Monday, October 27, 2008

What Will It Cost Me? (Matthew 19.16-26)

October 26, 2008
Sermon by: Robert Austell
download (click, then choose "save to disk" for playback on computer or iPod, or play sermon live in this window below)

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**
[This particular Sunday, I'd recommend the audio version over the manuscript version below... it changed quite a bit in delivery.]

This month we are talking about discipleship, or following Jesus. We’ve been asking some of the key questions of Jesus-followers and this week we ask, “What will it cost me?” Last week we heard that if you want to follow Jesus you must “take up your cross.” Today’s text is related in the sense that it focuses on what we must lay down in order to truly take up the cross.

To say that another way, discipleship or following Jesus involves both a taking up and a letting go. Last week we looked at what one has to take up. Today we’ll be looking at what we must let go.

Go, Sell, and Give

A man comes to Jesus having led a very good life in terms of God’s Law. He is religious and has kept the commandments. He’s a good man, as good is generally understood to be defined, but he comes to ask Jesus if there is not one more good thing that he may be missing. And Jesus doesn’t fail him. He tells the man to let go of his riches in order to receive treasure in Heaven. And the man goes away disappointed, for he owned much.

I want to take two passes at Jesus’ response here. In both cases, note the verbs – the imperative, action verbs. They are all in verse 21 and there are five of them: GO, SELL, GIVE, COME, FOLLOW.

I often focus on the last two (come and follow), as I did last Sunday. But look, in order to come and follow, sometimes (maybe all the time), we must give something up and give something away.

In this man’s case, it was money and possessions. He was rich, and Jesus knew that his attachment to his possessions were in the way of his complete devotion and obedience to God. And so, Jesus issued the invitation. It’s not supposed to be comfortable or casual. Remember last week? It costs something. And in this man’s case, it cost too much.

The language also brings to mind last week’s teaching. Here Jesus says to sell and give away possessions in order to receive treasure in heaven. Remember last week? What is a soul worth? Is it worth hanging on to earthly stuff to risk losing your eternal soul? Jesus’ counsel sounded like a bad deal, but it was exactly what the man needed to hear. It was truth, spoken in love.

The question this passage always brings to my mind is this: “Do I have to give away everything I own in order to be a Christian?”

The short answer to that is, “Yes, if that’s what Christ asks of you; then yes.” Well, if that is hard to hear it gets harder before it gets any easier…

Digging Deeper

In the broader context of Jesus’ teaching on discipleship, which includes last Sunday’s text, money and possessions are not the only things that can stand in the way of following Jesus. It’s just the specific example here. And this is where this gets harder. For some, the thought of selling everything, giving it to the poor, and following Jesus is the hardest thing you can imagine. For others, it’s conceivable… or at least being very, very generous with money, property, and things.

But Jesus isn’t speaking against wealth. He is speaking against greed, covetousness, and idolatry. To “translate” those three into everyday language, he is speaking against holding on to my stuff, wanting your stuff, and putting something before God. Jesus recognized that one of the biggest spiritual obstacles for the wealthy is wealth. But the application is far deeper and more personal than that.

Jesus says GO and SELL to anything that we hold closer than the cross we would bear. It might be our wealth; it might be our addictions or appetites; it might be our habits and sinful behaviors; it might be our time. We hang on to destructive behavior because it gives us a sense of control rather than yielding control to the Lord of the universe. We give God an hour or two a week, and begrudge Him even that. We give to the church and to charities, but do so out of duty or for the tax break; when was the last time you delightfully just gave it away and felt the freedom of letting it go?

Jesus goes on to say GIVE to the poor – that is, love neighbor more than self. And he ends with COME and FOLLOW. Here he lays out the pattern for the Christian life. We must be stripped bare of everything that encumbers us and trips us up. We must look away from self to those around us. And we must follow closely after Jesus.

Sound hard? … maybe even impossible? Jesus makes an apt comparison – ludicrous, but then so is what he’s asking of us! It would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to give his wealth away. Surely, it would also be easier for the camel than for me to give up an extra hour of sleep to come pray on Tuesday mornings; or to give up eating breakfast out in order to support God’s work in our neighborhood. Personally, I’ll give up the money, but don’t ask me to give up my comfort or habits or entertainment! You can send that camel packing!

The Impossible Question

In studying this text I read that it was commonly believed in Jesus’ day that being rich was a sign of God’s blessing. (I think we buy into that pretty much in our time, too!) This explains why the disciples were so dumfounded at Jesus’ teaching here. They ask in verse 25, “Then who can be saved?”

I’ve found myself asking that of God when I study passages like this. Honestly, I just want my Christianity to be like any number of other things in life: I’d like a moderate degree of “success” with the least effort possible. We can pull off American Christianity with that mentality; but we can’t be Jesus-followers the way Jesus defined it.

And the disciples are right. Who can do that?

The answer is no one can, except with God’s help. Jesus acknowledged this very thing in verse 26: “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

How does this square with our experience? Here’s what I can tell you…

Being a Christian isn’t a casual thing; it is an all-or-nothing, stake your life on it, take up your cross and let go of the rest thing. That’s how Jesus defines it and that’s what he is calling you and me to when he says, “Come, follow me.”

For a very few people, the transformation from unbeliever to believer is sudden, drastic, and a complete overhaul of their life. The folks I’ve known who have had this experience are usually pretty much at the end of their rope when they meet Jesus, and the taking up and letting go is a no-brainer.

For many of us who have grown up in the church, the transformation to the kind of follower Jesus describes here is slow, halting, and full of resistance on our part. In this sense, we greatly resemble the rich man in the story, whether “our thing” is possessions or something else we cling to. Nonetheless, with God all things are possible. And if we are believers, God is at work in us already! So God uses the Holy Spirit, the teaching of His Word, the encouragement and accountability of the church and Christian family, and the clear calling of Christ to peel away the stuff we tend to accumulate around our souls. In these ways God calls out to us: GO, SELL, GIVE, COME, and FOLLOW.

Taking Up and Letting Go

The discipleship question for today is “What will it cost me?” The answer is anything and everything that stands between you and God. You know what that is more than I do. It’s probably the thing that comes to mind if you’re hoping, “I hope he doesn’t name that.” And this is why it is such good news that God sent His son to seek and save the lost. If we were left to our own devices to find God, we’d have about as much hope as that camel. But with God all things are possible.

So I challenge and charge you, in the name of Jesus Christ, to let go of what keeps you from God. If it’s everything all at once and God’s doing a real number on you, thanks be to God. Or, if the Holy Spirit has put one thing on your mind that you need to lay down, I invite you to pray for God’s help to do so.

In order to take up Jesus’ calling and cross and follow him, we must lay down that which keeps us from God. You are not in it alone, but have the supernatural help of God and His Holy Spirit; and you have the prayers, encouragement, and support of this church family.

I would invite you to pray now with me, and to seek accountability from someone here – a friend in Christ or an elder or me… I would gladly provide that for anyone here. Let us pray…

Monday, October 20, 2008

How Can I Be a Part? (Matthew 16.24-28)

October 19, 2008
Sermon by: Robert Austell
download (click, then choose "save to disk" for playback on computer or iPod, or play sermon live in this window below)

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**
Today we continue a series of “Questions of Discipleship” – that is, if you are serious about trusting and following Jesus, what questions will you need to wrestle with.

Two weeks ago we asked, “Who is my neighbor?”

Last week we asked, “What do I have to offer?”

Today we will ask, “How can I be a part?” What does it take to be a Jesus-follower? Is it simply joining a church? Is it learning the Lord’s Prayer? Is it giving money to the church? Is it doing good works? If God is still doing something in the world, how can I be a part of that? What do I need to do? And WHY? Those are the questions answered in today’s text from Matthew 16.

Why Should I? (4 reasons)

The reasons Jesus gives are all-or-nothing kinds of reasons. They have to do with life and death. Following him is not a casual, take-it-or-leave it, or fun hobby kind of thing. It’s the difference between really living or being really lost.

Here’s the first reason to really follow Jesus: you are saved for something. He says, “For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it” (v. 25). It’s a bit of a play on words. “Losing your life” here means both dying and losing sense of the purpose of it. And that overlap is intentional. Further, there is the seeming contradiction of losing life in order to save and/or find it. What Jesus is saying here is revolutionary to the kingdom of self. In order to really follow him, we have to give up control of our life and direction to him. As long as we are trying to save our life, steer our ship, find ourselves (you pick the metaphor), we are rejecting the complete authority of God over our life, and rejecting Jesus as Lord. We may have claimed him as Savior (our rescuer), but in denying his Lordship or authority, we are missing the purpose of his salvation. Why follow Jesus? Because following him means you are saved for something.

Second reason: you can’t take it with you. I don’t mean to sound so cliché, but that’s basically what he’s saying next: “For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul?” (v. 26). Nothing else in this world lasts. Wealth, power, status, reputation – it will all fade away. But your soul is eternal. God made you to live forever. After your body becomes frail and dies, your soul lives on. And your soul is YOU – you either live eternally with God in Heaven or in eternal separation and suffering in Hell. What good is accumulating stuff for 30, 40, 50, even 100 years, if you neglect your eternal soul? That’s the question and another reason Jesus gives for truly following after him.

Third reason: the worth of your soul. Building on the second reason, Jesus asks, “Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (v. 26). What is your soul worth? Is it worth trading for anything? Many a book and movie plot has explored that question. And the answer, from scripture to the most secular version is that nothing is worth losing your soul. The sweetest deal is always regretted when the final reckoning comes. If anything, these stories point out our short-sightedness, grabbing the sugar candy waved in front of us and giving up the infinitely more precious welfare of our eternal soul.

Fourth reason: there will be a reckoning. Interestingly, Jesus goes on to the same concluding reason often found in our secular stories of soul-bartering. There will be a final judgment or a reckoning, and it is there that the eternal fate of our souls will be far more important than anything else from our brief life. Jesus says, “For the Son of man is going to come in the glory of his Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds” (v. 27). On the surface, this sounds like a straight out appeal for salvation based on good deeds. And the Bible does teach that our deeds matter – and that we should do good deeds. But here’s what else the Bible says about our good deeds: no one is good. No one is righteous enough to purchase salvation for their soul. Only Jesus was perfect and sinless and good. It is because he has purchased salvation that we can stand before that final judgment and “pass.” It is only because we are “with him” and “in him” that God will look at us and recompense (like compensate) us for HIS good work. That is why following Jesus is so important – it’s how we know and demonstrate that we are with him and in him. If we go off our own direction, will he say, “I never knew you?” Or said another way, when Jesus stands at the judgment to say, “She’s with me” will you actually be there as one who followed him? Or will you be MIA?

How Can I Be a Part? (what it means to come after Jesus)

So those are the reasons Jesus gives for following him as a disciple. What then does it look like to follow after him? What does he mean by “come after me?” (v. 24). Jesus says three things; let’s look at them.

First, he says, deny yourself. This is, perhaps, the easiest to understand and the hardest to do. Another way to say that is, “It’s not all about you.” Denial of self in order to follow Jesus means taking self out of the driver’s seat, off the throne of your life (again, pick your metaphor). It basically means your life is not your own, but belongs to God. Does that sound radical? It is! But it is not without precedent or analogy. When you undergo major surgery, you put yourself and your life in the hands of the doctors and nurses. Once they put you under, you are not in control; you have yielded your own control, sometimes to save your life. That’s what is at stake here. And the stubborn insistence that “I will not undergo surgery because I will not be in control” can well cost you that same life. From an early age we are taught to be independent, in control, and look out for #1. Following Jesus is counter to that; we are to be dependent, in His control, and answering to him as #1. As with anything, we can err in either direction of what God teaches. It is possible to warp this verse into a system of self-deprivation that harms the temple of the body and turns deprivation into a religion. That’s not what Jesus is teaching. Rather, he is teaching that we cannot follow him if you or I are in the lead. We must yield and come after him.

Second, Jesus says take up your cross. This teaching reminds us that being a Christian is not about comfort, nor should it be a comfortable thing. There is often suffering involved; there is a cost to following Jesus. For some early believers and even still today, following Jesus literally costs them their lives. I am far too caught up in my own comfort to want to consider that, but I would hope that God would give me strength to face whatever following Jesus costs me. Said another way, taking up our cross means that we will bear whatever following Jesus requires us to bear, even as Jesus bore all that he was required to bear as he carried his cross. Thankfully, God gives us what we need to be faithful.

Put in a more modern and everyday context, don’t expect following Jesus to be a vacation. It may well involve suffering, struggle, and sorrow. But know, too, that there is no better and more joyful place to be than in God’s hands as we follow obediently after Him in Jesus Christ. One illustration of this from common life is the familiar scene of children asking parents for dessert. “Can I have some ice cream?” they ask. When the parent replies, “No, not until you eat your veggies,” a child might plead, “But don’t you love me?” The parent replies, “Of course I love you – which is exactly why you have to eat your veggies first!” What we struggle to learn as children is the same thing we struggle to learn as Christians – that there is no better place to be then in obedience and trusting our parent. While that is mostly true for imperfect human parents, that is always true for our perfect Heavenly Father!

Third, Jesus says follow me. He began by saying, “If anyone wishes to come after me” and it is in this third explanation that he defines that as following. Following implies paying attention, staying close behind, and obeying. Following Jesus is not a casual hour a week at church kind of thing. It is an intentional, costly, minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, and day-by-day commitment to Jesus as Savior, Lord, and Teacher. Imagine if you were dropped in the middle of an active war zone and all you saw was one battle-toughened friendly soldier nearby. As you stammered, “How will I ever get out of here?” he responds, “Follow me” and begins marching towards the woods. Are you going to try to figure out your own plan, or follow him? And yet we try to out-think, maneuver around, and make our own plans on the sovereign, all-wise, and infinitely compassionate Lord of the universe.

If you have any interest in getting through, getting home, and the well-being of your soul, follow him!

Jesus has given good reasons to follow, but ultimately, follow him because he has shown himself to be who he says he is and he has done all that he said he would do. The starting question was, “How can I be a part?” Indeed, why would you want to do anything else? Amen.

Monday, October 13, 2008

What Do I Have to Offer? (Luke 19:11-27)

October 12, 2008
Sermon by: Robert Austell
download (click, then choose "save to disk" for playback on computer or iPod, or play sermon live in this window below)

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**
In September we studied 2 Timothy 2 and what it means to be a Jesus-follower or disciple. In October we are considering “Four Questions for a Jesus-follower.” Last week, we dealt with a first question: “Who is My Neighbor?” Today we will ask, “What Do I Have to Offer?” The following weeks will take up “How Can I Be a Part?” and “What Will it Cost Me?”

Today we look at a parable, a story Jesus told, which probably sounds a little familiar, but maybe not quite what you remember. It is close to the more-familiar “Parable of the Talents,’ but is really told in a different context and for a different purpose. Because of this similarity, I have never paid it much attention; but, I have realized that this is an important story in its own right because of what it has to teach us about being a Jesus-follower. It addresses the question, “What Do I Have to Offer?”

Why Did Jesus Tell This Story? (v. 11)

Parables are stories with a teaching point. They always have a context and that context is always important to “getting it” – understanding the point of the parable. In the case of this parable, that context and its importance are given in the text.

Look at verse 11. There are two important bits of information there about the context. The first is “while they were listening to these things.” This refers to the preceding text, which is the story of Zaccheus. The last verse of that story is Jesus saying, “Today salvation has come to this house… for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.” The story of Zaccheus is a story about a man who encountered the person and grace of Jesus and who responded in faith and action, paying back over and above what he had stolen from people. Zaccheus is a man who responded to Jesus in faith and obedience. Keep that in mind as we move into the story of the ten minas.

Also in v. 11, we are explicitly told why Jesus told the parable. It was “because he was near Jerusalem and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately.” We have talked before about the “Messianic expectation” of Jesus day. There was a belief and a hope that God would send His Messiah, or chosen one, to restore the political strength and independence of Israel. There were a whole set of prophecies and signs associated with this belief and many of those signs centered around Jerusalem. One of Jesus’ central teachings was about the “Kingdom of God” and just as people hoped the Messiah would lead a restored Israel, they believed that the restored Israel would be the Kingdom of God on earth. Jesus was aware of this expectation, often teaching to correct it, and he told this particular parable specifically because of the proximity to Jerusalem and the tangible expectations of those around him.

The short version of what he consistently taught – and this parable is no exception – is that there was indeed a coming Kingdom, though it was a spiritual Kingdom rather than a military/political kingdom. He also taught that the Kingdom was come NOW – with His ministry and presence – but also NOT YET. There was a future component still to be awaited in hope and faith. What this parable does is describe the NOT YET of the Kingdom and the what-to-do-in-the-meantime question of all who were looking to God in faith.

As we are still living in the NOT YET time, this parable has direct application to each of us as we try to understand what it means to hope in God, trust and follow Jesus, and as we ask “What do I have to offer?”

Finally, the parable distinguishes at least three different types of “citizens” of the kingdom in the story, pointing us to some application for our own lives and reality. We’ll consider the parable from the viewpoint of these three groups.

Group 1: Servants of the House

The first and obvious group in this parable is the group of ten servants. In the story a nobleman was going to a far country to become king and then return. He called together ten slaves and gave each of them a mina in order to “do business until I return.” Now a mina was 100 days wage. The instruction was to engage the world, investing, buying and selling – in other words, to do the work of the household in his absence.

Already there are differences between this parable and the similar parable of the talents. A mina is a much more modest sum than a talent (at least 60x the value of a mina). Also, each servant is given the same amount. In Matthew, the talents were distributed “according to ability” while here the minas are not. Even without the confusing overlap between the monetary “talent” and our word “talent” for gifts and abilities, this parable seems to steer away from an ability-based distinction.

When I first read this parable, I thought the main point would nonetheless be similar to the parable of the talents – that God has given us gifts, talents, and resources, which we are to use to serve Him. I thought it would be a stewardship passage. And that aspect is here, to be sure. The two servants who the master praised wisely invested the minas and multiplied them. Nonetheless, the focus here does not seem to be on stewardship per se, but on knowing and obeying the master. Jesus is describing what servants of God are supposed to do in the NOT YET of waiting for the coming Kingdom. We are to “be about the Father’s business” – and simply that. I’ll return to what that looks like at the end of the sermon.

But having noted that this parable is not just a lesson on stewardship, let us consider what Jesus is saying here about the landscape of this world between his ministry and the final judgment of God. Let’s look at two other groups of people identified in this parable.

Group 2: Hostile Resistance (v. 14)

There is a group in the parable that is set against the ruler from the get-go. Look at verse 14: “But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’” In this, Jesus is recognizing that some of those waiting for God’s Messiah have opposed him from the beginning. One’s mind goes quickly to the scribes and Pharisees who so openly opposed Jesus and worked to discredit him and eventually kill him. They were not strangers to the kingdom, but were not ready to see a “local” as their king.

As we consider the implications of this group in the parable to our current reality in the NOT YET of the Kingdom, the teaching from Romans 1:18 and following comes to mind. We have all the “proof” we need of God’s existence in nature around us, yet some stubbornly refuse to yield to God, and cling to self-rule and demand autonomy. In some ways this parable illustrates in story form the theology of Romans 1.

This group appears again at the end of the parable, in verse 27, where the end has come, and the King executes judgment against his sworn enemies. So we are to understand that God’s grace and mercy are part of the NOT YET that we live in, but that God’s judgment is coming and there will be a time when being God’s enemy will cost everything.

Group 3: In the Dark

There is a third person described in this parable, and that is the third slave. In the parable of the talents we mostly leave thinking this person wasn’t a good steward and failed with the task given to him. That is true here as well, but the slaves reason plays a much more prominent role. In the parable of the talents, the unworthy slave simply feared the master and played it safe. Here, the slave is afraid, but also mischaracterizes and even libels the master, describing him as “an exacting man” who “take[s] up what you did not lay down and reap[s] what you did not sow.” In other words, he makes the master out to be unfair and a thief.

The master seems to play along, but finds the slave unworthy, saying that he failed both the actual task and the one he imagined himself to have. In other words, even if the master were an unfair thief, the slave should have invested the mina in order to multiply it for the supposed money-loving master. And the master takes away the one mina and gives it to the first slave, who made ten out of one. And that’s really the end of the transaction with the one slave because the focus shifts back to those gathered around, who find the master’s action unfair – see v. 25, “But master, he has ten minas already.”

The story goes on and turns to the fate of the hostile resistance when the master returns in power.

The Need for Salt and Light: our mission

What do we make of all this? The Parable of the Talents always reminds us that to whom much is given, much is required. But does this parable have the same lesson? I think the focus is different here.

Jesus is speaking to those who are expecting the immediate coming of God’s Kingdom, and with that comes judgment of those not right with God. This story also comes right on the heels of the encounter with Zaccheus where a scoundrel and a criminal – surely one not right with God – seemingly “finds the Lord” late in life and is blessed and honored by Jesus.

This parable simultaneously answers the question of what followers of Jesus are to believe and do during the NOT YET of waiting for Jesus’ return in glory and the question of people coming late to the party. Let me explain…

There are some who trust and obey God. We are not perfect, but it’s not about us or our abilities or our rightness. Rather, like the servants and the minas, God has given us what we need to be faithful and obedient. Because of Jesus, we have what we need. And Jesus has simply said, “Come, follow me.” So every person who has trusted in Jesus has their mina. It’s the same for every Christian. We have hope; we have forgiveness; we have the Holy Spirit and the fruits and gifts that come with the Spirit; we have God’s Word. Every one of you who trusts in Jesus has those things – that’s your mina.

There are some folks who are hostile to God. They are no less created in God’s image or inhabitants of this world that God has made. But, like we would be apart from Jesus, they are hostile to God’s rule in their life. And barring a miracle or Jesus breaking through that hostility, their fate is as certain as the enemies of the master in the story.

And then there are a whole host of people who live in the dark. Like the unfaithful slave in the story, they may have a wrong view of God. They may be misinformed, and even appear hostile to God because they believe God is hostile, unfair, or a thief. Those attitudes are tangled in with some of the big questions about “How could God do this?” and “Why did this happen to me?”

This landscape of people living in the NOT YET was entirely appropriate to the Zaccheus encounter, where someone assumed to be an enemy of God encountered the truth and the person of Jesus and proved to be a “faithful servant.”

This landscape of people living in the NOT YET describes the world we still live in, and it ties in to our core mission of being a searchlight church. Look again at the verse right before our parable. There it is in verse 10: “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.”

How will they know the truth if we don’t tell them? How will people know that God is not exacting and unfair, but gracious and loving, unless we show them? We are salt and light because the story of humanity isn’t over until it’s over. We are living in the NOT YET, and so it is not too late for anyone.

What do I have to offer Jesus? What shall I do with the mina which he has entrusted me?

I will follow him, seeking to love those he would love and serve those he would serve. I will be a light to those who are in the dark for the sake of making his name known. I will be light because he is light. I will be salt because he is salt. That is what Jesus asks of us in the NOT YET.

What will you offer Jesus?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Who is My Neighbor? (Luke 10.25-37)

October 5, 2008
Sermon by: Robert Austell
download (click, then choose "save to disk" for playback on computer or iPod, or play sermon live in this window below)

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**
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.