Thursday, January 22, 2015

Sermon: Luke 10: 25-37 Who is my Neighbour?

Have you ever asked the question: 'What do I have to do?' Where might you have asked that question? Perhaps when you're given homework - what do I need to do to get it done? How many pages of French or Science do I need to finish? How many questions or how many words is the target? Or maybe when you're in exam season you're wondering how much you have to study to get a good grade. How much work do I have to do to pass or come top of the class? For your sports teams, football, hockey, rugby, netball, you might wonder, how much do I need to practice? How many times a week do I have to turn up? How good do I need to be?

What must I do is a question that Jesus was asked. It wasn't about exam results or sports teams. It was about life, eternal life. 'What must I do to inherit eternal life?' (25). This man was wanting eternal life. He was wanting the reward of heaven. He wanted to know what he had to do. Or, in other words, how good do I need to be to make it to heaven?

When you come along to church, you might ask the very same question. How good do I have to be? How much do I have to do so I can be right with God? So let's see how Jesus answers. Let's see how good is good enough.

The man is an expert in the Law, he knows his Old Testament, he studies it, so Jesus asks how he reads it. '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 Love your neighbour as yourself.' (27).

That's it. Love God with all you have and all you are, perfectly, totally, in every moment with every fibre of your being; and love your neighbour as you love yourself. That's all we have to do. The question is, do we do it? Can we really say that we have loved God with everything even this morning before we came to church? Have we loved our neighbour?

The man seems to think that he has done the first bit. He reckons that he's fine with the loving God stuff. (But is he really? We simply don't love God with everything). He wants to make sure of himself on the second bit. You see, he thinks that he might have a chance of doing it as well.

He quoted from Leviticus 19:18 - 'You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself.'

The verse in its original context seems to say that your neighbour is your own people; the people who are like you, and who you like. Just the people of your own tribe, or people or nation. So if loving your neighbour means just being nice to the people who live next door, or just my friends, or just the people I like (and who like me) then I might be able to do it. You can see the wheels turning in the man's brain - I will be able to love God and love my neighbour.

All the more so because of why he asked the question. Look at the start of verse 29. 'But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbour?"' Who do I have to love like that? He wanted to justify himself. He wanted to make sure that he was in the right. Have you ever discovered at the back of the cupboard a packet of buns or biscuits that were out of date? You eat them all, and then your mum or dad or wife gives off to you. But you try to justify yourself, you try to make yourself be in the right. So you say, "I only ate those buns so that you wouldn't get a sore tummy eating out of date stuff!" You're really doing a good thing, making yourself be in the right.

Jesus answers his question by telling a story. And like some of our stories today, there were three main characters, two of whom you loved and respected and thought were great; and one who you looked down on. A bit like our Paddy Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman stories. So Paddy Englishman, Paddy Irishman and Paddy Scotsman were being chased by the police. They ran into a warehouse, and found three empty sacks lying on the floor. They jumped into one each, and pulled the top closed. The policeman nudged the sack Paddy Englishman was in, and he said "woof, woof!" so the policeman thought it was a dog and left it alone. The policeman nudged the second sack with Paddy Scotsman inside, and he said "meow, meow!" so the policeman thought it was a cat and moved on. The policeman got to the third sack, nudged it with his toe, and Paddy Irishman shouted out "potatoes, potatoes!"

In the story Jesus tells (and we'll need help with each of these), there are three characters. A priest, a religious person who works in the temple and everyone respects. Whenever we use the word 'priest' I want you to shout out 'Amen!'. Next up is a Levite. He's also religious, well respected, and also good. When I say the word 'Levite' I want you to shout out 'Praise the Lord!' And finally, there's a Samaritan. We don't like Samaritans around here. They don't worship God properly, at the temple. They're a bit shifty. So when I say the word 'Samaritan' I want you to 'boo!' So there are the three. Who do you think are going to be helpful? The priest and the Levite.

A man (our churchwwarden) was on a journey from Jerusalem to Jericho. He walks along, up the aisle, always in danger with the scary people lurking near the road. And then he's robbed - his coat and jacket are removed, his tie is loosened, he's bedraggled, and lies down, left for dead. But it's ok, there's a priest (Amen!) coming along. He stops, sees the man lying, and... walks quickly past. The priest (Amen!) didn't help at all. Maybe he was late for a service.

But it's ok, the Levite (Praise the Lord!) is coming. He stops, sees the man lying, and... walks quickly past. The Levite (Praise the Lord!) didn't help either. Well, if those two couldn't help, then there's not much chance of the third one helping. Huh.

The Samaritan (boo!) comes along. Stops. Takes pity. Bandages wounds (with a first aid kit). Pours on oil and wine. Takes him to an inn. Helps him. Pays for his care.

The priest (Amen!) didn't deserve an Amen. The Levite (Praise the Lord!) didn't deserve a Praise the Lord. They are the ones who should be booed. Religious, but no help to anyone. No care, no pity.

The Samaritan (boo!) shouldn't be booed. We don't expect it, yet this was the only one to have mercy. To help. To care. To love his neighbour, whoever he was. Jesus says to go and do likewise.

So we see the standard for eternal life under the law. Perfection. Perfectly loving God, and perfectly loving our neighbour. Every neighbour, no matter who they are or where they come from. We fail to do that. But the good news is that Jesus came to do exactly that. He saw our need. He took pity on us. He came with love and mercy, to obey the law and give himself for sinners.

As we follow Jesus, we can do as he says. We can become more like him, so that we love more, and obey more. So go and do likewise - show your love for God in the way you love your neighbour, whoever they may be.

This sermon was preached at the Family Service in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 18th January 2015.

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