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.
[ii] Reserved, All Rights. ‘Parent Resources - Tragic Events’. 2016. Accessed July 9, 2016.
[iii] ‘Pentecost 8 C: The God We Didn’t Expect’. November 10, 2014. Accessed July 7, 2016.
[iv] Lose, David. ‘Commentary on Luke 10: 25-37 by Michael Rogness’. July 14, 2013. Accessed July 8, 2016.
[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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