Let us pray: Dear Savior, as we examine our own lives against the magnifying glass of Your Word we see our inner hypocrisy revealed. Although we say we love You with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, in reality our love has more downs than we care to remember. And although we say we love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves, in reality we all practice “selective love” when it is convenient. Today we ask that You break us out of our shell! Empower us to be honest and compassionate people to all. For that truly is the best way to let our light shine. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE ULTIMATE “GOOD NEIGHBOR”
TEXT: Luke 10: 25-37
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
What is your thought process as you go about being a good neighbor? Let me give you an example in mine. About every 6 or 7 years I have to tackle a not-so-fun job. Our bell just outside the front door of the church is a huge temptation to the neighborhood children. Once they discover it, they sneak up to the entrance, ring it, and run. It doesn’t hurt anything or anyone. But I’m concerned things might get a bit out of hand. So every 6 or 7 years, when a new crop of kids grows into that age of bell-ringing madness, I have to deal with them. Usually, once I discover who they are, I approach them and say: “Kids, if you really want to learn how to ring our bell, come to church some Sunday morning and I’ll show you how to do it right.” That takes the fun out of their prank and to this day none of them has ever taken me up on my offer! I have adopted this approach because being a good neighbor is going directly to the source—plus, it works.
This past week I had to go a bit further. Some neighborhood kids crept up to the bell around 9:30 one night, but my evening walk with the dogs interrupted their revelry. As they thundered away I slowly followed until they faded into the woods by their house. That gave me a pretty good insight into exactly who they were. I decided to follow my usual plan in the upcoming days and make my offer. The next morning in sunlight, I realized that they had torn down part of a rock wall and left those rocks around the bell. They were going to hurl them at it all at once. Well, that concerned me what with the glass panels of the front door being so close not to mention the safety of a $40,000 bell. So, I called the police and an officer came. I laid it all out and he said he’d take care of it. Was that being “neighborly?” In this case, I believe the answer is: Yes. I say that out of concern that their foray into silly vandelism could well progress into something more serious and I don’t want them to suffer a juvenile record, or worse.
Adults live in fear of children today in America. We worry that if we say or do something about an out-of-control child we’ll be tongue lashed by overly protective parents, or sued, or worse. This is a natural outgrowth of a nation which is sue-happy and in which no one ever wants to admit their foibles or take responsibility for them. Also, in our cell-phone age, it’s easier to just make a call and let somebody deal with the problem, isn’t it?
True neighborliness is a forgotten thing, isn’t it? In our urban/suburban/move every seven years culture people don’t know their neighbors and even live in fear of them. We fail to act when problems occur because of our fears, too. And in this we’re all a lot like the priest and Levite in our lesson who fearfully shielded their eyes and “passed by on the other side” of the road. And so today I want to talk to you about this little lesson which might well be:
THE MOST UNPOPLAR PARABLE IN AMERICA
On a superficial level everyone likes the parable of the Good Samaritan. We like the idea of people caring for others and putting themselves out for strangers because one day we might well be on the receiving line of such compassion. Likewise, we enjoy patting ourselves on the back when we engage in a neighborly act such as: looking after a person’s house when they are away, calling in an accident, or taking a sick neighbor to a doctor’s appointment. In such cases, we didn’t “pass by on the other side.” We put ourselves out a bit and it felt good.
But, on a deeper level, this parable is disquieting. That’s because all too often we’ve all acted exactly like the priest and the Levite, ignored those in need around us, and passed by on the other side. Like them, we view neighborliness as something confined to those we know and not to those who are strangers. This fear of the unknown, coupled with sensational news reports of nasty things done to good Samaritans, often paralyzes us. I know of a local older man who is afraid to walk his dog around the school next door because someone might report him as some kind of lurking voyeur! Such stories and more have lead to the popular axiom: No good deed goes unpunished. Yes, the parable of the Good Samaritan is the most unpopular parable in America today!
Bearing the Christian cross entails overcoming one’s fears and relying on God in all things. Think of Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” God’s truths dare not be confined to a little religious world walled off from the larger world in which we live in and play in every day. When Christ summed up the commandments by saying: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind—and love your neighbor as yourself” He meant it! Those marching orders for the Christian soldier are in effect 24-7.
Of course, like the lawyer of our text who sought to justify his actions, we, too, ponder his question: “And who is my neighbor?” And that’s where the rubber meets the highway of our lives. I’ve heard many fine Christians express serious concern over this parable in our modern world. They feel guilty over their fears. They feel guilty that they didn’t stop to help that stranded motorist, or didn’t say something to that out-of-control parent. After going through various possibilities—make the cell call, talk to DSS, call the police, etc.—we’re still left with Christ’s words, aren’t we? When He says: “Go and do likewise” He meant it. And He practiced what He preached! God’s Son didn’t pass us by but went out of His way, gave His life on a cross, to save our souls. He even banked a love-reserve for us to draw on in His absence. We find that reserve in baptism, communion, and His glorious absolution.
And yet, yet, we modern humans chaff under this parable because it means personal involvement. It means getting your hands dirty with another’s problems. It often means sweat and tears and emotional upheaval. My friends, don’t dwell on all that “bad” stuff—let the media do it! Instead, dwell on the thought that by getting involved, this Samaritan made a friend for life. He made a difference. And as Christ proved: Kindness really does cover a multitude of sins. You have the ability, by God’s grace, to make this world a little better, one person at a time. So, take back your neighborhood, take back your nation, by showing kindness to all people. It’s o.k. to “be wise as serpents” in this world. But don’t forget the second half of that verse which says: “Be gentle as doves” too. Amen