Monday, July 19, 2010
Love that is not merely words....
It is hard preaching on the Good Samaritan parable. First of all we all know this parable and have heard it so many times that we tend to glaze over then we hear it again. Second, the guy who came to Jesus was a lawyer and none of us wants to give a lawyer a break. Finally, Jesus tells us the story of someone we know we all should be but none of us really wants to be. So there you go. Well, let's give it another try.
A lawyer came to Jesus concerned about his eternal life. On some level I gotta like this guy – after all he is worried about his salvation. Lord knows there are few enough people, much less lawyers, worried about their salvation. It makes me to cut the guy a little slack. But his first question did not help him. He asked Jesus a question he should have known the answer to. He was a lawyer and he was a Jew. He should have known what the law said and that he must keep it perfectly in order to be saved.
So when Jesus gently chides him for asking what he already knew, he felt he had to justify his question. We can all sympathize with that. You ask a dumb question and get called down on it, so you back track and try to make up for it. Except in this case, he made a fatal mistake. Everyone who has watched Perry Mason or any other lawyer show on TV knows that the first rule of law is never ask a question you do not already know the answer to. This guy broke the rule and so he got more than he bargained for as an answer.
Now here is where a little Lutheranism needs to be interjected. The Law makes love a duty or an obligation but Jesus has turned it into Gospel. What the good Samaritan showed was love and love is born only of the Gospel. The love that delights in service is always Gospel and is never Law.
So what Jesus did was tell a personal story – a story about Himself. HE is the Good Samaritan who did for us in love what duty and obligation could never require. He gave Himself. He gave Himself into our suffering and death in order to redeem us from our lost condition. Now He invites us to do as He did for us. Only the Gospel can create Good Samaritans. Only Christ.
Who is my neighbor? Sounds like an easy enough question but it is one we constantly wrestle with. We like neighbors who look like us, who sound like us, who live like us. We are not so sure about neighbors who are different from us. But Jesus did not die for the good people or the religious people or even the nice people. He died for all – especially those hard to love.
So the answer to who is my neighbor is hard. He is the one I know and the stranger I do not know. He is the one I like and the one I cannot stand. He is the one from whom I could expect help someday and he is also the one who will never be able to help me back or repay my kindness. He is the one who agrees with me and the one who challenges me. He is the one in whose presence I am comfortable and he is the one who makes my skin crawl.
Jesus died for all such folks. He is both the Good Samaritan and the one who defines for us who is our neighbor by dying for those it is not easy to love or like. As uncomfortable as it is, our enemy is also our neighbor, the one who hates us is our neighbor. What do we owe this neighbor so hard to sympathize with and hard to love?
I owe my neighbor what Christ did for me. Now that gives us pause. The debt I owe to my neighbor is the debt Christ paid for me. I owe my neighbor forgiveness. I wish I could get by with a bag of food or a $20 bill but love shows me that forgiveness is the currency in which good neighbors work. As Christ paid the debt of my sin, so am I to forgive the sins of others – fully, freely, and without regret.
I owe my neighbor love. It is not law's duty to love but love which defines how we relate to those around us. Love does not have minimum required standards. Love does not ask how little can I get away with here. Love does not wait until it is easy to serve. Love acts – as Christ acted for you and for me. Love is not a requirement from God but the fruit of hearts made new in baptism, that hear Christ speaking in the Scripture, and that are fed and nourished at the Word and Table of the Lord.
This love is not concerned simply about spiritual life or well being but the whole of the person – the way Christ died for us in order to ransom our lives from death, heal the spiritual illness of sin, and restore to us the relationship with the Father that was lost to us in Eden. Love’s concern is the whole of us – body, soul, and spirit – not simply earthly need or eternal salvation but ALL of it.
And why? Why do I bother to love my enemy or love the stranger or love the poor? I do not love because I must or even because I can. I do this because this is what Christ did for me. Love is not only what we do, it is the motive for doing. You and I both know that some folks will never appreciate what you do for them. We both know that some folks who come asking are lazy and worthless types. We both know that some folks who want from us are taking advantage of us. But that makes no difference. For Christ died for us before we even knew much less appreciated His gift to us. He came for us when we had given up on ourselves. He forgave those who crucified Him even though they felt no regret. Are you getting the picture?
I do not worry about the Church being used or taken advantage of... but I do worry about a Christianity that has become hardened to the face of need. I worry about a Christianity that loves only the nice people, the good people, and those easy to love. I worry about a Christianity that has compassion for and helps some but not others. I worry about a Christianity in which forgiveness is reserved for those who earn that forgiveness instead of it being full and free as it comes to us in Christ. I worry about a Christianity in which we give to those who will give back or love those who will love us back. The neighbor in need whom we need to focus upon is the one hard to love, just as we are, until Christ loved us even unto death.
In a just a little while we will walk out the door and head home. The Church and this assembly around Word and Sacrament is the inn where Christ has bound up our wounds, forgiven our sins, and addressed us with the gift of life everlasting. Whatever the cost of this redemptive love, Christ has paid it willingly and lovingly for you, for me, and for the whole world. So when you walk out the door, remember that Christ has set you apart to be the same neighbor to the world that He has been to you. And when you leave today, recall Jesus words, "go and do like wise..." so let us love not in word only but deeds. Amen.