"Better Than a Good Neighbor, Our God Is Always Here"
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
St. Luke 10:25-37
July 15, 2007
(Immanuel Lutheran Church, Buffalo, New York)
IN NOMINE JESU
Our text for today has implications for us liturgically, especially as we live our lives liturgically. Our liturgical life is an extension of the liturgy of the Church. In the liturgy of the Church, God is the Actor. He acts first and foremost. Our role in the liturgy is responsorial; that is, we respond to what God has done for us in the liturgy through Word and Sacraments. God loves us. He gives us His gifts. We respond. We thank and praise Him for His loving-kindness. Our everyday lives are extensions of what happens here. Our Lord gives us each day our daily bread. He gives us all that we need to support our bodies and lives, and all this only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us. For all this it is our duty, in response, to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. God loves us. Moved by His love, moved the Holy Spirit, we take the love He has given us and extend it to others in thought, word, and deed.
This was not the case with the lawyer in our text. He did not have the love of Christ in Him. He had no love for the Christ; he merely called Him "Teacher." He asked the Lord a question that had nothing pure attached to it. He sought to trap the Lord with his question: "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" The lawyer knew better than to ask that question; an inheritance is given, not "earned." He wanted to trap Jesus into espousing false doctrine. Jesus knew the evil intent of this lawyer. So He responded to the lawyer's question with a question. The Lord directed him to the Torah. What does the Law of God say? How did the lawyer read the Law? The lawyer quoted from Deuteronomy and Leviticus, citing the two Tables of the Law, the First Table speaking to man's relationship with God, the Second Table addressing man's relationship with man—with his neighbor. No doubt the lawyer knew these words well from the temple or synagogue liturgy, where this was recited, as well as their great creedal statement, the great Shema: "Hear, O Israel; the LORD our God, the LORD is one!" It would be similar to our reciting the Creed or if we recited parts of Luther's Small Catechism in the liturgy today. Repetition breeds familiarity, and so the lawyer knew the letter of the Law, but he did not follow its spirit.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. The lawyer recited these but did not practice them. But the Lord said, "Do this, and you will live." The Lord was not teaching a righteousness based on works, but He was continuing to teach righteousness that comes by His grace. The lawyer was a Jew, a member of God's chosen people, chosen because God loved them. Out of the love He first showed him, the Lord bade the lawyer to live in this love and extend it toward his neighbors. And so our Lord bids each and every one of us to receive His love, as He gives it to us today through His Word and Sacrament, take this love beyond the walls of His house and extend it to our neighbors. Such works borne out of faith are truly good in the sight of God, as we are to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves—to live our lives under the Ten Commandments, to live our lives in response to His loving-kindness.
The lawyer was not content with the Lord's answer. He wanted to justify himself and asked just who his neighbor was. He wanted to know to whom he had to be nice. No doubt the lawyer thought the Lord would tell him to keep being nice to his fellow Jews, especially his friends. The Lord, who knows all men's secrets, saw the evil intent in the lawyer's heart and sought to correct him by way of the story in our text. Here a man, likely a fellow Jew, was ambushed, robbed, stripped, beaten, and left to die on the side of the road. A priest and a Levite (a temple servant), both the lawyer's kind of people, both refused to help their fellow countryman who was left to die. For reasons the Lord does not give us, they pass this man by on the other side of the road. They were holy men of God; surely they would have provided some aid, right? But they did not. Then this low-life Samaritan comes along, gathers the beaten man's body, places it on his own animal, takes him to an inn and gives the innkeeper the financial means to provide care for the stranger. The Lord then asks the lawyer who was the neighbor to the beaten man. The lawyer knew it was the Samaritan, but his hatred for Samaritans was so intense that he could not utter the "S-word": Samaritan. But the Lord in His great love for this lawyer encouraged him to be a neighbor even to strangers, just as the Samaritan was.
The lawyer's predicament is nothing knew, for such attitudes are common even today, the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost in the Year of Grace Two Thousand Seven. To use "lawyerspeak," we too are guilty of not being good neighbors. You see, our Lord has defined neighbor to be anyone who is truly in need, whether we know that person or not, whether that person is in our midst or halfway around the world. We have heard the adage that states that charity begins at home. Unfortunately, in way too many instances it also ends at home. We hold to another adage: Out of sight, out of mind. When our neighbors, whoever and wherever they are, have been ambushed, robbed, stripped, and beaten by the devil, the world, and their own sinful flesh, are we filled with compassion, or do we pass by on the other side? Even if we cannot be there in person to help our neighbors in need (for it is impossible to be in two places at once), do we make provisions to help them with our gifts, as the Holy Spirit moves us, or are our hearts hardened by our own blindness, ignorance, and arrogance? Do we even take the time to pray for our neighbors during the week, or is Sunday morning the only time we think about them? And during the Prayer of the Church, do we in our hearts mean the words we are praying as we pray for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs?
The truth of the matter is that we may be praying for ourselves (and even to ourselves), but we have great difficulty in praying for others and an even greater difficulty—even an unwillingness—to be of service to our neighbors. We have this problem because the horizontal dimension of our faith—our relationship with our neighbors—is not right, and that is because the vertical dimension of our faith—our relationship with God—is not right, either. Our First Table relationship with God is out of whack; therefore our Second Table relationship with our neighbors is also off kilter. We have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved Him with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
But this does not mean that God does not love us. To the contrary, He loved us before He formed us in our mothers' wombs, and He will love us when we are taken to our tombs. He knows who His neighbors are. He created them, the crown of His creation. When God looks at His neighbors, whom does He see? He sees you. He sees me. He sees people in need, broken by the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. He sees us lying by the side of the road, left to die in our sins. He has compassion on us. He picks us up, and He heals us with His Holy Absolution and washes our wounds with the water and Word in Holy Baptism. He restores our strength by feeding us on the body and blood of the Lord. He binds the broken-hearted. He heals our sorrows. He has compassion on us for His Son's sake. Almighty God in His mercy has given His only-begotten Son to die for us and for His sake forgives us all our sins.
Why did God do this for us? He did so because He loves us and desires not the death of the sinner. He wants all people to be saved; He wants you and me to be with Him, too. Even though the world attacks us and passes by on the other side, our Lord passes over that which would seek to separate us from Him, and He comes down to us. Such is the nature of God's love, coming down from heaven to touch us here on earth. Our Lord's love for us is so complete that He has taken our place not on the side of the road but on the cross. He was arrested, stripped, and beaten, stricken, smitten, and afflicted. He walked the road of a beaten Man. He took the beating we by our sins have deserved, and by His stripes we are healed. Our Lord is our greatest Neighbor, for He laid down His life for us and took it up again. Christ has risen from the dead so that by His grace through faith we would be with Him into all eternity.
Our Lord suffered, died, was buried, and rose again for you because He loves you. He has loved you since before you even knew who you were. His love for you is deep; it is self-sacrificing and self-giving. He gives you Himself and, therefore, His love through His Word and Sacraments, the means by which He heals and restores you, the means by which He gives you the forgiveness He, once on the cross, won for you there. He has seen your need to be rescued from sin, death, and the power of the devil and so gives you His forgiveness, His peace, and His love. This self-sacrificing and self-giving love our Lord gives us, and we, in response to our Lord for all His goodness, get to come back for more Jesus, and we get to show our neighbors the self-sacrificing and self-giving love we have for them in Christ. Moved by the Holy Spirit, we remember those who are in need through our prayers, our tending to their needs either personally or by providing those more qualified some aid for giving the proper care for them. We love them because God has first loved us, for God is love. Better than a good neighbor, our God is always here, thanks be to God!
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Send Pastor Mark Schlamann an email.