To Be A Neighbor
A Homily for Trinity XIII
September 6, 2020
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Luke 10:23-37
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Every time we gather together to break the bread of Christ and to drink the wine of his blood – the priest recites the words: “Hear, what our Lord Jesus Christ Saith. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it; thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Have you ever paused to ask – what it looks like to love your neighbor? What is the cost of this greatest commandment? Or have you ever asked why these two commandments are hooked together?
St. John the Evangelist enlightens us on why it is so critical that we love both our neighbor and God when he writes in his first Epistle. Throughout this short epistle the central theme of loving your brother – loving those who are near to you repeats again and again in his writing. But the crux of the argument is this: “If anyone says ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother who he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
Our brothers and sisters in Christ – our neighbors – you and I – every human being bears the image of God, tarnished and damaged by sin, but still there. Each person we meet and interact with throughout our lives – point our hearts and minds back to God, point our hearts and minds back to the creator.
And if we cannot or do not love those whom we interact with day in and day out – those whom we walk and talk with, then how can we say that we love God?
This is what Christ pushes us towards today, this is our call, this is what we are reminded of week in and week out.
Love – your – neighbor. This is the basic prerogative that we are given – the basic calling that convicts us to repentance, and to pray that the Holy Spirit would pull us into a deeper intimacy with Christ that we would learn to love our neighbor all the better.
But – perhaps you wonder with he lawyer this morning: who is my neighbor? It is interesting as we read this passage how the lawyer responds. The text comments on his motive saying, “he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘and who is my neighbor?’” This gives us the key to understanding the rest of the text, but not only that – gives us the key to understanding our own heart.
So often we wish to justify ourselves, justify not caring for someone, justify our sins. But, Jesus leaves little room for this – and in doing this he reorients us to understand that basically – any person whom we interact with – the grocery clerk, the bank teller, the gal and the coffee shop, the homeless person on the street corner, the ambivalent customer service agent, our overly talkative neighbor, our reclusive neighbor, and the list could go on for days – all of these, each and everyone are our neighbors.
Our neighbors are more than simply those in close proximity to us. Rather – the question we are called to ask ourselves each and every day – is how shall I be intentional with my interactions with anyone I may meet today? How shall I love them well?
And how do we love our neighbors? The text reveals at least three things that a genuine love of neighbor requires:
First – it requires that we cross boundaries.
Second – it requires personal risk.
Third – it requires being willing to be inconvenienced for their sake.
One commentator on this text warned the preacher not to over villainize the priest and the Levite. It is easy to use them as models of what not to do, it is easy to make them look terrible so that we can feel better about ourselves, but if we do this – we miss the point, for each of these three callings – the priest and the Levite failed to fulfill them, while the Samaritan committed to them.
For each of these three callings – it is likely that we have both failed at times and succeeded at times. For this reason, for all our failures in this – the summary of the law – to love God and love your neighbor, is sufficient to search our hearts – to call us to repentance and to drive us back to Christ – again, and again and again.
Let us take a little closer look at what it means to be a good neighbor.
First we must be willing to cross boundaries.
The priest and the Levite lived in a relatively homogeneous society. Most of their neighbors would have been a lot like them, would have thought like them, but ceremonial cleanliness would have been of the utmost importance, and if the beaten man was dead – touching him would have made them unclean.
For them to cross this boundary – this Levitical rule – it would have meant they would have been unable to perform their priestly duties, would have been unable to be a part of their community until ceremonially cleanliness was restored.
This was no small thing. We do not know exactly where either of these men were going, but perhaps it was the priests turn to go to the temple and serve. Being made unclean would have made him ineligible to do this – and the crowd, or at least the lawyer would have sympathized with him in this.
But Christ calls us to cross boundaries – whatever the cost.
The Samaritan, on the other hand, was in a foreign country, undoubtedly there on some business, but yet he would have been hated by all who saw him. He would have been scorned by the locals.
Have you’ve ever been an outsider? Have you ever felt totally isolated, and like the odd ball with no friends?
By the grace of God, I can only think of a couple of times that this has happened to me where I have felt completely alone. But we can probably empathize and understand that it takes a lot of risk, a lot of courage to go someplace where you know no one, where you might be looked upon as being odd, or made to feel like an outcast.
The Samaritan would have felt this feeling of being the stranger but amplified for he was an outsider and an enemy of the Jewish people, he would have been scorned in the Jerusalem, and yet he stopped and helped the dying man on the side of the road. He crossed the boundary – and was willing to be all the more ostracized.
Think back to the last person that needed help in your life – did you cross the road and help them or did you justify yourself? Were you willing to cross unspoken boundaries to help this person out? Or did you use those boundaries to justify not helping them?
Helping the beaten man required personal risk.
I really enjoy dystopian movies. Mostly they tend to be goofy, but for whatever reason they capture my attention and my imagination.
In one of these movies there’s a scene where a girl stops to help a woman lying injured on the side of the road, but the woman starts to plead with her not to stop, and the girl is confused by this. Suddenly, up spring some bandits, it was a trap, but, fortunately, the girl’s friend comes to her rescue. We live in a time and age where we have to worry little about this – but this was not the case in Jesus’ time.
Undoubtedly, a part of the fear of the priest and the Levite, and probably even the Samaritan was that this was a trap – the body was simply left there by bandits to lure an unsuspecting traveler to let his guard down.
We don’t need to know much about the road on which these four men were traveling to know that it was a dangerous road. The parable starts with one of them being beaten nearly to death. But, we do, in fact know that the road between Jerusalem and Jericho was extremely dangerous. The hearers of this parable would have known it too.
The road still exists today – or at least a road near where this was likely to have occurred. It is much like the road between Black Canyon City and Sunset Point – steep, narrow for the type of travel that passes by on it, and winding. Two thousand years ago – it would have presented bandits an easy place to hide and lie in wait. For the hearers of this in Jesus’ time, it would have taken little imagination to see all that he described occurring. Suffice to say, the road was notoriously dangerous.
So, again, it was not unreasonable for the priest and the Levite to have considered stopping to be far too dangerous, and therefore stayed as far away from the body as possible.
But the Samaritan stops, and the Samaritan takes a risk for a complete stranger, is willing to help him out and take time right then and there to patch up this man, to keep him from slipping into death.
And so this is the question: are you willing to risk your own life for a stranger? Are you willing to take a risk in being hurt?
If I am honest, perhaps one of the reasons I tend not to be a good neighbor, isn’t because I think there will be an attempt to cause me pain – but because I’m afraid of being let down, and afraid of letting them down and if I stand off at a distance, this will never happen. If we stand at a distance from our friends, from our neighbors, if we are emotionally and spiritually cold we will never feel pain. But this is not the gospel call.
C.S. Lewis writes in his book “The Four Loves” that: “to love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
To love – your spouse – who is your closest neighbor, your next door neighbor, your friends, and even the teller at the bank – to truly care for anyone at all requires a risk – it requires that we be willing to be hurt or even crushed.
Are you willing to be hurt for another? Are you willing to take a risk for another who bears the image of our God?
Being a good neighbor, loving our neighbor, requires being inconvenienced.
It is no secret that busy-ness is the virtue of our time – the more bedraggled you can present yourself as, the more hurried and rushed you seem – the harder you are working, and the more virtuous you are.
I have heard too many sad stories of people who have reached the end of their lives and barely knew their children, too many people that didn’t have time for their friends, and their spouses. Too many people who filled their time with busy-ness so they would not have to risk learning to love well, and therefore lost their loves.
Busy-ness is our virtue – and therefore we know how inconvenient being a good neighbor can be. We justify ourselves by saying, “friend, I simply haven’t the time to come over and help you, I am sorry.”
For the priest and the Levite, they seemed to have some place to be, they saw the man on the side of the road, lying in pain – maybe dead and they hurried on. Undoubtedly, they had already justified themselves with the risk of becoming unclean, of wanting to stay safe, it was then an easy choice to keep going, to not think too hard about the man in misery on the side of the road. But we can do the same thing – we can find excuses – reasons not to stop, not to listen, not to call our friend whom we know to be in pain.
I say this as one who has failed to love well in the difficult times, as one who has had to repent and as one who has needed God’s grace so deeply. But – we are called to be like the Samaritan, called to be inconvenienced for the sake of the beaten man, called to give generously.The Samaritan stopped his journey, stopped in a dangerous place in a foreign land, and took the man, bandaged him up, took him to an inn, and paid for his room and board with two days salary which it is estimated would have covered two months stay at the inn.
He stopped and he cared greatly. He was inconvenienced.
Are you willing to be inconvenienced?
And you might be wondering or thinking – this sounds hard – I’m good enough – why am I called to this?
We are called to this – because we have already experienced Christ’s mercy – we have already experienced his kindness, his gentleness. We are called to this because Christ crossed boundaries – both between heaven and earth, the boundary set up by sin, and between Jews and gentiles, he crossed these boundaries to die for the sins of the whole world – to die for the sins of Americans, Africans, Europeans, and Asians. He crossed all boundaries and extends his love to us.
Because Christ not only took on personal risk – he DIED for the sins of the whole world. He gave up his life that all who believe on His name might be saved. That all who take up their cross and follow him might be saved, might be justified, by his justification, not by their own.
We are called to this because Christ was inconvenienced – Christ gave up his glory, Christ gave up his seat at the righthand of the Father, Christ descended to earth and to death, so that we might ascend with him, and in this we are called to be Christlike, we are called to reflect his mercy.
We see this morning that showing mercy is costly – but love bears with all, and love covers a multitude of sin. To love, and to love well – is the better way – it is the Christian way.
And so, with the lawyer, and with our brothers and sisters in Christ we are called to go and do likewise, we are called to repent of our sins, we are called by the grace of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit to reflect the love that we have already received from Christ, we are called to put away our cultural faux pas and to live reflecting the mercy of Christ in this world.
We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves – even if it means we must cross boundaries, even if it means taking personal risks, or even if it means being inconvenienced.
So let us go and do so.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.