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“Love Your Neighbor As Yourself”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Colossians 1:9-14
Luke 10:25-37

 

Colossians 1:9-14

For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Luke 10:25-37

 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “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 neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”


 

What do we do when we want to get out of something?  We argue over semantics.

In this dialogue between Jesus and the lawyer, Luke lets us into the mind of the lawyer.  He says that the lawyer asked this question of Jesus in order to test him.  So we likely have a skeptic here.  He is unsure about Jesus.  Perhaps he is vetting Jesus, to see what Jesus knows.  As a lawyer, he is trained to think critically about a matter.  Perhaps this is his way of discerning whether or not this Jesus is to be trusted.  Or perhaps he simply wants to trap Jesus.  We do not know the lawyer’s reasons for this test, but he stands and poses this question to Jesus to test him.

And what does Jesus do?  In infinite wisdom, Jesus turns the question back to the lawyer.  Now the lawyer is the one being tested.  If he doesn’t answer, it will make him look bad.  This takes away whatever leverage the lawyer thought he had over Jesus – posing this question as a test – and turns it back onto him.  Isn’t this what Jesus speaks of when he says, “the measure you give, will be the measure you get”?

Now of course the lawyers question, being the test that it is, is a question the lawyer knows the answer to – otherwise how would he be able to “test” Jesus based on his answer.  …And that is revealing.  If the lawyer already knows the answer, he is surely not asking the question out of an earnest desire to know the truth.  And that is perhaps what separates him from so many of those who approach Jesus.  This lawyer wasn’t approaching Jesus out of earnest desire to know the truth and to do good.  No.  He has other motivations.

So when the lawyer answers Jesus correctly.  Jesus affirms him saying, “You have given the right answer.  Do this, and you will live.”  Notice, it is not enough to know the right answers.  The lawyer knows that right answer, but that is not the important thing.  What is important is what the lawyer then DOES with his knowledge:  does he put this knowledge into practice.

Now, since the lawyer is not asking the question out of a sincere desire to know, it is also unlikely the lawyer truly cares about doing this commandment.  And the lawyers next question to Jesus seems to press this point.  He asks, “And who is my neighbor?”  And this is why I asked, “What do we do when we want to get out of doing something?”  It seems clear to me that this lawyer is looking for a loophole …because he begins to nitpick the semantics:  “who is my neighbor.”

 

Now part of me truly gets this.  If I know that something hard is being required of me, I also will ask the nitty gritty questions.  If I am going to start a journey down a hard road, I first want to get my reasons, goals, and objectives clear.  I want to know that I understand the mandate.

But I do think it is more likely the lawyer is looking for a loophole.  Luke explains the lawyer’s question saying, “Wanting to justify himself, he asked ‘Who is my neighbor?’”

As we all do at times, this lawyer appears to be wanting to defend himself.  We can all instantly think of many, many times we have failed to love others as we love ourselves.  But we also usually have our reasons.  So does God see our reasons and approve?

And to this question, Jesus responds with a parable, the parable of the good Samaritan.

Notice the word “good.”  Nowhere in the story appears the word “good.”  Jesus does not qualify THIS Samaritan as good, with respect to the all the other Samaritans.  No.  We have qualified this Samaritan as good.  People through-out Christian history have put that qualifier on this Samaritan.

No, Jesus simply tells a story of a man who is robbed, beaten and left for dead on the side of a road.  Two folks pass by this man.  They are the ones everyone expects to be good:  the priest, the Levite.  But they do not help.  In fact, they go so far as to cross the road to avoid him.   And in juxtaposition to these “holy” men of Israel, a Samaritan man comes upon the wounded man and is moved with pity for him.  As you may have heard, Samaritans were viewed by Israelites as unclean and unholy.  They were definitely seen as second-class humans in Jesus’ time.  So to have Jesus tell this story in which the Israelite spiritual leaders have become the disappointments and a Samaritan has become the hero…well it explains how this story got it’s qualifier, “good.”  Because folks in Jesus’ day would have been shocked to hear of a Samaritan who was being lifted up for Israelites as their moral example.  THIS must have been a gooood Samaritan!

 

Anyway, the Samaritan tended to the wounded man, using his own oil, wine, and bandages (that he had with him for his own needs) to clean and tend his wounds.  And then, he takes it a step further:  he puts the man on his own animal (that he had with him for his own needs) and takes him to an inn, where he takes care of the man.

And then we hear that the Samaritan needs to leave – well obviously!  He was traveling a road for a reason, right?  He needed to get somewhere.  But he takes it another step further:  he pays the innkeeper with the instruction to take care of the man.  And as if that would not already have been more than anyone could have ever expected much less hoped for, he tells the innkeeper that if he spends any more on caring for the man, the Samaritan will pay him the balance upon his return.

This Samaritan – labeled good probably by those shocked that a Samaritan could ever be called good – this Samaritan has gone above and beyond.  This Samaritan recognizes that any one of these actions will not be enough.  This man has been stripped of all earthly belongings, without family or friends with him, and without the physical health to help himself.  And so this Samaritan sees to it that the man is restored to the health he needs to get back on his feet.

This Samaritan is no less than a life-saver, a hero.

 

And this is the story Jesus tells the lawyer, to answer his question, “And who is my neighbor?”

 

The story Jesus tells goes so very far and beyond anything his hearers would have imagined.  They, perhaps, were wanting to know whether or not neighbor was simply referring to those who lived in neighboring houses…  Or perhaps they suspected, it was the folks in their community.  Or perhaps neighbor meant your nation and people; that makes sense.

But no, Jesus tells them a story that crossed borders.  It crossed racial borders.   It crossed ethnic borders.  It crosses religious borders.

Whatever borders they’d hoped to gain to justify their neglect of those they thought less worthy or less loved or less important…Jesus defies them.  Jesus makes crystal clear that a neighbor is anyone in our human family, even those outside our neighborhoods and churches and families…and countries.

 

God calls us to love our neighbors – all people – as we love ourselves…

And this is a steep ask.  All.

 

And so I ask each of us, myself included, where are our boundaries?  We are certainly not called to help all.  We cannot physically do it.  Even Jesus defined his boundaries of service.

But what I think this passage challenges is our judgement boundaries.

 

We will all find ourselves face to face with those who have been stripped of their power, stripped of their resources, stripped of their voice, stripped of their dignity.  And when we do, will we love them, as we love ourselves?

 

 

 

 

“Lives That Nourish”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Luke 13:6-9
2 Corinthians 1:3-5

 

Luke 13:6-9

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.


 

 

We are responsible.  We are responsible to God for the space and life and breath we have been given.  We are responsible to God and to one another for the earth we inhabit and the food we consume.  We are responsible for what we leave behind – our waste, our relationships, our legacy…

God has entrusted us, each one, with gifts and talents, with energy and ability, with love and mercy, with food and drink, with air and water, with earth and sky.  We have been given much.  And to whom much is given, much is expected. 

The point of all that we’ve been given is not to simply comfort and satiate ourselves.  God certainly does comfort us.  God certainly does satisfy us.  And these many good gifts of God are often the ways and means by which we experience God’s love and provision, comfort and joy in this world.  But the end of this comfort and joy, love and provision is not ourselves.  Our lives are not the main point.  Our joy is not the destination.

 

Now in life, we need joy.  Joy is what makes this life worth living.  It invigorates; joy begets life.

But our joy and comfort alone are not the main thing.

Rather, Christ died that ALL might know God’s love. 

Jesus came to the chosen people of Israel SO THAT they might become a city on a hill, a light to the nations.  Jesus walked among the people of Israel but had his sights on all people.  Jesus lived and died not just for the people of Israel but for all people.

 

WE have been called by God, drawn to this place, drawn into fellowship with one another and in deepening relationship with God, but our own personal well-being is not the end of this journey, for God’s heart is for all.

As long as there are people in this world living in the shadow of death, there is work to be done.  As long as the world groans in pain as we litter and poison it, there is work to be done.  Until the Kingdom of God comes, in fullness and completeness, we have work to do.  For God’s heart is for all that God has made.

And so coming back to our own means and provision, joy and comfort – these gifts are not meant to stop with us.

We have a responsibility to love as we have been loved.

We have a responsibility to comfort as we have been comforted.

We have a responsibility to give as we have received.

We have a responsibility to forgive as we have been forgiven.

And in-so-doing, we spread the love and light of God like a wildfire that burns in hearts and lives and communities.  In-so-doing, we become a light in the darkness.  In-so-doing we usher in the Kingdom of God. 

 

So as we hear this parable of the fig tree, may we remember that while it is good that we enjoy the many delights and resources we have been given, these many gifts are meant to keep going, to keep giving, to be the seed of a mighty tree, the first drops of a mighty flood, the planting that reaps a harvest through our very lives.

You and I are God’s handiwork.  You and I are beautifully gifted.  You and I are infinitely loved.

And with all this goodness that surrounds our lives, may we not become reservoirs but channels of God’s goodness and love!  Indeed, when we close ourselves off, stopping the flow of God’s goodness through our lives, we ultimately stop the flow of God’s goodness into our lives.  But when we open the floodgates, and let God’s blessings flow in and out of our lives, we become conduits of God’s greatness, beauty, and surprising love.

Like the fig tree that blooms and bears fruit,

our lives sustain and nourish many! 

 

May our lives be full of the joy and bounty of our God,

and may many,

many

come to know God’s infinite love,

healing justice,

tender mercy,

and surprising grace…

through us. 

“BeLoved”

Isaiah 43:1-7
Acts 8:14-17

 

Isaiah 43:1-7

But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
and to the south, “Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”

Acts 8:14-17

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.


 

In college I had the joy of studying the Bible and learning about God through various Christian perspectives.  And one of the most impactful teachings I remember from that time was to read God’s words to the people of Israel, as if they were to you and me.  Why?  Because we too are now God’s chosen people.  As believers, we have been adopted into the family of God.

This made Isaiah 43 one of my favorite passages.  Favorite because it tells of God’s utter love for and commitment to us.  God claims us:  “You are mine.”  And God speaks tenderly to us, “you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”

I loved these verses.  They helped me understand God in a more personal way.  You see, in my final years of high school, my home church had hired a youth director who we all adored.  She was funny and spunky and fun.  The Bible was alive for her, and she was opening it up to us, for the first time in our lives.  She used to always say, “Christianity is not a religion.  It’s a relationship.”  Of all the things she taught us, this was most profound.  For the first time, we were beginning to realize that the juicy goodness of faith was lived out in relationship with God.  And the way we best got to know God was by studying the Bible and growing in fellowship with one another.

And so this life-giving new path was opening to me.  So then when I learned in college that we could read God’s words to the people of Israel, as if they were written to us, so much more of the Bible opened up to me.  It meant that the Bible was overflowing with God’s words of love and promise.  And I was coming to adore this God who was everything needed, respected, trusted and yearned for.

Listen to these verses from Isaiah again, and whenever you hear Israel or Jacob, instead hear your own name.

But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
hen you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia[a] and Seba in exchange for you.
because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;

 

This is utterly beautiful.  This is the commitment we may seek from one another our whole lives.  This is the commitment shown us by our Beautiful Lord.

 

But what I didn’t delve into at the time were the words about God exchanging others for my life.

After college and while in seminary at Union, I became friends with an Egyptian family.  The husband was also a seminary student, and our families became good friends.  They explained that the Bible is hard to read for them because it makes such negative mention of Egypt, time after time.  And yet these Egyptian friends of mine were also believers, and their families had been for many generations.

I had never before thought about those countries and people who are labeled negatively in these stories.  And here, right in the middle of one of my favorite passages, is a section about God exchanging others for us, for God’s chosen people.

And this was hard to digest.

 

First we have the trouble of being God’s chosen.  If some are chosen, does that mean others are not?  And why?  Other parts of scripture made it clear that God’s heart is for the whole world and that God came so that ALL might know God’s saving love.  And yet, there is this element of choosing.  What does it mean?

On the one hand, I love this idea of choosing.  Choice means that God’s involvement in our lives is voluntary.  It shows us that GOD WANTS US.  And that is part of what’s so beautiful about these words of God, shared through the prophet Isaiah.

At the same time, choice seems to imply that others are not chosen.  And these verses about exchanging whole other people groups for the chosen ones, seems to support that idea.

I was torn.

 

And yet, in the very chapter just preceding this one, Isaiah writes of the Lord,

Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations

A light to the nations.  God called the nation of Israel, took it by the hand, and kept it IN ORDER TO give them as a covenant to the people, a LIGHT to the nations.

So again, there is this idea that God chose the people SO THAT they might shed God’s light on the nations, everyone!

 

To this people who has been taught for so many years to avoid other nations, these hints throughout the prophets that Israel would be a gift FOR the nations come as a great surprise.  The people had internalized this notion that God’s choosing them somehow meant they were better than others.  But here, we see that God’s choosing them is part of God’s whole plan to save everyone.  God was keeping them, taking them by the hand, that they themselves might be the fulfillment of God’s promise, God’s covenant, to all creation.

The chosen people were the means by which God’s light would come!  Through them, a tiny baby would be born, of a virgin, in a backyard stable barn.  And through him, God’s Spirit would be poured out on all flesh, spilling out beyond the boundaries of the people of Israel and spreading to people far and wide.

We are here today because of how God spoke through and came through the people of Israel.  Through them, Jesus came into this world, and we have come to believe!

 

Perhaps this is what helped my Egyptian friends.  Perhaps they could hear God’s love for them and their nation, amidst all the negative press their nation gets in the Bible.  Perhaps they too had learned to read God’s words to the Israelites, as also being God’s words to them.  Perhaps their identities as Children of God had become the main identity with which they read God’s Word.

 

 

There is much in the Bible to digest.  There are mysteries that may remain mysteries our whole life long.  There is Mystery and there always will be, as long as we are seeking the one true God, the One whom we cannot ever fully know or understand.  And so our relationship with God will never be one of full knowing.  This God who we serve is far above and beyond all our understanding.  If we think we fully know God, then we must question whether we know GOD at all.  Our God is above all.  Our God is beyond our understanding.  God’s ways are not our ways.

And so we walk by faith.  We place our trust in the One who is above all and in all and through all.  We decide that this One who loves us with a never-stopping, never-giving-up love is worthy of all our praise.  We choose back this One who has claimed us in the waters of baptism and chosen us as God’s own.  We bind our lives to the One who came that we might have life and have it to the full!

“You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you” says the Lord.

This is the One whom I have placed my trust.  With Timothy, I proclaim,

“I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.”

 

With our faith and our doubts,

With our fears and our hopes,

In understanding and in awe,

In mystery and in knowing,

We come

Before the One who knows us

And chooses us

And loves us

Just as we are.

 

You are precious in God’s sight.  Honored.  And beloved.

 

Believe it.

And be loved.