Messiah Lutheran Church :: Who is my neighbor?

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Dear Friends in Christ,

            I hope this is not news to any of you, but we are sinful.  Yes, even Christian people like you.  That’s why we say “amen” to the bumper sticker “Christians are not perfect, we just know we are forgiven.”  I have been around the block a few times in the ministry.  I have seen it take place a number of times when people have actually quit the church, because fellow Christians didn’t serve them in the time of need.  Someone goes to the hospital.  The only one who goes to see them is the pastor.  A meal could have been provided to make life easier.  No meal was provided.  A ride to the hospital would have helped out, but no one volunteered.  Anger.  Resentment.  They leave the church.  Yet for years others could have used a hospital visit or a meal or a ride and those same angry people didn’t provide anything.  They don’t have room to talk.       How appropriate to answer today’s question - “Who is My Neighbor?  Let’s look at the very famous parable of the Good Samaritan from the viewpoint of three people 1) A lawyer; 2) A clergy man; 3) the Good Samaritan. 

            A lawyer came to Jesus with the most important question, “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  I am not sure that we can say the man was a smart aleck trying to put Jesus on the spot, but I do believe there is good evidence that might have been the case.  He might have been trying to trap Jesus and expose him as a fraud.  Yet, the question he asked is one of life’s most important.  What happens when we die?   What will become of me?  Will we have to face our Creator?  Is he pleased with me?  Can I be certain that he loves me? 

We have a lot of questions to ask in life.  What am I going to do?  Where am I going to live?  Am I raising my children correctly?   At times it is even important to ask, it is the GM product or the Ford product or foreign?  Yet the inevitable question that needs to be asked and answered, “What’s going to happen to me when I die?” While I don’t know the lawyer’s motives behind that question, but it was a question that needs to be asked by everyone.   

            When the Lord Jesus Christ spoke to the lawyer, Jesus told him where to find the answer.  “What is written in the Law?  How do you read it?”  Do you see what Jesus was doing?  Do you see the direction of the question?  He was leading the man to the only proper place to look for the answer. He was leading the man into the Word.  The answer is found only in the Bible. 

When he refers to the Law, He is referring to the books that Moses wrote.  These are the first five Genesis through Deuteronomy.  They contain the Ten Commandments.  In fact, they are found in those five books twice.  Why are they there?  The commandments (the Law) expose we have a problem. As someone once explained, “The law is the light that reveals how dirty the room is.” The Gospel, God’s love story of sending Jesus, is the broom that sweeps it clean.  Now listen how that works.     

            When Jesus asked the question, “What is written in the Law?” the lawyer answered, ‘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.’”  What must you do, Mr. Lawyer?  Love God with everything you’ve got.  Love your neighbor in exactly the same way.  Love God unconditionally; love your neighbor exactly the same way.  Love God all the time; love your neighbor exactly the same way.  We have all heard coaches compliment hard working players by saying, “Yes, he gives 110%.”  A coach who coached my son said at the end of season banquet that Ben gave 110%.  Now my son works hard, but 110%.  Now, Coach, that’s nice to have someone say that about your child.  Was he really giving 110% when he was making faces at his sister in the third inning?   

            God deserves our 110%.  God deserves our all. Don’t fail!  Don’t fall short!  Not once!  Don’t lapse ever!  Do you really think you can do it?  You have already failed.     

            Can you see what Jesus is trying to do here to the lawyer?  He is slowly and lovingly showing the lawyer come down from his mountain of pride.  He’s already failed and will do even more so in the future.  He wanted the lawyer to see he needed a Savior.     

            There are a lot of stories and jokes about lawyers.  I saw a little article about foolish things lawyers have actually said in court. 

A lawyer askedAnd where was the location of the accident?
Witness: Approximately milepost 499.
Lawyer: And where is milepost 499?
Witness: Probably between milepost 498 and 500.

A lawyer asked a doctor to provide expertise at a trial.  The lawyer asked this question:

Now, doctor, isn't it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he doesn't know about it until the next morning? and…   

Were you present when your picture was taken? I guess everyone can say some pretty foolish things.

I think this lawyer (an expert in law) did too.  I suspect he was feeling very uneasy as Jesus was leading him see he was so far away from loving like God demands.  What do you do when the noose gets tighter?  How about changing the subject?  “And who is my neighbor?”  In other words, let’s change the subject.  Let’s not face reality.  Isn’t that a favorite tactic of the sinful old nature?  Maybe if we change to subject, the uncomfortableness will go away. 

In answer to that question Jesus taught a pretty unforgettable parable.   “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.”

The road fromJerusalemwas renowned.  It was not a road for wimps.  Thieves preyed on unsuspecting travelers.  A man was mugged.  He was attacked and left for dead and dumped at the side of the road. 

While some would say that this was only a parable, sadly it mirrors real life all too often.  In fact, real life can get even worse.  Many times victims aren’t left half dead completely dead. 

Sorry to say, what the next part of the story intimates is, in many respects, even sadder.  Two clergymen, a priest and a Levite, happened to be going by.  That’s exactly what happened – they went by!  Some commentator said that the priest was probably leavingJerusalemafter serving a week in the temple.  The Levites were those who assisted the priests and this Levite was also probably there.  Think about this.  They had been at the temple.  Their faith was nourished.  They had the love of the Lord shared with them.  So they leave and what happens?  Both passed by!  Love your neighbor as you love yourself?  Who is my neighbor?  According to the priest and the Levite, certainly not the half-dead man who was robbed and beaten and needed help. 

But then, have you passed by?  Did you ever choose the easy way out?  Have you ever had opportunities to be a neighbor but acted like a stranger?  A volunteer list is posted…but it is for someone else!  Time to lend a hand, but there are only excuses.  No one is as busy as I am. How dare they ask me to go out of my way?  ME! ME! ME!  It is not convenient for ME. 

Unfortunately it happens far too often, even among Christians. That’s sad when Jesus said that “all people will know hat you are my disciples by the fact that you love one another.”  Don’t pass by on the other side.  People might think all the wrong things about Jesus and his disciples.  There is much at stake.  Don’t do the clergymen. Don’t say, but he is not my neighbor.  

Who is my neighbor?  Let’s look at the Samaritan.  “But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two silver coins 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.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” 

Samaritans were a mixed race of people.  For that reason Jews hated Samaritans.  But that went the other way around too.  When Jesus used a Samaritan to be the good example to teach who the true neighbor really was,   I am sure that really irritated the Jews. 

Look how far the Samaritan went to show his love for his neighbor. “He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.”  There were no ambulances and EMTs.  He did the first aid personally.  There was nothing was more important than to help this man.  Appointments were cancelled.  Getting blood on his tunic was a price he was willing to pay for this man. 

While there were no ambulances, there were not any hospitals either.  No Jerusalem General or Emory atJericho.  He put the wounded man on his donkey and took him to the inn.  No insurance claims were filed.  He took money out of his own pocket.  He even paid for the after care and rehabilitation. 

Just think if we have a church full of Good Samaritans. No volunteer lists would go unsigned.  No jobs would go undone.  Visitors would be greeted and follow ups would get done.  Light reflecting the love of Christ would be radiating in ways that would be hard to comprehend.  Which was the neighbor?  That’s easy to see. 

Unfortunately hard to do!  One day we will be the perfect neighbor, the day we go to heaven.  Until that day let all of us glory in the Perfect Neighbor we have, Jesus. He bandaged our wounds.  He poured his blood all over us and cleansed us.  It was the antiseptic that kept us from dying…eternally.  He paid for all the expenses with the holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death.  With that all done, let us now go forth and not only listen to Jesus but also put his words in action - “Go and do likewise.”

 

Amen

    

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