Flexibility & Compassion [The Art of Neighboring #1]
The Art of Neighboring: Flexibility and Compassion
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • June 26, 2016 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor
We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. If this is your first time or 100th, we are honored that you are here today in our community.
Whether you arrived here this morning because of an Internet search, because you were invited, or because you already knew the way, we are grateful for you and for the gift of God that you bring with you into this space. Our simple prayer for you is that you would experience welcome, acceptance, peace, and space to have an encounter with the loving presence of the living God during your time with us this morning!
Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
In Luke 10, after silencing the Sadducees, a law-keeper has a question for Jesus. This question and it’s response from Jesus is the basis for how we should see each other and how we live as kingdom people. In a cultural climate where we are often being asked to see our neighbors as a hated “other” someone who should be treated with contempt and mistrust, Jesus reminds us of our call to trust and love God first, which will allow us to love our neighbors and others as we love ourselves. Reading in verse 25:
25On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25)
In response, Jesus poses his own questions:
26“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” (Luke 10:26)
Here Jesus is flipping the experts question back on him, what is written in the Law? But then he couples it with another question, not just what does it say, but “How do you read it?” You might know what it says, but are you willing to put it into practice?
The expert replies,
27 The Expert in the Law answered, “‘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 neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27)
This expert in the Law demonstrates his knowledge and understanding by plucking two verse from the Law and putting them together. First, he quotes Deuteronomy 6:5:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5)
Then he joins Deuteronomy 6:5 with Leviticus 19:18:
‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18)
He could have just answered by quoting Leviticus 19:18 and been done. It’s the most straight-forward and simple response, “Don’t seek revenge. Love your neighbor as yourself.” But this expert also understood the importance of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), the prayer that any observant Jew would offer daily.
4Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:4–5)
The expert knows that that love of neighbor flows from the overflow of love that is experienced in our loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. When we become settled and secure in God’s love for us, he provision for us, his mercy for us, it enables and fuels our love of others.
28“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:28)
If the question that the expert wants answered is “How do I live? How do I follow God in an unstable world? How do ensure that I am included in God’s kingdom when it comes?” Then Jesus has answered. “You already know what is expected of you, go ahead and do it.” But I think the expert realizes that what’s written in the Law is too much. It’s like what Paul, the apostle says in Romans 7:13-20, “The problem isn’t the Law, it’s our inability to keep the Law that’s the problem.”
But the expert in the law wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)
When the expert asks the question, who is my neighbor, I don’t think he’s being flippant. I think he just wanted a listing of what would qualify someone as a neighbor. When Luke says that he wanted to justify himself, let’s look at it through a first-century Jewish perspective, to be justified is to be saved, and to be saved is to “inherit eternal life.” It’s this idea that we granted the status of one whom God accepts as we stand before God. Based on the fact that expert quotes Leviticus, I bet the expert was expecting Jesus to define neighbor as a fellow Jew, someone exactly like him who followed and observed the Law. There really wasn’t a tradition within Israel for loving ones enemies as yourself, neighbors from your own tribe, sure, but not enemies. From any reading of the Law, one would be forgiven for assuming that God only punished Israel’s enemies.
Coming towards the expert in the Law, Jesus tells him a story,
30In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ (Luke 10:30-35)
This is a powerful story because it does exactly what Jesus intended it to do, which is shift the understanding of how we define just who our neighbor is. After hearing this story, the expert is confronted with the reality that more is expected of him than he had been doing and what he hoped God would require of him.
Jesus continues with another question:
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37)
The original question, “Who is my neighbor?” remains unanswered by Jesus. Maybe because that question implies selectivity about who should be loved and shown mercy. Instead, Jesus reflects on the larger question, maybe the one the expert should have posed, “To whom must I become a neighbor?” You cannot answer this question with a list, or a definition of neighbor.
You can only answer this question having caught God’s heart, having experienced God’s love, his mercy, his grace, for yourself. This is a heart response. As our heart is shaped and (re)formed by God, it changes the way we act. It changes the way we behave. Jesus doesn’t answer, because he wants us and the expert in the Law to develop flexibility and compassion. As we become to understand God’s mercy an compassion towards us despite the that we don’t deserve it, we are able to have mercy and compassion towards others. If we lack flexibility and compassion it doesn’t matter who is defined as neighbor, we will always experience the call to obey the Greatest Commandment as a metaphor for how we should live. Not how we live.
It’s easy to check out of this passage when you realize that almost anyone could qualify as our neighbor, so I want to offer us a way forward. What if, in addition to the loving our enemies as ourselves, Jesus was inviting us to do something more basic, like getting to know and learning to love our literal neighbors. Remember the Samaritans were the literal neighbors of Israel. More than literal neighbors they were also distant cousins.
We clearly need God's help here to love our neighbors whether literal or those who might be for us an enemy, and at the same time, we need a way to cooperate with the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. Trying to love everyone all at the same time won’t work, it won’t get us very far, what if the way that we cooperate with the Holy Spirit is by learning to love our literal physical neighbors?
Over the next several weeks, we will engage this sermon series on the Art of Neighboring. Today, we start with our literal neighbors.
Let’s try a quick exercise. This might hurt a little bit as we attempt to apply the greatest commandment in a practical real-world context.
On the back of the sermon handout today, I have a 3 x 3 grid that I would like you to fill-out and complete, this grid isn’t designed to shame you, but to invite you to take the next step in applying the great commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.
The center box is you (or your household) working out from the center, let’s see if you can fill in the grid with a. the names of your nearest eight neighbors, if you can do that, awesome, next more on to filling in one fact that you know about your neighbors, are you able to fill in all eight boxes? Great, next step, add a in-depth bit of information like their career plans or dreams or anything to do with the purpose of their lives. What motivates them. I think it’s hard enough for us to imagine loving our enemies when most of us don’t even know our neighbors.
Following the greatest commandment starts with getting to know our neighbors by name.