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.