It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Would you be my neighbor?
Anyone know what that song is from….? Mister Roger’s Neighborhood! I grew up watching that show—it was great! The train, King Friday, and Mr. Roger’s amazing sweaters—what more could a kid ask for???
But back to the theme song. What does Mr. Rogers ask the viewers….? “Would you be my neighbor?”
Now when we think of the word “neighbor,” who do we usually think of….? Usually the people who live next to us, right? Or maybe even the people a few houses down. But clearly, we don’t live next to Mr. Rogers! So his definition of a neighbor must be different!
In Old Testament times and in Jesus’ time, for those of the Jewish religion, a neighbor was considered a close kin, or an Israelite—a fellow Jew. That meant only those who were followers of the same religion and followed the same rules of living were neighbors to one another. Anyone else outside of that definition was not a neighbor.
But then we fast-forward to Jesus talking with a lawyer in the 10th chapter of the Gospel of Luke. The lawyer asks Jesus: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus, a typical teacher, responds with more questions: “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” The lawyer says: “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.”
Did he give the right answer….? Yeah, he did. Jesus tells him “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” It sounds very much like our motto here at Zion Lutheran Church, that we talk about all the time: LOVE GOD. LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR. NOTHING ELSE MATTERS.
But the lawyer needs more clarification. He wants to know who he has to love as a neighbor. So what does he ask Jesus…? “And who is my neighbor?”
What a great question. Who is our neighbor, indeed? Is it just someone who lives next to us? Is it just people who follow the same religion and live like we do? It it only people who look like us and talk like us? Or is our neighbor something else entirely?
In typical Jesus fashion, he answers the question with a story.
And it’s very likely you have heard this story before—it’s one of the most famous in the Bible. A man is traveling and gets robbed and beat up by a gang. He’s lying on the side of the road, bleeding and barely able to move, in desperate need of help.
So a priest walks by—sees him, but walks by on the other side of the road. A Levite— a guy from the tribe of Israelites who worked in the Temple walks by—sees him, but walks by on the other side of the road. Two people you would expect to help this poor guy, don’t.
But a Samaritan— a man from a race and religion that the Israelites HATED—walks by, sees the man, and it moved with pity. He cleans his wounds and bandages them. He transports the man to an inn, and tells them to take care of him, and that when the Samaritan returns, he will pay whatever it costs.
The story done, Jesus turns to the lawyer. “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer responds—“The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus says: “Go and do likewise.”
A great story, right? So, based on that story, what would you say is the definition of a neighbor…?
Quite simply, a neighbor, according to how the lawyer responded, is “the one who shows mercy to someone.” So, a neighbor isn’t just someone who lives next to us, or just someone who follows the same religion or lives the same way we do, or looks or talks like us--- it’s anyone—and everyone.
It could be an enemy. The Samaritan was an enemy to the Israelites, and yet he helped that poor Israelite that was beat up and in need of help.
So, someone is a neighbor to us when we are in need and they have mercy on us, and help us. How many of us have ever been helped by someone….? And how many of us have been helped by people we didn’t expect…? Our neighbors can be anyone and everyone. And it goes both ways.
Figuring out who our neighbors are and who we should show mercy to is not something that was just in the past. We are still trying to figure out who our neighbors are. Take a look at what’s happening in our country, right now. When two black men, one in Minnesota and one in Louisiana are killed, who is our neighbor? When 5 police officers are killed and 7 are injured in Dallas at a peaceful protest, in revenge of the two men’s deaths, who is our neighbor?
Jesus tells us. Jesus tells us 2000 years in ago the story of a Samaritan, a guy from a religion and race that was despised by the Jews. The Samaritans had intermarried with Gentiles (non-Jews), and practiced their own version of religion. They were considered less-than because they were not a pure race like the Israelite Jews.
So race issues are not new. Race issues have been around for thousands and thousands of years. The hearers of Jesus’ story back then would have expected the Samaritan to do something terrible, because he was part of a race and religion that were considered inferior to the Jews.
But who is a neighbor to the hurt man…? The Samaritan. Not the priest. Not the temple worker. Not the men who were part of the same religion and same race as the hurt man. It was the Samaritan. The one who, if the broken man and he had seen each other in any other situation, they would have avoided each other like the plague.
But the different religion and different race didn’t enter into that Samaritan’s mind. He just saw a human being who needed help. He helped that guy. He showed mercy to that guy. He was a neighbor to that guy.
This cycle of violence needs to stop. We are not enemies to one another. Jesus told us this story to show us that race and religion should not enter into how we treat one another. Jesus shows us that a neighbor shows mercy, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexuality, past actions… none of that matters. We are to love each other as neighbors, not treat each other with hatred and killing each other in a never-ending cycle of violence. We are to show mercy to one another. We are to be neighbors to one another.
Because-- Since Jesus defines a neighbor as one who shows mercy, who is the ultimate neighbor to us….?
Jesus. Jesus shows us mercy and helps us when we are in need. When we are lying by the side of the road of life, bleeding and bruised and barely able to move, Jesus is the one who cleans and bandages our wounds. Jesus is the one who introduces us to others who can help us heal. Jesus is the ultimate neighbor to us. Jesus is the ultimate neighbor to everyone. Jesus loves all people, no matter their race or religion or anything else.
And because Jesus is the ultimate neighbor, we are able to be neighbors to others. We can do as Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.” We are able to show others mercy because Jesus first shows us mercy. We are able to help others because Jesus first helps us. We are able to show mercy to all people, regardless of race or religion, or anything else, because Jesus first shows mercy to all of us.
Last week, Pastor Randy talked about the Bible story of the 70 people Jesus sent out to share the Good News. And you were encouraged to share that Good News of Jesus Christ by inviting others and by telling others on social media. Anyone do that…? What was it like? Did any of your friends comment about it?
Sharing the Good News of Jesus is really important. We are all called to do that as Christians. And doing it through social media is an effective way to reach many people very quickly. It’s pretty awesome.
And we are going to take this one step further today. Close your eyes for a second. I want you to think about someone in your life—could be a family member, a friend, a co-worker, a classmate, maybe someone you actually don’t know that well, maybe someone you don’t like or even an enemy—who really needs to hear that Jesus loves them and that you are praying for them. That person may be going through a rough time in their life, or they may be in a rut or struggling with purpose and meaning in their life. No matter what their situation is, think of someone who needs to hear that Jesus loves them and that you’re praying for them. Everyone have someone…?
OK, now if you have a smart phone, take it out, right now. Text them. Right now. Send them a private Facebook message. Right now. Snapchat them. Right now. Tell them that Jesus loves them and that you are praying for them. And you can say that you are praying for them, because we are going to pray for them, in a minute. If you don’t have a smart phone—call that person, or email that person, the minute you get home and do the same thing.
We are called to be neighbors and show mercy to those around us, no matter what. We are called to “go and do likewise.” We are called to LOVE GOD. LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR. NOTHING ELSE MATTERS. When our neighbors are hurting and broken by the side of the road, Jesus helps us to help them, no matter who they are and what their background is. Because of Jesus, we are able to a respond with a resounding “YES” when we see someone asking “Would you be my neighbor?” THAT is being a neighbor Welcome to the neighborhood!
Let us pray.
Lord, we thank you for loving us. We thank you for being our ultimate neighbor, the one who cares for us when we are broken and hopeless. We love you, Lord. We pray for those who have been victims of violence, and their families and loved ones, because we don’t yet know how to be neighbors to one another. Help us to love and show mercy to one another, regardless of race, religion, or anything else.
Lord, we pray for those people we just texted or messaged or will call or email later. We name their names now, out loud. _____ Show them your love and mercy, Lord. Help us to show them your love and mercy, and to be neighbors to them as Jesus said.
And Lord, challenge us to love our neighbors. Open our eyes so that we notice our neighbors who need help, even when they are people who are different than us or someone we don’t like. Push us to love them and help them and pray for them. Challenge us to share Jesus’ love with them so that they can know, like we know, that they are loved, no matter what. In Jesus’ name, amen.