Sunday, October 16, 2011

"Won't You Be My Neighbor?"

This morning Pastor Brad's greeting included a reminder that he has been doing a series on living for the sake of the call. Today, we would be looking at the story of the Good Samaritan, something he believes to be a worthy study at least once a year.

Announcements included next Saturday's Hunter's Expo in Poplar. The event runs from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. There will be a carpool, so contact Brad or the church if you are planning to attend.

The kindergarten and first graders came up and recited I John 4:7 in a creative way. "Beloved, let us love one another for love is of God. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God."

The quartet opened worship with the great hymn, "He Hideth My Soul," inviting the congregation to join on the chorus. This was followed by a time of worship, the Scripture reading by Ally (Luke 10:25-37) and a time of prayer.

"Won't You Be My Neighbor?"

Brad snuck into the side room first, then Darlene began playing "It's a Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood," the theme from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. What got us all in chuckles was the way Brad started off by taking a seat and talking like Mr. Rogers. It was an entertaining intro, even if Brad neglected to wear the red sweater which Mr. Rogers made part of his daily regimen on the show.

Brad began by asking us about the neighborhoods we grew up in. He even had us tell our pew neighbors about our neighborhoods. Most of us remember not only the people next door, but the whole neighborhood. We knew our neighbors because we played together, ate together, did things together. But Brad said when he got saved, Jesus expanded his understanding of the meaning of neighbors. Today's story of the Good Samaritan was instrumental in this.

The passage begins in Luke 10:25.

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

In some translations "expert in law" is translated lawyer, but what it really means is not a lawyer like Perry Mason or today's courtroom lawyers. Rather, he is an expert in the religious laws as laid out in the Pentateuch. It's noteworthy here that his aim was to test Jesus, not listen to Him. So he asks the pointed question.

Jesus flips it back at him. “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

The lawyer recites the "correct" answer. “‘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.’” At this Jesus assents, but adds, "Do this and you will live."

The lawyer didn't let it go here, though. Wanting to justify himself he asks still another question. "Who is my neighbor?" And Jesus, being the Master teacher He was, with His piercing eyes of holiness could see directly into this man's heart and knew exactly where that question was coming from.

Instead of a direct answer Jesus tells a story.

30 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. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 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. 35 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.’

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

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

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

We're so familiar with this story that we don't hear it sometimes. The man going down from from Jerusalem to Jericho was traveling a dangerous road. That robbers would jump him and leave him half dead was no surprise to the hearers of this tale because this kind of thing happened along that way. That a priest would go by and walk on the other side of the road was probably not a surprise. He was probably returning from a cleansing ceremony in Jerusalem. He was under holy orders to stay "clean." The Levite, too, was famously a keeper of the law. He could not afford to be involved.

The crowd knew there would be a third person coming along. Maybe a common blue collar guy like them. They were eager to see this man be the hero of the story, but instead Jesus has that third man be a Samaritan. Samaritans were half-breeds and hated by the Jews. It was not the right hero for this story.

But it was the Samaritan who did the right thing. He took pity on the man, probably tore his shirt into strips in order to bandage his wounds. He put the injured man on his donkey and walked till they reached an inn whereupon he paid two months ahead for a room for the man, offering to cover any additional expenses not covered.

When Jesus asks, "Which of these three were neighbor to the man?" the lawyer again knows the right answer, as do all of the hearers of this story. It was the one who had mercy. And we're instructed to go and do likewise.

Brad put it to us this way. We need to engage our neighbors. We need to listen to them, not preach at them. In a profound way he stated that as we listen to our neighbors' stories, we should do so with an ear to hear where God is already at work in their circumstances, to see where God is intersecting with their lives. In this manner we can meet people at their point of need.

Living out the Gospel is a lifestyle, not a "church program." It's about relationships. It's about broadening our view of who our neighbors are.

"Go and do likewise."

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