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Presbyterian pastor’s take on the Good Samaritan highlights opening worship at APCE’s Annual Event

The Rev. Cedric Portis Sr., the pastor of Third Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, tells the story from the viewpoint of the man left for dead

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Nathan Lemon via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — Telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan from the perspective of the man who’d been beaten and left for dead, the Rev. Cedric Portis Sr. preached a rousing and thought-provoking sermon during opening worship Wednesday for the Annual Event of the Association of Partners in Christian Education, meeting in St. Louis and online through Saturday.

Portis, senior pastor of Third Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, labeled his sermon, “Thirst for Justice.”

In the set-up to the parable, the expert in the law asks Jesus who his neighbor is. “But what we’re really asking is, ‘What is my responsibility? Who and how many do I have to love? Who do I have to interrupt my stroll down the street for? Who do I really have to be thirsty for justice for?’” Portis said. “Give us boundaries, Lord.”

However, “We have been commissioned by Christ not to just be, but to do, and so Jesus answers in the form of a parable,” Portis said.

In seminary, he and others were taught to read Bible stories from the point of view of everyone in the story. “It is human nature to read yourself as the hero,” he said. “No one ever wants to be the victim, the guy who got jumped, beat up and left for dead.” But that’s exactly how Portis presented the story to his rapt listeners.

This man was used to traveling long distances on foot, even on a treacherous road like the stretch between Jerusalem and Jericho. After the robbers beat him, stripped him and took off, first a priest walks by. “Surely he’ll help me,” the man thinks. “He had come from the same temple where we were worshiping together.” He doesn’t help, of course, and neither does the Levite who, as Portis pointed out, “was commissioned to help the poor. He seemed grossed out by my wounds,” the man concludes. “I thought, is this what the religious community is all about? God must want me to die, since God’s people have no compassion for the hurt and wounded, the afflicted, those deprived of justice.”

Just as he shuts his eyes — perhaps for the last time — the man can just make out a man on a donkey who is clearly a Samaritan. “I knew it was over now,” the man says. “Our animosity went back generations.” But he stops to render first aid, and the man can’t believe how well he’s treated by a Samaritan who goes well beyond the extra mile.

“Christian educators, this parable screams at us,” Portis said. “We see oppression and we’re crossing the street. We see the unhoused criminalized, and we’re crossing the street. We’re seeing people using hateful racist rhetoric in God’s name, and we’re crossing the street.”

“Jesus put the emphasis on who’s doing the loving,” Portis said. “What do I owe to suffering people around me? What do I owe to anything that doesn’t impact me?”

The church, sadly, “has allowed religiosity to become an excuse for excluding those we don’t like,” Portis said. “We can sing, ‘Praise the Lord’ and walk right by injured people.” But “God orchestrates our days and our opportunities to meet people’s needs.”

“Compassion is your hurt in my heart,” he said. “We cannot be saved by good works, but those of us who are saved practice good works. They aren’t a condition of salvation, but they’re certainly a fruit of it.”

Devaluing human life “has made people, including Christians, indifferent to suffering.” But the person who cries for help is a human being and a creation of God. It’s the mother trying to feed her family in a food desert, Portis said. It’s the laborer who’s worked for decades and now must choose between food and medication because he can’t afford both.

The Rev. Cedric Portis Sr.

“God has given us the resources to help, but too often we just look for the loophole,” Portis said. “Do I know this person? What did he do to deserve this beating? He must have done something!”

“If God has led us to help this person, then they are our neighbor,” Portis said. “Through the cross, Jesus has carried us to safety. Through the cross, Jesus has given us grace and showed us mercy when we were left for dead on the side of the road.”

“Christian educators, we are called to show mercy, and we are extremely thirsty for justice. God bless you today,” Portis said, and those assembled at the Union Station Hotel gave him a loud ovation.

Go here to read a report on an APCE pre-event featuring the Annual Event’s keynote speaker, Mark Yaconelli. Follow Presbyterian News Service’s reporting on worship, keynotes and workshops at pcusa.org.


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