Monday, October 6, 2008

Who is My Neighbor? (Luke 10.25-37)

October 5, 2008
Sermon by: Robert Austell
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You have probably heard today’s passage before – if not many times, than at least once or twice. There a student of God’s Law (the first part of our Old Testament) tests Jesus by basically asking, “How does one go to Heaven?” Jesus answers by quoting from the Law this man was so familiar with, naming love of God and love of neighbor as the summary of the Law. Pressing further, the man then picks up on Jesus’ mention of “neighbor” and asks, “Who is my neighbor?”

Last week we concluded a month-long series on 2 Timothy 2, where we studied what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. A number of you turned in response cards describing your own sense of personal ministry and mission, or your desire to discover that ministry and mission. This month we are going to press on with the natural fruit of that study. Having focused on following after Jesus we are going to once again look around intentionally to see what God is doing. We are going to gaze outwards and begin with that very important New Testament question – and the one asked in today’s text: Who is my neighbor?

A Modern Parable (vv. 30-35)

The parable of the Good Samaritan has lots of great applications. It speaks in general to God’s desire for us to live lives of compassion and mercy in His name. But today, and in this time in the church’s life, I’d like to focus in on what it has to teach us about loving these neighbors here around Rea Road.

It’s easy to draw a parallel between the man in the parable who was beat up by robbers and only make this parable fit people in extreme situations. We limit being a Good Samaritan to helping people with flat tires, calling 911 when we see an accident or some similar situation. But the type of crisis was not Jesus’ point at all. The person in need could be lonely, scared, depressed, out of work, financially strapped, hungry, lost, hopeless or just far from God. For several years now we’ve recognized the many needs that can be found within a mile of the church, including the great need to know God. We’ve also talked about the unique position the church is in to address those needs in the name of and with the love of Christ.

Jesus focused on people, compassion, and mercy. The setting of his story was personal and familiar. The road from Jericho to Jerusalem was as main a thoroughfare as there was. Providence Road would be an easy comparison within the city. And priests and Levites coming and going on that road were as commonplace as all of us driving to and from this church several times a week.

The key issue and the thing that distinguished the Good Samaritan from the priest and Levite was what happened when each SAW the man in need.

Feeling Compassion (v. 33)

We’ve focused for some time now on seeing our neighbors and their needs. I want us to be keenly aware of our surroundings when we drive to and from church. Do we see the school, the shopping center, the group home, the churches? Do we see people in their yards and read their faces? Do we see people moving into and out of the neighborhood? We would probably notice a car crash in front of the church… would we notice someone walking on the sidewalk with tears streaming down their face?

That’s the first question – do we see? If we drive to and fro blindly, we can’t even ask the next, more important question.

In Jesus’ story, all three potential helpers saw the man in need. The priest and Levite saw him, then chose to pass by on the other side of the road. The crucial thing that distinguished the Good Samaritan from the others – and the thing Jesus commended – was that the Samaritan felt compassion.

That’s easy to describe, harder perhaps to teach. How do we stir up compassion? What happens when we see need? Maybe we just don’t want to get involved. Maybe we feel guilty. Maybe we’d like to help, but don’t know how. Maybe we don’t look and avoid seeing the need so we won’t have to face THESE questions!

I’m not sure how to stir compassion in your hearts or mine, except to say that God is a God of compassion, and if we are seeking Him, then His compassion will overflow into us. Don’t turn that around – if you are not currently beating down our neighbors’ doors trying to be compassionate, it doesn’t mean you don’t love God or seek His will. But it is the case that seeking God’s heart will ultimately increase the compassion of our own hearts. So all I know to do is encourage you to seek what God would have you do related to our neighbors and trust that God will give you the heart and motivation sufficient for the moment.

I do know that we can take certain actions to prepare our hearts to respond to God. We can choose seeing over not seeing – making a point to be aware of people, homes, and gathering places in our church neighborhood.

One Wednesday night last spring, in the place of the adult study, we split into two’s and three’s and walked and drove out into the neighborhood. We weren’t knocking on doors – just stopping in different locations to pray for God’s blessing and answering of needs for the family within. That wasn’t quite “doing mercy,” but it was a good start.

We need to do that more often, praying that God would open our eyes and stir compassion. Would you even take it upon yourself, when you drive to or from church, to detour one block through one of the Rea Road neighborhoods and take an extra 2-3 minutes to pray for one family or business you see?

I believe that if we open our eyes and ask God to give us hearts of compassion, He will gladly do so.

Showing/Doing Mercy (vv. 34-37)

Then what happens? What if I have seen my neighbors and their needs and my heart is moved with compassion. Jesus’ words there are actually that the Samaritan was moved in the pit of his stomach – in his deepest parts.

Jesus describes the direct result of such compassion – it is mercy… “doing mercy.” Mercy is compassion in action – compassion is the feeling; mercy is the action. And Jesus described the Samaritan’s mercy in such wonderful detail. He bandaged wounds, poured oil and wine on them; he lifted him onto his beast (donkey, camel?) and transported him to an inn; he even left extra money and promised to check back in on the man. Clearly, these actions were not just minimal helping out, but responding mercifully from the depth of his heart. These were actions appropriate and necessary to the need at hand.

How will we respond in mercy to the needs of our neighbors? What can we offer lonely people? What can we offer people without hope? What can we offer people who are out of work and in financial hardship? What can we offer people who are far from God or who have never heard of God at all? What can we offer little children or elderly people? What can we offer single mothers?

The two questions of this story…

What can we offer our neighbors?

Will we offer it to them?

I’m going to let you ponder the answer to those questions for a moment.

What is a Good Neighbor? Why Be One? (v. 28)

Jesus answers the question, “Who is a good neighbor?” His answer is…

A good neighbor is one who looks, sees, has compassion, and shows mercy toward one in need.

Why should we be a good neighbor?

For one, Jesus tells us to – we should simply out of obedience. Secondly, the answer is in verse 28 – Jesus is describing what to do in order that we might LIVE as those who have inherited eternal life. There is an illustration I like to use for our life in Jesus Christ. Our salvation is a home – a new home with God. So we have this house but we so often choose to camp out in the driveway rather than make our home within all God has prepared for us. Well this parable describes life in the house – we not only have moved inside to the joyful home God has given us in Christ; we also are now having guests over, inviting others to share in the great gift of God’s grace. Being a Good Samaritan – loving our neighbors – is not primarily about fulfilling Christian duty; rather, it is primarily about living as God intended us to live, as cups running over in blessing to the world around us.

What can we offer our neighbors in their array of earthly and spiritual needs? We can offer Jesus Christ and we can offer ourselves. We can offer the love of God, in direct personal experience with Jesus Christ and in tangible expression through ourselves and our actions.

We can offer those who are hungry bread to eat and the Bread of Life.
We can offer those who are hopeless our friendship and the hope of Christ.
We can offer those who are lost a place to be found and the one who finds.

Ask God to stir compassion for our neighbors deep within your heart.

And get ready for you and this church move into the house that is already yours in Christ. Amen.

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