Being Neighborly

By Rev. Heidi L. Barham |  July 10, 2022

(Due to technical difficulties, the service was unable to be recorded.)
Read Luke 10:25 – 37
Before we go any further this morning, I need to put in a disclaimer.  This sermon has been rated PG for “Please God, help us” and is for mature audiences only.  Listener discretion is advised. 
I did not “choose” the text for this morning’s sermon.  It was selected as the Gospel lesson in the Lectionary many years ago for this period referred to as “Ordinary” time which runs between Pentecost and Advent.  But there is absolutely nothing “ordinary” about the times we are living in.
That is why this morning, I want to put somewhat of a new spin on what may be for some, an old familiar story…
Imagine if you will a nonbinary, pre-teen individual from a low-income family… someone with a racial ethnic background that is mixed with Black, Hispanic, and Native American, who identifies as queer.  They were raped seven weeks ago and have just found out they are pregnant.
This individual is walking on their way to seek counseling when they walk past a school playground, or maybe it was a grocery store parking lot, or perhaps it was a church, a mosque or a synagogue… then again it just might have been a Fourth of July parade… I’m not really sure.
But all of a sudden, shots ring out from an AR-15 assault style rifle and they are hit.  Their wound feels superficial but having been forced to go through multiple active shooter drills in school, they know enough to lay down and play dead until help arrives.
When it seems like the coast is clear, it appears help is finally on the way.  The first person to come upon the scene is a Republican politician who passes by on the other side… promising to send thoughts and prayers as they continue on their way to Washington. 
Then someone else comes… this time, it is a Democratic politician, but they too pass by on the other side… saying something about wanting to help but not being able to get enough bipartisan support to do so.
And then along comes an average ordinary person… someone who has never really had a reason or an opportunity to engage with persons of differing sexual orientations or gender identities… someone who comes from a community that is not racially or ethnically or socio-economically diverse… someone who has not entered into the debates on voting rights, gun rights, reproductive rights, or any other at-risk rights because it has not seemed to be their fight… at least not until now.
Something clicked when they saw that wounded individual laying on the ground… they understood they could not turn a blind eye and they could not simply pass by…
This average ordinary person grabbed the first aid kit from their car and bandaged up the superficial wound.  Then after hearing the story of how this poor young person had been raped and was now pregnant… they offered to take them home.  They spoke to their mother who explained why she could not get her child the medical help they needed. 
She could not afford to take off work for several days and leave her other young children at home alone to go across multiple state lines to find a clinic that could offer any assistance. 
So, this average ordinary person… someone who seemingly has no vested interest in what happens to this young person, or their family, offers to go… paying all of the expenses to ensure this young person gets the help they need… because this average ordinary person has come to understand just how much is at stake… recalling the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said:
All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. (Speech delivered at Temple Israel of Hollywood 2/26/1695)
Perhaps that story sounds a little farfetched to some, but for others it is far too close to their reality…
They are the casualties, the fallout if you will, of an assault being waged against the people who are supposed to be our neighbors… people who have been marginalized and ostracized because they do not fit into a narrow perspective of those whose lives have value and worth… those who are not worth the time of BEING NEIGHBORLY.
Someone somewhere has deemed them to be dispensable… considered them to be inconsequential… decided it’s okay if “those people” become collateral damage in their quest for domination.
And yet, if we consider all that is currently taking place in society, and do so in light of our New Testament lesson this morning, perhaps we would all be able to agree that what we see happening around us is not in line with Jesus’ teachings.
And so, as we look back at the text, the New International Version of the Bible uses the term “expert in the law” when referring to the man who approached Jesus.  Some versions refer to him as “a religion scholar,” while others use the term “legal expert,” and some simply call him “a lawyer.” 
Whatever the case may be, it is clear that he was well versed in the letter of the law and had more than a passing acquaintance with the more than 600 commands that are found in the Old Testament.
In fact, after posing the question to Jesus about what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus asked the legal expert what the Law stated and how he interpreted it… the man responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, verses Jesus Himself quoted in response to the question about which is the greatest commandment (see Matthew 22:35-40 and Mark 12:28-31).
This expert in the law seemed to understand that the law demanded total devotion to God and love for one’s neighbor, but that did not stop him from looking for a loophole… a way to more narrowly define just who his neighbor was.  And when he asked Jesus the question, “And who is my neighbor?” the answer came in the form of this story that we most frequently refer to as the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
But let me suggest, it is more than just a quaint little story that Jesus used to make a point.  Contained within this story are several key principles that demonstrate what BEING NEIGHBORLY is all about. 
The Life Application Study Bible (2005, p. 1695) suggests three principles:

1) lack of love can be easy to justify although it is never right.
2) our neighbors are anyone who is in need, regardless of age, race, creed, gender or social background.
And 3) true love means acting to meet someone else’s need.
Perhaps the religious leaders in our text, or the politicians in my rendition of the story, thought they had a legitimate reason for not stopping… maybe they thought the business they had to attend to was their most important priority and they did not want to be delayed.
Maybe they thought the person’s injuries were not life-threatening and that someone else would come along and tend to them.
Or it could be that they thought it was a false flag operation and they were afraid they were being set up… after all, one can’t be too careful these days.
Whatever justification they may have felt they had in passing by, BEING NEIGHBORLY means that even if a lack of showing love can be easily justified, it is still never right. 
Now the second lesson we can take from this parable is that our neighbor is anyone of any race, creed or social background who is in need.
According to the text, it was a Samaritan who stopped to render aid.  Just to provide some context, the Samaritans were a mixed-race group of people who were hated and shunned by the Jews.  And because the man who was beaten and left for dead was going from Jerusalem to Jericho, there is a high probability that the man was Jewish.
Yet seemingly with no thought as to who the man was or what his background may have been, the Samaritan went out of his way and showed him kindness and compassion… in other words, he showed him love.
He simply saw someone who was in need and he reacted accordingly… even going above and beyond in meeting the needs of the stranger.  He not only used his available resources to see that the man’s wounds were cleaned and bandaged…  he made provision for food and shelter as well… and even made arrangements to come back to check on him the next day.
He was truly BEING NEIGHBORLY, taking care of someone in need… doing so with the understanding that our neighbor is anyone of any race, creed or social background who is in need.
And that brings us to the third lesson in the parable… love means acting to meet the person’s need.
It is not simply enough to see and acknowledge that someone has a need.  As followers of Christ, we are compelled to do something to meet the need. 
In James 2 (15 – 17), we find these words:
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
And so, what are we supposed to do?  How do we stop the madness we see swirling around us?  How can we possibly hope to effect any change?
Let me suggest that change can and does start with even the smallest of ripples.  Have you ever stopped to watch how a pebble dropped in a lake or an ocean starts a ripple effect that grows increasingly larger from the center outward?
First Thessalonians 5:15 says, “See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.”  And so, we can start a ripple effect of love by doing good and showing kindness to one another and to everyone we encounter.  And just perhaps they will then do good and show kindness in turn to someone else.
And before you start to think or say that we can’t possibly hope to make a difference in a world that is running rampant with hate and evil, let me remind you of the story about a starfish…
Perhaps you remember me sharing the story before about a man who was walking along a beach that was covered with starfish.  He came upon a young boy who was picking up the starfish and throwing into the ocean.
When the man asked what the young boy was doing, he explained that he was throwing starfish into the ocean because the tide had washed them up onto the beach and they could not return to the sea by themselves.  He went on to explain that once the sun got high, they would die, unless he threw them back into the water.
The old man tried to dissuade the young boy, telling him that there must have been tens of thousands of starfish on this beach and he could not possibly make a difference.  Undeterred, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “Made a difference to that one!”
If each one of us does something to make a difference in the life of someone else, even just one someone else, we will start a ripple effect… spreading love that has the potential to explode exponentially.
As we look back at the text, after Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan to the lawyer, He asked him, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The lawyer answered, “The one who had mercy on him.”
And Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
In other words, go and start a ripple of love…
Even in the midst of turbulent times like the ones we are living in right now… love has the ability to turn the tide… and it all starts with a tiny little ripple that makes a difference to that one…
Now there is someone else who, just like that Good Samaritan and that little boy, was willing to go above and beyond and make a difference to that one… to each one of us.
He found us when we were at our lowest point…  and picked us up out of the gutter where the enemy tried to leave us for dead… He cleaned us up and has made provision for us until the day when He comes back for us…
And until that day when He comes back for us, He has left us with the mandate to love one another.  As it says in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The phrase “love one another” appears at least a dozen times in the New Testament which would seem to indicate that it is a fairly significant concept for us to grasp.  After all, repetition is often used within the Bible as a means of expressing the importance of a matter.
We have a mandate to follow… to love one another… because as the song says, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.  That’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.”
And so, as we, the church, the body of believers, seek to make a difference in this world and start that ripple effect of love that will turn the tide… we become the visible demonstration of Christ’s love in this world.
And love is what brought Christ to earth… for God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Love really is the key to inheriting eternal life… it is why Christ gave His life for us… and it is what will show the world that we belong to Christ.  Because as our Hymn of Discipleship says, “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love…”
And, if that is your desire today… to let the world know who we are and whose we are… as we seek to make a difference and spread ripples of love… then I want to invite you to stand and join in singing our Hymn of Discipleship:  They'll Know We Are Christians #494.