Sunday, July 24, 2016

"Loving God and Neighbor: Letting God Love You," Sermon, July 24, 2016

Community UMC, Quincy, CA
“Loving God and Neighbor: Letting God Love You”
Pastor Andrew Davis
July 10, 2016
Luke 11: 1-13

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father,[a] hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come.[b]
    Give us each day our daily bread.[c]
    And forgive us our sins,
        for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
    And do not bring us to the time of trial.”[d]
And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread;for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for[e] a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit[f] to those who ask him!”





(playing and singing) Your love o God,
is broad like beach and meadow, Wide as the wind, and our eternal home.  You leave us free to seek you or reject you,
                You give us room to answer “yes” or “no.
                Your love, o God, is broad like beach and meadow,
                Wide as the wind, and our eternal home.[i]
        I remember singing the words of this song in our Tuesday chapel service at Wesley Theological Seminary on September 11, 2012, the eleven-year anniversary of one of the worst tragedies in my lifetime.  The first verse of this song alone tells us much about God’s love, how wide Gods love is, like beach and meadow.  While I don’t remember the sermon our acting dean at the time, Rev. Dr. Bruce Birch preached that morning, I do remember being captivated by the words of this song because despite tragedy, despite turmoil, and despite fear, God’s love is so much wider and so much bigger than anything we can comprehend, even in the midst of violence and other issues that are happening in our world as we speak.  But as the song says and because humans do have the capacity of choice, we have the “room to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’” when it comes to accepting God’s love and when it comes to prayer.[ii]
        As we wrap up our series of “Loving God and Loving Neighbor” this morning, we come to “Letting God Love You,” in which we have the choice to accept that love or turn it down.  We also have the freedom to pray, or not to pray.  But an important part of loving God and loving neighbor is to be in regular prayer with God, loving our neighbors, loving God, and letting God love us.  Prayer is also a means of allowing God to love us because “we bring our need to God’s love in faith, [which] is [through] prayer.”[iii] So just as we will sing about in our closing hymn, we are always being called to “take it to the Lord in prayer” or as one of my friends and colleagues I went to seminary with from Seattle always says, “just give it to God.” Sometimes, letting God love us is simply giving it all to God. 
        As we roll up our sleeves to engage with our text this morning from Luke’s Gospel, we encounter the theme of prayer.  The text this morning reads more like a sermon on prayer, and prayer is certainly a good focus and means of letting God love us.  God loves us when we simply seek God and ask God.  The text begins with the disciples asking Jesus to show them how to pray, which many of us may already be very familiar with because it is part of The Lord’s Prayer which we recite each week as part of the prayers of the people, or during the Communion liturgy on the first Sunday of the month.  In teaching the disciples the prayer that he taught them, Jesus is primarily talking about God and “the nature of God as father,” but in order to let God love you, “the greatest stimuli to prayer are the awareness of our need and those who know their own need and the love of God as a heavenly father will be able to pray truly.”[iv]
      Jesus goes on and talks of the neighbor needing help from another neighbor and while the neighbor being asked is slow to respond initially, Jesus tells us that it takes persistence and that is much like how our prayer lives need to be.  Persistent...constantly seeking, constantly knocking on the door, and constantly asking God.  It’s like the line from the hymn, “Seek Ye First,” that goes “knock and the door shall be opened unto you…” Seeking God, asking of God, and knocking at the door persistently is one way we can allow God to love us when we treat our prayer life in the same way. 
        When we pray, we let God love us by allowing God to know our needs, especially when we are fully honest with God.  When Jesus teaches the disciples to pray, he lists off some of the basic needs that we pray to God for…aspects of God’s love expressed through these needs are giving food through our daily bread, being forgiven when we ask forgiveness and in turn, forgiving others, and protection from temptation and sin, as well as being delivered from evil when we turn to God and let God love us.  And even more, “God longs to love us! One of the chief ways God is able to express that love and care for us is through responding to our prayers—including ‘The Lord’s Prayer,’ but not limited to it.”[v] However, one caveat to being persistent in prayer is that response to our prayers may take a little time and may not always happen overnight.  At times, the words of “no” or “not yet” are also part of letting God love us. 
In her book, An Altar in the World, Episcopal priest turned professor of religion, Barbara Brown Taylor writes that
the problem, I think, is that divine response to prayer is one of those beauties that remain in the eye of the beholder.  What sounds like an answer to prayer to one person sounds like silence to another.  What seems like a providentially big fish to someone sounds like silence to someone else.[vi] 

        While some might have an answer to their prayers right away, there are times when we need to wait, in which it sometimes feels like God is being distant, kind of like the neighbor who is reluctant to get up and help their friend.  Even while waiting, it could even cause us to question faith or whether we are still loved by God.  Waiting is already hard enough. Except, that's where Jesus implores the disciples and us to be persistent, to keep seeking, keep asking, and keep knocking. 
During the recession eight years ago, I was going through a very stressful time in my life amidst essentially having two jobs which were sometimes in tension with each other, particularly over scheduling and resulted in some animated exchanges with management in one of my jobs.  It was one of those times where you weren’t sure you would even have a job later that day given the volatility of the economy and working environment.  It was an anxiety-inducing time for many of us and still is to some degree.  Even though I was still able to hold both my jobs and was frequently reminded that I still had a job or was still working to the point of irritation, I kept praying to God and tried not to give up.  While it took another year for things in one job to change for the better and then three more years for God to show me the way toward a different vocational path, persistence in prayer paid off, but the waiting could be painful.  I see it in retrospect that it was God’s way of saying wait, not yet, and “patience little grasshopper, patience.” But part of that journey was filled with me questioning whether God still loved me, or if I was being punished by God for something I wasn’t seeing.  It’s easy to feel that way when prayers are not immediately answered…more reason why Jesus tells us to be persistent and keep seeking, asking, and knocking, all while knowing that God still loves us.  We need to be persistent in our prayers, because Waiting and trusting in God's timing is also way of letting God love us. 
When we think more about God’s love and why lack of response from God is a way to let God love us, God’s silence may be a way of keeping us from being hurt in the long-run.  In a blog by Washington, DC attorney and writer, Joshua Rogers, Rogers was writing about waiting for and wanting this “Big Thing,” which he was praying really hard for, but did not immediately get.[vii]  Sometimes, we have to hear the word “no” or “not yet” from God, but as Rogers says, he heard God reply by saying “No, you can’t have it, and here’s why: I’m jealous for you, and I love you with an everlasting love.”[viii] Letting God love us involves hearing that answer of no from God at times and even not yet.  But as Rogers says, it also makes us more dependent on God over other earthly things, and times like these in our nation and world is where we need to depend on God and let God love us even more than ever.[ix] Despite what happens or doesn’t happen when we pray, we need to keep praying regardless. 
We may have to keep knocking and seeking, like the friend does with his neighbor who had already gone to bed for the night and likewise, our prayers may not be answered overnight, but God still loves us and when we pray, we are still allowing God to love us.  On the other hand, as I learned through a good friend of mine, love is not always warm and fuzzy and that goes for God’s love too.  We all need friends who hold us accountable and as I shared last week that whenever I get a character flaw of mine pointed out by some of these friends, I initially resent it.  But then I need to pray about it, and allow God to love me and in turn, receive God’s love and assurance.  That IS how much God loves us, even enough to speak the truth through others so that we can see things in us that we normally would not see.  And part of letting God love us is having such friends in our lives, the ones who speak God’s truth, but also speak it out of their own love for us because they too let God love them. It’s all part of the greater picture of loving God and neighbor. 
Likewise, we too need to be willing to speak truth in love to each other, but also hear truth in love from others because it’s a way of letting God love us, especially when it can lead to personal growth, spiritual growth, and transformation.  But we can also be reassured of God’s love when we pray by feeling a sense of peace, even in times of turmoil, uncertainty, and fear because the good news is that our faith will be stronger when we let God love us through prayer.  Indeed, God’s love is “broad like beach and meadow.”
So as we go into our new week and this final full week of July, how are you going to encourage others  to “seek,” "ask," and “knock” at the door through prayer?  And how will you let God love you as you pray? 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.



[i] “Your Love, O God,” words by Anders Frostenson, Music by Lars Ake Lundberg in The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), 120. 
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] “Luke 11:9-13 Commentary” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 239. 
[iv] Ibid., 238
[v] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘Lectionary Calendar’. 2016. Accessed July 22, 2016. http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/tenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c.
[vi] Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World (New York: Harper One, 2009), 182. 
[vii] Rogers, Joshua. ‘So Thankful God Said No’.Spiritual Growth. May 27, 2015. http://www.boundless.org/blog/so-thankful-god-said-no/.
[viii] Ibid. 
[ix] Ibid.  

Sunday, July 17, 2016

"Loving God and Neighbor: Loving by Listening," Sermon July 17, 2016

Community UMC, Quincy, CA
“Loving God and Neighbor: Loving by Listening”
Pastor Andrew Davis
July 17, 2016
Luke 10: 38-42

        38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

How many of you are familiar with the “National Lampoon’s Vacation” movie franchise featuring Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo as Clark and Ellen Griswold?  --- If you have, or haven’t seen any of these movies, family patriarch, Clark Griswold is always seen trying to plan the perfect family vacation, - such as to the fictitious theme park Walley World in California, a vacation toEurope, or Las Vegas.  Or, in the case of the Christmas movie, Clark attempts to plan the perfect family Christmas.  Clark is always running around and worrying about all these little details and plans, with a sense of determination to get to each destination and give his family a good time, well a perfect time in Clark’s eyes.  -- Not so much in the rest of his family’s eyes. 
Oftentimes, Clark thinks that he knows everything, all the ins and outs, as well as shortcuts, which is not always a good thing either because it gets often him into trouble.  Most of Clark’s good intentions usually backfire on him and wind up in disaster, whether it’s nearly destroying the family car while trying to find the perfect Christmas tree in the mountains, trying to connect with relatives in Europe and getting the wrong family, encountering relatives that won't go away such as Cousin Eddie played by Randy Quaid, his aunt dying in the car on the way West from Chicago, gambling away all his money in Las Vegas, or traveling a long way only to have his favorite amusement park, “Walley World” closed.  Any time that Ellen, or Clark's children, Rusty and Audrey try to offer Clark practical advice, Clark begins getting highly agitated until at some point, he has a major meltdown and goes off on a tirade.  And it happens in each film too.  Clark’s worry and distraction about these little things often gets the best of him, distracting him away from fully listening and being present to his family. 
        As we have been thinking about what it means to love God and neighbor this past week, we want to look how listening to each other is important this week. But in many instances and in life itself, listening can sometimes be a challenge.  Like Clark Griswold, we sometimes get preoccupied in making plans for our life, or making other plans in which we sometimes lose sight of listening to what God is trying to show us.  - Likewise, we sometimes spend too much time worrying about other things around the church, our homes, or in our own lives that we sometimes miss what our neighbors, each other, and even what God has to say.  And you know what? -- I’m just as guilty as anyone else.  But, loving by listening is certainly a challenge that I embrace and will take head-on.  And I hope we can too! ---
        As we just heard in our Gospel lesson, a short one at that, we come across the sisters Mary and Martha, as Jesus has stopped at their place as he continues making his way to Jerusalem.  In our first encounter with the text, we see Martha running around frantically, or as I like to put it, a headless chicken. -- Martha is too busy preparing food for the meal that she and Mary are about to enjoy with Jesus.  Except unlike Martha, who runs around frantically and in an uproar, Mary sits and listens to Jesus’s teaching and every word that he has to say.  Mary is captivated by his teaching, all while Martha is too busy to even pay attention or listen.  Martha is way too distracted and way too worried, then doesn’t help matters when she becomes furious and tries to get Jesus to intervene, kind of like in elementary school when we’d try to tell the teacher what someone was or wasn’t doing. -- When Martha gets mad at Mary for her lack of help, Jesus doesn’t tell Mary to get up and help her sister, but instead tells Martha that she is WAY too worried and too busy, as Mary gets the best part, the word of God (Lk. 10: 42).       
        How often do we find ourselves in this boat? --- Like Clark Griswold constantly trying to plan the perfect vacation or Christmas gathering, or Martha trying to do all this prep-work for dinner with Jesus, how often do we find ourselves distracted from really listening to what our neighbor and even what God has to say? --- Now being a new pastor, I probably should not be saying this to you, but I also believe firmly in the transparency of leadership.  This passage is one that really speaks to me because I humbly admit to you that listening and paying attention is not exactly my best quality, even though it is a growing edge I am trying to work on. -- I tend to relate more with Martha and Clark Griswold, wanting everything to be perfect and worrying over the tiniest detail when in reality, I really need to be paying attention to what the people most important to me are saying, and to God as well.  Loving by listening goes hand in hand with loving God and neighbor. 
        It’s hard to say why it’s specifically hard to listen, - although we live in a place where there is constant noise among us.  Pundits on TV, the 24/7 television and radio programing, YouTube (aka a vortex to get sucked into late at night), but also worrying about finances, deadlines, job situations. --- The list is long, but is also a reality that we presently live in. - One commentary from Discipleship Ministries of the UMC explains that “Western, and increasingly, Eastern capitalist-driven cultures are all about Martha, to be sure. Productivity, getting things done, being on the move and available 24/7, the 'never sleeps' economy— this is how you ‘get ahead in the world,’ right?”[i]
Martha is simply doing what her duty calls for when it comes to offering hospitality; preparation and “fulfillment of her role in society.”[ii] Hospitality to strangers is highly important at the time that this passage takes place in, which Martha is doing her best to fulfill and thus, distracted and worried about getting it right while Jesus shares God's word with Mary. Mary is more concerned about actually hearing what Jesus has to say, listening intently to his words and his teachings.  From last week's lesson, the “Good Samaritan loves his neighbor” by showing compassion and mercy to a total stranger whom he would not ordinarily associate with, while this week, “Mary loves her Lord” by listening; the two stories complement each other nicely considering that this passage happens right after “The Good Samaritan.”[iii] In other words, “Mary exemplifies what it means to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.”[iv] --- In Brian Blount’s commentary, True to our Native Land, “the greatest act of hospitality a person can afford a disciple of Jesus, what Jesus calls ‘the better part,’ is not the provision for physical sustenance but the attention to the Word of God that the disciple conveys,” which Mary demonstrates.[v] Mary shows how she loves God and neighbor by listening to the Word of God when she sits and listens intently.  ---
        On the other hand, we could see all of this as an indictment against Martha, which is not necessarily the case either.  For Martha, there is a difference of values, of customs, and what’s really important compared to Mary.  But in order to even absorb the word of God, we have no other choice but to listen and listen intently, whether it’s to each other, our neighbors, our teachers, our community leaders, and so on and so forth.  Sometimes, we may even hear God’s voice through the voices of our neighbors.  ---
So often, we hear multiple voices surrounding us, all rising up loudly at times.  We hear it in the news, we hear it at the restaurant, we even hear it in the church.  This past week, the jurisdictional conferences of The United Methodist Church have been meeting, including our own Western Jurisdiction in Scottsdale, AZ.  The primary purpose of the Jurisdictional Conference is to elect a bishop, in which here in the West, our own bishop in California-Nevada , Warner H. Brown Jr. is retiring and creating a vacancy, in which Bishop Minerva Carcano will be succeeding him in September.  Just watching the entire episcopal election process and the voices of what people want in an episcopal leader have been enough to make our heads spin at times.  Yet amidst the many voices raised, we may find ourselves in a situation like Martha, worried and distracted.  That is when we sometimes have to be like Mary and just stop; quiet our voices, and listen…listen for that still small voice.  But, we also must listen to what our neighbor has to say, even in times of controversy or times of uncertainty. --- 
But this word also goes for us in the church too. -- Do we sit and listen to each other intently, just as Mary does at Jesus’s feet, or are we like Martha, too preoccupied and distracted to pay attention and listen? -- And do we listen for God’s voice intently? --- Listening to our neighbor is just as important as listening to God’s voice on this journey of faith.  We show our neighbor love when we are willing to stop, pay attention, and be a listening ear. -- Sometimes we hear good things, but sometimes we also hear things that we don’t always want to hear.  There are also times that we have to hear truths from each other, which to be frank, can sometimes hurt. -- Yet listening carefully is necessary, because you never know that it may be God’s voice speaking through someone else. -- Amidst hearing tough things at times, they are opportunities to grow. -- Now I admit that I also often get told how much I worry, and sometimes I resent that.  But hearing those words are necessary for growth. ---
From experience, one of the four legs of the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral,” if you hear someone tell you that you worry too much or nip something you know is a growing edge in the bud, it’s best to listen up and pay attention.  Guess I’m admitting another fault, but then again, it’s another way that I too relate to Martha.  But amidst the fact that Martha is running around, worrying and distracted by everything but sitting and listening at Jesus’s feet, she’s not a bad person, as she is doing what she thinks is the most important and what Clark Griswold is always trying to do; making sure that everything is in order and perfect. 
Sometimes we just need to stop and listen.  And regardless of who it is. Whether it is a stranger on the street, the clerk at the grocery store, a small child, a teenager, someone in middle age, our senior adults, and anyone we encounter for that matter who wants to talk.  We show love to our neighbor and each other when we listen to them, when we listen to each other, and listen to God.  Martha and Clark Griswold may be in a constant uproar trying to get things right, but the good news is that Jesus assures each of us that it is okay to stop and that it’s okay to sit down and simply listen.  Furthermore,
if you want to serve your guest, or anyone else, you need to listen first. Really listen. Do nothing else. Let go of all other distractions. Turn off the livestream in your head that diagnoses what others need. Just listen.  To love your neighbor as yourself, and to love God—both require this, first of all. Turn off the uproar. Stop. Listen.[vi]
        As we prepare to go out and enjoy some ice cream shortly, we know things have been well prepared by several people, similar to what Martha was doing.  As we may encounter various people from our community during this time and as we see each other during the week, what do we need to hear from each other? --- And as we go into a new week, what are ways that you love your neighbor by listening? --- At the same time, what do you listen to from God?
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen. 




[i] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘Lectionary Calendar’. 1997. Accessed July 15, 2016. http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/ninth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-2016.
[ii] New Interpreter’s Commentary, 232. 
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Ibid.
[v] Brian K. Blount, Gen. Editor, True to Our Native Land (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 170. 
[vi] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘Lectionary Calendar’. 1997. Accessed July 15, 2016. http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/ninth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-2016.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Loving God and Neighbor: How to be a Neighbor, Sermon 7/10/2016

Community UMC, Quincy, CA
“Loving God and Neighbor: How to be a Neighbor”
Pastor Andrew Davis
July 10, 2016
Luke 10: 25-37

25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.[a] “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “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.”28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii,[b] gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”



It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?...

It's a neighborly day in this beauty wood,
A neighborly day for a beauty.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?...

I've always wanted to have a neighbor just like you.
I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.

So, let's make the most of this beautiful day.
Since we're together we might as well say:
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won't you be my neighbor?
Won't you please,
Won't you please?
Please won't you be my neighbor?[i]
       
        How many of you, your children, or grandchildren grew up on the PBS show, “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood?” --- Now this morning, we could easily call this message “The Gospel According to Mr. Rogers” or “The Parables of PBS,” but the late Rev. Fred Rogers, an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church had a powerful message on his show each day: how to be a neighbor.  I absolutely loved watching “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” because Mr. Rogers was all about teaching us the virtues of being a neighbor by loving one another, not passing judgment, being patient with each other, and not being afraid to meet new people.  My favorite segment was when he would visit different places in the neighborhood, introducing the people who worked in each place to us, his television neighbor. It was as if Mr. Rogers was speaking directly to us and made us feel like we were genuinely his friends and neighbors.  And while his ministry was never in the church, his television show served as his ministry until his retirement in 2001. 
        During these rather turbulent times that are happening in our nation right now, I have been seeing on my Facebook feed at least once a week, a meme, or picture with quotes, using Mr. Rogers’ quotes.  One particular memes tell us about looking to the helpers, which is from one of Fred Rogers' parent resource guides on how to help children deal with tragic events that are in the news.[ii] Despite all the tragic events that we are seeing in the news this week, particularly from Baton Rouge, LA, Minneapolis, MN, and Dallas, TX, and other places in our world that does not get mentioned, it is easy to believe that our world is becoming too hostile to live in anymore.  While there certainly is more hostility in our world that we see through the media and smartphone videos, there is also more good than evil that does not get shown in the news.  This week, we have witnessed two more shootings of African American men at the hands of the police, once again exacerbating an already thick tension in the air.  These last few days, my Facebook feed has been inundated with arguments among people I love and care about on both sides of the matter, with one group saying that these two men should have obeyed the police, while others believe that the police were completely out of line in discharging their weapons in the manner that they did.  Then in Dallas on Thursday night, we had to hear the report of twelve officers shot with five of them being killed while at a protest rally.  Despite how we feel, each of the ones killed and all of those in law enforcement were and are still our neighbors.  However, in reflecting on the news cycle this week, it begs the question, has our American society forgotten about what it means to be a neighbor?  Just as Fred Rogers asked us each day if we could be his neighbor, we also see in our Gospel lesson a challenge about what it means to be a neighbor.
        While Luke’s Gospel offers us many different parables, the parable of “The Good Samaritan” is one that many of us have heard at one time or another.  While we seem to hear more bad things in the news, occasionally we do hear of people being referred to as Good Samaritans; for example, a Good Samaritan is one who stopped to offer aid to someone in distress, offering someone first aid when injured, or just being of assistance in one way or another.  And it certainly does fit the mold of our Gospel text this morning. 
     As we just heard in Luke 10: 25-37, a lawyer wants to challenge Jesus, but Jesus being who Jesus is throws it right back at the lawyer by asking him to cite the law.  The law states to “love God with all our heart, soul, and mind” and to “love our neighbor as ourselves” (Mk. 12: 28-31; Matt. 22: 34-39; Lev. 19:18; Deut. 6: 4-9).  Now this law is nothing new at the time, just as it should be nothing new to today; the lawyer quotes from the Jewish Law, or Shema from the Hebrew Bible, words also found in Leviticus 19: 18 and Deuteronomy 6: 4-9, which leads Jesus to tell this lawyer, and each of us to go and “do this” in which we will live (Lk. 10: 28).  However, the story of the Good Samaritan gives us another layer of intrigue.
        There is a bit of an irony that the Samaritan is the one who ends up being the neighbor to the beaten man left for dead on the roadside, as the religious authorities at the time did not generally associate with Samaritans.   Samaritans were not their neighbor!!! According to David Lose, President of Luther Seminary in Philadelphia,
Jesus chooses a Samaritan to act like he would act in this parable. Jesus chooses an outcast to play his role in this short morality tale. Jesus identifies one as rejected by his audience to demonstrate God’s action in the world. And all this after a group of Samaritans rejected Jesus and refused to give him a place to stay in the verses from chapter nine we read two weeks ago.[iii]

        Indeed, as we read from Luke 9: 51-55 a couple weeks ago, Jesus is rejected by the Samaritan village for having his face set to Jerusalem, as the Samaritans were not exactly portrayed with the most neighborly of qualities.  But this case is different in today’s lesson, as Jesus uses the Samaritan as an example of being a neighbor in showing mercy and compassion to the man who was beaten and left for dead on the side of the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. 
When Jesus asks the lawyer “which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell in the hands of the robbers?” the lawyer has no other answer except to say “the one who showed him mercy” even though the lawyer cannot get himself to say it was the Samaritan. For a short. Definition of neighbor, Michael Rogness of Luther Seminary puts it, “’Neighbor’ is not defined by location or group but by those who need concern and care.”[iv] In some ways, the Samaritan acts much in the way that Jesus would act, with mercy and compassion.  As Bishop William H. Willimon puts it in his new book, Fear of the Other: No Fear in Love, this story is “not a story about how we can save ourselves by doing this or that good deed, but a story of the strange way Jesus saves.”[v]
The man on the side of the road was the one in need of concern and care, while it was the Samaritan who shows us how to be a neighbor by showing concern and care, even risking his own life by crossing boundaries.  As I remember watching “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” as a child, the show and Mr. Rogers were an example of how we can show care and concern to each other based on each episode’s topic.  Jesus reinforces the law of loving God fully, but also loving our neighbor, something that our founder of Methodism, John Wesley emphasized too.  And it's something we in the church can do and is a place where we in the church can set the example when we be the hands and feet of Christ in our neighborhoods.  In these seemingly turbulent times, it might be more difficult to love our neighbors, but this is the challenge that Jesus sets before us. 
As I have been getting to know our neighborhoods and community more this past week, I keep thinking about ways that we as the church can keep being neighbors to each other and to those in our community, but how we can also do it well and set the example for others to see.  I was delighted to be at our community supper on Wednesday night and see a good number of people, but I also delight in seeing how this weekly supper is a means of care and concern among our neighbors.  But I also keep pondering on ways we can all work together to make sure that our community both here in the church and outside our walls is a safe place for ALL of God’s people and each of our neighbors.  What is a way we can show care and concern in ways people won’t expect from us
Just as Jesus tells the lawyer and each of us to “do this” by loving God and loving neighbor, we can show others how we can work together for the common good, putting aside differences we may have with each other.  But it also takes us getting to know those outside of our doors in the greater neighborhood, especially those who we don’t know yet.  When we hear the question “who is my neighbor,” one of my classmates from Wesley, Monica Reynolds in Virginia said it best by saying “Hopping off of social media and getting to know neighbors who are different from you, be it race, social class, country of origin, religion, profession, or vocation usually teaches us that we are not too far apart.“[vi] Even when we have differences with each other and with our neighbors, getting to know each other authentically and candidly is about finding that common ground and is a way we can love our neighbor as ourselves. 
We are neighbors when we seek common ground amidst differences we may have, even when it means going out of our comfort zone.  Maybe that’s what it takes to receive eternal life in God’s kingdom.  Maybe we need to be willing to know each other and really get to know our neighbors in an authentic way, acting with compassion and mercy just as the Samaritan acted towards the wounded man on the road.  Yes, there are definitely times when it is easier to be like the priest and Levite, simply sweeping matters under the rug for convenience and passing by, avoiding the difficult aspects of ministry with and even difficult conversations with each other and our neighbors.  Like the Samaritan, we set the example of being neighbors when we stop and act with care and compassion, showing concern and mercy in order to make our community and our world a better place for each of us, our children, grandchildren, and generations to come.  Even in a small town like ours, we are all neighbors to one another.  And we have much we can share with each other and much we can share with those outside of our walls and doors.
As I close, John A. Kolb and I chatted earlier this week and he told me about a sermon he wrote called “Living a Small Town Faith,” and gave me permission to share the following: “when you live in a small town, you’re accountable to the people you know and who know you; it’s the same way with God” as “no secrets are hidden.”[vii] So what can happen when we are accountable to the people we know and who know us when we get to know each other and our neighbors in an authentic and candid manner?  What are things we can discover about each other that will help us set the example of finding common ground and continue working together to make our community, nation, and world a better place?  And who are the people in our neighborhood who need our compassion and mercy?  Just as Mr. Rogers showed us through the years until his death in 2003, it is never too late to show neighborly qualities of kindness, mercy, gentleness, and patience as we continue thinking of how to be a neighbor. 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen. 



[i] FableVision. ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood . Neighbor Song’. 1967. Accessed June 27, 2016. http://pbskids.org/rogers/songLyricsWontYouBeMyNeighbor.html.
[ii] Reserved, All Rights. ‘Parent Resources - Tragic Events’. 2016. Accessed July 9, 2016. http://www.fredrogers.org/parents/special-challenges/tragic-events.php.
[iii] ‘Pentecost 8 C: The God We Didn’t Expect’. November 10, 2014. Accessed July 7, 2016. http://www.davidlose.net/2016/07/pentecost-8-c-the-god-we-didnt-expect/.
[iv] Lose, David. ‘Commentary on Luke 10: 25-37 by Michael Rogness’. July 14, 2013. Accessed July 8, 2016. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1722.
[v] William H. Willimon, Fear of the Other: No Fear in Love (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016), 89. 
[vi] Monica Reynolds, Facebook 7/8/2016, used with permission. 
[vii] John A. Kolb, “Living a Small Town Faith,” used with permission

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