“The” Community

October 23, 2016
By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor

Luke 10:25-37

We value community. We believe that God has specifically called us to this neighborhood. He has called our church to meet in this location for a reason. He calls us to live in community with each other and with our neighbors. This is an aspirational value, meaning this is new. It’s going to be a stretch that gives us some longings:

  • We long to be a church that saturates our neighborhood with the gospel.
  • We long to be a church that reaches out and blesses the community around us. A church that welcomes people into the community, celebrates and mourns with the community, and is known as a place of care and help.
  • We long to be a multi-ethnic church. A church that like the tree of life is truly “for the healing of the nations.”

That’s our heart. We don’t have all the answers as to how we’re going to get that done yet, but that is what we believe God has put it in our heart to do. That’s why we’re here.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He 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.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He 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. The 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.’

“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

Everyone here has probably heard this parable before. We even have a saying in our culture that someone is a Good Samaritan if they help others. In this parable an Israelite lawyer – an expert in the Old Testament Law – comes to Jesus to test him. He asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. We would expect Jesus to say what in answer to that question? Believe the gospel! Creation – fall – redemption – response.

This is before Jesus’ death on the cross, and Jesus is making a point: He answers the man according to the Old Testament Law, the Law of Moses. He basically encourages the man to say that what he must do is observe the two great commandments:

  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength – Deuteronomy 6:5
  • Love your neighbor as yourself – Leviticus 19:18

The guy says that, and Jesus commends him. It seems like they’re done.

The Lawyer then asks a follow up question: “and who is my neighbor?” Jesus answers him by telling him the parable of the Good Samaritan. Where an Israelite traveler goes on this very narrow, very steep, very cave-ridden, very robber-infested piece of road that runs from Jerusalem to Jericho. He is set on by thieves and left for dead. Then two religious figures – first a priest and then a Levite (which is like a Priest’s Assistant) – come by and ignore him. Then this Samaritan – this guy from a country that is despised by the Jews – has mercy on the traveler. He takes great care of him and gives him everything he needs. He sets him up in a place to heal. His care is unbelievably extravagant. Jesus asks the lawyer “Who was neighbor to the man that was robbed?” The lawyer can’t even bring himself to admit that the guy was a Samaritan, so he just says “The guy who had mercy on him.” Jesus says “Right…go and do thou likewise.” That’s the parable of the Good Samaritan. Two questions about that parable:

  1. How should I TREAT my neighbor
  2. Who IS my neighbor?

Question 1: How Should I Treat My Neighbor

This question is probably what most of us tend to think the parable of the Good Samaritan is all about – how should I treat my neighbor? We think that’s what it’s about. The story does answer that question. Not only do we see in the parable an example of how we should treat our neighbor, because the priest and the Levite clearly get it wrong and the Samaritan gets it right. Not only do we see an example in the parable, but before Jesus gives the parable the question is answered by the lawyer himself in our story. He asks Jesus “What should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus says “What does the Law say?” The man says “love the lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind – AND – love your neighbor as yourself.” So he answers the question – “How should I treat my neighbor?” – by saying – “I should love my neighbor as I do myself.”

The man gets it absolutely right. Not only does Jesus say to the man “you have answered correctly…” Not only does Jesus give the same identical answer later in his ministry when someone asks him which is the most important commandment. This answer – love your neighbor as yourself – is the consistent teaching of the whole Bible. It’s what the Law says. This is a quote from Lev. 19. It’s what Jesus says. It’s what James says – and John says – and what Paul says (and George and Ringo). This is what the Bible says, beginning to end. One of the things we believe about the Bible is that it fits together. You see that in this command. We are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

That is the standard. It’s a pretty tough standard. If we read our Bible, we learn what it really means to love our neighbor as ourselves. It goes a lot further than just saying things that make people feel good or giving a little bit of money to the down and out. It’s a lot deeper than that.

It means doing the right thing – treating your neighbor kindly – even when your neighbor doesn’t return the favor.

If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it. – Exodus 23:5

It means treating your neighbor with respect – no matter who they are – especially if your neighbor is marginalized. The Bible specifically tells us to treat the elderly, the orphan, the widow, the foreigner, the powerless, etc. with respect. We are always to do that, especially if they are on the outside. I remember when I was in Seminary listening to an elderly African American gentleman talk about what a really big deal it was for him the first time a white man held the door open for him and called him “sir”. We’re to do that. We are to treat our neighbor with respect. That’s what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.

It means sharing your goods with your neighbor – at times sacrificially – as the Samaritan in the Parable does. Loving your neighbor also means loving him enough to have the hard conversations with him: Having the courage – taking the risk with your reputation – to lovingly confront your brother or sister when they have done wrong. Do you know what Leviticus says right before it says “love your neighbor as yourself”? It says ‘Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.

This and more — much, much more – is what it means. It means much, much more to love your neighbor as you do yourself. It means to do what is truly best for your neighbor – not what is most convenient – not what makes us look good – not what the culture tells us to do. It means caring for your neighbor as you would care for yourself. That’s how we are to treat our neighbor. We are to love them as we love ourselves. That’s the standard.
On the one hand, we might look at this story and say “who does that?” I know it seems like some kind of pie-in-the-sky ideal that doesn’t make sense in the real world. The one who wrote those words that started in Deuteronomy came to earth as a man:

  • He did love his follow man as he loved himself…
  • He did treat others with kindness, even when they didn’t return the favor…
  • He did treat the marginalized with respect…
  • He did share his possessions with other…
  • He did love his fellow man enough to have the hard conversations with people – even when it caused them to reject him…
  • He did what was truly best for his neighbor – even to the point of laying down his life and suffering the wrath of God for our sin.

When Jesus asks us to do this, he’s not asking us to give anything to others that we haven’t already received from him in the gospel. It’s a hard word, but a true word. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. How should we treat our neighbors? We should love them as we love ourselves. That’s how we are to love. Now let’s look at who we are to love.

Question 2: Who is my Neighbor?

People often don’t realize it, but this is the real question that Jesus is dealing with in the parable of the Good Samaritan. We tend to think of it as being all about “how should I treat my neighbor?” but the real question here is not “how should I treat my neighbor?” but “who is my neighbor?” Look at the way the actual parable starts: Jesus has had this conversation with the lawyer. They have agreed that he is to love God and love his neighbor as himself. They’ve high fived each other and done the hand gestures. They are getting ready to walk away, and then the guy asks this question:

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  – Luke 10:29

That’s the question that starts this parable. The only answer Jesus gives to that question is the parable. Then look at the way Jesus ends the parable:

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” – Luke 10:36

Notice that Jesus isn’t asking how? He’s asking who? Who was the neighbor? The real question of this parable is not “how should I treat my neighbor?” The real question is “who is my neighbor?”

The lawyer knows that’s the real question? He’s put a lot of thought into this. He knows that if he can just narrow down the categories enough – if he can just weed out enough people – if he can just exclude enough of those around him – he might just be able to convince himself that he’s pulled it off. That he’s fulfilled the Law – loved his neighbor – and is in good books with God. So he asks “just exactly who is my neighbor?”

Scholars tell us that as a first century orthodox Jew he would clearly have expected Jesus to exclude two groups of people:

  • The un-Jewish, because they were outside of God’s covenant people. They were idolaters. They were ceremonially unclean. So surely he didn’t have to love them!
  • The un-righteous – those who were somehow connected to Judaism, but gave in to temptation – and didn’t live the way God said to live.

Those were the people that this lawyer would have expected Jesus to exclude. You can see how that would narrow his obligation way down and make this command much more manageable for the lawyer. When we think about that, we might have a tendency at first to be hard on the lawyer. Maybe to think that he shouldn’t be so hard-hearted, and self-justifying and discriminatory.

But let’s be honest – don’t we do the same thing? Don’t we try to categorically narrow down the people that we are actually obligated to care for? Don’t we say in our heart “I’m not obligated to that one – he’s not related to me – that one doesn’t look like me. That one’s not educated like me – that one’s not responsible like me – surely I don’t have to care about him?” Don’t we do that? I’m not saying that God calls us to serve everyone on the face of the planet equally. We’ll talk about that in a minute…

But don’t we draw lines in our heart? I know I do. There are times when I excuse myself from caring about certain types of people because they are different than me. God’s been convicting me about that – and telling me that there’s work to do in my heart. Sometimes we have the same problem as the Lawyer. We want to narrow down the definition of “neighbor” and make it manageable.

But Jesus is having none of that. Notice that the two people that he puts together in this story – an orthodox Jew and a Samaritan – were the very two people that in his day were the least likely to care for one another. If there was one person on the face of the earth that an orthodox Jew would consider un-Jewish and un-righteous, it was a Samaritan. They were the epitome of not-Jewish and not-righteous, because it wasn’t just that they were outside of those things – rather they had specifically chosen to walk away from them! The Samaritans were originally from Northern Israel. At one time they had been orthodox, practicing Jews. When the foreigners invaded Israel centuries before this – they had sold out – and intermarried with Pagans. They had mixed idolatry with the worship of the true God. At the time that Jesus gave this example, they had built a Temple, not in Jerusalem – which you weren’t supposed to do – and they had rejected most of the Old Testament.

The Samaritans were the one group of people that this lawyer would confidently have said were NOT his neighbor. They were people he thought he was not obligated to care for. So that’s the one group that Jesus singles out to use in his parable. The message is simple: “Neighbor” is not defined quite so conveniently as we might think.

Let’s return to the question: Who actually is my neighbor? What is Jesus saying? How would he define the word “Neighbor”? It’s tough, because in the end, Jesus doesn’t actually give us a definitive answer. We get the idea that it’s probably broader than we might think, but to actually define it is pretty tough. Is everyone my neighbor? So that I’m obligated to everyone equally? Is that Jesus’ point? Is my neighbor the person I least expect? Is that what he’s saying? Is it whoever I choose to see as my neighbor, so that it’s up to me? Who – according to Jesus – is my neighbor? I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure that out – and I don’t know if I’ve totally got it – but I’d like to propose an idea:

I think maybe my neighbors are those God has put in my path. Those that in some way or other – through my background – or experiences- or connections – or passions – God has placed in my life, or put on my heart. Maybe our neighbors are those God has called us to and equipped us to help.

I don’t think it’s everyone, equally, all the time – because not even Jesus did that. He didn’t heal every sick person while he was on the earth. He didn’t even heal every sick person that tried to come to him. There were times when he went away from the crowds. But he gave himself fully – to those God called him to – to those God enabled him to serve. I think maybe that’s who our neighbor is.

There are lots of personal applications we could make from this. I’m sure there are lots of people that God has put in the path of my life and your life to serve – some of whom we tend to overlook.

Perry Creek Church

Today I just want to apply this to us corporately, as a church. We believe that this area – Perry Creek – is to be the community of our church. There was a lot of prayer by many of you – and even some serious fasting – that went into that decision. We haven’t had a lightning bolt. God didn’t put a giant billboard in the sky, or anything. But we prayed about it and came to that conviction. The members of our lead team – and many others of you can testify – that the more time we spend in this community – the bigger the “yes” gets in our hearts. We believe that God has placed this area in our path. He’s put it on our radar. He’s called us to be neighbors to these people. There aren’t a lot of churches around here. So the application is simple:

  • We want to love this neighborhood.
  • We want to minister to them, and share the gospel with them, and bless them.
  • We want to be the Chaplains to this part of Raleigh – the ones who pray with people when times are tough, and celebrate with them when times are good.
  • We want them to be really glad that Perry Creek Church is here.