Saturday, January 20, 2018
   
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Who is My Neighbor?

 

Misson and Ministry Series
Old Mystic, October 18, 2009
Luke 10:25-37

Summary
Love is at the heart of who we are as human beings and at the center of our lives. As a people with purpose, through love in action, we have the opportunity to minister and serve those with whom we come across, those like us and those who are different.


Sermon



Several million people have been touched and blessed by the reading of The Shack by Wm. Paul Young the last couple of years. The story portrays the life of a family stricken with the pain of loosing their young daughter, abducted and murdered in the Oregon wilderness, and the fascinating experience of Mack, the father, having a healing and personal encounter with God in the infamous shack where traces of their disappeared daughter had been found. Lead in a miraculous way to the place that haunted him and brought so much pain to their lives, Mack spent a long weekend in the very presence of the Living God who appeared to him in three persons—though not exactly how traditional Christianity would have imagined. “Papa,” the One who personally invited him to the shack, whom we would call the Father, appeared to him in the form of a sweet, loving, and joyous African American woman. Jesus, fully human, had darker skin, dark hair and eyes, and a big nose!—obviously not your typical white Anglo-Saxon man. And the Holy Spirit looked like an Asian woman with sparkling attires and in constant movement!

What transpires in the story during those days in the life of Mackenzie Phillips is very inspiring; his life is healed and transformed as he has this face-to-face experience of dialog with God the Father (or Mother) or “Papa,” the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And at the core of the message of this book, I believe, it is the profound appeal to seek a permanent, submissive, and loving relationship with the Living God, portrayed in the story in three persons in a relationship of perfect submission. The three of them made it powerfully clear to our character: human beings have chosen independence over submission and personal achievement over relationships.

When we look at Jesus’ teaching in the parable of the Good Samaritan, we are reminded of the simplicity of the commandment: “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.” And its simplicity appeals to the fact that we were created to live related with God and with one another. In other words, life is about relationships. We work because we must contribute with our share to the common good; we play because it is part of our nature to enjoy leisure time and we need to do it with our friends; and we also strive to meet our needs—among them, the needs of loving and being loved. We are relational and love is at the center of our lives. Through love, we also build God’s kingdom.

The big question for churches and Christians is—not only these days, but through the ages—who is my neighbor? In the midst of our fast paced lives in pursuit of our dreams and our personal goals, we can recognize that we need people, that we need those relationships. Sometimes, unashamedly we use and abuse people because that helps us get where we want to go. And we are very often used and abused ourselves too for the apparent benefit of others. But who is our neighbor? What does it mean to be a neighbor? A neighbor is someone who loves God and by word and deed acts upon that love to reach out to anyone who comes near and goes out of his or her way to bless those who are far away. That is the Good Samaritan.

A man was robbed and beaten and left wounded to die by the side of the road. He needed a neighbor! He got experts, informed practitioners, and guardians of the religious and political system. Their response was the “don’t get involved response.” It was the priest’s answer to a person in pain. He happened to pass by and saw the poor wounded man and, in spite of being someone who was anointed to mediate between God and human beings, he chose to ignore the victim—his neighbor. He might have been in a hurry going to the temple because he was supposed to offer sacrifices to God on behalf of the people. He was too occupied with the business of the relational connection between God and the people that he wasted an opportunity of serving one of them—his neighbor on the road!

Then came the Levite, a worker at the temple; a person in charge of worship; someone supposed to aid in the service of facilitating people to relate to God and among themselves. Yet, he failed to connect with a person in need right in front of him; he chose to ignore his neighbor. Both the priest and the Levite were part of a religious system that was too concentrated on its own structure, and in the exercise of power and control for the benefit of just a few. They did not have time to get involved.

But Jesus wanted to emphasize a different response, the “Love God and Neighbor Response.” And a Samaritan happened to pass by. He was a stranger, discriminated by the Jews; an alien who should have known better: Samaritans and Jews did not get along; they lived in neighboring territories but they were not neighbors. Yet, he obviously knew God; he must have had the kind of relationship with God that prompted him to love someone who he wouldn’t normally see as his neighbor. And he acted upon that love. He washed and bandaged the poor man’s wounds and carried him to the inn making sure that they took care of him and paying for all the expenses. He got involved and he went out of his way showing the power of love. He discovered his neighbor and he became a neighbor himself.

Who is our neighbor? I love to think about my loved ones and I can vividly see the faces of friends and of people I know and I care for. I can think of disadvantaged children suffering in many areas of the world. I can think of many that have crossed my path and have been good to me. Yet, I’m barely scratching the surface. What about those distant, different, difficult, strange, and even “dangerous”? What about the many anonymous human beings that I bump into daily and yet we choose to ignore to each other? Love is a powerful tool of outreach—perhaps the only one! People are wounded by the side of the road and need God’s love as much as our wounded selves need it. We need our neighbor and our neighbor needs us. What is still surprising perhaps is the fact that love in action—real love that serves, not just band aid—can make such a difference! Ministry is at the reach of our hands. We just need to go out and do something good for someone out of love; a love that is nourished by the loving relationship we have with the Living God.

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