Who Is My Neighbor?

Sermon – July 14, 2013
Zion Lutheran Church, Hoople, ND
Luke 10:25-37

We hear a lot about Good Samaritans – people who do good things for others – like stopping by and helping someone when they have a flat tire, or jumping in the water to save someone who fell through the ice, or putting in quarters in a parking meter for someone else so they don’t get a ticket. I’d like to share with you a true story about a Good Samaritan. This happened about 8 years ago. I saw the story on television and have never forgotten it. The Israelis and Palestinians have been fighting for a very long time and the Israelis continue to occupy land that belongs to the Palestinians in an effort to take control of all of their land. To many of us it seems so far away that we don’t pay any attention to it, but this story was too amazing to ignore. Ahmed Khatib was a 12 year old Palestinian boy who was shot by Israeli soldiers. It happens all the time, every day. What doesn’t happen all the time is what happened next. The parents, in a gesture of love and in the hopes to bring peace, heard of three Israeli children who needed organ donations and they decided – in their pain – to donate Ahmed’s lungs, liver, and heart to these Israeli children. They donated their son’s organs to the group of people who had killed him. I wonder if any of us could have done that. The natural human response is to want to kill those who kill the people we love. But that’s not what Jesus said. He said to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. That is at the heart of the Christian Gospel. But these people weren’t even Christians. You wouldn’t expect them to act that way.

That’s exactly what happened in today’s Gospel story. In Luke’s gospel we hear the story of the Good Samaritan. It’s quite an odd title because to any Jew who heard the story – there was nothing good about a Samaritan. Samaritans were the enemy. They didn’t practice the same religion as the Jews. They didn’t follow the same rituals, laws, or worship in the same way. They were considered unclean and were the enemy. That’s what is so shocking in today’s story for the people Jesus was speaking to. Unlike us, they knew that Samaritans were not good. They knew they were the outcasts and were to be avoided at all costs. Yet in the story, the Samaritan is the person who was the neighbor to the wounded and dying man.

And we have to wonder why? Why did the Samaritan help the man left for dead when he knew that they were enemies? Why did the Palestinian parents donate their son’s organs to the people that considered them enemies? Maybe it’s because those who are shunned, considered outcasts, unclean, wierdos, and sinners know what it’s like to be left for dead. They know what it’s like to be in pain and no one cares about them. It happens every day all around us. People who suffer from mental illness, developmentally challenged, minorities, and people who just don’t think or act or look like us. Throughout history we find a group of people to label no good and we treat them like second class citizens. Maybe we don’t always say something outright mean to them, but maybe when we see them we turn our heads and look the other way. We label them outcasts by our very action and we judge them because whether we want to admit it or not we think we are better than them. I’ve seen the jeers that people with bodies covered in tattoos or strange makeup receive. I’ve seen the looks thrown at people who are Muslim – thinking they are all terrorists. I’ve heard the comments about any number of people who are different and labeled those people. They’re the modern day Samaritans and the adjective good isn’t used to describe them.

And if we were on our way to work, or the store, or some other activity and we saw them on the side of the road beaten and bloody would we stop to help them or like the priests and Levites would we keep on walking or driving? It seems harsh, but what if it was the person who shot your son or daughter? What if it was the neighbor who you saw run over your dog, but you had no witnesses so the police didn’t couldn’t do anything about it. What if it was your friend – or ex-friend – who years ago stabbed you in the back and you refuse to forgive him or her? If it makes you cringe – and it does me – that is the point Jesus is trying to make.

And the point is not just would we help these people, but would we let them help us? Or would we rather just lay there and die rather than be helped by one of those people, those sinners? We refuse to think our sins are as bad as those of others, but the Bible says we have “all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” – all of us. We’d all like to think we would be the Good Samaritan and help those in need, but we don’t stop and think that this story is about the enemy helping his enemy. And he didn’t just bandage up his wounds. He took him to an inn, paid for his stay, and promised to return and pay any additional medical expenses. He gave up two days salary for a person that was his enemy. I wonder what the dying person thought when he recovered and realized who it was that helped him. Did he say, “I wish that good for nothing Samaritan had left me for dead!” I certainly hope not, but the Samaritan didn’t care. He helped him anyway even though in all likely-hood he would still be considered this man’s enemy. That’s being a better follower of Jesus than the lawyer who asked the question of Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus knew what it would take for the man to inherit eternal life. Jesus would have to die. Jesus would have to die for the sins of this man and for each one of us. Jesus knows what it feels like to be stripped and beaten and left for dead. He knows what it is to die at the hands of someone else. And He was innocent! But He took our place. God loves us so much that God sent Jesus to pick us up out of the pit of sin and death and bring us to eternal life. Through the waters of baptism our old sinful selves are drowned and we are raised to new life with Christ. Today Brinley was rescued from sin and death. She was rescued by Jesus. Her wounds were healed and Jesus paid the price for her freedom. We, the children of God, have not been left to die in sin, but have been restored to new life.

Jesus says, “Go and do the same.” As followers of Christ we are called to bind up the wounds of those who are in pain; we are to treat one another as neighbors and not enemies, just like the parents who donated their son’s organs to those who saw them as enemies. We are to love one another as God loves us. And how does God love us? With everything – with God’s whole being – and that is the way we must love one another. Amen.

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The Kingdom of God is Near

Sermon – July 7, 2013
Zion Lutheran Church, Hoople, ND
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

What would you do if you arrived at your vacation destination and found out your luggage ended up at the bottom of the ocean? Well, I can tell you what I did. It was the very last course I needed to take for my undergraduate degree – a fiction writing course – held in an old house on the Isle of Shoals off the coast of Maine. Our class was given permission to stay there for a week to focus on our writing. The only way to get there was by ferry, so as we prepared to board the ferry, I watched them toss my suitcase onto the boat with the others. When we arrived on the island, I waited to pick up my suitcase with the others. And I waited, and waited, and soon had to ask where my suitcase was located. After some whispers among the staff I soon found out it had not landed on the boat right away, but had sat on the bottom of the ocean before we left for over an hour. Luckily, they fished it out, but when they handed it to me it was soaking wet. Everything inside was saturated with salt water and I am surprised a fish was not floating inside! I had to sleep with the same clothes on that I arrived in while the clothes I packed were cleaned. It took several days. Everyone on the island looked at me knowing I was the person whose luggage was saturated with the smell of the salty sea. The ocean that day had come quite near to me.

In Luke’s gospel today Jesus appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of Him to announce that the kingdom of God had come near. But what did Jesus mean when He said the kingdom of God has come near? Unlike the sea, can you smell the kingdom of God? Is it something you can taste? Can you hear it or feel it? Is it a place you can pinpoint on a map and travel towards? And who is in this kingdom of God? And who is qualified to lead us to this kingdom? Certainly it was not the 70 that Jesus appointed that day on the way to Jerusalem.

In fact, we don’t know anything about these 70 individuals that Jesus appointed to go on ahead of Him and proclaim that “the kingdom of God has come near to you.” We don’t know their names; we don’t even know their genders, age, or status in life. We don’t know if they were educated or illiterate. It seemed Jesus didn’t have any particular qualifications for this job. What we do know is that Jesus sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God had come near. And in Luke’s gospel, they weren’t just disciples or followers, they were sent ones – apostles – sent on a particular mission with a instructions for the journey.

Most of us take a lot of time planning for a trip. We make sure we pack the right things in our suitcase. We want to be prepared for any kind of weather and any situation that may arise and so we pack as much as we can fit into our luggage. But Jesus tells these apostles not to bring anything for this important journey. Jesus says, “Carry no purse, no bags, no sandals.” Further, He tells them that they are going out like lambs to the wolves. Jesus tells them to go out without any provisions and that they are to be as humble as lambs that may possibly get eaten by wolves. That doesn’t sound like a mission most of us would want to say yes to. Yet they were to rely on God to provide all that they needed. That was their mission and the mission field is still in need of laborers today.

The harvest is still plentiful and the laborers are few. There is still so much to do in this mission work that Jesus sends us out on this journey as well. It began at baptism, when through the water and the word we were “sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” We did not come to the waters carrying any provisions, but relied on the grace of God to equip us for the journey. At that moment, the kingdom of God had come near to us; the kingdom of God was now within us. No qualifications and no provisions were necessary for our journey of faith that lasts a lifetime. The Holy Spirit dwells within us and equips us with all we need for this mission trip.

That is what our Christian life is; it is a mission trip. We, like the sent ones in today’s story, are sent out to proclaim the kingdom of God has come near. The Holy Spirit ignites within us the vision to see and proclaim this kingdom because through baptism we are part of this kingdom. The kingdom of God is not a place to seek out, but a relationship with God to embrace. When we meet together for worship we strengthen each other on this journey. This is why Jesus sent the 70 out in pairs – two by two – reminiscent of Noah’s ark, only this time instead of going into a place of safety, we go out because we have been saved. We need each other to help us on this journey. We cannot do it alone.

The kingdom of God cannot be seen with ordinary vision but with the eyes of faith. We see, and touch, and taste, the kingdom of God when we hold in our hands the body and blood of Jesus in Holy Communion. Through this Blessed Sacrament God comes to us unlike any other place and in that moment we receive God’s gifts of forgiveness, grace, and new life. We are equipped with all we need to go out and proclaim that the kingdom of God has indeed come near.

We proclaim the kingdom of God has come near each time we follow the way of peace instead of violence, hope instead of despair, compassion instead of competition, and love instead of hatred. We proclaim the kingdom of God when we offer forgiveness instead of a lifetime of resentment. We proclaim the kingdom of God has come near when we see the homeless as our brothers and sisters instead of problems and nuisances. We proclaim the kingdom of God has come near when we open our hearts and our minds to those who think or act differently than us rather than judging them. We proclaim the kingdom of God when we see the injustices around us and decide to stand up for the dignity of every human being.

The Good News is not just meant to be studied or talked about; it is meant to be lived. Each one of us has been given unique gifts and talents for our mission trip of following Jesus. We don’t need any additional qualifications. We don’t need any special provisions. If we try to do it our way those things we think we need will only weigh us down. We’ll sink, just like my luggage did on the bottom of the ocean floor that day. But the kingdom of God came near to me that day when the hospitality of total strangers offered me their clothes until mine were ready.

That’s what happens when the kingdom of God comes near – lives are changed – not because of what we do, but because of what God does through us. There are so many who need to hear the Good News. God has given us all we need to go out and proclaim the kingdom of God is near. Are you ready? Let’s go! Amen.