkids. But before every hike, Grandpa Fred would call us up and make sure that we were ready. That we packed enough water. That we weren’t making any rash decisions. And of course that we had the right footwear. No sneakers here! And then before hanging up, he usually would read a passage from the Appalachia Journal–telling a story of one hiking journey that ended badly. A story. A lesson of how we should be.
So when I came across this article by Tye Gagne in Appalacia Journal a few months ago, I couldn’t help but hear Grandpa Fred’s voice once again.
Pam Bales left the firm pavement of the Base Road and stepped onto the snow-covered Jewell Trail to begin her mid-October climb. She planned a six-hour loop hike by herself. She had packed for almost every contingency and intended to walk alone.
She’d left a piece of paper detailing her itinerary on the dashboard of her Nissan Xterra: her plan was to summit Mount Washington and return to her car before some forecasted bad weather was to arrive. Pam always left her plans in her car, and she left copies with two friends. She’d checked the higher summits forecast posted by the Mount Washington Observatory before she left:
In the clouds w/ a slight chance of showers
Highs: upper 20s; Windchills 0–10
Winds: NW 50–70 mph increasing to 60–80 w/ higher gusts
Pam knew of the wind–it was Mount Washington after all. There’s always wind, but she felt good about her goal. She was eager to get out and connect with the mountains and had been waiting for a weather window, however brief, that would allow her to complete the loop.
As Pam breached treeline the weather was showing its teeth. Now fully exposed to the conditions, she added even more layers, including a shell jacket, goggles, and mountaineering mittens to shield herself from the cold winds and dense frozen fog. The weather was changing—and she noticed something. Something was wrong.
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.”Luke 10:30
Pam stared at a single set of footprints in the snow ahead of her. She fixated on the tracks and realized they had been made by a pair of sneakers. She silently scolded the absent hiker who had violated normal safety rules and walked on.
Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw the man left for dead, also passed by on the other side.Luke 10:31-32
The mountain was getting cold. Pam was getting cold. The windchill was getting to be too much. Good thing she packed heavy, she thought. It was this point that Pam wisely chose to turn around. For her, summitting was just an option, but returning to her SUV was not. Heavy sleet began to assault her.
Looking down at the trail, she saw the set of footprints in the snow. But it veered off the trail into the blizzard and low visibility. Pam stood there, stunned, as she tried to steady the emotional weight of this sudden intersection of tracks. If Pam continued to follow the tracks, she’d add risk to her journey. But she could not let this go. She turned and cried out, “Hello!” into the frozen fog.
She called out again, “Is anybody out there? Do you need help?”
But a Samaritan while traveling came near the left for dead man; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.Luke 10:33
Pam ventured further down the path following the frozen tracks. Wind gusts now exceeding 50 mph rocked her center of gravity. She rounded a slight corner and saw a man sitting motionless on a rock. He stared off into the distance. She approached him and uttered, “Oh, hello.”
He did not react. He wore tennis sneakers, shorts, a light jacket, and fingerless gloves. He looked soaking wet, and thick frost covered his jacket. His head was bare, and his day pack looked empty.
A switch flipped.
Pam’s informal search now transitioned to full-on rescue mission. “What is your name?” He did not respond. “Do you know where you are?”
His skin was pale and waxy, and he had a glazed look on his face. He was hypothermic and in really big trouble.
The Samaritan went to the man left for dead, and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.Luke 10:34
Pam went right to work.
As he sat there propped up against the rocks, she stripped him down to his T-shirt and underwear. Because he wouldn’t talk and she was in such close contact with him, she gave him a name: “John.”
She checked him for any sign of injury or trauma.
From her own pack, Pam retrieved a pair of soft-shell pants, socks, a winter hat, and a jacket. She pulled the warm, dry layers onto his body.
Pam recognized that he would die soon if they didn’t get out of there.
“John, we have to go now!”
Pam left no room for argument.
She was going to descend, and he was going with her.
Visibility was so bad as the pair made their way along the ridge that they crept, seemingly inches at a time. Leaning into the headwinds, she began to sing a medley of Elvis songs in an effort to keep John connected to reality—and herself firmly focused. At one point John fell in the snow.
She turned to look and saw that he seemed to be giving up.
He said to go on without him.
Pam said through the howling wind, “That’s not an option, John.”
Slowly he stood, and Pam felt an overwhelming sense of relief.
The next day the Samaritan took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’Luke 10:35
Finally, just before 6 p.m., after hours of emotional and physical toil, they arrived at the trail head, exhausted and battered.
Pam started the car to warm up John and his frozen clothing.
“Why don’t you have extra dry clothes and food in your car?” she asked.
“I just borrowed it,” he told her.
Several minutes later. he put his now-dry clothes back on.
“Why didn’t you check the weather forecast dressed like that?”
He didn’t answer. He just thanked her, got into his car, and drove away.
Standing there astonished and alone in the darkness, Pam said to no one, “What the @#$% just happened?”
Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
A little while later, a note came to the Mount Washington Rescue team, and eventually found its way to Pam. It read,
I hope this reaches the right group of rescuers.
This is hard to do but must try, part of my therapy. I want to remain anonymous, but I was called John. On Sunday Oct. 17 I went up my favorite trail of Mount Washington, to end my life. Weather was to be bad. Thought no one else would be there, I was dressed to go quickly.
Next thing I knew this lady was talking to me, changing my clothes, talking to me, giving me food, talking to me, making me warmer, and she just kept talking and calling me John and I let her. Finally learned her name was Pam. Conditions were horrible and I said to leave me and get going, but she wouldn’t.
The entire time she treated me with care, compassion, authority, confidence and the impression that I mattered. With all that has been going wrong in in my life, I didn’t matter to me, but I did to Pam. I am getting help with my mental needs, they will also help me find a job and I have temporary housing. I have a new direction thanks to wonderful people like Pam.
My deepest thanks, —John—
This is an incredible story of a person using their God-given abilities to make a difference. Truth be told, in one way or another we both play the role of Pam and John.
How many times do we find ourselves venturing onto paths that destroy life? What about those times we fall into the robbing hands that strip us of value?
And yet, time after time, no matter the circumstances that may come, Jesus Christ plucks us up from those trails and trials of doom.
Gathers us. Cares for us. Forgives us. Loves us.
And once again sets us on a course to go and do the same.
To gather, care for, forgive, and love.
Friends, there’s a lot of things that we can choose in our life.
We can choose where to live,
we can choose the schools we attend,
we can choose the jobs we fill.
We cannot choose God’s love for us. God loves us unconditionally. And it is because of our Lord that we may know life, and know it fully.
The other the truth is–
we cannot choose our neighbors.
God chooses our neighbors for us.
Yes, they may be residing in the house next to yours, but God may place you on a trail where you encounter a neighbor in need.
God may introduce you to a neighbor who has nothing in common with you–and all that binds you is the ever-binding nature of our Lord.
You are called. You are gathered. You are forgiven. You are loved.
You are claimed by Christ. And you are part of a community that is the body of Christ.
God has placed neighbors all around us,
and some of them are named John.
Won’t you be a neighbor? Like the Samaritan, like Pam, let us go and do likewise. Amen
Excerpts [in italicis] are from “Emotional Rescue” by Tye Gagne originally published in the Summer/Fall 2018 issue of Appalachia Journal. https://www.outdoors.org/articles/appalachia-journal-blog/emotional-rescue?utm_source=