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Sermon transcript for August 4, 2013

Rich toward God
Luke 12:13-21
Belmont UMC—August 4, 2013
Ken Edwards, preaching

Audio - MP3

I visited with Frank on a Monday afternoon in his hospital room. When I walked in he became tearful and I said, “Every person I’ve visited today has cried. Is there something about me that makes people cry?”

Even in his illness Frank could not resist a wisecrack, “Ever think it might be your face,” he said.  Thanks a lot, Frank.

Frank proceeded to tell me that his doctors had just been in the room and they told him that they had done all they could. He was advised to call his children to talk with them. I knew his 3 grown children well; we’d spent many hours together in surgical waiting rooms over the past 2 years of Frank’s illness. Both Frank and his wife were faithful to church and well-loved throughout the church and the community. They lived in a modest brick house around the corner from our parsonage and they took great pride in their rose garden.

Frank asked if I could come back the next day at 11 AM; the time he expected his whole family to gather in the hospital room for a meeting. I assured him I would be there. There would be more tears to come.

The next day all of us gathered around Frank’s bedside. He was feeling strong and seemed glad to have everyone there. The faces of his family were solemn at best. He turned to me; it seemed easier for him to address his speech toward me and allow his children to overhear what he had to say. He began, “As you know by now, I’ve been very blessed in my life—especially by these children and my wonderful wife. These young adults have been raised to love God, to love each other, to care for those who are less fortunate, and to live with integrity. Each of them is making a difference in the world in some way. We never had a lot of money but we had enough. We invested what we had in their education and did what we could to help them fulfill their dreams. But we are rich, rich, rich! Pastor Ken, these 3 children are our legacy and as I prepare to depart this earth for better housing, I leave them to you and to your care.”

And then Frank got that gleam in his eye, turned toward his children and said, “And if you don’t live the way I taught you, I’ll ask for permission to come back to straighten you out.” A little humor helps when things turn too serious. I never read this parable from Luke without thinking of that day in Frank’s hospital room.

Jesus told a parable about a man who had lots of investments—his portfolio was full to overflowing. His money seemed to beget more money so he opened more accounts to hold all of it. And the man was happy with all he had. He sat back in his recliner with his favorite beverage and said, “Life is good—it doesn’t get any better than this.”

But God said to the man, “You are a fool. Tonight you could fall over dead. What will all these accounts do for you then?” So it will be for those who store up treasures for themselves but forget to be rich toward God. (This is the Revised Edwards version.)

The parable calls us to ask ourselves some questions: How much are we really worth? What is the real measure of our lives? What kind of lasting investments are we making?  How rich are we in the things of God?

Jesus is not suggesting that we ignore financial planning. We need to be wise with the resources that we have, but he is speaking to us about our priorities, our potential greed, our investment in things that last, things of God.

Jesus is saying that the best of life is not what we store in a barn or a garage or a bank account, it’s likely what we cannot see and measure. It’s the spiritual treasures, the relationships, the love and joy and peace, the ability to make a difference in the world. It’s the stuff that does not end when we come to the end of our lives—it’s eternal and lives on with God and in the lives of those we have loved and taught and cared for. That’s really living.

We were in Chatham, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, a few years back. We were in an antique store and the owner asked me if we had been to the Chatham dump. “They have a lot of good stuff out there. People around here are rich and they throw a lot of good stuff away. At the dump they have a shed where they keep all the good stuff and you can go there and get it for free. I saw a man throw away a brand new set of golf clubs the other day.  He said he had used them twice and he had not scored well with them so he threw them away. I have them now and I don’t even play golf.”

They say junk yards are theologically rich places, because everywhere you look you see the stuff that did not last, that people wanted and then decided to discard—things that people once treasured and now they are only fit for the dump. We all have these things but the question is, “How much do we have in our lives that will last forever? How rich are we in the things of God?”

Those who are rich toward God have made the decision to share their resources, not hoard them. I recall a story from Mr. Ackerman’s world history class in college. He was a fascinating lecturer and he told a fabled story about Marquis de Lafayette, the French general who assisted George Washington and the colonists in their quest for freedom during the Revolutionary War. Lafayette came from wealthy family, owning numerous estates.

In 1783 the grain harvest was poor which meant that the peasant farmers and their families suffered great hunger. But Lafayette’s managers till managed to fill their barns with grain. The price of wheat skyrocketed and the managers urged Lafayette, “Now is the time to sell.” But Lafayette, thinking about the peasants, said, “No, now is the time to give.” And he released the stores of grain to the peasants. Giving did not make Lafayette poor; it made him rich—rich toward God.

Those who are generous with what they have—those who give instead of hoard are those who are rich toward God!  Look around this room today, friends! Look at the faces of your friends in faith. See what we have in our shared lives together. We are very rich, my friends! Rich, rich, rich!

 

Sermon transcript for July 28, 2013

Teach Us to Pray
Luke 11:1-13
Belmont UMC—July 28, 2013
Ken Edwards, preaching

“Teach us to pray,” the disciples said to Jesus. How many times I have said those words during difficult times, times of crisis or dark nights of the soul. I sat in my office after the shootings at an elementary school in Connecticut, closed my eyes and said, “I have no idea how to pray now. Please teach me. I can’t remember the words or even how to begin.”

When nothing else comes to me I return to those familiar words of the Lord’s Prayer. The words bring peace and comfort like going home at the end of a long day, changing into familiar home clothes and retreating to a favorite chair. Why is that? Because they are not my words, but my Lord’s, and I know I can trust those words when I cannot trust my own. “Teach us to pray, Lord.”

The prayer that Jesus taught the disciples and us has become a part of our faith tradition. I remember a little boy who kept trying to get my attention on a church retreat. He was sitting next to me in worship one day when we were invited to say the Lord’s Prayer. After we finished he tugged on my shirt to get my attention and he said, “Hey, how did you know that?” This prayer has become a part of our spiritual DNA and it is the place where we retreat when we have no other words to offer.

The prayer that Jesus taught us in five sentences is both straight forward and radically transforming. Our familiarity with it may cause us to forget about the deep meaning of the words but the meaning is there nonetheless.

It begins by calling us into the presence of God. We come into God’s presence with awe and wonder. Prayer is a time for us to allow space for God, for putting aside the mental clutter and to be present to God who is always present to us. That’s why I the like the prayer with which we begin worship. You were praying that prayer when I arrived here 6 years ago and I think it was written by Reverend Carmen Lyly-Henley. “Help us to present in worship this day, even as you are present.”

When I pray I have to leave my desk area where the distractions abound. I sit in the prayer chair in my office and sometimes I go into the sanctuary or the chapel. Over the years I have made it a habit of praying for church members while sitting in their favorite seat in the place of worship. I take advantage of your habitual seating patterns. (It is also how I take attendance on Sundays. Some of you move around, but there are only a handful of you. It has been noted that I always sit in the same chair, as well.)

At home I go out on the screened porch or sit in my favorite reading chair in my office. We have to move away from our places of busyness and allow ourselves permission to be present to God.

I often wake up in the night; three o’clock in the morning is typical. My mind races to many things. Years ago I took comfort in Morton Kelsey’s story of those late night awakenings. Kelsey, an Episcopal priest and author, would wake up in the middle of the night and complain, “Lord, why is this happening to me?” One night he heard this reply in his mind, “Morton, you’re so busy all day that this is the only time I can get your attention.” After that those early hours became times of intimate communion with God. I heard theologian, Marjorie Suhocki, speak of making 1 AM appointments to talk with God.

At 3 AM I will often say the Jesus’ prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on . . .” Usually, it begins, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me and let me go to sleep.” That never works, so I repeat the prayer over and over in my mind and filling in the name of any person or group that comes to my mind. I’m surprised that many of the names that arise are persons I haven’t thought about or heard from in a long time. I believe that God guides those prayer thoughts.

We are invited to pray for the kingdom to come. This is a radical prayer—if we know what the kingdom looks like to God. In the prophets it looks a lot like the peaceable kingdom where all dwell together in peace and harmony and where weapons of violence are turned into implements of agriculture. In the gospels it looks like the great banquet where those who have been cast aside are welcomed as honored guests at the table. It looks like the stranger being welcomed in. It looks like the hungry being fed.

Our 10:30 worship service last Sunday looked a lot like the kingdom of God, with people of different cultures and different languages coming together around one table and worshipping together.

The kingdom looks like dinner time at Room in the Inn, a ministry where homeless neighbors are invited in to spend the night during the coldest months in Nashville. These neighbors, who are often treated like nuisances by many in our city, are invited in as honored guests, given seats at the banquet table, waited on by volunteers, and served delicious food. Many of you have shared the joy of sitting at the table with these guests and hearing their stories.

The kingdom looks like Belmont youth raising fresh vegetables at a farm in Fairview, vegetables that will be used to feed Nashville’s hungry. We see glimpses of the kingdom all the time around here and we are blessed.

The Lord’s Prayer takes on a very human element. The words are “give us,” “forgive us,” and “deliver us.”

“Give us our daily bread.” This prayer reminds us of the Israelites in the wilderness who collected manna each day. Manna was God’s daily provision to feed the wandering people. They could not store it but had to trust each day that God would provide. This prayer is a reminder of our daily trust and reliance on God.

“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” We are invited to receive God’s forgiveness because we are human, frail, broken and in need of God’s generous grace. We are invited to participate in the spiritual practice of forgiving those who have hurt and wounded us. This is not easy but it’s necessary for the wholeness of the faith community.

“Deliver us from the time of trial.” This prayer reminds us that we are vulnerable and we need God’s hand to deliver us and save us. We cannot save ourselves.

“Teach us to pray, Lord.” I believe that prayer is more than making requests to God, but prayer at its deepest level is about listening to God. I tell premarital couples in our counseling sessions that communication at its deepest level is about listening, not talking. It’s about listing to the feelings of the other, even when the other person cannot name or articulate his or her own feelings. It’s easier to say that than it is for me to do it. In deep prayer we hear God articulating our deepest feelings and longings, even we cannot name them ourselves.

I had wonderful friend who died 15 years ago this summer. I think him every day and there are things in my office that remind me of him and of our friendship. During his last two months with us, I would call him or visit him almost every day. At his house I would find him stretched out on the sofa. He was about 6 foot 4 inches tall and there would be arms and legs sticking out of the blanket and draped over the ends of the sofa, but that was his favorite place to be.

Sometimes when I arrived at the house and let myself in the door, he would be asleep and I’d sit on the floor beside the sofa and wait and pray. When he woke up and saw me he would smile and pat me on the head or shoulder and I would say, “What’s on your mind today?” or “How would you like to spend this time together?” And he would start talking. I called these questions “launching pads.”

He was very much at peace with all that was happening to him and he never complained in the face of such suffering. He would tell me how incredibly close he felt to God and the images of God that he was having, images that gave him comfort and hope. My friend would talk until he was tired and then I’d pray with him. Sometimes I was jealous of his spiritual experiences. Because I was not at peace with what was happening to him.

One day my friend’s Dad came by the office to talk. He had come by to thank me for the visits and then he said, “My son says that your visits mean so much and the words you share with him are helping him feel at peace, and helping prepare for whatever comes.” I said, “That doesn’t make any sense. I only say a few words and then I listen as he talks and talks.” Later, I came to believe that my dear friend had learned to pray at a level I have never learned. And he was listening and hearing God, not me, speak words of hope and peace. May we learn to listen to the voice of God in the deep moments of prayer.

Jesus ends this teaching by telling us a parable which seems to mean, “Be persistent. Don’t give up. Don’t lose heart.” I like what Frederick Buechner wrote about this being persistent in prayer, “not because you have to beat a path to God’s door before he’ll open it, but because until you beat the path maybe there’s no way of getting to your door.”  (Listening to Your Life, p. 212)

(Note: I ended the service with a Call to Serve and more words of Frederick Buechner, who said, “Go where your best prayers take you!”)

   

Sermon transcript for July 21, 2013

Distracted by Many Things
Luke 10:38-42
Belmont UMC—July 21, 2013--8:15 Service
Ken Edwards, preaching

As a young pastor I led a Wednesday night Bible study. This was a wonderful group of friends and the group grew in our love for one another. One of our older friends was a woman named Nancy. Nancy was doer. She would come in and set up the coffee. On quilting days at church she was there to set out the supplies. She was on the altar guild and enjoyed polishing the brass, changing the paraments and attending to each detail.

One night at Bible study someone suggested that it would be radical to live each day as our last. If you knew this was your last day on the planet, what would you do? We went around the room as each person shared their thoughts.

One said, “I would get my affairs in order, find an attorney, go over my will.” Another said, “I’d spend all day with my family.” Yet another said, “I’d share my faith story with my parents who have never understood my interest in the church.”

When we came to Nancy, she said, “This is easy. I’d clean out my closets. There is no way I’m leaving that mess behind for someone else to see.”

In her defense, on quilting days, after Nancy set everything up for the quilting team, she would bring two cups of coffee in my office and we would sit together and have the most incredible conversations. This was our time to solve the world’s problems—at least that’s what we called it. And Nancy could be the most focused and attentive listener.

When we studied today’s text in Bible study one night, Nancy defended Martha, saying, “Martha was right; Mary should have been more helpful.” And haven’t we all felt that way. If Mary would have been more helpful, then maybe both of them would have had more time with Jesus.

And I’ve never been willing to preach a sermon bashing Martha, because Martha seems to be doing what Jesus teaches: serving and caring for the needs of others.

But we may see ourselves in Martha—even identifying with her frustration with Mary’s lack of help. A lot of us have said, “Mom, make my sister help me with the dishes.” The scripture tells us that Martha was “distracted by many things” and the word “distracted” in Greek is perispao which means vision that is “dragged around” or not focused on any one thing.

A lot of us can identify with the life that is dragged around, not focused, distracted.

He was in the right lane traffic and I was in the left lane and I was watching him because I had this sense that he was going to do something erratic. And he did, he turned left in front of me and I slammed on the brakes. I could see the problem: he had a cell phone in one hand, and in the other hand that was clutching the steering wheel, was a cigarette. He was too distracted to be driving.

We are the multitasking culture. Some of us make more mistakes because we think we can do so many things at one time. We are like those plate spinners that we used to see on television variety shows, who run from pole to pole to keep our plates from falling to the floor.

All my life I have heard people say, “If I could start over again, I would live differently. I’d be more focused on my family and my friendships. I would stop more and smell the roses and pay attention to simple things.” But we don’t get another chance.

Sometimes life experiences, even crises, bring our lives into focus. Writer, Stephen King, was hit by a car in 1999 while he was walking along the road near his home. The driver did not stop and this near death experience caused him to rethink his life, his preoccupation with material things and his need to give back and live more generously.

He was lying in a ditch covered in mud and blood, with his broken tibia protruding through his jeans. He said, “I was aware that I had my Master Card in my wallet, but when you’re lying in a ditch, with broken glass in your hair, no one accepts Master Card.”

We find ourselves torn between wanting a life that is more focused on the truly important and valuable gifts of life and living one that is scattered all over the place.
In the Gospel story the focus is on Jesus, on the sacred, on a God moment, a moment not to be missed. The Marthas among us will often miss those moments.

Mary as a metaphor for Sabbath.
When I read this text I like to think of Mary’s life as a metaphor for Sabbath. Mary is stopped, she is still and she is focused. Sabbath is a time to stop, to stop working, to stop busyness. It is a time to be still and quiet and reflective. It is allowing space for the sacred to happen.

I may be preaching to myself here because Sabbath keeping is a goal for me, not often a reality. Sabbath is often illusive. My days off from work begin with a list of chores to be marked off throughout the day.

I read Marva Dawn’s book, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, a few years ago and it caused me to long for more of those times when I can make space for God’s renewal and healing to come. It has become required reading for those who are on the way to ordination in our Conference—my small influence at work. 

Our culture is not comfortable with inactivity and stillness. We don’t reward people who stop work. We call them “lazy.” Being still and quiet is disconcerting for some folks. We are more comfortable with doing than we are with being. We describe who we are by telling people what we do most of the time—that’s our identity.

I haven’t announced this to the whole church but I have a one month renewal leave coming up—between August 15 and September 15. We are supposed to take one of these every 5 years and I will end this conference year with 40 service years, according to the Board of Pensions. I have never taken a renewal leave. My goal during that leave is to be quiet, read and meditate and do simple things. I will be doing some writing, as well. People keep asking me, “What are you going to do on your leave?” This question bothers me, because the point of my leave is to focus on who I am with God, not what I can accomplish during 30 days away.

We reward those who are overworked to the point of being burned out. In seminary we used to quote this little poem, “Mary had a little lamb, among her many sheep, who became a Methodist pastor and died from lack of sleep.”

We need Sabbath times, and if not whole days, then Sabbath moments. Something happens within us during those times. We change. We become more focused and we see things that we had missed before. We become more fully aware of our selves and we allow that space for God to come, to speak, to heal and to guide.

Mary as a metaphor for true worship.
It is possible for us to see Mary’s life as a metaphor for true worship, as well. Our hearts hunger for worship, time set apart and given to God, time to allow ourselves to wonder at the awesomeness of God.

Martha seems to be confused with who is the host. She thinks that she is the host to Jesus, but when Jesus is in the house, he is always the host. Sometimes we plan worship as though we are trying to plan an event that Jesus would be happy to attend. When we come to worship, Jesus is always the host and we are the invited guests. We begin the worship service with a call to worship or greeting. This is not a time for us to call God to come and join us, but for us to hear God calling us to worship. We call that grace! We come here week after week to sit at the feet of Jesus, our host.

It is a beautiful and grace-filled experience to come here each week, to break the bread of life and to share from the cup that reminds us of God’s love for us.

In worship, like Sabbath, something happens to us. Our eyes become focused on what is real and important. We are reminded of who we are and whose we are. We look around at the people of God with grateful hearts. We grow closer to God and closer to one another.

God has our attention! Thanks be to God!



Growing in Love
Mark 12:29-31
Belmont UMC—July 21, 2013
Ken Edwards, preaching

(This brief sermon was offered to the congregation on the Sunday we worship with members from Thailand and Burma. Everything was translated so we could worship together and share Holy Communion with one another.)

Jesus said that the first commandment is to love the Lord with all our heart, all our soul, all our minds, and all our strength. This is who we are as God’s children. We are the ones who love God with everything we are and everything we have.

Jesus said the second commandment is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” Last week we read the story of the Good Samaritan and we learned that a neighbor is anyone who needs us.

We love God and keep this sacred promise because God first loved us. 1 John 4:7 reads, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God.” Verse 19 reminds us that, “We love because God first loved us.”

The mission statement of our church is taken from this passage from Mark. It states: “We are a community of Christ followers growing in love of God and neighbor.”

The word “growing” is important to our mission. It means that we always have more to learn. It means that we are learning to love God more fully. It means we are learning to love our neighbors in more meaningful ways.

It means that we are finding new pathways to knowing God and God’s purpose for our lives. It means we are finding new ways to break down barriers and love our neighbors and one another.

We grow in our love for God and neighbor as we come together for worship, for fellowship, to share our stories, to study scripture and to pray for one another and for friends throughout the world.

As we come for worship together today, our hearts are full of love and God is smiling on us.

We come from different lands and different cultures. We speak different languages. We like different foods: some like noodles and rice; others prefer hamburgers and French fries.

But we gather around one table, God’s table, and share the same food, God’s food of bread and wine. It is the food that binds us to one another and to God. At this table we speak one language, the language of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Jesus invites to love our neighbors, with the kind of love and compassion that stopped a Samaritan in his tracks on the road to Jericho, with love that reaches across boundaries and prejudice with help and healing.

How do we love our neighbors? Spontaneously, unconditionally, sacrificially, unilaterally, and maybe a little recklessly, because that is what Jesus would do.

 

Sermon transcript for July 14, 2013

Who Is My Neighbor?
Luke 10:25-37
Belmont UMC—July 14, 2013
Ken Edwards, preaching

The recent edition of Runners World Magazine features stories related to the Boston Marathon bombing. Not long ago I heard the editor of this magazine interviewed on National Public Radio and he spoke about the events of the day in May when the bombing took place near the finish line of the marathon. He had been along the race route that day and at one point had been near the location of the bombing. He learned of the bombing as he was boarding a train to go home to Connecticut to be with his wife and children.

He spoke of those runners who had trained all year and whose main life goal was to compete in the Boston Marathon and complete it. He spoke of those runners, near the finish line and realizing that bombs were injuring spectators, gave up their life long goal and ran to help those who were wounded. He said, “I like to think that’s what we would all have done, if we’d been there. I like to think that’s what I would have done, but I’ll never know. One never knows how we will respond at the moment of crisis.”

As we hear Jesus telling a story about a Samaritan who helped a wounded traveler along the Jericho road we must find ourselves asking the same question, “What would have I have done if I came upon this wounded man? How would I have responded?”

The parable is a familiar one—we learned it in Sunday School as children and because of its familiarity it may have lost some of its punch for those of us who have been around the church for awhile.

I recall using this parable for a preschool chapel devotional at my last church. I asked the 3 and 4 year olds to act out the different parts as I read the story. I had a team of “bad guys” ready to pounce on our unsuspecting traveler, when a brown eyed little girl looked up at me (I thought she was going to cry.) and said, “Oh, please, I don’t think I can be one of the bad guys.” So she walked across the chancel and joined the team of good Samaritans. Not surprisingly, several little boys on the front row raised their hands enthusiastically and said, “Pick me! Pick me! I’ll be a bad guy!” (Well of course you will, boys.)

In a youth group setting we took a number of parables and rewrote them in modern language and with modern settings. The youth were encouraged to think outside the box and be creative. One group used today’s text. It bothered me a bit when their version told the story of a man who was beaten along a familiar road and left for dead. The read their version, “And Pastor Ken, was on his way to the Finance Committee, and was too busy to stop and help.” They continued, “Then the District Superintendent came by and decided from his vantage point that the man was already dead so he kept going.” (I like that part better). “Then the Bishop came by. . .” None of us was left unscathed.  Their interpretation was correct: that we should look for ourselves in the story and ask, “What would we have done?”

The parable came as the result of a question from legal expert. Jesus told the crowds, “Love your neighbor.” The legal expert asked, “Who is my neighbor? Could you clarify that for me?” Frederick Buechner writes, “He presumably wanted something on the order of: “A neighbor (hereinafter referred to as the party of the first part) is to be construed as person of Jewish descent whose legal residence is within a radius of no more than three statute miles from one’s own legal residence, unless there is another person of Jewish descent (hereinafter referred to as the party of the second part) living closer to the party of the first part than one is oneself, in which case the party of the second part is to be construed as neighbor to the party of the first part and one is oneself relieved of all responsibility of any sort or kind whatsoever.’ Instead, Jesus told the story of a Good Samaritan, the point of which seems to be that your neighbor is anybody who need you.”
(Listening to Your Life)

A man was beaten and robbed on the road to Jericho, a familiar and dangerous stretch, a place where thieves waited for travelers. Probably Jesus’ hearers had been robbed along that same stretch of road or they knew someone who had. Two clergy-type folks passed by and did not help the victim. According to law, contact with a dead person would render them religiously unclean and unfit for temple duty. And the man looked dead, didn’t he?

And here is the surprise. It is a Samaritan who offered to help, and in no small way. He was generous beyond expectation. As Jesus’ hearers listened to this part of the story, their mouths would have dropped open in disbelief and shock.

The history of animosity between Jews and Samaritans was long and deep, and neither wanted much to do with the other—not since the Babylonian exile. Hundreds of years had passed and the hatred still ran deep. They worshipped at different temples and Jesus’ disciples, in another gospel story, offered to bring down fire on some Samaritans.
But a Samaritan stopped to help a Jewish victim, and at great cost to himself. Shocking!!

Maybe this parable tells us what Jesus would do. We like to ask the question, “What would Jesus do?” The question became a bit cliché over the last few decades, but it is a valid theological question. The problem with the question is that when we ask the question seriously we discover that we don’t like the answers so much. What would Jesus do? Jesus would cross the road to help the wounded victim, but more importantly, he would cross the cultural, social, and ethnic, religious, racial barriers that often divide us. Our nation needs a church that will model that kind of compassion.

Someone said that parables add to our religious uncertainty. Let me repeat that:  Parables add to our religious uncertainty. We thought we knew who our neighbors were until Jesus told us a parable about a Good Samaritan.

The thing is: we like our boundaries, our walls, our barriers that define who’s in and who’s out. Those boundaries create some odd sense of comfort for us. They take away the uncertainty. We like to draw boundaries. Jesus erases them. We build walls. Jesus tears them down. We wish Jesus would tell a parable that helps us understand who our enemies are. Instead, Jesus tells a parable that helps us understand who our neighbors are. The problem is: it turns out that the people we thought were our enemies are, in fact, our neighbors.  

The other way to look at this parable is from the view point of the victim. The victim has no choice in the story, but would this Jewish victim prefer the help of a Samaritan. Probably not.

I remember a story Ellsworth Kalas told us years ago at a pastors’ retreat. He was on his way downtown Cincinnati on a hot summer day to speak at a big luncheon. He was on the interstate and his car began to sputter and he noticed the gas gauge was on empty. He quickly exited into one of the worst parts of the city, into an area where mostly bars and questionable businesses existed. His car coasted to stop in front of a run down bar. This was before cell phones so he rolled the windows up and locked the doors and prayed.

Two rough looking men came out of the bar and walked earnestly toward his car. He was terrified of what they might do. One of men banged on the window and then looked Kalas in the eye through glass. He yelled, “Are you okay in there?” Kalas responded, “I’m out of gas.” The man yelled back, “Come inside where it’s cool.” Kalas, “I’m fine here.” Perspiration dripped off his nose and onto his lap.

The two men disappeared behind the bar and Kalas was relieved. In a few moments they reappeared with a gas can and began to fill his tank. He unlocked the door and came out and thanked the men. He said, “I felt stupid. I guess I wanted the Methodists to come and help me but they never showed up.” We will likely find ourselves on the receiving end of unlikely and surprising help and God will teach what it really means to be a neighbor.

The question is not, “Who is my neighbor?” We know the answer, even if we don’t like it or it inconveniences us. The question is, “How shall we love our neighbors?”  Jesus invites us to follow him. In a world that loves to draw boundaries and build barriers, Jesus invites us to be dare to care disciples who find themselves by losing themselves in service to others.

Jesus invites to love our neighbors, with the kind of love and compassion that stopped a Samaritan in his tracks on the road to Jericho, with love that reaches across boundaries and prejudice with help and healing.

How do we love our neighbors? Spontaneously, unconditionally, sacrificially, unilaterally, and maybe a little recklessly, because that is what Jesus would do.

   

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