Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
Dear Friends in Christ,
If you need help, just let me (know). Those are the words I often spoke years ago to an elderly woman, a woman with all kinds of troubles, a woman with almost no support network at all, a woman I’ll call Eleanor. If you need help, Eleanor, just let me know. One day she took me up on it. I received a frantic call in the middle of the day pleading with me to come over right now.
When I asked her what was wrong, she couldn’t even speak of it, she just pleaded with me to come. Which I did. In a hurry. With all kinds of thoughts and worries racing through my head. When I got there, the problem was that her toilet was plugged. It was threatening to overflow. She needed someone, anyone, to be a good neighbor.
If you need help, just let me know. That’s what our fire and rescue squads say, that’s what our police departments and paramedics say, that’s what our doctors and nurse lines say, that’s what emergency rooms and urgent care facilities say in a regular kind of way. They say if you need help, just let us know. Just dial 911 and we’ll be there. Just dial this number and we’ll help you. In little Janesville, MN, you can almost holler out your front door that you need help, and help will be there.
If you need help, just let me know. That’s what the Good Samaritan would have said to his neighbors in his day. In fact, he went one better than that. He didn’t wait to be asked. He saw a Jewish man, a man who would have considered all Samaritans unclean and unworthy and unfriendly, he saw him in need of immediate assistance, and he assisted. He zipped right out of his comfort zone, he healed what he could heal, he paid all that needed to be paid, he carried what needed to be carried, he didn’t just pray, he didn’t just feel sorry, he didn’t just say nice words, the compassion he felt in his heart turned into action, and it did so in a hurry. As State Farm Insurance would say it, Like a Good Neighbor, we’ll be there!
In today’s sermon, I’m going to agree with all kinds of ancient and modern scholars and say that the Good Samaritan in this story is first and foremost Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Three parts to our sermon today, Like a Good Neighbor, Jesus was there, He is here, and will always be nearby. Like the perfectly good neighbor, 1)Jesus was there at the cross. 2)Jesus is here in Divine Service, and 3)Jesus will always be nearby.
First of all, like a good neighbor, Jesus was there (at the cross). Already in the Garden of Eden, the promise to Adam and Eve was that a divine rescue mission would take place. A day would come when the offspring of Adam and Eve would get bruised and beaten and left to die, but the devil himself would have his head crushed. It’s at the cross that we learn that we have a God who doesn’t show up to help only when asked and properly thanked. While we were yet in our sins, Christ died for us.
There at the cross, we find that our Savior was (Healing) us with His wounds. As the Good Samaritan had compassion and backed up his feelings with actions, so did God so love the world that He sent His only and beloved Son into a world so full of hostility and danger. As the Good Samaritan came to where his neighbor was and did what needed to be done, so also did our Savior come down from heaven to earth, so also did Jesus keep the law in perfect fashion on our behalf, so was Jesus wounded for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities.
There at the cross, we find the very Son of God (Paying) our bill in full. As the Good Samaritan bandaged and soothed and carried this beaten up and left for dead stranger, so as Christ carried our sorrows and bore our griefs. As the Good Samaritan took care of all expenses with no expectation of repayment, so has our Savior redeemed us, not with gold or silver, but with holy precious blood, not with diamonds and pension plans, but with innocent suffering and death. He leaves us with no debt to pay, only the imperative to love as we have been loved, the exhortation to show mercy as we have been shown mercy, the plea to serve as we have been served.
There at the cross, we find Jesus Christ (Giving) life to those already dead. As this Jewish traveler was beaten up and close to death, so are we dead in trespasses and sins. As rescue squads regularly revive near dead and already dead people, so has our Savior done what he said he came to do. He came to suffer and He suffered. He came to die and He died. He came to give life and he gave it. Lesson #1 today, dear friends, your God has always been there for you, He was there for you before you ever existed, and He was there for you in a fixed and focus fashion for you on a little hill outside of Jerusalem. As often as you see the cross, as often as you make the sign of the cross, see there your Savior healing, paying, and giving.
Lesson #2 - Like a good neighbor, Jesus is here (in Divine Service.) While it is true that Jesus ascended into heaven and is sitting at the right hand of God, it is also true that wherever two or three are gathered in His Name, there He is in the midst of them. While it is true that He is in the presence of his Father ruling all of heaven and earth in a majestic and magnificent and mysterious fashion, it is also true that He is present in that place where His Name is invoked, in that place where absolution is pronounced, in that place where the Word is preached and the water is splashed and the Supper is offered. Three truths we learn again about how God is present here in the house of God. He is here forgiving, caring, and promising.
First of all, He is here in Divine Service (Forgiving) us early and often. In this place, we believe and we teach and we confess that already in Holy Baptism, our sins are forgiven. That as often as we eat and drink at the Holy Supper, our sins are forgiven. As the Samaritan forgave this Jewish man for being who he was, so did Jesus plead for his Father to forgive those who didn’t even know what they were doing. As the Samaritan was color blind and ethnicity blind and language blind, so also at our communion rail, there is neither male nor female, neither Jew nor Gentile, neither black nor white, only messed up sinners looking for their sins to be forgiven, their faith to be strengthened, their unity to be celebrated.
Secondly, Jesus is here in Divine Service (Caring) for us in the preaching and teaching of His Word, Germans have a word for their pastors who care for the souls of their people, the word is seelsorge. To be a seelsorge is to be a shepherd who watches over his sheep, it is to be calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying with the means of grace. It is to be caring for souls before, during, and after official ministerial acts. As the Good Samaritan brought his new friend to the inn and cared for him, so does the Spirit of God bring us into the Church and care for us.
As the Good Samaritan left town for a time and left the injured man in good care, so has Jesus left us for a time and yet cares for our souls in the safety of local congregations, hundreds and thousands and even millions of little churches, little flocks, where shepherds know their sheep by name, they do what Mary does in next Sunday’s Gospel, they choose the one thing needful, they use their ears to hear, and their hearts and their minds and their souls are taken care of.
Third, Jesus is here in Divine Service (Promising) to return. As the Good Samaritan paid the innkeeper, asked him to take care until he came back, and promised to pay even more, so has Jesus promised that one day soon the angel will be shouting, the trumpet will be sounding, the dead will be rising, Christ will be returning, the Judge will be judging. As often as we eat and drink, we get a foretaste of the feast that is to come. Even more than that we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes back again.
Our third and final lesson, Like a good neighbor, Jesus will always be (nearby). One of the main principles of Greg Finke’s book, “Joining Jesus on His Mission,” is that Jesus is already out and about in your neighborhood, in your work place, in your extended family, in your circle of acquaintances, and He’s not just there observing, He’s out there messing with people. By that he means that to say that the Spirit of God is always working through the circumstances of life to get people’s attention, he’s always working through the ups and downs of life to drive folks to their knees, it’s when folks are down on their knees / down on their “luck” that they just might be open to the grace of God, they just might be open to receiving a bit of mercy, they just might be open to the truths that could set them free. With that in mind, Jesus is always nearby inviting, teaching, and urging.
(Inviting) us to join Him in “across the fence” conversations. We’ve been saying it in the bulletin all spring and summer. In Minnesota at least, spring and summer offer way more chances to be neighborly than does winter. As the Good Samaritan no doubt engaged in conversation with his injured neighbor, so Jesus was famous for engaging in conversation with tax collectors and prostitutes, engaging with gluttons and drunkards. One question for you this morning, how would life be different around here this week if instead of stating our opinions first and foremost we would focus on understanding those with the opposite opinions?
(Teaching) us the values of asking good questions and listening well. As the Good Samaritan no doubt asked a few questions and spent some time listening on their way to the inn, so also was Jesus famous for answering one question with a better one. That’s the rhythm of our text for today, the lawyer asking one question, Jesus asking two of his own. When the lawyer answered with the two great commandments, Jesus said, you’re correct, do this and you will live. When the lawyer asked another question, (And who is my neighbor?)seeking to justify himself, Jesus responded with a story, followed by a question, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The lawyer answered correctly, and Jesus said “You go and do likewise.” A second question for you all this morning, how would life be different around here this week if every one of us went looking every day for one hurting person with only one agenda item- to look them in the eyes and to listen carefully to what’s going on inside of them?
(Urging) us to step outside of our comfort zones. (Story of Three Bears Resort water park, my love for fast and furious water slides, Debi not so much. Often I invited her to try out the slides, once she almost did, but then she didn’t. Oh, how she missed out on so much adventure, just as surely as she missed out at Valley Fair by not going on the Wild Thing, nor Steel Venom, nor the High Roller, not the Renegade, nor the Looping Starship….One last question – how would this place be different, if the Spirit of God could nudge us just one time this next week to step outside of our comfort zone for the sake of the Gospel? Just one time to stop at the side of life’s road to see if we can be helpful in a situation where we’re not really sure how it’s going to turn out.
Smelling roses and checking the ditches! The kingdom of God is like a large in a small town learning more and more how blessed they are on the one hand and how full of broken and hurting people this world is on the other hand. How beautiful God’s creation is on the one hand and how ugly is so much of life on the other hand. How simple it is to be a good neighbor on the one hand, and how complicated it can get on the other hand. With that in mind, they spend their days smelling roses on the one hand, and checking the ditches on the other. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther