Posts Tagged ‘Neighbor’

A new perspective on the “Good Samaritan”

In Luke chapter 10, an expert in the law stands up to ask Jesus a question. The purpose of the original question seems to be in “testing Jesus”. It may be that he wants to reveal Jesus as a false prophet. By asking “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”, it’s possible he was trying to catch Jesus in saying that something other than being a Jew can lead us into being a “child of God”, and thus worthy of the inheritance. We know that a lot of people were trying to catch Jesus in a moment of blasphemy against the Law, and yet in true Jesus fashion – He totally turns the tables.

With impressive rhetoric, Jesus asks the man a question in response, “What is written in the law?” The man answers proudly with his knowledge, and as Jesus pats him on the head in verse 28 the man remembers his original intent. Still wanting to test Jesus, and justify his original question, he asks for clarification, “And who is my neighbor?”

In response this time, Jesus tells the story we know as “The Good Samaritan.” He closes by tying the story to the original question by the expert in the law. Earlier it was stated, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Here we have Jesus pointing out that the assumed definition of “Neighbor” (any member of the Hebrew nation/commonwealth) fell short of this new movement the followers of Christ were proclaiming. Here, the main character we assume was a Jew (heading from Jerusalem to Jericho seems to point that way). The character in the story who had the most in common with him in regards to loving (Luke 10:27) ends up being the Samaritan. Even though there was a long history of tension and conflict between their people (and remains still today), Jesus is pointing out there is a grouping of people that goes beyond national boundaries or allegiance to human leaders. There is a foundational difference in the hearts of those who are living from the Love of God. This brings us together beyond any worldly division of culture or ethnicity. It melts away any prejudice we may have, for the purposes of God’s Love, mercy, and compassion.


Now, maybe the Samaritan knew this was a Jew. Scripture tells us he was “attacked by robbers…stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.” Maybe there were torn clothes nearby, or he noticed the man was circumcised (if he was naked). But it’s also possible the Samaritan was simply doing what he would do for anyone, whether friend, brother, or enemy of his people. His citizenship was in the Kingdom of God, which means that he was someone for whom “Love” was his native language. Love for all.

So was Jesus challenging the expert in the law to love “like” the Samaritan, showing mercy and compassion to even those who are broken, bleeding, and lying in the street? Or was Jesus challenging the expert in the law to admit that even here, in the people of Samaria, there can be those who are understanding what this Kingdom of God’s Love looks like?

It sure seems like the latter. Jesus was pulling back the curtain, opening the shades, and clarifying the unexpected Truth for this expert in the law – there may be more invited to this “who’s in?” party than you originally thought.

What are the implications here for us?

There are many, but here are a few thoughts: The Samaritan was so motivated by Love, he wasn’t worried about the terms of this world. Whether touching the man on the street would make him unclean or not, or whether they agreed politically or not, were not important issues. He was motivated first by Love. The opposite seems true of this political expert, who seems to try and catch Jesus in a moment of heresy. He has been living according to “who’s in” and “who’s out” for so long, he wanted to help catch Jesus off guard. But the heart of God is not stuck in the patterns and molds we like to form equations by. We cannot reduce becoming a child of God to a stamp of approval, a “sinners prayer”, or a purity ring. By doing so, we fail to love our neighbors who may already know more about actual Love than we do.

This story invites us to let go of sitting in a room deciding what we can do to be people who are “in”, and go out into a world of hungry, beaten, slaves to proclaim freedom, resurrection life, and sustenance. As Bob Goff has written, “Love Does”.

So how does this story offer to challenge our local churches? I think most of our local churches would be quick to tell you how much love God has for the poor. They know God loves the broken, the drug-addicted, and the alcoholic just released from prison. They’ll welcome them any day of the week, and proclaim God’s Love. The challenge in this story might be a bit harder to pinpoint, and might vary from family to family. Decatur is a city with quite a few ethnicities, cultures, and religions. It would be a pretty big “zing” for our people to admit some of these people who know nothing about Christ might in fact be living with more love for others. So what is it about our practices, our unspoken rules, and the ways we do church….are keeping us from existing and being known from our love for all others?

Confessions of a “Neighborphile”

I grew up on a highway. (Well, not “on” the highway, but you know what I mean.)

There were some great things about this. I remember having a pool as kids, and not being too concerned about who saw you wearing what…or not wearing what. We played football in our front yard, and rode bikes up and down a driveway that was as long as a city block. You could sit on the roof on the back side of our house and see the sunset over miles of fields.

But then, there were a few downsides, too. I remember riding my bike for miles to be there early in the morning when our city’s very own McDonald’s opened. Or making a long list of things needed from the grocery store, because we couldn’t imagine running all the way into town just because we didn’t have ketchup for burgers that night. Mustard never tasted so good.

Then I went to college, where everything was contained in one giant bubble. Life was a bit TOO close. You ate in the same building you retrieved your mail, shopped for books, and met for foosball tournaments. Eventually, I was spit out as a college graduate. I was married, and had everything I needed to begin life as an official “adult.”neighbor-620x330

Life brought us here to Decatur, Illinois…

(Read the rest of my post over at www.redecatur.com !!!!)

Luv is a Verb (part 2)

So what does THAT look like? It seems to look, like Love. Not love like feelings and mushy stuff and roses. But love like laying down a life for ones’ friends. Love like sacrificing our own desires, and letting go of self preservation for the sake of living naturally as one through whom God loves. It’s not an effort-based thing either, not something they’ve been trying really really hard at, in an attempt to look like the loving Christian they know they’re supposed to be. Like the toddler earlier, it’s not an obsessive compulsion to make sure Loving acts are happening regularly. It’s a natural, and often “giddy” outflow of what exists in the heart sourced in Christ.

King Jesus tells them “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

I always forget this next verse comes from BOTH those who followed Jesus, and those who did not. They’re taken back, surprised, and ask the King, “Lord, when was this?” They had NO IDEA they were serving and showing love to Jesus. They were simply living out of the New Creation they had been transformed to be. They were living naturally out of the heart of God. It might be tempting in our walk with Jesus to think, “I know God wants me to love each person as if I were loving Jesus himself. So I’m just going to pretend each person I bump into is Jesus.”

But if I look into the face of every person I meet, and only see Jesus, I’m missing out on the beauty and uniqueness of all the individual lives and ways God has shown his creativity. God doesn’t look down on us, and forget our names, faces, and stories, seeing only Jesus. But because of what Jesus has done, God is able to look fully at each of us as individuals. Your name, your story, and all the unique ways He has created you to reflect bits and pieces of God into the world. THAT is how we love, because that is how we have BEEN loved! Once again, the child of God can only do that which they see the Father doing.

So we see the people of God, not aiming for larger mansions in heaven. Not loving the least of these because they know it’s part of their Christian duty. Not even because they see Jesus in every face around them. But because their very nature has been changed. Their reflex is no longer “Self”. Their reflex has become “Love”, even to the very least of these. To those our world overlooks, tramples underfoot, and has forgotten about. Those our world is afraid of touching, or even just, afraid of. To the very last in line, the follower of Jesus is broken as God’s heart is broken toward them. Desiring justice. Desiring to care for them. The orphan, the widow, the poor, the hungry, the powerless, the voiceless, the sick, those with nothing to offer us in return. The people of God naturally reach out in love, with the heart of God. And in each of these cases, it makes us vulnerable. It costs something. It may lead us the way of the cross.

In his book, Bob Goff writes, “That’s because love is never stationary. In the end, love doesn’t just keep thinking about it or keep planning for it. Simply put: love does.”

Or as DC Talk put it back in the 90’s, “Luv is a verb”

This is not a foreign concept to us, as Free Methodists either. John Wesley wrote, “This is the sum of Christian perfection: It is all comprised in that one word, Love. The first branch of it is the love of God: And as he that loves God loves his brother also, it is inseparably connected with the second: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Thou shalt love every man as thy own soul, as Christ loved us.”

It seems so simple. It seems a little mushy even. And yet we can’t get away from the fact that it seems to be completely tied to those who anticipate the coming justice and reign of Jesus as Lord fully over all things. It makes these “acts of love” even more vital, and even more connected to what is coming as the Son of Man returns to sit on His Throne. Because we are not just loving to make someone feel good. We are loving as a powerfully subversive statement that says, even in the midst of laws and cultures that say otherwise – LOVE like God’s is the way of my Citizenship. It is the way of my King.

So what is our challenge this morning, in the midst of these Truths? How do we ensure that we don’t end up like the second group? This group may have had a large and honest love for Jesus, because they genuinely wanted to be saved from sin, and wanted to enjoy heaven for eternity. They say to Him, “Wait….when did we even see you, and have a chance to offer you food, drink, clothes, or invite you in?” To them Jesus gives the same response, “..just as you did or didn’t do for the least of these, who are members of my family, so you did for me.”

How do we begin moving in the direction of the first group, who’s knee-jerk response was to love without regard? Based on what we hear Jesus describing in his response about what the son can do, it would seem we first need to start with realizing what the Father is doing. And what the Father IS doing? is loving.

God. Loves.

God Loves you, no matter what you come from, and no matter how you’ve lived toward Him. God loves you, whether you’re important and people listen to you, or you have very little influence and a timid voice. Whether you are a decision maker, or whether life pretty much dictates what road you have to travel. God loves you.

But also, God loves them. The people on the other side of the street, that make so much noise or act so different it makes you uncomfortable. God loves them. Those imprisoned for making horrible choices, and living what seems to be comfortably in broken lives. God loves them. Those who completely disagree with you theologically, politically, and work hard to make sure your efforts fail. God loves them. You. Love. Them.

And as we’ve talked about already, Love is a verb. God loves you. God loves them. God is pouring out His Spirit to unite your heart with His, so that you can actually experience Love for your enemies. So that you can be broken with God’s heart for them. So that you can look at the least of these, and not see Jesus, but actually see someone who is called “BELOVED” by God. So that you can look in the mirror, and not see your accomplishments or your failures, but actually see someone who is called “BELOVED” by God.

What if this week, as people are making giant lists of things they’re thankful for. For homes, for food, for clothes, for comforts, or many other blessings. What if you became united in solidarity with those who have very little thanks to offer, beyond the love of God? I’m not saying cancel your family dinner, and tell all the relatives you’re going down to work in the soup kitchen instead….although you’re certainly welcome to do so. What I’m saying is, to be aware of how beloved you are. To exist, as my Pastor has said before, with the “radical preoccupation with the preciousness of others.”

To ask God even now, that He would give you His heart. That he would transform your mind. That his ways of love in our world would be revealed to you, so that you can do exactly what you see Him doing. So that you can love in such a response to the love of God that you forget you even heard this story about it being Jesus you’re loving.

That will naturally look different in each of our lives. Each of us has a unique place in our communities and families. Each of us has unique things we can offer in love to others. But each of us has….LOVE. Love that responds to hunger with food. Love that responds to thirst with drink. Love that responds to those left out by inviting them in. Love that clothes the naked, cares for the sick, and visits those imprisoned.

Not because doing these things earns us the right to be called “Sheep”. But because we have been made into New Creations. We have been born again as Children of God, and have received New Life in Christ. We are made free from sin – for a reason. The justice of God is coming one day fully in Jesus Christ. We look forward to that day. And we proclaim that day, by living under His Lordship even now. By acting according to the ways of His Kingdom. Citizens not of the law, but of Love in which the law finds it’s perfect fulfillment.

It’s why we serve, and work toward the justice of God, even though we know it will fall short until Jesus returns. Because as we read in 1 Corinthians 13:7, “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

The altar is open this morning, as we close with a final hymn, “Come, All Christians Be Committed”. A hymn of invitation that speaks about offering our lives to the Lord, and offering our love to each other.

Maybe you’ve already made the commitment to accept Jesus as your savior. But maybe today, you’ve heard God calling you to make a commitment to Love as God loves. To become saved not simply for yourself, but for the sake of being enabled to show love to others. Whatever the case, or if you simply want to thank God for His love….I invite you to respond to God for a moment before you click out of here and go about your day…

Luv is a Verb (part 1)

Matthew 25:31-46 – (passage where King Jesus takes the throne, divides the nations as sheep & goats, and they both ask “When did we see you, to be able to help you?” Jesus tells them, “Whatever you did for the least of these, you’ve done to me.”)

Our world is in need of the justice of God. It’s discouraging to look out over the evils that are taking place on a daily basis. Children who are abused and trampled on. Our brothers and sisters who exist without any voice about the condition of their environment or life trajectories. Women, girls, and boys who are raped or sold as slaves, objects for men to consume.

Increasingly, there IS a global desire for justice. On October 24, 1945, the United Nations was formed. The “UN” has efforts in many parts of the world, and it’s reach continues to increase. Unfortunately, “justice” is not quite the appropriate word for what often happens. In one moment most recently celebrated, the DRC finally saw the trial and conviction of a man who had served as a General in the Congolese armed forces. He was accused of arbitrary execution, rape, arbitrary arrest, torture, illegal detention, and the use of child soldiers. He is also being held accountable for at least 2 separate massacres back in 2003 where hundreds were killed. So what was the justice recently celebrated by the UN? This General was given a 10 year prison sentence. No comments were made about rehabilitation or transforming the man’s life, or restoring honor to those communities that were injured.

Even here in Decatur, IL, “justice” is a flawed concept and people are being shuffled around like objects. Sitting in county jail cells for months and even years, eventually they are spit out to a long-term facility, often with little or no attention to having a life transformed, or healing the relationship between the offender and the society that was offended. In the case of the hungry, even this weekend, food will be given to over 4,000 families! This is a huge effort, and a beautiful thing. But looking at it honestly, we know that some will take advantage of it. All of our human efforts at Justice will ultimately fall short, until the day described in our passage this morning. Still, these things are important. Still, we make efforts out of love.

But we need so much more than we can accomplish on our own. Enter: Jesus, and His Kingdom. This is much bigger, Jesus says, than something happening in your heart. This is so much more important than you getting into Heaven. This is the kind of thing meant to transform all of creation. As Howard Snyder has written in one of the books that should be on your reading list for 2015 (after the Bible, of course): “Salvation Means Creation Healed”.

If we began reading this passage with verse 32, we might start to think this is another parable about the Kingdom of Heaven. After all, Jesus has been talking about this for a while now, with stories about the Bridesmaids, and the Talents. He’s reminded his disciples to always be ready, and to use what they’ve been given faithfully in service to their master. In our passage today, several times it simply says, “Then the King will say/answer them…” But we know this is no parable. This is a coming reality!

Verse 31 says, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.” THIS IS GOING TO HAPPEN!! Of course, the disciples thought this was all going to happen in their lifetime, with Jesus actually becoming the power that sets Rome in it’s place. But we don’t hear Jesus worrying too much about proving His authority over Rome here. Verse 32 proclaims that “ALL the nations will be gathered before him..”

There is no power, or group, or voice, or influence that falls outside of the Lordship of Christ, that has already begun and will be revealed fully one day. That should fill us with immense confidence and enthusiasm for what God has in store! But what that confidence looks like, comes as a surprise to the followers of Jesus, and might surprise us if we’re honest as well. Because it’s not about changing legislation to make more room for religion.

Before we go further, it’s important here to remember that we are not saved by what we DO. Ephesians 2:8 reminds us, “For it is by GRACE you have been saved, not by works…it is a gift from God so that no man can boast.”

And yet we also know that if anyone is in Christ, they are a NEW CREATION. Old things have passed away, and all things have become new. God does a work in our hearts, and we’re offered salvation from sin – both it’s future impact, and it’s present burdens.

How do you know if a toddler has learned how to walk? You see them giggling with excitement, walking, running, and stumbling all over the place! It’s not an obsessive compulsion to practice walking so that they can increase in their ability. It’s a natural desire to exist in a path of freedom they’ve never before experienced!

So in this passage, we seem to be reminded that a life lived with Christ must transform not only our hearts, but our lives as well. It includes a scripture that we don’t like to talk much about these days, and yet there it is. The Son of Man, who is seated finally on the Throne of Glory over all nations, gathers the people before Him and separates them. Now remember, these are not ACTUAL sheep and goats. It’s simply giving us an example of HOW they are being separated. That is to say, easily. Even though they may run in the same herd, a shepherd (or even most of us) would have no trouble identifying a goat in the midst of sheep. Jesus can easily tell if someone has allowed His Love to offer them salvation from a life lived in sin. There’s no complex supernatural equation, or comparing a list of good deeds or bad deeds. We learn a bit more about this in a few verses.

But first we have verse 34, where we have a long awaited arrival of complete Justice. The kind of Justice David wrote about in Psalm 69 when he sang, “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary in my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.”

To David, and to all with him, King Jesus says “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, receive your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world..”

So we have a group of people, set apart easily by God because of the natural and observable difference in their lives. They receive this inheritance, which is important to recognize here. This is not a wage they earned, or a reward they deserve. This is an inheritance, provided simply because they are children of God. And how does God know they are his children?

If only we had an example of what it looked like when a child…say, a son…..of God came and lived among us. If only we could see what it would look like.

John 5:19 tells us, “..the Son can do nothing by himself, he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”

So we have our example, and so it seems to be what has happened. These who are receiving their inheritance seem to have been transformed into New Creations in Christ, having not only received salvation from Sin, but actually “made new” so that their very source of life, and outpouring of their life, is completely different than before.

So what does THAT look like?  Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post….

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