Sermon preached at St Peter's Church, Ipoh, Malaysia on Sunday 14th July 2013
Bill Hybels, who founded Willow Creek Community Church in America, tells the story of how
one day he was challenged by a member of his congregation in the car park after a church service.
This man was clearly very upset.
He had met someone in need of food and a place to stay, and so he'd tried phoning the church
office. But even though he phoned many times, there was never any reply. This man looked at
Bill Hybels and said "Don't you think the church should have been there for people like this in
their time of need?"
Bill asked the man, "What did you do?" To which he replied, well I got him some food, and
provided a place for him to stay for the weekend. Bill Hybel's replied, "It sounds to me as though there church was there for this man."
Through baptism, each one of us is called to full time Christian ministry and service. This calling
is for all God's people, irrespective of age, race, background or gender. To love God and love our neighbours as ourselves. To help illustrate this Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan.
WHAT MUST I DO TO INHERIT ETERNAL LIFE?
A lawyer wanted to test Jesus and asked him, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life."
Notice how the question is phrased, "what must I DO to inherit eternal life." Underlying this
question is an assumption that eternal life is something that can be earned by good behaviour,
going to church, praying regularly. As if we can buy our way into heaven by what we do.
But the question is flawed. "What can I DO to inherit eternal life?" The answer is NOTHING.
Eternal life is not something that can earned, it's a free gift.
I'm the father to three boys, Tomek, Adam and Henryk, they are my heirs. When I die they will
inherit from me, not because they have earned it through good behaviour, because they tidy their rooms, or do as I ask them, but because they are my children. Inheritance by its very nature is a gift.
Through faith in Jesus we become sons and daughters of God, adopted into God's family. Paul in our Romans writes “you received the Spirit of adoption. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. And if children, then
heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:15-17).
You receive your inheritance on the death of a relative or friend. It is because of Jesus' death and resurrection that we can receive this gift of eternal life.
So what is this gift of eternal life? When we talk about eternal life we tend to think about it in
terms of life after death. But eternal life is both a present reality and a future hope.
In the story of the prodigal son, the younger son decides he can't wait to receive his share of the
inheritance, and so demands to be given it, and goes off to a distant country to squander his
wealth. It is only when the money runs out, and that his friends abandon him and he hits rock
bottom, that he comes to his senses, and realises that the servants in his father's household are
better off than he is, and so he returns to his father, in the hope he can be accepted as one of his servants. But as soon as the father sees his son, he is overjoyed, and puts puts sandals on his feet, a ring on his finger and places a new robe around him, and then throws a big party. But when the older son hears the sounds of celebration coming from the house, and learns that his younger brother has returned, he starts to bitterly complain, and says to his father "For years I have worked for you like a slave and have always obeyed you. But you have never even given me a little goat, so that I could give a dinner for my friends. This other son of your wasted your money on prostitutes. And now that he has come home, you ordered the best calf to be killed for a feast."(Luke 15:29-30) To which the father replied, "My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours." (Luke 15:31) The point is that the inheritance that these two sons would receive was already theirs, it was already made available to them.
Because of the victory won for us on the cross, we are already receipients of this gift of eternal
life, through faith in Jesus Christ. The gift of eternal life is the relationship we can have with
Jesus Christ, and the blessings that come from that relationship. Jesus said "I tell you the truth,
that everyone who hears my message and has faith in the one who sent me has eternal life
and will never be condemned. They have already gone from death to life." John 5:24
The gift of eternal life is ours to enjoy now today, it's not just some future promise, but a present
reality to be enjoyed.
LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD AND YOUR NEIGHBOUR AS YOURSELF
In reply to the question, what must I do to inherit eternal life, Jesus responds by asking the lawyer a question in return. "What is written in the law? How do you read it?" To which the lawyer replies, "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 neighbour as yourself." To which
Jesus commends the response and says, "You have answered right, do this and you will live."
The command to love God, comes from Deuteronomy 6:5, and is known as the Shema, and the
command to love our neighbour comes from Leviticus 19:18, together these two commands are known as the Golden Rule. There is no other commandment greater than these, they sum up the law and the prophets.
What these two commandments reveal is that Christianity is all about relationships. First and
foremost it is about our relationship between God and ourselves, and out of that flows our
relationship with our neighbours.
Emphasising love of God and then love of neighbour, reminds us that God must always come first, others second, and ourselves last. But at the same time we recognise that we fail in this task. Many of us struggle to accept and love ourselves, let alone God or our neighbour. So we need to ask for God's help, in loving him, and loving our neighbour, because it is no easy task.
WHO IS MY NEIGHBOUR?
Seeking to justify himself further, the lawyer asks Jesus, 'But who is my neighbour?' In response
to this question Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.
The road between Jerusalem and Jericho winds its way through 17 miles of rocky and dangerous terrain, and even as late as the 1930s, it had a reputation for being a dangerous road, where travellers would often be attacked. Although Jesus doesn't say that the man who is attacked is a Jew, it is clear from his story that he was. He was attacked, and left half dead on the road.
Not long after, a priest travelling down the same road, saw the man lying injured, but instead of
stopping to assist him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite came across the man and like the priest passed by on the other side.
Why did neither the priest or Levite stop to help this man? Surely that was the right and
compassionate thing to do?
Both the priest and the Levite worked in the Temple in Jerusalem. The priest was on his way
down the mountain from Jerusalem to Jericho, where many of the priests lived. The priests would go up to Jerusalem for a two week assignment and then return to their homes in Jericho. This priest probably was returning from the temple.
It was probably not clear if this man was dead or alive. The jews believed that if you touched a
corpse you would become ceremonially unclean. Therefore if the priest or Levite touched the man and discovered he was dead, they would became ceremonially defiled, they would need to return to Jerusalem and undergo a week long process of ceremonial purification. Meanwhile during this time the priest would not be able to eat from the tithes, or even collect them. The same would be true for his family and servants. Distribution to the poor would have also been impossible.
Furthermore, if the victim wasn't a Jew, then the priest and Levite were not responsible under the law to do anything to help this man.
There may have been other considerations. It could have been possible that this was a trap to lure them in, and the man on the road was only pretending to be injured, with his accomplices lying in waiting to ambush anyone who would come to his aid. And even if it wasn't a trap, there was the real risk that the robbers were still in the vacinity, and therefore the priest and Levite would have been keen to have got to safety as quickly as possible. The priest in particular came from a prestigious and elite class in Jewish society, and would have made an attractive target for thieves.
Then there is also the inconvenience that would have been created if they had stopped to help this man.
It's easy to stand in judgement over these two people, but this story challenges us to consider what excuses we make when it comes to helping others? Am I any better? I'm sure the priest and Levite felt justified in what they did, I have to recognise that there have been times when I've also justified my lack of action on behalf of others, because it would be inconvenient or time
consuming. I think of the times when I've seen people begging for money on the street, homeless, and often showing the ravages of alcohol and drug addiction. And I'm ashamed to say, too often I turn the other way. I avoid their gaze, I cross the other side of the street. Am I really that different to the priest and Levite in this story?
The third person to come along was a Samaritan, but unlike the first two people this person
stopped, and took pitty on the man lying on the road.
The fact that Jesus should make the hero of this story a Samaritan would have been a shocking and unexpected twist, because the Samaritans and Jews hated one another.
WHO ARE THE SAMARITANS?
The Samaritans lived in what had been the Northern Kingdom of Israel. There capital Samaria,
was located between Galilee in the north and Judea in the south. The Samaritans were a racially mixed society with Jewish and pagan ancestry. Although they worshiped Yahweh as did the Jews, their religion was not mainstream Judaism. They accepted only the first five books of the Bible as canonical, and their temple was on Mount Gerazim instead of on Mount Zion in Jerusalem (Jn 4:20).
Because of their imperfect adherence to Judaism and their pagan ancestry, the Samaritans were despised by ordinary Jews. Rabbi Eliezer a contemporary of St Luke said, "He that eats the bread of the Samaritans is like one who eats the flesh of swine." Rather than contaminate themselves by passing through Samaritan territory, Jews who were traveling from Judea to Galilee or vice versa would by pass the area, even though it meant a longer journey.
Today there are still around 300 active practioners of the Samaritan religion in Israel.
If it had been a 'good' Jew assisting a Samaritan, it may have been more accetpable to Jesus' listeners, rather than the other way around.
The first thing the Samaritan did was that he saw the injured man, but unlike the two travellers
before him, he did pass by on the other side of the road. Instead he had:
It clearly didn't matter to the Samaritan who this man was, he saw someone in need, and
regardless of his own safety or convenience, he stopped to help the man.
He bound up his wounds, and poured oil and wine on them - which were mixed to form a
medication for wounds.
The Samaritan then transported the wounded man to an inn within Jewish territory, probably in
5) Spent money on him
And took him to an inn, and paid the inn keeper two denari, which would have covered the bill for food and lodging for at least one or two weeks, and promising to pay more on his return, so his care didn't end here it continued. It is often overlooked in the story, but in doing this the
Samaritan was placing his own life at risk, because such was the hatred and distrust that existed between the Jews and Samaritans.
What we see from this story is that the Samaritan uses all his available resources (oil, wine, a cloth wrapping, animal, time, energy and money) to care for this wounded man, and that he was
prepared to do the things the priest and Levite were not willing to do, and that he did it expecting NOTHING in return.
Of the three travellers on the road, the Samaritan demonstrates what it means to be a true
neighbour. The challenge of the parable for us is to "Go and do likewise."
What this parable reveals is the true nature of costly love, the love that we are called to have for
our neighbours, no matter who they are. It also demonstrates the life changing power of costly
love, which Jesus himself would demonstrate on the cross.
In telling this story of the Good Samaritan challenges us to think not only about 'Who is myneighbour', but also 'who should I be a neighbour to?' The answer is that your neighbour is
anyone in need, regardless of language, religion or ethnicity.
The challenge for us is profound. Can we learn to love people like this Samaritan? In the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew's Gospel Jesus commends those who feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, looked after the sick, and visited the prisoner. He said "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (Matthew 25:40). When we reach out in love, it is Christ
we are serving.
Mother Theresa, who was famous for her care of the poor and disadvantaged in Calcutta, was
once asked “How can you keep serving the poor, the sick, and the dying with such vigor? What's the secret? How do you do it?” To which she answered, "Whenever I meet someone in need, it’s really Jesus in his most distressing disguise.”
Jesus in the child abandoned by the road.
Jesus in the beggar hoping for a meal.
Jesus in the leper whose limbs have turned to dust.
"It’s him I help—him alone."
Are we able to see Christ in our neighbour.
STORY OF THE STREET PASTORS IN WALSALL - IMPACTING LIVES
It doesn't matter who we are, whether we are old or young; healthy or infirm; rich or poor;
employed or not, married or single, parents or childless. Whoever we are, as Christians, we have at least one thing in common: we each have a Frontline.
Your Frontline is the place where you spend the majority much of your time - that might be at
work in the office, at school, college or university, it may be looking after children, or caring for
elderly or sick relatives.
Your Frontline: is the place where you will meet your neighbours, the people who don't know
Your Frontline: the place God where God wants you to serve your neighbours.
We each need to identify where our frontline is, because this is the place where God wants to use you, and the place where you can make maximum impact.
A man was standing one day on the platform waiting for a train to take him to work, when
someone came up to him and asked, 'What do you do for a living', to which he replied 'I'm aChristian, thinly disguised as an accountant.' For this man his frontline was at work and he
realised that his primary calling and vocation was as a disciple of Christ in that place.
Think for a moment about how you spend your typical week, and the people you meet as you go
about your business. How would it change things if you started to see this as your place of
ministry, and looked for opportunities to show love to the people you meet day in day out. How
would it change the way you interact with people in that situation?
Imagine the impact we could have if we saw our frontline as the mission field, as the place God
wants us to minister in, amongst our friends, neighbours, work colleagues, at the school gate or at the shops.
It's on our frontlines that we can each make a real impact, because it's the place where Christians and non-Christians are able to meet and are subject to the same cultures, and the same pressures, and it's one of the few places where a non-Christian can actually see the difference that knowing Christ can make to a life, week in, week out. It's on the frontline that we get the opportunity to serve our neighbours, and to demonstrate real practical love for them, as the good Samaritan did for the injured man.
It's on our frontlines that we will all be in contact with people at important points in their lives, for example when people are facing divorce, illness, bereavement or unemployment, or at happy times in their lives when people get married, when children our born. It's on the frontline that we have the opportunity to show these people Christian love in action. Because these people are our neighbours, the people we are called to love and serve.
What we see from the parable of the Good Samaritan, and also from the example that Jesus set for us, ministry is person centred. Imagine the impact we would have, if we seek to love and serve these people, as if we were serving Jesus himself. Imagine the impact if we like the good Samaritan were prepared to go the extra mile, to care for others. Imagine the impact if we gave, epecting nothing in return. Because Christian service and ministry doesn't demand, it gives! Our expressions of love for others shouldn’t have any strings attached.
If we want to change the world, we do it one person at a time. Mother Theresa said, "We can't all do great things, but we can all do small things in great love."
Teresa of Avilla was an 16th century Camelite nun and mystic, she wrote:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
yours are the eyes through which Christ's compassion
is to look out to the earth,
yours are the feet by which he is to go about doing good,
and yours are the hands by which he is to bless us now.
We are all part of the Body of Christ on earth. Are you prepared to be Christ's feet to carry from here the Gospel of peace to your neighbours? Are you prepared to be Christ's hands, to serve those in need? Are you prepared to be Christ's eyes, to look with compassion on the world. Let us pray