Adapted from a sermon
Delivered July 15, 2007
Immanuel Presbyterian Church
What Does It Mean to be a Neighbor?
Good morning. I almost never hang out at the church on a Saturday afternoon, but yesterday a couple of us were going to come over and meet our friends from Arizona (a youth church work party who had slept at the church the previous evening and were in the congregation that morning) and get them settled in for the night. We thought we’d get to the church about 6 P.M. and they would arrive about 7 P.M. I finished up my errands around 5 P.M. and had nothing more to do. I thought about going home; I thought about going to my office; I even thought about doing a little shopping. But frankly, I didn’t want to do any of those things. So I drove over to the church prepared to take a nap in my car until people started showing up around 6. Our visitors arrived a short time after 5 P.M. If I had not been here they would have been stuck out in the parking lot for an hour before others arrived to let them in. No big deal, we got inside, the kids unpacked their gear and I went home. But I did keep thinking how fortunate it was that, for some reason, I decided to come over here and an hour early just to take a nap in the parking lot. The nudging voice of God, perhaps? Let me explain.
I received an e-mail yesterday from Arlene (a member of the congregation). It was one of those “forwards” with a good message, but then ends with a statement something like, “If you don’t forward this to ten other people within the next five minutes, Jesus won’t love you anymore!”
Secure in my knowledge that Jesus would love me even if I didn’t share this e-mail, I prepared to delete it. I hesitated. It was a pretty good story so I transferred it into my “save” folder for future reference.
Still small voice of God? Mary Charlotte (the senior pastor’s wife) called a couple hours later to say that John (the senior pastor) was not feeling well and suggested that I preach a sermon on Neighborliness first thing in the morning. John suggested I just re-read the story of the Good Samaritan. I think to myself, I just did that.
I returned to my computer, found the e-mail and re-read the story which I’ll share now, even though I didn’t forward the e-mail then.
A young man had attended a church meeting during which the subject of God’s speaking to us today came up. The man doubted that he’d ever hear from God, but sort of hoped that he might.
On his way home, the young man had an overwhelming urge to stop at a store and buy some milk. It was a silly urge, but after fighting it off for a while, he decided to stop and get a gallon. He would use it for something.
He started driving home and found himself taking a different route than usual, into a different neighborhood in the city. He parked his car and wondered what to do. A feeling came over him that he should deliver the milk to the people in the house across the street. Again feeling a bit silly, he got out of his car, walked over and knocked on the door.
A disheveled young man answered the door, looked at the milk and took it. A woman with a crying baby came out of a back room, saw the milk and began to cry.
After comforting their baby and giving it some milk, the couple explained that they were flat broke, their child was sick, and they had been praying for just a little milk to get them through the weekend.
Our young man gave the couple a little money and returned to his car. He’d learned something about listening for God’s voice in our world and also something about expanding our search for “neighbors.”
I still hadn’t written a sermon. And I knew I was pushing it. But I went to bed. When I awoke this morning, I thought I’d check my computer for the news as well as any e-mails before I got down to the business of sermonizing about neighborliness.
There was a video clip about a mother dog who had adopted a black panther cub. Pretty cute, so I watched that first. Then there was a video clip about barn owls and rodents or something.
I don’t know why I clicked on that.
A short video began about farmers from
For one thing one barn owl eats about 3,000 rodents a year. Another thing, pesticides kill rodents, but they also kill barn owls.
One group of farmers had stopped
using pesticides and started raising more barn owls. The problem was that their barn owls were
culturally-blind and geographically challenged.
The darned birds would fly across the invisible political borders, eat
rodents that had eaten pesticides and then come home and die. The only thing for the farmers to do was to
educate their neighbors about the owls.
Sure enough, they began building barn owl houses for each other, coming
together to share progress notes, and raising better crops on all sides of the
borders. These farmers hope to expand
this barn owl diplomacy into
Which brings me to the question for the day: Lord, just who is my neighbor?
Our world has shrunk. We have instant news from around the globe, thanks to computers and other major advances in telecommunications. We know more about other people and other cultures than we’ve ever known before – even though we still have a lot more to learn.
It is interesting to note that in the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus doesn’t actually condemn the priest or the Levite. He just says that the Samaritan was the better neighbor – and that we should follow his example in our dealings with people.
It is human nature that we get obsessed with the small details of our lives and therefore miss the big picture. Churches can do that just as easily as any one else. We can be so concerned that we get breakfast or lunch ready on time, which we miss the opportunity to greet and get to know our visitors. Ministers can get more consumed with finding the grape juice and a fresh loaf of bread – than taking a moment to really meditate on the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. We get so tied up in how quickly we can drive X number of miles between point A and point B, that we forget all together to enjoy the scenery along the way.
So the Parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us to check out our priorities – get them straight. It reminds us to constantly expand our notion of just who are neighbor might be.
It is significant for me that the questioner in the Samaritan story is identified as a lawyer. Generally speaking, lawyers are intelligent, focused people. They are paid to pay a great deal of attention to detail. So, by definition, they are “legalistic”. The attorney’s question was a good one, one that we each should ask, “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus responded, well, “What is written in the law?”
The attorney replied, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus responded, “You have given the right answer.”
But the attorney wanted more: “And just who is my neighbor?”
After telling his story, Jesus asks the attorney, “Which of the three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
The lawyer said, “The one who showed him mercy.”
And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
And so should we.