Sunday, November 9, 2008

How Do You Read It?

Despite a chill north wind, the pews were packed again for worship this Sunday. Pastor Brad welcomed us with comments about how we are created for God’s pleasure, and that worship is not just something that happens on Sunday morning. Rather, all we do can be an act of worship.

He also noted that when we are here for worship, it is not as an observer, but as a participant in an act of worship. In the midst of all, here with us, is the God who created the universe.

The story of the good Samaritan is today’s theme, and many portions of the service dovetailed with this theme, especially the blessing of our Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes which were prepared last Wednesday evening.

A whole raft of announcements should be cited as the Advent season approaches and many activities are taking place. Here are a few that were noted.

1. CHIC Fundraising Pastie Sale… Contact Eric Borndal for details.
2. Jim Fretheim, Superintendent of the Northwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church will be a guest preacher next Sunday. He can be counted on for an insightful, wise message. Lunch will be served afterwards.
3. A special Thanksgiving Service will be held 7:00 p.m., November 23rd at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Brookston.
4. A special ADVENTure Sunday School will be held Dec. 7, 14 and 21 leading into Christmas, 9 a.m. downstairs for all ages.
5. The Shannons will share their home in an Open House, Sunday December 7 during the coffee hour. (5637 Bergstrom Jct. Road)
6. The Christmas Program and Dinner will be on December 14 at 4:00 p.m. Kids’ practice is scheduled for the 13th, 10 a.m. till noon.

The quartet ushered us into worship with Fanny Crosby’s “I Love to Tell the Story.” After leading us in song and praise, the children carried the Operation Christmas Child boxes to the front where they were dedicated. Operation Christmas Child is a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse, intended to bring joy and hope to children in desperate situations around the world. Since 1993 more than 61 million shoe boxes have been packed and given.

The Scripture reading was from Psalm 78:1-7. After a time of prayer, Pastor Brad presented the message.

How Do You Read It?

It’s a familiar passage, the story of the Good Samaritan. We’ve all heard it many times throughout our Christian lives. The passage is found in Luke 10:25-37.

Does gaining eternal life really boil down to being a good neighbor? Or bringing a dinner to a hungry person? Is Jesus right to say this? Is it really this simple?

Pastor Brad was striving to engage our minds because all too often we hear passages like this and it’s the same old same old. We tune it out because we already know that. The challenge is to see something fresh, and the pastor succeeded in achieving this aim.

Brad noted that doctors do not give the same prescription to all patients. Each has different ailments which must be first diagnosed, and the remedy prescribed accordingly. There is not one answer for all. For this reason, the Lord spoke with Nicodemus about the need to be born again. To the woman at the well He offered living water, and said, “Go call your husband,” knowing her real circumstances. To the rich young ruler He said, “Sell all, give it to the poor and follow Me.”

In this story, Jesus happens to be talking with a lawyer. This lawyer knew all the right answers. The lawyer had asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus answered with a question. “What is written in the Law?” In other words, what does God’s Word say on the matter.

But Jesus went further. He also asked, “How do you read it?”

This lawyer knew all the right answers and answered correctly here. 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 neighbor as yourself.'"

Jesus affirmed his correct answer, but added, “Do this and you will live.” In other words, like the great physician he is, the prescription for this lawyer was to put the knowledge you have into practice. Do this and you will have life. Act on what you have heard and profess, not as a way of gaining eternal life, but as a sign that eternal life has already begun in your heart.

It’s a hard pill to swallow. And for this reason, the lawyer asked another question, for the purpose of clarification. “Who is my neighbor?”

This is the context for the story of the good Samaritan. It is a brilliant setup in answer to the wrong question. The question implies that some people are neighbors and some are not.

The lawyer, who knew Jewish law, knew that there were some who were acceptable and some not. Gentiles were considered dogs. Samaritans were also among the excluded.

What happens when a neighbor is not my kind? How about illegal aliens? Or gays? We set up boundaries. But love transcends human barriers such as race, nationality, creed, sexual orientation, gender, circumstances, etc. All people who need help are my neighbors.

Love costs us. There is risk involved in helping the man in the ditch. Love doesn’t stop at convenience. To practice love stretches our capacity to love to its outermost limits.

In point of fact, you can’t do this in your own strength. Human love will fall short. The power of positive thinking is not enough. It is only the enabling Word that commands us which also empowers us to love like this. The enabling Word is Christ Himself. That kind of love has no limits.

Pastor Brad shared how he worked at an orphanage in Mexico once. He saw how the experience broke down barriers, sharing a story that setup a concept presented by Juan Carlos Ortiz called “Mashed Potato Love.” A sack of potatoes is a bunch of isolated individual spuds, but when we’re peeled and sliced and mashed the boundaries and barriers which ordinarily separate us disappear.

We can know God’s “plan of salvation” and the Four Spiritual Laws, but knowing these things is not liberating until we are changed. Christ can change us from our old ways of thinking, helping us to see with His eyes until we learn to live with His love. This is the Good News. Christ can break down the walls that separate us and make us new people where His Spirit becomes our spirit, His vision becomes our vision and His compassion becomes our compassion… and His life becomes our eternal life. This is the Gospel of the Lord.

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