Not my neighbor

Not my neighbor

The Rev. John C. Brink
Aug. 12, 2018
Luke 10: 25-37

“You’re just not dog people.”

That’s what our next door neighbor told my wife, Betsy and me after we finally lost our patience with their Great Dane-sized Boxer dog.

Picture Betsy and me hunched over our small flower garden on the shared property line with this neighbor, doing some weeding.  Marking this property line is an unattractive chain link fence, which we’ve done our best to enhance with flowers and shrubs. All is quiet.  Out of nowhere, this dog suddenly rushes the fence, barking ferociously, and the next thing we know our hearts are pounding out of our chests and we’re face to face – literally – with a big ol’ snarling dog. Front paws on the fence top, snarling, slobbering and barking. Absolutely terrifying. Will he attack us? Fortunately he didn’t.

When we talked with our neighbor about it – after being patient for a day or so – we learned that the problem is actually us. Evidently, we’re just not dog people. That’s what our neighbor lady told us, with a stern face. Frankly, I hoped to make it clear to her that we are notdogfood.

I guess we’re not very good “people people” either, because these are the same neighbors who, right after we moved in, planted a long, dense line of cedars on another part of our shared property line so they wouldn’t have to see or hear us talking on our deck.  Yup – they actually said that they found our talking to be annoying.

I suspect most of us have some kind of similar neighbor story, but I bet none of us think much about the story of the Good Samaritan when we’re feeling frustrated and angry.

Some well-worn stories in the Bible elude us because we’ve heard them so often. The Good Samaritan is a case in point. Most of us could retell the story from memory, and all of us understand the image. The Good Samaritan is somebody who goes out of his way to help the fallen one – the neighbor in need – even at great inconvenience to himself. We even have Good Samaritan laws to protect us from liability to prosecution, if we stop to help someone, and something goes wrong.  You don’t suppose these Good Samaritan laws are a result of the impact of this Bible passage?

Karl Barth, the great Swiss theologian, declares that in the truest sense, Jesus,is the Samaritan who shows mercy to the one left for dead on the roadside. Barth writes, that Jesus alone could act as neighbor to the fallen ones, fulfilling the twin commands to love God and others. But he did all that for us.In and through Christ, we can act in deeds of love and kindness. That is why the gospel of Jesus is not “good advice” but “good news.”

Our Christian life, as we have heard and learned over centuries, is often described as a life of self-sacrifice and neighbor-love. You and I know we don’t do this alone. It begins at the foot of the cross and is carried out in the presence and discipleship of our brother Jesus, by whom alone, we can live such a life of love. The parable of the Good Samaritan is not just a call to imitate Jesus. It’s a call to participate in Him.

I realized a risk as I prepared this sermon. We can talk way too much about our interpretations and variations of the message of Jesus here at church and in other parts of our lives. We can be way too philosophical about how we are Christians. We can even “explain Jesus away.” Sometimes these self-definitions make it easier to restrict our own actions. That is not what Jesus calls us to do.

We have this church, this sanctuary, this building to be the heart, hands and home of Jesus. We are called to see and welcome, know and value, those who are in search of Jesus – those who may even be on the side of the road.

Younger and older, men and women, married and single, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered. These are all folks we might meet along the road to Jericho as did the Samaritan. Not the same circumstance, yet the same approach to be like Jesus as He would care for another. Our culture can dismiss a category of people with one swipe of the delete key on our computer or phone.

We may not be perfectly aligned with everyone, but we can be Jesus people and find the ones in whom we see the love and face of Jesus reflected in our willingness to be like Him in our lives. Is it possible that this is the Christianity that fulfills Jesus’ call?

I was fortunate to go to Seminary at the Boston University School of Theology. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and one of my favorite theologians, Howard Thurman, went there.  And so did the Rev. Peggy O’Connor, who served this church for two years as interim Senior Minister.

From B.U. School of Theology in the early 20thcentury came a wonderful perspective on the value and individuality of the human being called “Boston Personalism.”

In a word or two, personalismis a spiritual way of thought searching to describe the uniqueness of a human person in the world of God’s creation. People have unique value, and only people have free will. Sometimes it’s our free will that gets us into trouble.

The study of personalism clearly goes far deeper and wider, but I think it relates to what Luke is trying to tell us with the story of the Good Samaritan.  He shows us how to follow the ways of Jesus to Love one another as he loves us. To love one another as God loves creation, by giving us the ways and means, skills and wills to be in unity.

No other creature of God’s creation has the skills and intensity of the human person. We are followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus taught us the first rule of personalism in his short time on earth. He taught us to follow this way of life, no matter how awkward or frustrating it might be. He gave us the way to the Father, the way to eternal life. Like others at Boston University, I had some great professors, but Jesus is the one who is most personal to me and to all of us.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is a life-lesson for us travelers on the road. It is another example of scriptural GPS, remember, God’s Positioning System, sending us in the only direction God calls us to — the way of love and sincere compassion for others. This is far more than a story of a helpful stranger. It is about the power of God at work in those who travel the dangerous roads in the world, moving into the fullness of life, eternal life, here and now.

This is all of us, my friends. Whether you can scootch up to your neighbor, whether you are a dog person or not, Jesus has shown us the way to be in His name and love.

On behalf of Jesus, I welcome you to the discipleship of Christ. While we might have to work on it, here at Pilgrim Church and in other relationships. I love you as I love myself, in the name of Jesus, and I hope we’ll spread that love around. Jesus calls us to love our neighbor.  When we hear ourselves saying, “Not myneighbor,” Jesus asks us to think again.

Prayer

Jesus we fail so often in life. We fail so often in compassion. We fail in recognition of need. We fail to see our commitment to others. Create in us a Samaritan sprit so that no matter where we are or when we see a need, we can be moved by your words and offer our presence and hands in assistance. In you we thrive and in you we know the way home.  Amen.

 

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