(Second in a Series of Three – “Thy Kingdom Come”)
July 13 and 14, 2019
“Which of these three seems to you to have been a neighbor of the one who fell among the bandits?”
And he said, “The one who did the merciful thing for him.”
And Jesus said to him, “Go and you do likewise.”
Dear Christian Friends,
If you ever need help, just call me. Those are the words I often told a single elderly woman named Eleanor back in the mid 80’s. Eleanor had two adult sons, she lived in a run-down kind of a trailer house out in the country, and our church had helped her in a variety of ways. I remember that she smoked one cigarette after another, she was frail and quite the worrier, and on more than one occasion, I had told her, “if you ever need help, just call me.” One day when I was in the middle of writing a sermon, no doubt on loving our neighbors in response to God loving us first, Eleanor took me up on my offer to help. (Story of her insisting that I come right now, I drove in a hurry to her place, her emergency was that her toilet was plugged and overflowing!)
If you ever need help, just ask. That’s what Almighty God says again and again in Holy Scripture. Call upon me in your day of trouble, I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened to you.
If you ever need help, just ask. That’s the promise Jesus would be inviting us to make to people in our lives, as we reflect for the second week in a row on the Second Petition, Thy Kingdom Come. In answer to the question what does this mean, Luther answers that even though it comes without our prayers, we ask in this petition that it would come more and more among us. In answer to the question how this actually happens, Luther answers with a three part answer. Part I – our Heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit. Part II – by his grace we believe his holy Word. Part III – We lead godly lives here in time and in eternity.
Last week we focused on the need for more laborers in the harvest field, next week we focus on the one thing needful which is that we listen to the Word of God, today we think about how at the heart of leading a godly life here and now is that we love one another in response to first being loved by God. We show mercy to folks wounded alongside the road in response to Jesus showing mercy to us by going all the way for us on the road to Calvary.
Three lessons we would learn today about helping and befriending our neighbors in every bodily need.
Lesson #1 we learn from the lawyer in our text for today, and it is that (Never) will helping others improve our status with God. The lawyer in this story wanted to know what he could do to inherit eternal life. (Story of children’s lesson back at Silo where I kept asking the question “what must we do to get to heaven?” I wanted the “Jesus” answer, but one girl raised her hand and said “you have to die!”
This lawyer’s question “Having done what shall I inherit eternal life?” was his way of putting Jesus to the test. He was part of a religion which had become law-based instead of grace centered. By the time Jesus had arrived, the religious leaders had fallen into a system of legalism. They had softened the great spiritual principles of “love God” and “Love your neighbor” in such a way as to accommodate their imperfect and selective performance.
Legalists wanted the Law to say just “try your best”, in contrast to Jesus who looked them in the eyes and taught “be ye therefore perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” This lawyer wanted to justify picking and choosing who it was that he felt was worthy of his love.
One would expect a priest and a Levite to be putting into practice the Law since their lives were devoted to the service of the Lord. But Jews of that day felt justified in not helping Samaritans. Samaritans were their enemies, and in this story, these religious men refused to get involved.
In this parable, Jesus would look us in the eyes and remind us one more time that there is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor. In fact God has already favored us by sending and sacrificing his one and only Son to the cross. There is no possible way that can justify ourselves in the presence of a holy God, we can be justified only by the grace of God through faith in Jesus.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where folks get down on their knees again and again and confess the good they have failed to do, they examine their hearts to see if they have been loving people who are easy to love and walking right on past those whose injuries are mostly self- inflicted.
Which brings us to Lesson #2, we learn from the Good Samaritan and ultimately from God Himself is that (Often), showing compassion will be at odds with common sense. The priest in this story may have just taken his turn in the temple. According to the law, he needed to be concerned not to become defiled by touching a dead body. The laws of ritual purity were extremely important for such persons. The priest would have been locked into certain behavior because of the regulations of the purity code.
Also for the Levite, it would defy common sense to stop and help when his superior, the priest had passed by the wounded man and not stopped. As one of lower rank than the priest, the Levite would not want to challenge the priest’s decision.
Jesus would look us in the eyes this morning and teach us one more time to show compassion to our neighbors not just when it makes sense to do so, but also and especially in those times when it seems foolish to do so. On the one hand there is worldly compassion, which has nothing to do with Jesus Christ, and on the other hand there is Christ centered compassion.
By no means do Christians have a corner on this desire to feed the hungry and provides clean drinking water in third world countries, but we do have a corner to connect those same people with the Bread of Life and the one who offers living water. By no means do we have a corner on this desire to help the wounded along the roadside, but we do have a corner on living our lives in response to the one who has been wounded for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, and upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where folks know well that while they were still sinners, Christ died for them. More and more often these days, they sense that Christ is nudging them out of their comfort zones. More and more these days they admit that their motivations have been less than pure, they wonder together which of their neighbors are most wounded, and they go looking for hurting folks who feel like they are on the outside looking in.
Which brings us to Lesson #3, which we learn from the wounded Jewish man alongside the road, and it is that (Every day), we do well to ask the simple question, “Which of my neighbors needs me to be merciful?” The structure of today’s text is that the lawyer and Jesus engaged in two rounds of debate. In Round 1 the lawyer put Jesus to the test by asking what he needed to do to be saved. Jesus points him to the shema, which good Jewish folks would recite twice a day, “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart / soul / strength / (he adds mind / love your neighbor as yourself.
In Round 2, the lawyer is trying to justify himself and asks “who is my neighbor?” In response Jesus tells a story which ends with a different question – which of these three became a neighbor?” To which the lawyer gave the obvious answer – the one who showed mercy.
The obvious application of today’s story is for us to go and do likewise. Jesus is the ultimate Good Samaritan. He is the perfect neighbor who was there for us at the cross. When it didn’t really make sense for him to lay down his life for us, he did it anyway. When we were dead in our trespasses, he found a way to make us alive. When our spirits were broken and bruised and beaten bloody at the side of the road, Jesus paid the price to set us free. And even when he has to leave for awhile, he sends his Holy Spirit to help us get back on our feet again and again.
Just ok is not ok. Perhaps you have seen the Wireless AT and T commercials where they make the point that just ok is not ok. In one scene, a man is scheduled for surgery. His wife asks the nurse, “Have you ever worked with Dr. Francis?” The nurse “Oh yea, he’s ok.” The dr. comes waltzing in, “Guess who just got reinstated? Well not officially.” He asks the patient, “Nervous?” The reply, “yeah”. The surgeon, “Yeah, me too. Don’t worry. We’ll figure it out. See you in there.” Just ok is not ok!
The kingdom of God is like a man nudged out of his comfort zone this week to reach out to that neighbor who has wounded his spirit in the past. It’s like a married couple nudged out of their comfort zone to take under their wings friends of theirs whose marriage is slowly but surely breaking. It’s like a busy and hard working woman nudged out of her comfort zone to see what she has been ignoring – a co-worker with a sign around her neck that says “Help Wanted.”
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