Compassion? Go and Do Likewise

“Compassion? Go and Do Likewise”

Luke 10-37 good-samaritan, line drawing

Luke 10:25-37 (10:37) – September 3, 2017

A good number of years ago, my husband and I attended a large church. This church had a great number of activities, classes and ministries. One of the classes that I enjoyed attending was one particular adult Sunday school class. In this class, there were a number of middle-aged and older adults, some of whom really enjoyed discussing and arguing together about the finer points of the Bible. Some of these people were really knowledgeable about Scripture, about archeology and about ancient culture, and they could argue their points to beat the band. Did I mention that a number of them were lawyers?  People who were well trained to argue and press their points firmly. Even pouncing upon and verbally trapping their adversaries.

While I enjoyed this verbal sparring on occasion, this got a bit tiresome. Instead of huddling together, talking among ourselves inside a church classroom, I wanted to go out into the community and talk with others about the love of God. I wanted to show people how much God loves them.

That’s the situation in the Gospel of Luke. The Rabbi Jesus was having another one of His religious conversations, about the finer points of the Mosaic Law Code. Yes, Jesus knew the Law of Moses backwards and forwards. He knew the Hebrew Scriptures intimately. Yet, so did many of the religious leaders who asked Jesus question after question. Especially this religious lawyer who asked Jesus several questions. I believe this lawyer was well trained to argue and press his points firmly. Even pouncing upon and verbally trapping his adversaries.

I love this compassion series that I have been using for our summer sermon series. The Illustrated Children’s Ministry has done a tremendous job of translating the weekly Bible passages into an understandable story that anyone can understand. I bet we all know passages from the Bible that are so difficult. Not these Scripture passages! These Bible translations are straightforward so that anyone from 5 to 95 can easily understand them.

Let’s listen to the beginning of Luke 10, starting at verse 25: “A man who knew a whole lot about religious laws came to Jesus with a question. He said, “Teacher, how do I really, truly, live with God?”

“Jesus asked him, “Well, what does God’s law say? How do you understand it?” The man answered him, “It says to love God, completely—with heart and soul and strength and mind—and to love your neighbor like your own self.” And Jesus said to him, “That’s it! Do that, and you’ll have the life you’re asking about.”

That’s the initial question the lawyer asks. How does he—how do we—really, truly, live with God? Jesus responds with the question, “What does God’s law say?”

I recently preached a sermon about this all-important two-part law: we love God completely, the vertical part of love, and we love our neighbor like our own selves, the horizontal part of love. That is distilling all of God’s many commands in the Bible down to the foundation, the very core of what God expects from us. That two-part command is enough for another sermon. Indeed, many sermons have been preached on this bible verse!

But, wait, there’s more. The religious lawyer wasn’t done with the Rabbi Jesus yet. He goes a step further, and asks another question. I am not certain whether he wanted to trick Jesus, and make Him trip up verbally, or whether the lawyer felt really convicted, and wanted to justify himself.

What does our Scripture passage say? “Still wondering, the man asked, “But who exactly is my neighbor?” And in response, Jesus told this story.”

We all know the story of the Good Samaritan. A certain man—an anonymous, undefined man, so we are not sure where he fit in the social order—this man was beaten up and left for dead while he was traveling. He is identified only by what happened to him.

Two fellow travelers came upon him, on the side of the road. One was a priest, an important religious man. He looked at the hurt guy from a distance, and then turned and went on his way. The second was a Levite, another important lay leader at a synagogue. He also looked at the hurt guy from a distance. He, too, crossed to the other side of the road and passed by the guy who was lying in a ditch.

Both of these men were upstanding leaders in their communities. Both of them had significant stature. Both of them neglected this poor guy who was obviously in need of help. We are not told why, just that both of these very important people stopped, noticed the guy who was beaten up, and passed by on the other side of the road.

Now, the third man to pass by was a Samaritan. I don’t know whether you are aware of the fear and even hatred the Jewish people had for Samaritans. Think back a number of decades. Can anyone remember the fear and animosity parts of this country had for black people? How Jim Crow laws were firmly in place in large parts of the South? Let’s go back to World War II, and the perceptions of Germans, Italians, and Japanese in the United States. There was a great fear and animosity for these groups of people.

Now you might better understand the fear and hatred the Jewish people had for these half-breed Samaritans, supposed traitors to the people of Israel.

The third person to come upon the hurt man in Jesus’s story? He was indeed a Samaritan, and he did something none of Jesus’s listeners would expect. The Samaritan was kind to the hurt man.  As commentator David Lose tells us, “the Samaritan instead goes to him, and becomes vulnerable in that closeness. How often are we frightened to come close to others simply because we do not want to bear their pain, to be open to their need?” [1]

Most of the people listening to this story would have been enemies to the Samaritans, since Jews and Samaritans did not get along. How do you imagine the people Jesus was talking to felt when they heard this story of a Samaritan reaching out to help a Jew? Can we take this shocking story and move it to the present day? Are we shocked when we see a newspaper article or television news story about an observant Muslim man helping an elderly Orthodox Jew who has fallen and hurt himself on a busy sidewalk?

Again, are we frightened to come close to others simply because we are afraid of being open to their need? To their pain?

The Samaritan showed compassion by binding up the hurt man’s wounds, taking him to an inn and paying for the hurt man to stay there and recuperate. Compassion, indeed, is sympathy put into action. As I have been preaching each week this summer, God wants each of us to show compassion to others. Be kind, show mercy, be sympathetic. Just like the Samaritan.

We need to look at the end of the story from Luke 10. Then Jesus asked, “Who became a neighbor to the man who was attacked?” And the man with the questions said, “The one who had compassion for him.” Jesus said, “Go. Do that.”

I can just see the religious lawyer, shocked that the hated Samaritan is the good guy in this story of the Rabbi Jesus. His answer in response to “who became the neighbor?” The lawyer couldn’t even say “the Samaritan,” so he said “the one who had compassion.” Jesus speaks to us, just as strongly as He spoke to that lawyer so long ago. We are to have compassion, in exactly the same way.

“No one is beyond the reach of God’s love. No one. And so Jesus brings this home by choosing the most unlikely of characters to serve as the instrument of God’s mercy and grace and exemplify Christ-like behavior. That’s what God does: God chooses people no one expects and does amazing things through them. Even a Samaritan. Even our people. Even me. Even you.” [2]

What does Jesus say to the lawyer? What does Jesus say to us, today? “Go. Do that.” “Go, and do likewise.”

 

[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2016/07/pentecost-8-c-the-god-we-didnt-expect/  “The God We Didn’t Expect,” David Lose, in the Meantime, 2016.

[2] http://www.davidlose.net/2016/07/pentecost-8-c-the-god-we-didnt-expect/  “The God We Didn’t Expect,” David Lose, in the Meantime, 2016.

(A heartfelt thank you to An Illustrated Compassion: Learning to Love Like God. Many of these sermon ideas and thoughts came directly from this series.  I appreciate this intergenerational curriculum, which is the basis for my summer sermon series on compassion. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Thanks so much for such great ideas!)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Check and Double-Check!

“Check and Double-Check!”

Acts 17 bereans

Acts 17:1-5a, 10-14 – September 13, 2015

When I attended seminary I had a handful of classes that were absolutely superb in every way. Interesting course material, fascinating professors, and assignments I could totally sink my teeth into. One of these courses was Reformed Tradition, taught at the Presbyterian seminary on the south side of Chicago. This course highlighted the Reformed Protestant church practices and theology since the 1500’s. And, I absolutely loved it.

One of the strong memories I have of this course is studying the practices of the Reformed missionaries of past centuries who were called to cross barriers (and in some cases, also cross continents and oceans). They took the message of the Gospel to those who had not yet heard the Good News of Jesus Christ.

That’s just what Paul and his friends are doing here in Acts 17. This week is the last of our Summer Sermon Series, Postcards from the Early Church. When last we met our intrepid heroes, (in Acts 16) they had crossed from Asia into Greece, into Europe. Here, in both towns of Thessalonica and Berea, they start preaching and speaking with the groups of Jews living in both areas, and they also preach to their Greek neighbors and friends.

To go back to the course I loved in seminary, Reformed Tradition, I discovered that many Protestant missionaries and mission agencies had a master plan. The missionaries would not just go and preach the Gospel. No! They almost always had an excellent method behind their outreach. They not only would start a small church or chapel, but would also often develop a health clinic, sometimes even a hospital. And—the missionaries almost always began a school. They wanted to teach people; not only how to read, but also teach math and other subjects; sometimes even beginning institutions of higher learning in far flung areas.

So, reading and literacy were of extremely high regard to the missionaries! This went along with the importance of each person being able to read the Scriptures for themselves. We can see that translating the Bible became a high priority, too.

What does this have to do with our Scripture passage for today, you might ask? After Paul and his friends were thrown out of the town of Thessalonica, they went down the road to the next town of Berea, fifty miles away. We don’t know very much about Berea, except—the Bereans eagerly searched the Hebrew Scriptures after they heard Paul’s message. Paul wasn’t just delivering a line, or trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, no! The Bereans not only read, but diligently searched and sifted through the Scriptures to make sure that what Paul and his friends were telling them was true!

The literacy rate in Jewish communities has always been extremely high. For millennia it’s been this way. It’s marvelous to learn how to read, as well as do math and learn other subjects, too. Literacy has been a strong priority among large groups of Protestant missionaries, too. Reading the Scriptures is and has remained a primary goal, but just think about it. As we teach people how to read, we are also teaching them how to think, and how to reason. And, as more people in these far away mission areas learn more and more, the quality and standard of living rises in the whole community, as well! All very good things.

Dr. Luke doesn’t tell us too much about the Bereans. Except, the people in the town of Berea, in the foothills of the Olympian mountains, certainly seem like “people of more noble character” than the troublemakers in Thessalonica.

Using an excellent sermon illustration I discovered, “I want you to pretend for a moment that you are a first-century Berean Jew. Now suppose one Saturday a stranger comes into your synagogue and addresses the congregation. He says that his name is Paul, and he brings you the exciting news that the long-awaited Messiah has finally come! No, he didn’t actually restore the [physical] kingdom to Israel, as expected. In fact He was murdered a few years ago by the Romans. But, Paul says, that this is exactly what was supposed to happen to the Messiah, and he seems to prove it from Scripture. So now what do you do? If you are of noble character [as Dr. Luke says], you begin to search the Scriptures yourself to see if what Paul said is true.” [1]

Luke’s word used here in this passage is a legal term. Luke states that “Paul’s appeal to Israel’s Scriptures [was] a legal ‘witness’ to warrant his gospel’s claims about Jesus.”[2] Paul was not just making up imaginary tales, or fabricating fairy stories to put little children to sleep. No! Paul was using the Hebrew Scriptures as competent testimony to back up what he was telling them. And thus, many of the people who heard Paul out, believed what he said. Because they searched the Scriptures and made sure that what Paul was telling them matched with what they knew and already believed.

It’s like fact checking, today. How many people here have “heard something” about someone famous, or about some political candidate? How many people here are not sure where they first “heard it,” but “everyone is talking about it!” Like, for example, some Internet meme or email sob story passed around from person to person that is patently untrue.

My husband is an editor and journalist, working at a trade publication downtown. He takes special delight in exposing these sorts of gossip and misinformation that keep getting passed from one person to another via email, Facebook, and other kinds of social media. One of his favorite online tools is snopes dot com. “Snopes.com is the definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation.”[3]

I can just see some of these people in Berea, going to the library or to the synagogue where the scrolls and books were kept, checking out the sermons that Paul had just preached, as well as the discussion they had afterwards. Making sure—fact checking!—that Paul was the real deal. Dr. Luke tells us, “As a result, many of [the Berean Jews] believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.”
But, wait! This was not the end. Paul and his missionary friends did not have an easy time of it after starting the church in Berea. The people who stirred up things in the previous town heard about Paul and company and how they were having such an effect on the people in Berea. Some of those troublemakers from Thessalonica came over to Berea and made trouble in that town, too. Talk about nasty people! So, Paul’s new friends, the new believers in the Messiah, the Lord Jesus, shipped Paul out of town in a big hurry.

But the church Paul founded in Berea remained. Paul’s work here was done. We know they had a firm basis, since the Berean believers already had a solid foundation in the Hebrew Scriptures.

What about us? Do we have a similar solid foundation? Thank God, we have the Bible translated into English. It was translated for us centuries ago! We can look back to the great job that William Tyndale did in the 1500’s, paving the way for the King James Version, translated just after 1600. And now, today, we have many translations!

We can celebrate those translations, just as we celebrate our freedom to read the Bible, and our ability to study and learn about Scripture. There are still some places in the world today where it is a crime to read and study the Scriptures. I encourage all of you to pick up the Bible. Read a little every day. Become familiar with it. I know some of you do already. There are wonderful helps. Just ask me and I will hook you up with one!

God’s Word is truly a lamp to all of our feet, just as I told the Sunday school children before the sermon. The Bible sheds light on all of our paths. Just as it was with the Berean believers, just as it was with the Apostle Paul and his friends, so it is today. Praise God for God’s Word, freely available to all of us, today.

[1] “The Bereans,” Acts 17:10-14. Sermon delivered 10/25/2009 – Pastor David B. Curtis

[2] Wall, Robert W., Acts, from the New Interpreter’s Commentary series. (Nashville, Abingdon Press: 1994-2004) 239.

[3] http://snopes.com/

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!