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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Eyes to See (Luke 10.25-29, Micah 6.6-8)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; July 3, 2016
Text: Luke 10:25-29; Micah 6:6-8)

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."  

:: Scripture and Music ::
Song of Praise: Open the Eyes of My Heart (Beloche)
Hymn of Praise: I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say (KINGSFORD; arr. Austell; demo AUDIO)
Offering of Music: You Have Shown Us (Compassion Art - multiple composers)
Hymn of Sending: Hear the Call of the Kingdom (Getty/Townend)
Postlude: senior video

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks  the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript.  Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Lord, give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to feel and love…

Have you ever seen the effect in a movie where a camera swoops in through walls and buildings, giving the appearance of being able to see everything and anything going on in the scene?

Imagine such a view of our neighborhood, today and throughout this week…

… worshipers at Matthews-Murkland, Candlewyck Baptist, Wesley Methodist, and others driving in for church this morning even as we do.

… some of the same worshipers having the mother of all fights between parents and kids, between spouses… all on the way to church.

… a jammed crowd of cars and people at the shopping center at the corner of Rea and Colony, and the sound of cash registers, swiped credit cards, shopping bags, and commerce.

… an elderly and blind widow sitting home alone each day, thinking back on her life and more active times.

… a handful of young men moving through the paces of daily life at the group home down the street.

… a single mom fighting to maintain some kind of peace and order as three young children try to out-scream each other.

… hundreds and hundreds of kids coming and going from Old Providence Elementary School, each with their own set of needs – emotional, educational, social, and spiritual.

… a group of men and women who come week after week to work the 12 steps.

… walkers, joggers, drivers, grass-mowers, and a whole army of individuals who come and go within sight of the church as they seek exercise, solitude, or just do what needs to be done.

… packs of teenagers playing Pokemon on their phones, wandering the sidewalks and parks and coming up to churches for a ‘refill’ in their game.

… a whole building full of older adults, dependent on others to assist them in living day to day.

… apartment after apartment of families – some single parent, some dual parent, scraping by on a meager income, living in the middle of relative affluence, wondering when and if things will ever change.

… new neighbors, come to Charlotte or moved across town to buy a home, build a home, or re-settle, and in a new and unfamiliar place, needing friends and community.

… even in a neighborhood as suburban as ours at the church, an astonishing range of race and color, economic prosperity and struggle, comfort and suffering.

And if you could pause and linger at any given house, you might see children home alone, abusive or loveless marriages, desperation over finances, hours and hours of TV or computer addiction.  You might catch a glimpse of otherwise “successful” people who in the privacy of their own homes are miserable, lonely, or empty.

I’m not describing unusual or unique people – just people who must live in this world and this life… and they live all around us in our neighborhoods, literal neighbors… spiritual neighbors.

The Gift of Life and the Gift of Living

A man once “tested” Jesus by asking how to live forever with God.  Jesus turned the question around on the man, who answered correctly that loving God and our fellow men and women was the secret to life and living.  Salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ, and once we have trusted him, we are assured of eternal life.  But Jesus was talking about LIVING this reality, starting now.  Do we take our salvation, stick it in our back pocket, and go on living indifferent to this great gift?  Or are we transformed by this salvation so that life itself doesn’t look the same any more?

Jesus affirmed that the life of one in relationship with God is completely transformed – heart, soul, mind, and strength… even affecting our attitude toward and relationship with other people.  This is simply what it looks like to have a living, vibrant faith – we love God and we love others.  Elsewhere in scripture we read that we can and should love in this way because God first loved us so extravagantly!

Wanting to Justify Himself

The man’s interaction with Jesus could have been that simple and been over – a good question, well-answered.   But something nagged at the man.  What if knowing the answer wasn’t good enough… did he actually live that way?  Maybe Jesus would define the terms loosely enough that the man could go away content. The man wanted to JUSTIFY himself – the way he lived, so he asked Jesus another question: “Who is my neighbor?… Who is it that I’m supposed to love?”  We do the same thing… that is, justify ourselves.  I’m doing a good thing here this morning, right?  I’m worshiping God… I love all these people here – I ask Mrs. So-and-So how her sick aunt is doing.  I check in on Widow Smith and the Jones’ little kid in the nursery.  That’s pretty good, right?

My dear friends – two answers: first, yes, that’s good.  You worship God well here – your love and heartfelt devotion to God are tangible when we meet.  And you love each other well.  Almost every visitor I talk to feels it – it’s extraordinary!  And you do take care of each other so well!  Yes, that’s good! And the other answer is the one that Jesus gives to that question, “Who is my neighbor?… Who exactly am I supposed to love?” And here’s what we might expect Jesus to say: “You do this thing well – maybe a B+; but here’s where you fall short – a D- or worse.” But that’s not what he does.

Pulling Back the Veil

Let me say it this way… What you see and know you love pretty well; but you are not being graded. God is not handing out report cards for Being a Neighbor 101. Instead, you are clay pots, shaped by the hand of the Potter, and filled to overflowing with His Holy Spirit.  And God’s heart breaks when he looks through our neighborhood and into homes and into hearts and sees such great need.  You are not being graded this morning – instead, Jesus is pulling back the veil on how extensive the love of God is!  We justify ourselves by not looking hard around us – out of sight is, unfortunately, usually out of mind. We justify ourselves by being content with what we see and know and experience. And like the religious folks in Jesus’ story that we’ll return to next week, it’s easy to walk away from the things that challenge that contentment.

But Jesus is giving us the in-depth and “God’s-heart” answer to the question. God’s heart breaks for all these people around us right now… for our literal neighbors and our spiritual neighbors, for the folks we talked about last week – the families of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the police officers wounded and killed in Dallas. God’s heart breaks for so much, and if we are seeking God and desiring to have hearts like His, then we cannot help but love outwardly as a church. And the first step in that is having our eyes and hearts opened, to have God pull back the veil and us not turn away. Our inclination is to justify ourselves as good, but God responds, “I’m not grading you; I want you to walk with me and feel with me for a while.” That’s the godly compassion we talked about last week.

Who IS Our Neighbor?

So, who is our neighbor?  Our neighbors those already named, and more besides.  Our neighbor is the struggling single mom, the black men and women and children going to church around the corner, the shoppers at the stores down the street, the blind widow, the dear men in the group home across the street, the kids at Old Providence Elementary, the people in Emotions Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, the walkers, the joggers, the drivers, the grass-mowers, the folks at Sunrise, the families, and the newcomers.

And their needs are great… overwhelming, if you want to be honest about it.  We cannot begin to address all the emotional, social, financial, physical, and other needs, even in a one mile radius of this church.  But we can address some of those needs, and we can do so in the name of Christ and with the love of God. 

And, most importantly, we can address the spiritual needs of our neighbors.  We can do that in a way that schools, stores, police, social service workers, government, and others can’t.  For we have the words of life and the love of God.  In many cases, spiritual needs and other needs can’t be separated – folks who are hungry need food in order to hear about the bread of life… but that’s exactly what Jesus did – he fed the hungry physically and eternally.  Folks who need hope may need a friend and need the Gospel.

Our UNIQUE JOY AND PURPOSE as Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church on Rea Road, in the Old Providence neighborhoods of South Charlotte, is to be the lighthouse, hospital, meeting place, and sending place for the light and hope of God in this very neighborhood.

However, the old model was to "hold church" and hope to attract people to what was going on here. That is not working any more, and I'm not sure it ever was the right model. More recently, we have talked about carrying the light of Christ beyond these walls, but I will admit to thinking in terms of taking something uniquely 'here' out to places and people that were 'without' it.

What I have come to understand is that God is already at work out in those places. That's part of the great unveiling in Jesus' parable: that God wasn't just where the priest and Levite were headed, but God was interested in the wounded man and was present when the Samaritan stopped to help him and show compassion.

A better model, then, is to expand our view of the community of Christ - to re-discover that old definition that "where Christ is, there is the Church." 

Our special joy and purpose as followers of Christ sent out from this place – to other communities and, for you graduates, to a college community – is to recognize that Christ goes before us, and he invites us to come and follow. Individually you are also called to open your eyes and open your hearts. I pray that we have equipped you to do so.

What Are We Going To Do?

One of the long-time values and realities of this church community is that we are known for being extraordinarily warm and welcoming and worshipful… you can feel the love of God here.

I would add to that:  I believe our specific calling is to love our neighbors as we love one another, and out of our deep love of the Lord.

Especially right now – especially in the world right now – people need this kind of compassion. There is no better solution coming from government, economics, military, or media, than what God has called you to do as followers of Christ. And here’s the special economics of serving God: Love of neighbor doesn’t replace or somehow balance out with love of one another and love of God. You don’t have to decrease one to do the other. Instead, they magnify each other.  Folks who already love so extravagantly are EXACTLY the kind of people God will use to love extravagantly and outwardly in His name.  You are that kind of people.  We are that kind of people!

This week I have focused on “eyes to see” – God’s desire to pull back the veil beyond what we see merely to justify ourselves. Next week we will return to these same scriptures and what it means to have “hearts to love.”

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