July 17, 2022
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
There were two retired neighbors, Sam and Jake, who spent a lot of time working out in their yard. Working on the grass trimming and the lawn. So, of course, as neighbors being outside, they spent time next to each other talking over the fence, chatting about life.
One day Sam tells Jake, “You know these neighborhood kids are driving me crazy. I don’t really like kids.”
Jake chastises Sam a bit, he says, “Oh that’s terrible to say. I love kids. Kids will be kids, Boys will be boys. I love when they run around and they have fun in the neighborhood.”
A couple days later Sam hears a commotion out on Jake’s driveway and comes out to see what’s going on and there’s Jake screaming at a bunch of neighborhood kids, running away with a large red rubber ball.
Sam shouts, “Jake! Jake, what’s going on?”
Jake says, “I’m trying to lay concrete here in my driveway, and those kids kicked a ball right into it.”
Sam says, “Well this is surprising Jake. You just said the other day how much you love kids.”
Jake responded, “I do love kids in the abstract. Not in the concrete!”
That’s really what we’re exploring today: the abstract and the concrete, as we define who really is our neighbor, by Jesus’ definition. You might remember a couple weeks ago we started off talking about the idea of asking God to change our hearts where division exists.
We talked about the “Us” versus “Them.” The “We” versus “Me.” We talked about the real enemy in the situation, and that of course is the devil, who laughs when there is hatred and “racial tension,” which fosters division in our country and in our lives. We learned to put on the full armor of God to protect ourselves against Satan’s schemes.
Our Gospel reading for today comes from Luke chapter 10. Many people are familiar with the parable of the “Good Samaritan.” It all starts like this: A scholar on the Torah Law of God comes up to Jesus and asks, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” That lawyer could have asked for two reasons: 1) To test Jesus. To try to trap Him. Or 2) To see what kind of teacher Jesus really is.
So Jesus, always the skilled opponent, asks the lawyer what the Law says. “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”
The lawyer answers, “You should love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus says, “You are right. Do this and you will live.”
This fourfold kind of love is mentioned several times in the Bible. It requires a purposeful effort and focus. It is really Law-based and that’s what the lawyer was asking. It was a really good question but was probably asked with really bad intentions. Jesus sends the man back to the Law, not because the Law saves, but because the Law reflects our sin like a mirror. It shows us our flaws and faults.
The lawyer, of course, being a lawyer goes further. He wants to define the terms, define what it really means to be a neighbor. How can I weasel out of my obligations? The lawyer wanted to think of people in the abstract, not in the concrete. He’s now asking what the minimum requirements are. What is the least he can do and still inherit eternal life?
Jesus uses this parable to help the lawyer understand. Jesus brings up this parable and Jesus doesn’t mention much about the man who is attacked, other than the fact he is walking to Jericho. He doesn’t mention the victims ethnic identity, but because of the location of the crime, it was highly likely he was Jewish. The people to whom Jesus was speaking would certainly assume that. It’s human nature to imagine people are like you in the story you draw on your minds canvas.
Those listening to Jesus were no doubt familiar with that road. That road was regularly traveled and these people had no doubt used it many times. They were also probably very familiar with the dangers that lurked on the road to Jericho. Most of it is solitary. It was dangerous. Mountains and paths with many blind turns. It has many hiding places for thieves and robbers.
You have to wonder: Since the Temple workers used that road so often, you would think the Romans would have taken steps to make it safe somehow, but it is much easier to maintain a religious institution than it is to go out and clean up the neighborhood.
For those who are familiar with this story, you know how it goes.
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going by that road when he saw the victim. He passes on the other side.
Now there is a Scriptural reason, a Torah Law reason, for why the priest would have done that. You heard it in the Old Testament reading. In Numbers chapter 19 it reads:
Whoever touches the dead body of a person
shall be unclean for seven days.1
So, reminiscent of COVID craziness, if that was still enforced today that would mean a Pastor couldn’t perform his duties at church. That’s not, however, the only reason someone might want to avoid the man lying on the road. What if that person laying there is in with other thieves and it is a trap. When he comes close the man grabs him and the other thieves jump out to help rob him. Whatever the reason the priest didn’t cause the problem. He didn’t do the beating and the robbing. He was just passing by. So he postulates, “Not my problem.” And walks on by.
The Levite who followed did the exact same thing. He did nothing. “Not my problem.” And walks on by.
Then we come to the third person a Samaritan. Jesus didn’t pick a Samaritan by accident. Back then Samaritans were viewed as half-breed animals. They were hated and horribly mistreated. Clashes, not entirely unlike some of the angry moments in the Civil Rights Movement days, were known to happen. It was that kind of tension.
It is that same tension that is rising again in neighborhoods today, as politicians play games with people’s emotions to gather votes, pitting people against each other. It is a dangerous game they are playing, turning neighborhoods into powder kegs.
As we’ve seen so many times in the last couple years, these things have set off riots. This is compounded with the stress COVID has placed on our culture, and the wars that are raging causing further supply chain trouble, and prices soar on staples like food and fuel.
It was the same for them with Roman occupation. Roman taxes were making just basic living difficult. Herod, an Edomite (an enemy of Israel), on the throne. Pilate, the new governor, who is going to make it clear he will have peace, and those who disturbed the peace will “rest in peace.”
It was a really tense situation. I’m sure, as Jesus was telling this story, the people were sitting on the edge of their seats. Jesus says, “A Samaritan comes.”
“You know what their like.”
“You know what they do in their own neighborhoods.”
“You know how they live.”
“This is not not going to go well for this victim. Something terrible is going to happen.”
That’s when Jesus hits them with the surprise ending. He says, “When [the Samaritan] saw him, he had compassion, and he went to him and bound his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he sent him on his own animal and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.”
The story Jesus lays out was not a Jew helping a Samaritan. It was a Samaritan helping a Jew. The Samaritan loved one of those who hated him. He not only loved him, he risked his safety and spent his own money. He spent two full days of wages. Jesus turns the table on the lawyer with this situation, making the Samaritan the better person.
This is no longer a question in the abstract. Now we’re looking at a concrete encounter. The Lawyer wanted to discuss, in general terms, what it meant to help our neighbor. Jesus puts it in the concrete, giving a real-life situation to consider. It’s easy to live in the abstract. We can talk about helping out all day, but solving concrete problems, that becomes challenging because people can be people.
We can discuss things like: racial divides, poverty, and community need, and never actually help anybody. As followers of Jesus we are called to develop a curiosity for other people. To learn about, and get to know, other people. To really come to an understanding of people who are different than we are.
God calls us to:
To seek Justice
to love mercy
to walk humbly with our God.2
When Jesus said love your neighbor He knew our neighbor would act and look differently than we do. That’s really the point of the whole thing. Isn’t it? What are we to do? What’s the action? What’s the concrete for us?
Each one of us is a little different. A number of things in my life have really helped me to develop a heart and a curiosity for different ethnic cultures. I shared two weeks ago about my student teaching position in urban Milwaukee. My first fieldwork church while at the seminary was an outreach to people primarily from India. My second fieldwork church was an outreach to Jewish people. The list for me could go on and on. My life’s experience has put me in “diversity” all my life.
I’ve had the privilege of having deep meaningful conversation with people who are very different from me. A group of us in college would often hang out together. Among that group was Sonya Robinson, Miss Black America in 1983. She in 1986, toured with Janet Jackson on her “Control” album tour. My whole life has been surrounded by, what some would call “diversity.”
I’ve been to places that were very different. You’d think England and Scotland would be about the same as us, but they are most certainly not. Neither are Ghana, Africa or Japan. Every place has its own unique culture, traditions and practices.
M y comfort and curiosity among those differences has opened opportunities to experience even more. I was the very first person, of European decent, to ever walk into the Atami Geigi Kenban Ka-bu-ren-jo, the Traditional Dance School in Atami, Japan.
When I think of all the different places I have been, I reminiscence about the places, but it is the people I met, the people with whom I ate and spoke, that is what has truly changed my life.
…but you don’t have to travel to far away lands and learn different languages to meet new people. These days, especially here in Austin, the whole world has come to us.
The struggle for some are the stereotypes held because of a few bad-actors. It’s in the news, we see it on TV, and that’s all we really know about “those people” so we assume things about all “those people.”
It happened to me in Japan. I was in a train station. It was late at night. The station was empty except for me and another gentleman who was drinking and smoking. He was wearing jeans and a leather coat with chains on it, and he kept looking at me, watching me. Looking nervous… I honestly kept hoping the train would be early. It wasn’t. Then he started walking toward me, and I thought, “Here it come!”
When he got close, he looked me right in the eyes, and said, “Me speaking good English. No accent. Yes?”
That’s when I realized I got caught, but I had caught myself.
He, like many Japanese youth, want to practice their English with Americans to learn to speak clearly. He was drinking what I guessed was a beer, but it was a “Pokari Sweat” which is sort-of Japanese Gatorade®. He was smoking because he wanted to be more American. He was dressed like that because he thought that is how Americans dress. He, like you, watches too much TV. Apparently so do I.
Y ou see the problem is only fixed when we get down in the dirt and we humbly, and in christian love, in the concrete way, talk with “those people.” When you do that you will realize, very quickly, people are people. The vast majority are just trying to figure out life, just like you. They care about their children and want to provide a safe place for their family, just like you.
It is when you start seeing people as people not as “Those People” when the “Us” vs “Them” breaks down, and it all becomes “We – One Nation Under God,” that is when you recognize who our God really truly is. He is not the God of America. He is not the God of North America. He is not the God of Europe. He is the God of all creation. That is so profoundly important for all of us to learn.
As I have been in different neighborhoods across the world. I have witnessed and experienced open hearts and open hands. I’ve been blessed. Not because I’m special by any means at all. I was blessed because I had, and took, the opportunity to sit down and eat with another of God’s children. That’s what we are called to do. Go to all nations.3
I talk about C.A.S.E., our Wednesday after school program, a lot. You’ve had a “cross-cultural” ministry here for a long time, but C.A.S.E. is really something different. CASE is about reaching people who are outside the Christian Church, and introducing them to Jesus. It is about connecting families to Christ. Doing that is not like the “good-ol’-days.” People don’t stop in for a few weeks to “try out” your church. They often won’t come at all.
It takes time to build relationships, establish friendships, and grow trust. There is a lot of mistrust these days, so that causes it to take more time. The Church has not always been a warm welcoming place, so that causes it to take more time. We’ve got to learn “radical-hospitality” so that causes it to take more time. For some of them we are the “Them” and they have pre-programed stereotypes about us, which they’ve got to be willing to risk to cross that line to walk in here. That causes it to take more time too.
C.A.S.E. is all about crossing those lines very purposefully. C.A.S.E. is not just a youth program. It is not just counting numbers and getting nothing for it. It is a church building and growing place where Christian love, respect and fellowship are fostered. The reason it is getting so much attention all over the circuit, district and beyond is because it is different and it is working.
Wherever God has placed us, no matter what the cultural or our America experience tells us is the norm, God says we need love our neighbors. That requires seeing “those people” as “our people.”
Right now there are places in our country experiencing some of the most difficult times of hatred and bitterness our nation has seen in a long time. People are playing on our differences to draw lines of division. Lines intended motivate people to vote one way or the other. That should stop. Votes will not fix this problem. We the Church have the only answer. Let’s look to the Samaritan, the Good Samaritan.
Some may look at that passage of the Good Samaritan and say, “the cost, the risk, is too high.” Is it not far more costly for us as Christians not to care? Can God bless, will God bless, a church that rejects Jesus’ Words. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The Samaritan’s deed of mercy should inspire sacrifice. Sacrifice to:
To seek Justice
to love mercy
to walk humbly with our God.4
Showing mercy, hospitality and Christian fellowship with all whom we meet.
G od calls us to do it. I said I’ve traveled and experienced many peoples and cultures. They have not all been good. There is a grocery stop in Milwaukee, right next to a church. I had visited a friend there for a Bible study. I needed some milk so I thought I’d just pop in and grab some. As I walked in the door then man at the checkout counter said, “White money don’t spend here. You need to stay in ‘your own place.’”
As we considered the Samaritan, let’s also consider Jesus, who came to “those people.” Those liars, gossips, betrayers and abusers. He came from ‘His own place’ in heaven and had mercy on us. He lived among us, eating our food, living in our homes. He showed us how to deliver mercy. He ultimately died for us. He paid the ultimate cost for all of us. He cared for, and about, us. Now He says go and do likewise.5 Pray, Listen and educate ourselves about the people around us. May we show mercy to our neighbors in all we do.
In Jesus’ name.