Luke 10: 25-37
Late on the evening of July 2nd – just a week and a half ago – 9 houses and several cars in my neighborhood were vandalized with black spray paint. My house was one of them. I was here at the office when Nancy called me and told me I needed to come home.
Using a combination of Goof Off, Magic Eraser, water, and a hefty amount of elbow grease, the paint came off, although there is still a slight shadow of what was written on the side of my house. And the neat thing was that – even though I know my neighbors – this incident brought us together like no other event in the neighborhood ever has – well, other than the October Surprise of 2006. And the wonderful thing is – we all helped each other to get that paint off our houses.
The State Trooper who investigated the incident asked me what I thought should happen to the ones who did this if they were ever caught. I said, “community service.” The Trooper said, “Well, that would be up to the judge to decide.” But later on I thought, what I should have said is “Make them attend my church – for 10 weeks in a row. And if they miss one week during those ten weeks, the ten-week count starts all over again.”
Now some might think of that as cruel and unusual punishment. But my purpose would not be to punish. My purpose would be for them to see – and to hear – and to experience – that there is another way – a better way to live life. A way of love, and respect, AND forgiveness – BECAUSE – we are already loved, and respected and forgiven. And what better way than to see that life as we live it out here in Christian community? Amen? Okay!
Now if those perps ever are caught – and quite frankly I don’t think any judge could ever make church attendance mandatory following a crime – I don’t know – but if caught – I will invite them to come to this church – and if they ever DO find their way here – they will hear things like what we’re hearing today in our Gospel lesson. It’s the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan.
This is certainly one of the better known of Jesus’ teachings – rating at least a 5 on anyone’s top 10 list of Jesus’ parables. It’s told by Jesus in response to a question asked by a lawyer – in other words – a man who was an expert in Jewish religious laws.
So this lawyer asks the question, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Emphasis on the word “do.” What must I do? What do I need to do so that I will know for sure that I will go to heaven some day? What – must – I – do?
How would you answer that? Anybody want to take a stab at it? Use your outdoor voices so I can hear you. How would you respond to someone who might someday ask you, “What must I do?” …… Okay. Good answers.
You know—the lawyer’s question is a question that every Christian ought to ask him or herself at one time or another. Just to be sure, right? What must I do? What’s the minimum requirement?
- Believe in Jesus? Check.
- Be baptized? Check.
- Show up at worship at least on Christmas and Easter? Check.
- Take communion and make a contribution at least once a year? Check.
- Let’s see – does that cover all the bases?
What must I do? May I suggest to you – that you don’t have to do anything? Oh certainly belief is important. Repentance is certainly something that is characteristic of the believer. Baptism and regular worship attendance and prayer and acts of kindness, and coming to the Lord’s Table, and connecting with other believers –these are all important. Marks of discipleship. But it seems to me that these are things we do after – things we do – things we choose to do – once we realize that we don’t have to do anything at all.
And it’s all because of grace – God’s undeserved love and favor. Now – if after hearing that you don’t need to do anything – and yet you still feel you need to do something – then just simply accept the fact that you are accepted. Stop doubting it. Just accept the fact that you are accepted.
“That’s it? It can’t be that simple.” Well, it is that simple. But the problem for us – and I find myself falling into this way of thinking – the problem – or maybe I should say – the challenge is – that we are so used to earning our way in life. “There’s no free lunch.” We hear that – and we tend to believe that – and in a lot of cases that’s true.
But when it comes to God’s Word – and what we hear from God’s Word in this place – what we learn is that you can’t do anything to make God love you any more than He already does. And you can’t do anything to make God love you any less than He already does. If you’ve heard me say that a number of times before – well I’m saying it again because I need to hear it. I need to be reminded of that from time to time – and I think probably – so do you.
So the Lawyer in our reading from Luke, simply wants to know if there is something that he is missing. “What must I do?” And I love the way Jesus answers the man. He answers with a question of his own. “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”
The lawyer quotes from Deuteronomy 6:3 and 6:11. “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.”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replies. “Do this and you will live.”
What Jesus was trying to get the lawyer to see was quite simple. Real life is lived to the fullest when you learn what it means to love God and love your neighbor. And what was true for that lawyer, is true for you and me. If you want to know the secret to life – learn what it means to love God and love your neighbor. And again – not in order for you to make God love you – BUT – in response to the fact that you are already loved – that you are already accepted. Accept that fact that you are already accepted – and then learn what it means to love God and love your neighbor.
Now – the lawyer is not satisfied. And his second question might very well be a question that someone here today is asking. And that question is, “Yeah, okay, but who is my neighbor?”
Jesus then tells the parable that most of us are familiar with – the parable of the Good Samaritan. And at the end, Jesus asks the question that turns everything around. “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" And the lawyer answered, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
You see – the question is not – who is my neighbor – but what kind of neighbor am I? Am I a neighbor who seeks revenge when his house has been spray painted – or am I a neighbor to – I’m assuming young kids – a neighbor who shows mercy – who thinks that spending time with Christians at worship is a great way to show these kids – kids who made a big mistake – that there is a better way to live. A better way of life. And that’s to learn what it means to love God and love your neighbor.
For those of us who accept the fact that we are accepted by God because of – and through – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ – and that there’s nothing else that we need to do – we do need to ask the right question. “What kind of neighbor am I?” or “What kind of disciple am I choosing every day to be?”
Let me share with you a story, and then I’ll sit down. “There is a story about a man who had a huge boulder in his front yard. He grew weary of this big, unattractive stone in the center of his lawn, so he decided to take advantage of it and turn it into an object of art. He went to work on it with hammer and chisel, and chipped away at the huge boulder until it became a beautiful stone elephant. When he finished, it was gorgeous, breath-taking.
A neighbor asked, “How did you ever carve such a marvelous likeness of an elephant?”
The man answered, “I just chipped away everything that didn't look like an elephant!” Okay, so you’ve probably heard something like that before.
But let me tell you. If you have anything in your life right now that doesn't look like love, then, with the help of God, chip it away!
If you have anything in your life that doesn't look like compassion or mercy or empathy, then, with the help of God, chip it away!
If you have hatred or prejudice or vengeance or envy in your heart, for God's sake, and the for the other person's sake, and for your sake, get rid of it!
Why? Because you are loved and forgiven. Just remember that you are loved and forgiven. And because we are loved and forgiven, we are free to love God and love our neighbor – because nothing else matters. Amen