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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Hearts to Love (Luke 10.25-37, Micah 6.6-8)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; July 24, 2016
Text: Luke 10:25-37; 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: Mighty to Save (Morgan, Fielding)
Song of Praise: You Have Shown Us (Compassion Art - multiple composers)
Hymn of Sending: See My Hands and Feet (Bringle; arr. Austell)

:: Youth Testimonies ::
Three youth shared about their experience on the youth mission trip last week with Vigilant Hope in Wilmington, NC.

:: 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 and hearts to love…

Last week we looked at the encounter that led to Jesus’ telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. We heard that again this morning – a man, an expert in the Jewish scriptures, asked Jesus about eternal life with God. He rightly identified to Jesus that the scriptures taught we are to love God and neighbor, but then tried to qualify and justify himself. We talked about that tendency for us to want to be seen as “good Christians” or to be let off the hook with God as “good enough.” But Jesus pulled back the veil, wanting us to SEE and DO what God truly desires. And while it is what God desires FROM us; it is also what God desires FOR us. Micah 6:8 puts it succinctly: “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.” And just in case we miss the teaching of the Law or the message of the Prophets, Jesus tells a story to help us understand.

Last week we focused on seeing what Jesus wants us to see: our neighbors and their needs. This week, we follow up with what Jesus wants us to do: respond with compassion out of love for our neighbor and for God.

Jerusalem to Jericho (vv. 30-35)

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 plain far from God.  Last week we talked about the many needs that could be found within a mile of the church, including the great need to know God. 

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)

Last week we talked about 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.

Stirring Compassion I: some examples

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. For example…

Prayer Walk/Drive: On occasion, we have taken Bible study groups, small groups, youth, or church officers on a “prayer walk” in the neighborhood. I also do this on my own sometimes. You simply walk around this neighborhood or your own, offering prayer (eyes open) for those in each home or gathering place you pass. If you know them, you can be specific; if not, you can ask God’s blessing for whatever their needs may be. If you walk in this neighborhood, you may pass the elementary school; more than I could describe to pray about there – students, teachers, administrators, support staff, safety, learning, friendships. We’ve also done this as a prayer drive – a great thing to do in pairs if one person drives and the other offers prayers. It is a wonderful way for God to open your eyes and heart to your literal neighbors. There are many variations; you can do this at work; as you walk to lunch or to your office or desk, say a short prayer for each person you see or for those working in each office or space you pass. And dig a little deeper than “God bless Jane; God bless Bob; God bless boss.” Give thanks for what you can give thanks for; pray for needs you know of; ask for help where you may have some inter-personal challenges. I think you’ll be amazed what regularly praying for those around you does in your own heart and soul… not to mention in their lives!

People Watch (discreetly):
A variation of the prayer walk is to simply go someplace and sit and people watch. Maybe the store or lunch spot, or airport while traveling. Don’t just judge hairstyles and outfits; notice people and pray for them.

Volunteer (to do AND to see): Another way to cultivate a heart to love is to volunteer in a ministry of compassion. It is possible to do this and not cultivate compassion, however, for it to become simply a “good deed” that we use to justify ourselves with God or others. That’s not a reason not to volunteer, but a caution and an invitation to do so not just to DO, but to SEE. Who are you helping? What are their needs? What does God stir up in you as you work? And that leads to…

Empathy and Sympathy: One of the critical ingredients to a heart that loves, that feels and shows compassion, is being able to put yourself in another’s place. Words like sympathy and empathy describe what it is to imagine and even feel another person’s pain, frustration, anger, helplessness. That is a critical piece of what is missing in so many conversations, encounters, and conflicts today. Can I as a white man at least try to conceive what it means to be black or a woman in our culture? With all the news and anger swirling around bad police behavior, can we not also appreciate the courage, conviction, and service rendered by so many faithful police officers? Can we understand and recognize the integrity of someone who votes differently, even if we don’t agree with their perspectives? What motivates those perspectives? Can we try to understand their experiences, fears, convictions, and expectations? Or is all we can say, “WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!” (or worse, we don’t even disagree, we just declare them worthless or mindless or evil? really?!)

Ask!: I also believe that if we ask God to give us hearts of compassion, He will gladly do so.

Stirring Compassion II: An Exercise

To help stretch these compassion muscles a bit, I’d like to ask the ushers to help me pass out some cards this morning. On these I have listed just a few groups of people that are on my heart in recent days. Rather than ask you to choose one or some of these groups, I’m going to ask you to choose to notice, empathize, and pray for each of them – whether some groups are easier or harder than others. There are six groups, enough for one each day between now and next Sunday. So take a moment to look at the card (there will also be a copy on the screen if you are still waiting to receive yours). Notice the groups down the left side. And after each one there are the three words: notice, empathize, pray. I didn’t say notice, critique, dismiss. But notice – acknowledge the existence of each of these groups. Empathize – try to put yourself in their shoes. Imagine them as fathers and mothers, as grandparents, as younger and older. Imagine what fears they may have; what hopes they may have. Spend some time, even some days doing this. You may even want to do a little research. Talk to someone in each group (and just listen to their story). Then pray. I challenge you to do this for two weeks, to go through the full list twice. There are six groups, enough for each day between the Sundays. Or split it up however you want. But we’ll come back to it at Bonclarken, then again in August. I want to hear from you. I want to hear where it was hard, where it stirred compassion. I want to know where the Lord meets you.

•    Police Officers – notice, empathize, pray
•    People of Color – notice, empathize, pray
•    Democrats – notice, empathize, pray
•    Republicans – notice, empathize, pray
•    Refugees and Immigrants – notice, empathize, pray
•    American Muslims – notice, empathize, pray

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.

My hope is that if our eyes are opened to “who is my neighbor?” and our hearts are cultivated with compassion, then this will be the burning question we will ask and seek to answer together: 

How will we respond in mercy to the needs of our neighbors?

Let me know how the cultivation exercise goes this week. I think it is necessary work, but also work we can’t luxuriate in for too long; the needs are too immediate and too urgent. So please take it seriously and we’ll see where God takes us!

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