Sermon Illustrations

Grateful Allen, An Outsider

We all know about the good Samaritan, but how many of us have heard of the grateful Samaritan? We are going to meet him today, but firstly I want to tell you about my friend Allen. Allen was quite different from most people. To have called him unconventional would have been an understatement, and to have called him an eccentric outcast would not have been much of an exaggeration.

Allen eschewed many social and legal conventions, and sometimes this got him into trouble with the authorities. His happy-go-lucky (and occasionally opportunistic) nature frustrated his friends and family on many occasions. I especially remember the time when I came home to find that Allen had broken into my house and moved his dog Pirate and himself into a spare room. Already, that room was redolent with that unique combination of aromas of stale tobacco, dog, salt water, boat engine, old socks and other odours best left unidentified that seemed to accompany Allen wherever he went.

Although I was not exactly overjoyed, I did not throw Allen out, but let him stay. If it had been anybody else, I may well have reacted very differently, but this was Allen. For all his annoying habits, Allen was a very special person. Even though I never heard him apply any specific labels of religious affiliation to himself, he was a very spiritually aware person, far more so than many more conventional people who looked down on people like him. His tendency to get himself into trouble at times did not diminish the genuine care he showed for others. More than most people, Allen managed to put into practice some of the more demanding teachings of the gospels when it came to sharing possessions, caring for others and showing gratitude.

Although he had little, Allen gladly shared what he had with others. If he was ever worried about his own needs being compromised, he did not show it.

Even though his mere presence could be embarrassing at times (especially when he had a few tots of rum inside him), Allen could eloquently deal with situations that most of us would find awkward, and do so with the simplest of gestures. I recall the occasion when my dog was ran over. Without having been asked, Allen dug a large hole for him at the bottom of my garden and left a single rose on his body. Nobody but Allen would have thought of doing that.

Allen lived modestly, and was always grateful for what he received. He was a keen sailor; in fact, he was only ever truly happy when he was on the water. I once gave him a mast that had been left under my house by a previous owner. The joy and gratitude he expressed was like that of a small child at Christmas.

After he finally moved out of my place, he went to live on his yacht that was moored in Onepoto Channel in Porirua Harbour. He lived off the sea and the land to a considerable degree, and he was always thankful for their great abundance. You could call Allen many things, but you could never call him ungrateful.

Today’s gospel reading about the ten lepers told the story of some other outcasts, who lived 2,000 years earlier. Being a leper in Jesus’ day meant having to live removed from normal society. We can imagine but we can never really know what it must have been like to have had to live outside the city walls, to have had to keep a good distance from others (Luke 17:12), and to have had to shout “unclean” whenever anybody was approaching.

Before I finish, you may be wondering whatever became of Allen. One winter night ten years ago, Allen started to make his way back to his yacht in a dinghy after having had a bit too much to drink. Here is where the story starts to get murky. I understand that his own dinghy was being repainted, so he had borrowed someone else’s one that was much lighter and less stable than his own. One report claimed that he had attempted to row with only one oar. Another story stated that he was singing as he rowed into the darkness. There was even a rumour that suggested foul play, but whatever happened, Allen never made it home. At some point, seemingly when he was climbing out of the dinghy into the safety of his yacht, Allen ended up falling into the cold dark waters of Porirua Harbour, where he drowned.

His absence was not noticed immediately. It was not uncommon for Allen to disappear for a few days at a time. It was only when it was noticed that Pirate had been on the yacht on his own for a few days that the Onepoto community began to suspect that something was wrong. Allen’s appropriately unconventional funeral was held a few days after his body was recovered. It was attended by people from all walks of life whom had been touched in various ways by this humble sailor. It was unlike anything I had ever seen, and I do not think I will ever witness anything like it again.

Ten years later, I pass Porirua Harbour by train most mornings and evenings, and I often think of Allen when I see the sea that he loved so much and that ultimately claimed him. I think of how he helped me to appreciate the abundance of creation and to be quietly grateful for it.

Just like the grateful Samaritan of 2,000 years ago and the street person of today, Allen was an outsider who was looked down on by some, yet demonstrated gratitude and humility that was lacking in many of those who would consider themselves to be superior. We too need to consider how grateful we are for what we have received in life through God’s grace, and we must be mindful that we never ever count ourselves superior to those whose very existences confront us and challenge us to consider whether our lives really do reveal Christ in word and action.

From a sermon by Darryl Ward, The grateful Samaritan, 12/6/2009

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