07-14-19 NEIGHBORS

LUKE 10:26-37 JULY 14, 2019

WESTMINSTER BY THE SEA PRESBYTERIAN

RADFORD RADER

Everyone is kin to someone. The nature of birth gives us parents and children, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, some kissing and some almost unknown. These, normally, are our most special people. Of all the people on this planet, we love them most. “Blood is thicker than water” the old saying goes and is proven every time a child who seems to hate his/her sibling takes on the bully who would dare to pick on their brother/sister. Parents provide for and protect their children. Husbands die for wives and children. Mothers heroically save their families from the flames of their burning home. Children take elderly parents into their homes and put them in the middle of their lives. If our family member is in trouble, we will drop everything to help, to heal, to save that loved one. That is so right. It is what we should do. Such love if of God. God has given us families – long before we had a vocation. They are our work for God. Raising children, loving spouses, caring for parents is to serve God.
We also have friends and neighbors. Through time and the sharing of joys and sorrows…through giving and receiving support from one another, some friends and neighbors become as close or closer than our blood relatives. We would be greatly wrong if we did not love, minister to, and show compassion for these people. Not only would we be callous for not returning their acts of kindness, we would be proving ourselves to be no friend at all. A friend fills the need of that one who asks. In the very next chapter of Luke, Jesus poses a question, “if a friend called you in the middle of the night needing help, would you not rise and do whatever you could?” The answer is “Of course, I would!”
From the very beginning, Christians have been characterized by the way in which disciples love one another. We can grow to call the congregation our church family; our sisters and brothers through Christ. Often this is more than rhetoric. Like Jesus, who was told his mother and brothers were seeking him, we can say that those, who share our community of faith, are our mothers and brothers and sisters. Congregations have within them such love. I bet that many of you are like my friend whose wife recently died and could not say enough about the outpouring of love and concern for her and him from the members of his church. Called into the church, we are called “to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice – to bear one another’s burdens”. Would any deny that such love is right and should be shown?
Yet, listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 5:43, “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say ‘If you love only those who love you what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same…but love your enemies…and your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, for God is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Heavenly Father is merciful.’”
I have found that non-Christians all about us love their families and friends. My father-in-law found himself suddenly being divorced and alone. His boss, who never attended church, was the one who most supported him through this most difficult time in his life. A member in Ormond Beach who was in worship every Sunday, died suddenly without any family. The people who came to the church, arranged, paid for and attended her services, were the people who frequented the bar where she spent much time between Sundays. Christians have no monopoly on human kindness or loving those who love them.
What Jesus adds to the natural humanity of the world is a different definition of neighbor. He broadens the circle. Behind the religious man’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” was the statement Jesus quotes in Matthew, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy”. There was, and still is, dispute among believers as to the extent of ‘neighbor” as it is found in the Old Testament law (Leviticus 19:17-19 but see also 13-16) and the New Testament teachings. General agreement, at the time of Jesus, defined “neighbor” as “fellow Jews” and the Jews would have nothing to do with Samaritans and Gentiles. However, many made “neighbor” even more narrow and the circle for whom one needed to show love smaller. Pharisees excluded non-Pharisees, Essenes hated the Sons of Darkness (those not of their sect), one rabbinic saying ruled that heretics, informers and renegades should be pushed into the ditch not pulled out; and widely circulated was the philosophy that it was acceptable to hate personal enemies, thus, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemies.
The Good Samaritan is about a non-Jew, a heretic and an enemy. The enemy becomes the one who shows who is a neighbor and what it is to be a child of God. Our neighbor, as shown in the care given the man who fell among robbers, is anyone in need, even our enemy. Our neighbor is the person we encounter along our life’s journey that has trouble and needs our help. Our neighbor is the one others ignore. Our neighbor is the family member, the friend the brother or sister in faith, the jerk who lives next door who goes ballistic if you happen to mow one inch of her lawn, the HOA Nazi always nit-picking, the opponent at work, the ALT members on the far right and the activists on the far left, the people whom our government would label as “our enemies”. Our neighbor is the woman, man, child who appears before us with needs, whether it is the need of love and respect or the need for food or security. We do not have to define our neighbor. Life reveals our neighbor to us. We will come upon them and be given the opportunity to show them the love that God bestows on the just and the unjust, Jew and Gentile, saints and sinners.
Jesus models the Good Samaritan in Luke. He is on his journey to Jerusalem to fulfill his destiny. Along the way people keep popping into his life. He’s coming into town and a Roman centurion asks him to come heal his slave who is ill and close to death – read Roman enemy and a slave who is below the lowest. Another time, he tries to escape the crowds by crossing the sea of Galilee and bumps into the Gerasene demonic. A prostitute anoints his feet with ointment, bathes them with her tears and dries them with her hair. Everybody is outraged; Jesus defends her and forgives her. He is rejected at a Samaritan village. His disciples want to command fire to come down and consume them. Jesus rebukes the disciples and leads them to another Samaritan village. He sees Zacchaeus, a hated tax collector up a tree, calls him down and goes home with him and eats lunch at his house during which he pronounces that salvation has come to him. In all these cases, Jesus stops to heal and help. The people are not seen as friend nor foe, just people with needs.
Who is a neighbor according to Jesus? The one who needs mercy and the one who shows mercy. But mercy appears in the other saying of Jesus, the one about loving your enemy: “Be merciful even as your Heavenly Father is merciful.” Merciful extends even to the ungrateful and selfish, to those beyond the ones who love us and who do us good, beyond those from whom we have hope of response. Sometimes we can change a life or make friends by loving our enemy but the reason for our reaching out has a higher source – that is what God does for our heavenly Father is merciful. George Buttrick, the great Presbyterian preacher of the mid-20th century and one of my preaching professors wrote, “Ture neighborliness is not curious to know where its boundaries run; it cares as little for boundaries as the sun and rain care for the contour lines on our maps. It seeks not limits but opportunities.”
This is Jesus’ story, his life, and his commandment, “Go and do likewise!”