It’s a beautiful day in your neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor
Would you be theirs? Could you be theirs?
It’s a neighborly day here in Der-er-wood, a neighborly day in your neighborhood.
Would you be theirs? Could you be theirs?
They have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you
They’ve always needed to live in a neighborhood with you
So let’s make the most of this beautiful day; since we’re together here on vision Sunday,
Would you be theirs? Could you be theirs? Won’t you be their neighbor?
Won’t you please? Won’t you please? Please, won’t you be their neighbor?
Thank you! That’s the question I believe God is putting to us as a church in 2019:
“Won’t you be—WILL YOU BE a neighbor to the people in your ream of influence—the people you live near—work near—commute with—go to school with—play on sports teams with—will you be THEIR neighbor?”
As you can see in the graphic, we’re going to transition from simply “connecting” to emphasizing the connections we have with our neighbors—doing a better job of knowing them and making sure they know Jesus. In one word—our vision theme is: “NEIGHBORING!”
There are several ways we can and will flesh this out.
- First, in order to prevent a rebellion, I have decided we will keep the lego-table. It still fits the theme of connection—and I want to stay on the good side of our younger members and their parents.
Here’s some other neighboring things we can do.
- We could do prayer walks in our neighborhoods.
- We could look into doing some sort of community service day.
- One of the neighboring things I am most excited about is that our Grace In Store Thrift will finally open—they are shooting for January 12.
The room is heated and air-conditioned. Lights are installed. They just have to put up shelving, do a little more painting—things like that. Soon you will see this sign on the side of building—on your left as you come in the drive-way. We’ll plan a big grand-opening dedication—so stay tuned.
Here are a couple other things:
- We are working on a family mission trip to Ocean City in August.
- And we are working on going back to help our neighbors in Puerto Rico who are still reeling from the damage caused by Maria.
There is an informational meeting for both trips in the Upper Room after the 11AM service.
- We’ll also do a church wide study of a book called, The Art of Neighboring, and I will of course plan my sermons to reflect the vision.
That’s SOME of the kinds of things we can do as a church—but in the end—this year’s vision is all about YOU—and how you relate to YOUR neighbors. You are the ones who will—or won’t—say, “Yes—I’ll be their neighbor!” With that in mind this morning, I want us to look at a familiar parable—a powerful story Jesus told that has a great deal to say about the principles of neighboring. In fact, you could rightly say that this parable can—and should—radically change the way most of us understand what it means to be a neighbor.
Take your Bibles and turn to the 10th chapter of Luke’s gospel and let’s read this familiar story together. It is recorded in verses 25-37.
25 – On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 – “What is written in the law?” He replied. “How do you read it?”
27 – He 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.’”
28 – “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 – But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 – In reply Jesus said, “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.
31 – A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.
32 – So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
33 – But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
34 – 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.
35 – 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.’
36 – “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 – The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Okay—Let’s begin our study by taking a closer look at the CONTEXT of this familiar story. Verse 25 says that the Lord’s interrogator that day was an “expert in the law” and this would of course refer to JEWISH law and not ROMAN law. In other words, this man was a THEOLOGIAN not an ATTORNEY. I also want you to note that the QUESTION he asked that day was a great question but his MOTIVATION in asking it was not so great. Let’s just say that his was not the inquiry of a SINCERE SEEKER but rather that of an ADVERSARY inspecting—testing—our Lord. I mean, he didn’t want to find an ANSWER to his question as much as he wanted to find FAULT with Jesus—and he wasn’t alone in this quest. No, he represented most of the members of the current religious establishment—theologians who were troubled by the growing popularity of Jesus—because they considered Him an unorthodox and unapproved Teacher. Now, look closely at this theologian’s question. In verse 25 he asked, “What must I DO to INHERIT eternal life?” Please note that Jesus didn’t quibble by pointing out the contradiction in this inquiry. I mean, you and I know that we can’t DO anything to INHERIT a gift—and eternal life IS God’s gift. No—INHERITANCE is based on RELATIONSHIP not ACHIEVEMENT. We should also note that Jesus didn’t ANSWER his question. Instead He deflected it by asking the man what the Jewish law had to say on this issue. With this tactic, our Lord reversed roles such that the questioned became the questioner.
But this strategy didn’t trip this guy up. He provided a brilliant answer to Jesus’ question. First, he quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 and said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” And then he combined this with Leviticus 19:18, where it says: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” As I said, this was a great answer—and it should be because it is the same answer Jesus had given His critics back in Matthew 22.
Now—the linking of these two Old Testament verses is not found previously in the rabbinic tradition—so, I think there is a good chance that the theologian may have been simply repeating what he had heard Jesus say. In any case, combining these two Old Testament texts should remind us that genuine Biblical faith isn’t RITUAL—but rather it is a heart RELATIONSHIP with God—a relationship that shapes every facet of life. Our relationship with God is inseparable from our relationships to the people in our lives. We can’t be in a love relationship with God and not act in love toward other people.
As 1st John 3:17 says, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”
Love for people is an overflow of our love for God. So, when we don’t have enough love for those around us in need—well, this is an indication of an even greater lack. As Martin Luther put it, “Faith alone justifies, yet faith is never alone. It is never without love; if love is lacking, neither is there faith, but mere hypocrisy.”
Well, Jesus gave this theologian an “A+” on his answer. In verse 28 He in essence said, “You’ve been paying attention in class! You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.” Now, please note. Jesus was not saying that it was possible for this guy to get eternal life by obeying the law. No—Our Lord was simply reminding the man what the law SAYS.
And the Jewish law said that people were required not only to KEEP the law, but also keep it PERFECTLY without omissions or failures. To be perfectly justified under the law one must BE perfect. Perhaps this is why Jesus’ response didn’t satisfy this man. He wanted the law to be cut down to manageable size. What he wanted was a list of do-able RULES—rules that people could actually KEEP. Instead Jesus described this RELATIONSHIP with God that shapes our day-to-day lives.
And, perhaps in the hopes of GETTING a list of rules, the man probed FURTHER and asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Now—in ASKING this question this O.T. lawyer was doing what most lawyers do so well. He was looking for a loophole in the law. He was saying, “Do I have to love EVERYONE? If there is a neighbor that I must love, is there also a non-neighbor I do not need to love? Where should I draw the line Jesus?” This man apparently thought he could put up fences limiting his neighborliness.
And his fellow rabbis had already spent a great deal of time exploring this very issue. I say this because, since Leviticus 19:18 uses the term “neighbor” as a synonym for “brother” or “people,” —many rabbis taught that one’s neighbor was really only a fellow Israelite.
And, most Jews followed suit. They never considered that anyone could be a neighbor BUT another Jew. In fact, they thought of the 10 Commandments in this way:
- Thou shalt not steal (from a Jew)
- Thou shalt not kill (a Jew)
- Thou shalt not bear false witness (to a Jew), etc.
They had even re-written part of the Sabbath law to say that if a wall should fall on someone on the Sabbath—enough rubble could be cleared away to see if the injured man was a Jew or Gentile. If he were a Jew, he could be rescued—if a Gentile—he must be left there to suffer until the next day. The Pharisees went so far as to exclude any non-PHARISEES from their definition of “neighbor.”
In Matthew 5:43 when Jesus said, “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy” Jesus was referring to the current philosophy that personal enemies—even other Jews—were excluded from the circle of “people I should think of as my neighbor.” So that day this budding young theologian raised a familiar issue out of current debate. Perhaps he proudly brought this up to show everyone that he was “up” on all the current denominational issues.
And you know, it’s easy to be critical of his attitude, but it is far more common even today than we care to admit. I mean, you and I are very good at limiting our neighborliness.
- We ride on crowded metro cars every day and never make eye-contact with the people around us.
- We can live next door to people and they are like strangers to us because we rarely involve ourselves in their lives.
We never make it our business to know about their needs. I mean, if we were honest with ourselves this morning, we would have to admit that just like this man in the parable, we tend to pick and choose with whom we will be “neighborly.”
- Surely, I don’t have to love Trump fans! They aren’t my neighbors!
- Jesus isn’t saying I have to be neighborly to liberals!
No—I only have to be neighborly to people who like what I post on social media—fans of my particular political views—right? I don’t have to be friendly—I don’t have to be loving—toward people who embrace lifestyles that the Bible condemns—right? I mean, like this ancient theologian, we wonder, “Surely there are limits to my love. I mean how far does my responsibility go Jesus? Who is my neighbor? Who don’t’ I have to love?”
In answer to this question, Jesus told this world-changing story about a man beaten, robbed, and left for dead on the ROAD that winds down from Jerusalem to Jericho. This road is 17 miles long and plunges 3300 feet. Here’s a picture of the Jericho road. It was referred to as “the way of blood” no doubt because of the vast amount of blood that had been shed there by robbers over the years. I mean, it was a notoriously dangerous highway. As you can see, it traversed rugged, barren, lonely terrain with lots of bends in the road—perfect for robbers to hide and attack their prey. Well, Jesus’ audience that day would have known all this. In fact, there’s a good chance that Jesus was standing on or near this road as He told this story since He was about to head to Bethany to visit Mary and Martha. I mean, that’s the route his “google maps” app would have suggested. So, it was kind of like telling a scary story in a scary place—like putting a big movie screen up on the beach and showing the movie JAWS to people floating on inner tubes in the ocean. I can imagine someone saying, “Hey, Jesus, don’t you have ANOTHER story? I mean, it’s bad enough to BE here; don’t REMIND us of the danger!”
I remember traveling this same road myself in 1994 with a group of Redlanders and it was still a haunting path. As our bus pulled out of Jericho onto this road, heading literally UP to Jerusalem, we came across several burned-out cars and places where there had obviously been gunfire. At this point all talk on our bus ceased and the only child in our group, little Megan Ward, began to cry. We could all sympathize with her. It was NOT a road you travel alone.
Somewhere on this nefarious highway a Jewish traveler, foolish enough to do so, was set upon by a band of robbers. He was not only robbed but brutalized and left bloody, naked, and dying.
Well, along came a PRIEST.
Now—in that day priests served in the temple on a rotational basis. Most of them lived outside of Jerusalem, and many lived in Jericho. In fact, Jericho had become a priestly CITY where priests and other temple personnel resided when they weren’t fulfilling their duty in the temple in Jerusalem. Perhaps priests and Levites had immunity from attack due to some superstition surrounding their calling—because they constantly traveled up and down this road. Since this PRIEST was “going down” it means he was moving AWAY from Jerusalem. He had probably just finished his tour of duty. Then as he came around the bend he saw this fellow Jew lying in a pool of blood, his life ebbing away. And—the priest’s reaction was instinctive. Carefully circling the situation as you would a cow-pie, verse 31 says he “passed by on the other side.”
The Lord doesn’t tell us WHY he did this. But it’s easy to IMAGINE what was going on. He was after all, a priest. And, according to Leviticus 21:1-4, contact with a dead body would be ceremonially contaminating and this victim was at least NEAR death. The priest has ALREADY been away from home for a period of time pulling his shift in the temple—and the ritual of cleansing after touching a dead body was costly and time consuming. So, at the very least, involvement with this half-dead man would require a return to Jerusalem and the interruption of his plans.
And we should be able to understand the entanglement that involvement with “needy people” causes. Helping other people can force us to face difficult—even dangerous—situations. We may not feel good about choosing the other side of the road, but we do feel a lot safer. Besides, others are usually better qualified at this kind of thing. Perhaps this priest thought that—maybe he told himself, “I’m a priest not a paramedic.”
Okay—do you remember who came around the bend next?
It was ANOTHER religious figure—a Levite—and Levites had important roles in the service of the temple although they did not serve at the altar. We don’t know WHY but, his response DUPLICATED that of the priest. Perhaps he feared for his own safety (the robbers might still be in the vicinity), or maybe he too was afraid of being defiled—but understand—his reason for not stopping had nothing to do with his financial means. No—due to the position that religious leaders like priests and Levites held in the nation—they both would have been men of above-average wealth and would have had the cash on hand to help.
Now—I have to stop and ask that you please not make the mistake of thinking these two were bad men. They were not necessarily bad. They were just busy. They were too busy working FOR God to care LIKE God. For them and too often, for us, people in need are problems, interruptions, nuisances. They intrude on our privacy. They pull us from our duty and distract us from our responsibility. They keep us from our pleasures. We agree that they need help and we hope that someone does help them but not us—not now—not here. Well, by this time, the Lord’s audience was no doubt caught up in the hearing of His parable. Like us, they love it when the clergy turn out to be the bad guys.
And Jesus’ listeners could probably already guess who would be the HERO of this story. No doubt it would be a “layman”— an ordinary citizen — one of them. They could never have expected the twist the tale took in verse 33 when Jesus said, “but a Samaritan.” Please understand—when Jesus used these words, He touched a raw nerve and put electricity in the air—kind of like when I mentioned our current president’s name a moment ago—for the Samaritans were a mixed-race. They were the descendants of people from other nations imported to Israel during the exile who intermarried with the local Jewish population. As such the Samaritans enjoyed the lowest rung on the Jewish social ladder of the day. They were hated by the Jews of “pure” blood.
I mean, you and I call this the story of the “GOOD Samaritan.” But to the first century Jew there was no such thing. This was as unthinkable as a good member of rocket-firing HAMAS would be to an Israeli citizen today. These two words that have become a cliche for us—well, the words “good” and “Samaritan” would never have been used together back then. In fact, we can see this prejudice in the lawyer’s RESPONSE when Jesus finished His story and asked him who was a neighbor to the injured man. The lawyer could not even bring himself to say, “the Samaritan.” He simply said, “the one who showed mercy on him.”
I mean, with the introduction of a Samaritan, Jesus deliberately and carefully shocked His audience, because in His story the unlikely hero did not pass by the wounded Jew—even though the pillars of Jewish religious society did. The question Jesus asked the theologian at the end of His story required him to put together two impossible and contradictory words in that culture, “Samaritan” and “neighbor.” You see, in Jesus’ parable it was not the Samaritan’s NATIONALITY that set him apart. It was his COMPASSION. The Samaritan didn’t SEE anything the other two didn’t, but he FELT something they didn’t. As verse 33 says, “He took pity” on the man lying in the ditch. All of the normal hostility between Jew and Samaritan was swept away as he allowed what he saw to affect his emotions.
But it was not just a feeling. The Samaritan allowed his feelings to lead to action.
- He bandaged the man’s wounds—probably tearing up his own garments for this purpose.
- He poured on wine to cleanse his wounds and oil to soothe the pain.
Both of these elements were highly prized and expensive remedies in this day.
- Then he placed the man on his own donkey and led the animal down the hot, dusty road to an inn which meant the Samaritan would have to walk.
And we should note that this was also an act of great COURAGE. After all, this was Jewish territory and a Samaritan transporting the Jewish victim of a mugging would be subject to all kinds of misunderstanding and misinterpretation. It would be like a scene from the newest John Grisham book, The Reckoning. It takes place in northern Mississippi in 1947. A white man—shoots and kills his white pastor. As he leaves the scene he encounters the church custodian—an African American. The murderer tells the custodian to go get the sheriff. The custodian is afraid to do this because the Sheriff would be more likely to think HE shot the pastor. That’s pretty much the same situation the Samaritan put himself in by helping this Jewish guy. Other Jews would be very much inclined to think HE did the beating and mugging.
Well, once they got to the inn, the Samaritan continued to look after the injured man. Understand—this victim was a total stranger—a man of another race and religion—stripped and penniless. Yet the Samaritan’s compassion led him to assume responsibility for his future needs.
In vs 35 He told the innkeeper, “When I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you have.” “I’ll cover his room and board—and all his medical expenses.”
He said this with no plausible reason to believe there was any hope of recovering his expenditures. He was freely expressing undeserved and unexpected love to a person in need. This should remind us that GENUINE neighborly love means interrupting our schedule, putting aside our “to-do lists,” expending our money, ruining our property—even for a stranger. It should teach us that Godly love is the compassion that FEELS, the care that INVOLVES, the commitment that ENDURES. Okay, what OTHER lessons can we learn from this story that will help us to better understand how to be the kinds of neighbors our Lord calls us to be?
(1) First, neighboring can be COSTLY.
I know I’m preaching to the choir here—because, as I said earlier, too many times we all “pass by on the other side” when we encounter people who obviously need our help. We do this because we think we don’t have the time. We don’t have the money. We fear that meeting the needs of others will make us needy ourselves. And it very well might do that. Neighboring is usually costly. I mean, we often talk sentimentally or idealistically about compassion—but getting close to those who are hurting almost always costs us money or other resources. Working with other people’s wounds invariably gets very messy.
Investing in the lives of hurting people will take us off our normal schedule. “Crossing over to their side of the road” will inconvenience us and subject us to entanglements that can go on for a long time. In other words, being neighborly requires denying that very self which we’ve often protected and maintained. But, Jesus taught us that following Him—saying, “Yes—I’ll be THEIR neighbor” requires dying to self. It’s costly.
This week I read about research done by a Christian trauma expert named Dr. Jamie Aten. Dr. Aten says helping people in need can best be summarized in two words, “OFFER REFUGE.”
He writes, “Some examples of how you can offer refuge include listening with acceptance, being present in your helping, and giving the gift of connection. I learned the importance of refuge from A Hurricane Katrina research study, my team and I conducted just weeks after the storm made landfall. I’ll never forget the evacuation experience one of the survivors we interviewed shared. He described trying to escape from his home along the coast by car. However, as he tried to drive away the winds and rain grew stronger. He quickly started to lose visibility. He knew he wasn’t going to be able to go much farther. About the time panic started to set in he saw something moving just ahead off the side of the road. A neighbor he’d never met before was standing outside in the pouring rain and howling wind with a homemade particleboard sign with the words ‘STOP HERE’ spray-painted on it. Rather than continue alone on his journey, the man turned into his neighbor’s drive and found a safe haven. They gave him food and shelter and safety for some time.”
Listen. When it comes to neighboring there are two extremes—LOVE and FEAR—and each has the power to negate the other. 1st John 4:18 says, “Perfect love has the power to cast out fear,” but the reverse is also true. Fear has the power to cast out love. We can become so afraid of our own needs not being met that we walk by others who have needs—we say, “No—I can’t afford the time—I WON’T be their neighbor!” To do this vision I believe God has given us—we must mature to the point that we realize we don’t have to worry about the cost. We can trust God to meet our needs—even as we expend our own resources to meet the needs of others. We must learn to trust in the promise of Jesus in Matthew 6:8 when He said, “Your Father [in Heaven] knows what you need before you ask Him.” And as Paul wrote in Philippians God will, “meet our needs according to His riches in glory.”
The dynamic that led the Christians in the early church be such good neighbors—the thing that motivated them “to hold all things in common” (Acts 4:23, 34-35)—even with those in great need—undoubtedly resulted from the security that they came to feel in God’s care. We can feel the same security. One thing this parable can teach us is that we will be more likely to reach out to the needy people around us if we learn to trust in the provision of God. We don’t need to be AFRAID to minister to a neighbor God puts in our path. Here’s a second thing we can learn from this parable.
(2) All people NEED Christian neighbors.
That Jewish man desperately needed help—and so do OUR neighbors. Our community—our world—needs Christians like you and me to embrace this vision. As I inferred earlier, the word “neighbor” has lost much of its meaning these days. Usually we don’t even know the people who live next door to us. We tend to spend our precious time with people we enjoy and end up defining a “neighbor” as someone whose company benefits us in some way.
But Jesus’ parable overhauls this philosophy. It literally changes our view of the world because it teaches that our neighbor is someone we see who has needs, not someone who offers us something. In fact, I think the main reason Jesus told this story was to point out that as Christians—as His followers—we are automatically neighbors to the whole human race—because ALL people NEED to know about and experience God’s great love. So—it doesn’t matter whether we know the person, or whether his race or lifestyle is like our own. It doesn’t even matter whether the person appeals to us or repulses us—if they like us or hate us. Their political views don’t matter. If someone inhabits this planet and has a need, he or she is automatically our neighbor.
In his book, Opening Blind Eyes, John Claypool defines MORALITY in this way, “The fewer persons you are concerned about as you consider what to do with your life—the less moral an action is; the more people you take into consideration as you consider the impact of your action, the more moral it becomes.” And, we see this principle in this parable. The thieves who robbed the man going from Jerusalem to Jericho represent one end of the continuum. They cared only for themselves and used their power without regard for the harm it did others. At the other end of the continuum is God Himself, Who is described in John 3:16 as loving the WHOLE WORLD so much “that He gave His only Son.” God takes the whole of creation into account in the exercise of power. And in this parable Jesus is teaching that the goal of each of His disciples should be to love the WHOLE WORLD in this same Godly way. This is the MIND SET we must embrace in the coming year—and all coming years. God became inextricably involved in meeting the physical and spiritual needs of all mankind and He calls us to follow His example.
In a 2003 documentary entitled, “America’s Favorite Neighbor,” Fred Rogers said, “I think everybody longs to be loved and longs to know that he or she is lovable.” In this statement, Rogers echoed the sentiment of 1st John 4:10 where it says, “This is love: Not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Mr. Rogers understood that all people have a NEED to be loved by God. And—one way we meet that need is by letting God love others through us—through NEIGHBORING.
Mr. Rogers was expressing this needed message of love whenever he started his show with HIS version of that song I sang earlier. And also whenever he greeted people with a “Hi, neighbor!”
In a 2001 commencement address at Middlebury College, Rogers said: “When we look for what’s best in the person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does—so in appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something truly sacred.”
I would “AMEN” that—being neighborly—to all people is a God-thing—it’s a grace driven thing.
You know, our nation has never been more divided. I’ve heard some say things are so bad we could have another civil war. And—I don’t think that’s too extreme. The sad state of our country today underscores the importance of this year’s vision. As Christians, God has called us to be different than our divided culture—to BE NEIGHBORS to everyone. Jesus turned the world upside down with a handful of men and women. My prayer is that He will do the same with us—as we love others as God has loved us.
Now—on most VISION SUNDAYS we have an insert for you to fill out—activities and ministries for you to commit to being a part of in the coming year. I close the vision sermon by asking you to bring your completed card to the front and lay it on the altar. But this year—I’m going to ask you to do something different. I want you to come up to this amazing vision graphic that Peggy has made—find where you live and where you work—and put a pin there. I wish we could do it during the invitation—but I fear that would take too long. So, before you go to SS—or before you leave today—do so. After today this will be on our VISION wall. Let’s make it our goal to get our pins up before January 1.Place your pins there as a way of saying, “YES—I’ll be a neighbor there!”