Thursday, July 28, 2016

Wise Planning Versus Greedy Dreams - Luke 12:15-21

Luke 12:15-21

And Jesus said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 
Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 

But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 

So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

I came across an interesting fact the other day.  I checked it out to be sure that it is true, and it is.

The word “homosexual” is not mentioned a single time in the Bible, in either the King James Version or the translation we use here at Grace, the New Revised Standard Version.

The word “abortion” does not appear either.  Not once.

We are concerned with both of those issues as hot topics in our society today.

One of my concerns is that I like to eat – and I admit, too much.  But the word “glutton” only shows up about a half dozen times.

Sex – 26 times.

But money?  It shows up 125 times.  Especially in the Gospels.  Jesus in particular was always talking about money.

Money, money, money.

And why not?  Money is a major part of our life.

Money is not the most important thing in life, but when you need it, there are few substitutes.  As Zig Zegler said many times in his motivational seminars, “Money can buy a house, but it can’t buy a home.  It can buy a companion, but it won’t buy a true friendship.”

In this world, if you want to live in a home, you need money – or parents who have money.

And if you want to eat, you need money.

If you want to go to the doctor, you need money.  If you want to BECOME a doctor, you need money.

Money is a tool, and we have to know how to use that tool.  And sadly, many do not.  And while money can enrich our lives, money can also destroy our lives. 

Many live under an enormous burden of debt.  People often make mistakes in the management of money.  Folks often get scammed out of our money.

Others make good choices, but outside forces come into play and we see our investments and pensions diminish as they have in recent past.

It is good that the Bible speaks so often about money, and that Jesus in particular dealt with this topic.

Which brings us to this morning’s Scripture text…

Jesus tells a parable in which there was a man who had the good fortune of owning property that produced a good and abundant crop.  The man’s land produced so much, he had no place to store his crops.  Then he came to this solution.  He would replace the old bars with new and improved barns.  He looked forward to the day when he would be able to have all of his goods laid up for many years, and then relax, eat, drink and be merry.

Whoa!  Let’s think about this.

Almost every one of us is doing just this very thing.

We call that planning for retirement.

In fact, a wise person will do this very thing.

Joseph in the Old Testament book of Genesis was an advisor to the Pharoah, and knowing that there would be 7 good, productive years, followed by 7 years of famine, laid out a plan of action.  Store up grain through the 7 good years in order to get through the famine.  It was a plan that was ordained by God.

Planning for the future, and for retirement – what is wrong with this?

This is a farmer in this parable, and a good one at that.

He does not show any signs of mistreating his workers.

He does not show any evidence of committing any criminal act in the accumulation of his wealth. 

Sun, soil and rain all combine with his talents, skills, experience and hard labor to fill those barns so he can some day retire.

So what is wrong with what he is doing?

Is it good for a Christian to save for retirement?

Bottom line – absolutely.

And not just for retirement, but saving for college, saving for a new car, or even saving for a trip to Disney. 

It is always dangerous to look at only one passage of Scripture and to think we have a handle on the whole truth of Scripture.  It has long been affirmed in the Presbyterian Church that the best interpreter of Scripture is more Scripture.

So what else does the Bible say about saving money for the future?

Proverbs 21:20 (Living Bible) tells us, “The wise man saves for the future, but the foolish man spends whatever he gets.”

Proverbs 22:3 (Living Bible) says “A prudent man foresees the difficulties ahead and prepares for them; the simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.”

Proverbs 6:6-8 (Living Bible) tells us to look around at nature at the ants and other wild animals.  It says, “they have no king to make them work, yet they labor hard all summer, gathering food for the winter.”

There is nothing at all wrong with saving for retirement, or for a new car or for a home or anything else that one might need. 

In fact, Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians said in the Bible that one of the reasons for saving money was so that one could have more to share with those in need. (1 Corinthians 16:1-2)

There is a multitude of passages from the Bible that instruct us to be wise with our money and to save for the future.  It is better for you to plan for a secure retirement than it is for you to become a burden on your family, church or community and depend on others to take care of what you should be planning for.

So, getting back to Luke, it looks on the surface like Jesus is condemning this person in the parable who wants to save his goods until he can look back and say, I have laid up things for many years, and now I can relax, eat, drink and be merry.”

But no, the subject of this parable is not saving money for a rainy day, for a car, for college, or for retirement.

The subject is not about what you store in the bank or in your investment account or in your “barns.” 

The subject is about what you store in your heart.

It is an issue of wise planning versus foolish greed.

This is not a parable against financial planning.  This is a parable against greed.

It is one of those spiritual dangers we face.

God expects us to handle money wisely. 

But the better we are at handling our money, the more tempting it is to fall into a greedy mindset.

Greed is that selfish desire for more and more, beyond what is necessary.  Greed is a thirst that can never be quenched. 

Sam Polk wrote an amazing piece in the New York Times on January 18, 2014.  The article was titled “For the Love of Money.” 

He started his article by saying this:  “In my last year on Wall Street my bonus was $3.6 million — and I was angry because it wasn’t big enough. I was 30 years old, had no children to raise, no debts to pay, no philanthropic goal in mind. I wanted more money for exactly the same reason an alcoholic needs another drink: I was addicted.”

The article is quite long and detailed and describes how he became addicted to greed.

Toward the end he says this:  “Dozens of different types of 12-step support groups — including Clutterers Anonymous and On-Line Gamers Anonymous — exist to help addicts of various types, yet there is no Wealth Addicts Anonymous.” 

No Greed Anonymous. 

“Why not? Because our culture supports and even lauds the addiction.

In the 1987 film “Wall Street” Michael Douglas in portraying the character Gordon Gekko says “greed -- for lack of a better word -- is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.”

And that statement is true from a human point of view.

Colossians 3:2 tells us to “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”

We are called to be better than our human sinfulness.

Greed has been thoroughly condemned in the Bible time and again.  In fact, whenever there is a list of sins in the New Testament, greed will be right there beside lust, envy and anger.  In Mark 7, for example:  “sexual immorality, theft, murder,  adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

And yet, with all of these warnings against greed, this remains a widespread problem in the church.  This craving to hoard puts our stuff, our property, our things, as well as our money above our love for God.  Greed makes “stuff” the god whom we worship. 

Greed distracts us away from the things that are truly meaningful in this life.

Jesus introduced this parable in Luke by saying, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

Life consists of opportunities to love.  To be with family and friends.

Greed steals those opportunities away.

Life consists of opportunities to serve others and to be generous with those in need.

Greed steals those opportunities away.

So, what now?

We are called to manage our money well and to plan for the future, but to walk that fine line so that we do not fall into greed.

Just how does one really resist and fight greed?

It begins with the Gospel and our acceptance of Christ.

We have to move beyond our own self-interest and toward surrender to Christ as Lord of our lives. 

We have to accept where God has us in life, which is a way of saying we must learn to be content, no matter where we are or how much we have, or how little we may have, in the bank.

The Word of God tells us in Paul’s first letter to Timothy, (1 Timothy 6:6-12

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
11 But you, people of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

Contentment is clearly a biblical key to individual dealing with greed. 

St. Paul had it down pat. 

He said in the New Testament letter to the Phillipians (4:12-13),

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2016. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

How to Love ISIS… Psalm 137, Luke 6:27-36

TITLE:  How to Love ISIS
and Muslims, the IRS, Your Ex, That Other Political Party (and all those politicians), the killer from the Pulse (and that other one from Dallas), and the driver on I-4 (you know the one).

Psalm 137

Lament over the Destruction of Jerusalem

By the rivers of Babylon
    there we sat down and there we wept
    when we remembered Zion.
On the willows[
a] there
    we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
    asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the Lord’s song
    in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
    let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
    above my highest joy.
Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
    the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down!
    Down to its foundations!”
O daughter Babylon, you devastator![b]
    Happy shall they be who pay you back
    what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
    and dash them against the rock!

Luke 6
27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.[e] Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Long before Christ, the Temple of Jerusalem had the best musicians.  The Temple was a glorious place. 

Then came Nebuchadnezzar.  He defeats Israel.  Over a period of time, things get worse and worse for God’s chosen people, and eventually the best and the brightest of the land are removed from their homes and forced to go to Babylon where they live the rest of their lives in exile.  They will die far from home.  Their children will die far from home.  Their grandchildren and great grandchildren will live and die in this foreign land.

By removing the best and the brightest, Nebuchadnezzar knew that he was removing from Israel the leadership of any resistance.

Among the best and brightest were the great musicians of the Temple of Jerusalem.

Psalm 137 describes the journey they were forced to make as refugees. 

By the rivers of Babylon
    there we sat down and there we wept
    when we remembered Zion, the Temple in Jerusalem.
On the willows there
    we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
    asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the Lord’s song
    in a foreign land?

Those words still sung today. 
What is NOT sung today are the closing words of this very short Psalm.

O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
    Happy shall they be who pay you back
    what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little babies
    and dash them against the rock!

What an awful image. 
What kind of person would take an infant baby, dash it on a boulder until the skull cracked?  What kind of person would celebrate in song the killing of innocent people?

It is a terrible image, but it is an image of humanity.
When we have been mistreated by an enemy,  when we have been abused and victimized and seen someone come into our lives who have done terrible things, it is only human that we do terrible things back to them.
Fight fire with fire!  Eye for an eye!  You hurt me and my family, I will destroy you.
But here comes Jesus who spoils all of our fun of getting even… 

In Matthew 5:43-44, Jesus said, “You have heard it said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies…”

That thing about loving others in the Bible?  Jesus was serious about that.  He won’t let us have any exceptions.

Who is my enemy?

Ponder that for a moment.  Picture that person in your mind. 

That guy at work who makes everything so difficult and who takes credit for your work?

Your boss perhaps?

Your landlord?

Your next door neighbor with the loud music?

That driver on I-4?

Ex spouse?

Abusive parent?

Bully at school?  Either the one from last semester or the one that after 30 years you still cannot forget.

All those people of that other political party – you know, the one you are not in.

All of THEM – whoever THEY are.  Blacks, whites, straight people, gay people, immigrants, red necks, those know it alls with doctorates or the ignorant who didn’t have as much schooling as you did ---- that list can go on forever.

That guy who killed all those people at the Pulse Nightclub?

The guy who murdered those police officers in Dallas?

All those people in ISIS?

Logic would seem that there are some who simply do not deserve to be loved by us. 

And here comes Jesus who tells us we have to love our neighbor as ourselves, and he will not let us get away with exempting anyone from being included in that list.

Christianity is difficult.  It is not easy.  And the center piece of our faith is that we love others – even when, especially when it becomes difficult.

In Matthew 5:43-44, Jesus said, “You have heard it said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies…”

Or even better – take a look at how Jesus puts it in Luke, chapter 6:  “But I say to you that listen,” because we all know that that many times we block out some of what Jesus says. 

“But I say to you that listen, love your enemies.”

There is no footnote saying, “except for….” 

W. C. Fields was an atheist who did not think very highly of the Bible, but in his last days of life one of his friends found him on his death bed – WITH a Bible!  When his friend asked what he was doing reading the Bible, W. C. Fields said, “Ah yes, I’m looking for loopholes!”

Sorry – there are no loopholes here.

IF you are serious about being a follower of Jesus Christ, you have to love other people.

John put if very straightforward in his first letter in the New Testament, I John, chapter 4:  “Those who say, “I love God,” but hate others….

are liars…”

Yikes!  Raise your hand – how many folks are looking forward to going to heaven and telling God you loved him, and then hearing him call you a liar!

That’s rough! 

Then John continues and poses the question, “those who do not love a person whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”

OK, given that the list of enemies is long – or short – how do we do that?

How does one love one’s enemy?

Let me give you three things you can do to show love to your enemy.

1.     Pray for your enemies

Jesus said in our New Testament lesson from Luke:

I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

Now granted, in the Old Testament lesson the way the musicians prayed for their enemies was to envision that someone would come along and take their babies and dash their heads on the rocks until they were dead.

Does that count in praying for our enemies?

Psalm 109 is especially vicious.

May his days be few;
    may another seize his position.
May his children be orphans,
    and his wife a widow.
10 May his children wander about and beg;
    may they be driven out of the ruins they inhabit.
11 May the creditor seize all that he has;
    may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil.
12 May there be no one to do him a kindness,
    nor anyone to pity his orphaned children.
13 May his posterity be cut off;

And when the Psalmist writes, “May his posterity be cut off,” he is referring to a man’s…. 

Well, the point is, these are mean words.

Is that they way we should pray for our enemies?

Well, it may be where an honest person might start, but that is not the goal.

When we are in prayer, we are in the presence of God.  We become aware of the presence of God.  And what is God? 

God is love. 

John in his first letter in the New Testament said, “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

If prayer is to be aware of the presence of God, then prayer will help dissipate some of the hate you may feel.

Your prayer may start with a vindictiveness, but if it can at least move to a simple, “God, be present with our enemies, and may they come to know you.”  That alone will at least be a beginning.

So – number 1:  Pray for your enemies!

Step 2: 

And by the way, if you think step one is hard, wait until you get a load of step two:

2.     Forgive your enemies

Forgive your enemies.


You know, praying that their babies are dashed on rocks may be a lot easier that this one.

Every Sunday we say the Lord’s Prayer together. 

In Luke’s Gospel, when Jesus teaches the Lord’s Prayer he comes to the end of the prayer and says this, reflecting on that line, “forgive us, as we forgive others…”

14 For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

You see, if we are really serious about accepting the Lord Jesus Christ as our LORD and savior, then we have to be serious about forgiving others.

Every one of us has sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God. 

Jesus died for you and your forgiveness. 

But Jesus also gave his life to die for that driver on I-4 who cuts you off, for that bully, for that murderer, for that Nazi, that Klansman, that young kid who right now is on the Internet embracing the teachings of ISIS.

How can we possibly look at the people whom Jesus loved so much that he gave his life for them, and not find the courage to forgive them as God has forgiven you?

Now there is such a thing as Cheap Grace. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Christian who lived at another time of great evil.  He came to believe that in order to love, he had to fight the enemy, which was for him not ISIS, but Nazis in his homeland of Germany.  He was here in America, safe on a university campus, and yet he was inspired to go to Germany to attempt to kill Hitler.

It didn’t work out, and Bonhoeffer was arrested and executed by the Nazis.

Bonhoeffer considered this business of forgiveness and whether or not to forgive one who does not repent.

After all, Jesus forgave one thief on the cross because he repented, but the thief on the other cross did not repent, but ridiculed Jesus, and never heard those words of forgiveness.

Bonhoeffer wrote in his great work, THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP, about Cheap Grace and Costly Grace.  Bonhoeffer didn’t just write about the cost of discipleship, but he lived it, and at the age of 39, died for it.

“Cheap grace,” wrote Bonhoeffer, “is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the Cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”


Come to think of it, perhaps this is what we do with step one – the one about praying for our enemy.  “Lord, help my enemy to know you and to repent.”


OK – step one, pray for your enemies; step two, forgive them; one more step I want to give you today…


3.     Do good to your enemies.

Do good to your enemies.

This goes back all the way to the Old Testament.  In all of those laws of Moses there is one in Exodus 23:5 that gives us an example:  “If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.”

And don’t get comfortable by thinking that this is easy because we don’t have any friends OR enemies who might have a donkey, let alone a donkey in trouble.

The idea is clear – we have to treat our enemies with respect and human decency.

In other words, we don’t want to become like our enemy. 

In our New Testament lesson, Jesus in Luke said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”


In Ephesians, chapter 4, we read this:   31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Consider what happened between Turkey and Greece.  For decades they were bitter enemies.  They fought a war in 1897, another in 1912, another in 1914, another in 1919.  And throughout the 20th Century there were skirmishes and bitterness.  Often the pilot of one country’s jet would be shot down and killed by a pilot of the other country and the two nations were always close to war.


Then came 1999 and a massive earthquake in Turkey.  That one was followed by another destructive earthquake just a few days later.

Casualties were in the tens of thousands.  Hundreds of thousands were homeless.

And the first nation to come to the aid of Turkey – was Greece.  The first workers, the first firefighters, the first rescue teams, the first medical personnel – all from Greece.

Now here is an interesting bit of history.  One month later there was another earthquake.  This time in Greece.  And it while Turkey was still digging itself out of the rubble, they were the first to go to the aid of Greece.

Since then, there has been no serious threat to the peace between the two nations.  Even when a military jet from Greece and one from Turkey collided not long ago, killing one pilot and injuring the other, the nations agreed not to let the tragedy interrupt their growing peace.


Peter said in his New Testament letter, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9).


We see something similar in Paul’s letter to the Romans.  “Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable.”  Romans 12:17.


After World War I, the Allies were victorious and treated the vanquished enemies with harshness that many historians say gave rise to Nazism and Hitler, leading into World War II.


After World War II, Allies treated the enemy powers differently.  General George Marshall created a plan to rebuild Europe – both the areas of our allies and those of our enemies.  We had done a lot of that destruction ourselves.  General Marshall is one of the few military leaders to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.


To treat the enemy with viciousness may defeat the enemy, but often creates more enemies for the future. 


When we treat our worst enemy the way that inhumane enemy would treat us, we become inhuman.


And it is not just on the battlefield.  Everyday health care workers in hospitals have to care for those who have been arrested for terrible crimes. 


And even in our simple relationships with the driver who cuts us off on the road, what does it do if we cut that person off in return?  Both drivers are at risk of getting killed and killing the innocent by stander.


To return evil for evil is to perpetuate evil.  It builds walls instead of bridges. 


The goal of the Christian is not to destroy our enemy, but to turn the heart of the enemy to become our friend.


Nations did this in World War II.  Germany and Japan are now close allies and trade partners with America.


When I was 17 years old, the Vietnam War came to a close, much to the relief of those who were about to turn 18 and face being drafted.  I never imagined that Americans would engage in trade with Vietnam, or go there for vacation – but they do.


Even in Star Trek, the Klingons eventually become friends with the Federation! 


In fiction and in history, enemies can become friends.


Jesus calls us to love our enemies.  We cannot close our ears to this difficult saying.


So let us love the young people whose hearts and minds are being stolen by ISIS.  It is, after all, only our love that will turn them around.

And let us love the Muslims, the IRS, Your Ex, That Other Political Party (and all those politicians), the killer from the Pulse (and that other one from Dallas), and the driver on I-4 (you know the one).

 Let us pray for them, let us forgive the repentant enemy, and let us not return their hate with our hate.

Copyright 2016. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Who Is My Neighbor? Luke 10:25-37

Christianity is the simplest thing in the world.
All you have to do is love God and love your neighbor. 

Well, actually if you want to be a Christian you will find it is the most difficult thing in the world.

In the New Testament a man asks Jesus what he must do to have eternal life, and Jesus gives him only two simple things to do – Love God, love your neighbor.
And the man reacts with a very 21st Century question for Jesus Christ.  “Who is my neighbor.”

Who are we supposed to love?

That guy who killed all of those police officers in Dallas, Texas, this week...  
Is he our neighbor?

On June 12, Omar Mateen, killed 49 innocent people here in Orlando.  He wounded 53 others.  In doing so he made Orlando the site of the largest mass murder in American history. 
Is he our neighbor?

Two days before that shooting, Kevin James Loibl shot and killed 22 year old Christina Grimmie at the Plaza Live just a few blocks from here.  She was signing autographs after a concert.
Is that man our neighbor?

A couple of weeks before that, Linda Jones, age 67, who was a grief counselor at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and who taught Sunday School, was brutally murdered by Jason Rohrer when he invaded her home in the middle of the night.
Do we have to love Jason Rohrer?

Osama bin Laden?
All those folks with ISIS?
Or put it in more personal terms.
Do you have to love that bully in your class room? 
Do you have to love that relative who has hurt you?
Do you have to love the co-worker who has been so mean?
The list goes on and on.

And here comes this man in the New Testament lesson and he asks the most 21st Century question you will find in the Bible.
“Who is my neighbor?”

The expert of the law is not a villain by asking that question. Or at least I hope not. Because that question is our question. You've asked it. And I've asked it.

Does God really expect me to love -- everyone?

Jesus answers this question by using one of his favorite teaching methods. The parable. And it is by no means an obscure parable. It is one that is well known to most of us.

There was a man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. Not exactly the smartest thing in the world to do. The road was deserted. There would be long stretches of lonely terrain. The road would wind around and around. You never knew what was waiting around the next corner. It was common to hear of people being robbed on that stretch of road. And if you went alone, as this man in the parable did, you were just asking for trouble.

It was as foolish as you or I walking down certain streets in downtown Atlanta late at night.

As the parable goes, the man on his way to Jericho is indeed robbed. The robbers beat him and strip him of his clothing. They leave him half dead.

Now, you'll remember that there are several people who see this man.

The first is a priest. Now you would think that if anyone would help this man it would be a priest. Someone whose function it is in life to be a mediating presence between God and people would be a logical hero in this story to stop and help this victim.

But no.

He walks on the other side of the road.

The second is a Levite. Now you would think that this man who was born into a religious oriented clan or tribe, whose function in life is tied to the religious worship of the people -- you would think that surely he would do something to help.

But no.

He passes by on the other side.

Finally a Samaritan passes by the victim. The Samaritans were despised by the Jews, and were viewed as being less than human. The Jews, who are listening to Jesus tell this story, would view the Samaritan in much the same way that a Nazi would have viewed a Jew during World War II.
Or in more modern terms, The Samaritans were like members of ISIS being despised by Americans.

Jews thought of themselves as superior and as Godly. They regarded the Samaritans as inferior and godless.

Surely you would not expect a Samaritan to help a Jew any more than you would expect a Nazi to rescue a Jew out of Austwitz.  It would be like an American who was traveling overseas who found himself in trouble being helped by a member of ISIS.

But like many of the parables of Jesus, there is an unexpected twist. The Samaritan goes over, bandages his wounds, pays for the room at the Inn, and makes certain that the man is well taken care of.

In concluding this parable, Jesus asked the expert of the law, "Which of these three men do you think was a neighbor to the man who feel into the hands of the robbers?"

There can only be one answer. The expert of the law replies: "The one who showed mercy."

And to this Jesus tells us to go and to do likewise.

Now, in case you haven't noticed, Jesus has not answered the question.

The question put forth by the expert and raised within our own minds --- "Who is MY neighbor?"

We are required to love our neighbor as ourselves. And what WE want to know is who DESERVES to be loved by us. Does that man who shot all those people at the Pulse deserve our love? Or the terrorist who kills innocent people? Or the rapist?

Jesus ignores that question, and instead answers the question he would have preferred us to ask: "To whom can I be a neighbor?"

Our question is, who is my neighbor?

Jesus' question is "to whom can you be a neighbor?"

Our question is, "Do I have to love the guy next door, do I have to love the terrorist, the murderer?

Jesus' question is "What possibilities do we have for loving those people?"

The Samaritan who sees the Jew in the gutter. Naked. Beaten. Doomed to die if left alone. The Samaritan must surely have been reminded of all of the times he was subjected to ridicule and abuse by the Jews -- of expressions of hatred hurled at him because he was a Samaritan.

The Jew did not deserve the love of the Samaritan.

But nevertheless, he became a recipient of it.

The real issue behind the question of "Who is my neighbor" is the problem of whom we are to love. The answer to that is everyone. Even those who do not deserve our love, are to receive our love.

You know, when you express it this way, this becomes one of those unwelcome commands of Scripture.
There is nothing easy about being a Christian.
It is the toughest thing you will ever do.

We don't want to love those nameless faceless people we read about in the newspapers who seem guilty of being less than human.

It is hard enough to love those whom we do know -- the gossip next door who likes to talk about EVERYONE, including us; or the supervisor at work who seems to be unaware that we have feelings; or the relative with whom we never could get along with any ease.

But to love those people who are so easy to hate and to despise because they have committed some grave crime against humanity, or because they belong to the wrong political party, or because we know them only for their shortcomings and for no other reason (because, after all, it is their sin that sells the newspapers)...

That is not so easy. Indeed it seems impossible.

Surely, God does not expect us to love those who do not deserve our love.

And yet, the whole Christian experience is built on the fact that love comes to those who do not deserve it.

Not one of use has ever deserved God's love. We may behave as if God is the least important element of our lives, and yet he loves us still. We may reject him year after year, but when we come to him, we find that his love for us has endured.

Christian love, whether it comes from God to us, or whether it comes from us and goes to others, is not based on whether or not it is deserved.

This is not to say that we allow evil neighbors to do evil things.
This is not to say that we any neighbor who does evil should avoid justice and prosecution.
Put in very simple terms – a loving parent does not allow a child to get away with selfish or rebellious acts.  So also a loving society should never allow its members to avoid justice.
But their evil actions do not exempt us from the STRUGGLE to find a way to love our neighbor.
I used to work in a State Prison.  Some of the inmates murdered others.  Many were rapists.  A large number were thieves.  Society had locked up these men, but Christ’s demand that I love them did not mean I had to help them escape prison.  Of course not.  But we did treat the inmates with respect.  I often transported inmates to doctors or dentists.  I occasionally escorted inmates to a funeral of a parent or sibling.  Once I escorted an inmate to the hospital when his child was born.  These inmates did not deserve medical care or decent food.  Many would have said they deserved torture or death.   
But a Christian society does not apply justice to its enemies with viciousness, but applies justice with love. 

And in our personal lives, we have the bully, the abuser, the one who violated our trust, the one who has taken advantage of us, the one who has broken into our car, the one who has been mean to us… the list goes on.
These persons do not have to deserve our love. 
But that does not exempt us from loving them anyway.
What is required is that IF we call ourselves Christians, it is incumbent on us to find a way to be the loving neighbor to every person we encounter or know about in our life.

Is it easy?  No.
Is it difficult?  Yes.
But don’t be that person who sees someone needing love and simply pass by on the other side. 

Copyright 2016. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.