Updated: Aug 24, 2019
Sermon for July 7, 2019
Texts: Psalm 112; 1 Peter 4:9-11; Luke 10:25-37
Sermon: "That's It!"
Twenty years ago, almost exactly twenty years ago, in the summer of 1999, I heard what sounded like a gun shot. When a back tire on my car began to wobble, I honestly believed that someone might have shot my tire. It was a nail.
There I was on the dangerous Interstate leading into Atlanta from the north, where highways and freeways and busy city streets converged into the kind of nightmare traffic for which Atlanta is famous.
It was a Sunday afternoon. The multiple lanes of traffic were thick with cars and trucks, but I made my way to the side as close to the guard rail as I could get. There was not really a lane for a car with a flat tire. To make matters worse, my almost-three-year-old granddaughter was in the back seat. I was returning to Natchez from Asheville, bringing her for a summer visit. Panic!
My trustworthy car phone -- quite old fashioned compared to today's phones -- would not work. I stood near the car where I could be seen and began waving for someone to stop. And finally someone did, finally someone whose heart was compassionate, who had both the time and the will to do a kind deed that day.
Here is the interesting thing. He was a surprising hero, not at all the one I might have expected to stop and help me that day. I had never met anyone quite like him. I asked his name so I might remember it forever. When he told me, I wondered if that was his real name. I had never known anyone who had a last name like his.
He quietly and capably went to work, changed the tire to the spare, and wished us well. I insisted that I should pay him for what he had done. He smiled and said, "No ma'am. There is no charge for what I did for you. You just be careful now." And he was gone.
Of course, I will never forget what he did. When I had the opportunity, I looked for his name in the Atlanta phone book. To my surprise, there were dozens of people with his last name. I never found his name exactly.
He was my "good Samaritan." Who is yours? Almost everyone has a story about someone who did a kind deed in the midst of a troubled time. Mine just happened to be on the road. And I was the one in the ditch, so to speak. It really was a little like the parable Jesus tells us.
Was he my neighbor? I might have passed him right by on a busy sidewalk filled with people and never have known him. But there on that day at that time on the side of a dangerous road, one thing I know for certain: I was his neighbor.
That's it, really! That day he embodied the selfless love of Christ. He found a neighbor in need on the side of the road. He stopped to be a neighbor.
That is what Jesus wants the legal expert to know. He wants to tell him that, yes, he understands that the great mind that has studied the Mosaic law understands the most important of the commandments from Scripture -- love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.
But, Jesus wants him to know, there is more to the law than being able to recite it. Jesus would tell us that there is more to "Jesus Loves Me" than thinking how sweet the words of the song make us feel.
Jesus is in serious teaching mode when he leaps into the story-telling in today's scripture. He seriously wants the legal expert to understand what it means, what it requires, what it compels one to do who knows that loving God and neighbor is a serious requirement of righteous living.
In this gospel story, then, when Jesus is questioned about the great commandment, the one who questions wants to know more. And so he asks Jesus, "Who, then, is my neighbor?"
And Jesus then tells the well-known story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus answers the question by pointing out that the neighbor may be a stranger, even an enemy; the neighbor is the needy person you meet today.
In Leviticus, God tells the Israelites who the neighbor is: the neighbor is the one who lives next door, someone you know; and the neighbor is the stranger in your midst. The neighbor is one who will be invited to share the bounty of your harvest, one who will be treated with kindness.
In the kind of love that we learn from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we see clearly a new way of life, a way that calls us to neighborly actions, to kindness, to seeking God's peace and justice for all -- to love as a way of life.
The word "love" has been made to fit so many occasions. Some say we have abused the word and have lost the true meaning as it resounds in the great commandment.
What does it mean to you -- to love God, to love neighbor? Is there something holding you back from loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength? Is there a neighbor you believe you could never in a million years learn to love?
Love as we envision it in the great commandment is about much more than affectionate love; the kind of love Jesus is teaching us today is based in commitment, promise, covenant-- based in real action carried out in the name of Christ: visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, helping out the poor and needy, and praying for all who are in danger -- including those in prisons of concrete -- and prisons of poverty and abuse and loneliness.
I wonder how the love emanating from this church measures up to the high standards Jesus teaches us today. What do you think?
It is important to ask that question and to ask the questions of ourselves: Who is our neighbor? Who ARE our neighbors? Have we loved our neighbors in the way Jesus teaches?
"Who is my neighbor," the lawyer asks Jesus that day.
And Jesus answers, "A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho…"
And then Jesus tells the story of pain and abandonment of the one injured; and the story of loving care provided by a stranger passing by.
Three came by and saw the injured man. Two passed by. One stopped and helped the injured man. "Who was the neighbor," Jesus asks the lawyer.
The answer is clear -- it was the one who showed him mercy; the one who showed him unconditional love.
That kind of love is never easy.
But in the power of Jesus himself we are empowered. We are fed by him, uplifted by him, and sent by his Spirit to share the grace he gives.
We have his promise that he will be with us -- to hold us up when we stumble and fall, to strengthen us when we go out to serve, and to remain with us when we need his love to boost our own.
In a very real sense, Jesus is our neighbor. Let us not forget that. Jesus is our neighbor. It is Jesus we are called to welcome, love, and serve. That's it!
Dr. Gardner Taylor, grandson of slaves, was born in Baton Rouge in 1918. He preached in the American Baptist Church and was known for his eloquence and understanding of faith, becoming known as the "dean of American preachers."
He preached on the parable of the Good Samaritan saying that it is "the scripted autobiography of Jesus."
He said that Jesus, who found us on the road broken and bleeding, carried us to safety, paid the bill, and then said, "I'll be coming back." Amen.