Our DNA – We Serve Our Neighbors
12 of us just flew back from Detroit where we held our annual General Assembly. I WISH you could have been there! Our own Pastor Julie preached the opening convocation, the first-ever woman EPC pastor to preach in person. Our own Rosemary Lukens was elected unanimously to be the first-ever woman moderator, introduced by our own elder Scott Griffin. In fact, because of a technicality…they voted twice to elect her. And TWICE unanimously! And our own Pastor Rachel led the Assembly in prayer. I know – part of our DNA is “We embrace humility.” But I confess, my buttons were popping! I was proud of our church and our people. You would have been, too!
AND, another bonus, our flights weren’t canceled! So I get to preach this morning! I’m glad because we are wrapping up the series on “Our DNA;” nine qualities that make Chapel Hill distinctive. These are so integral to who we are, that I’d encourage you to go online and listen to any you might have missed. This morning, we come to the last of the nine markers that define us as a church: We serve our neighbors. Our text, Luke 10.
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put Jesus to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And 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 answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
It was a trap. Which is a shame. It was a great question. But the guy wasn’t REALLY trying to learn something from the greatest teacher ever. He was trying trap Jesus; to force him to say something that might trip him up.
But Jesus is an Aikido master. He flips the question right back on the questioner. “What do YOU think? How do You read the law?” It’s like the perfect Alpha table leader! And the lawyer answers well. “Love God with everything you have…and love your neighbor as yourself.” “Good job,” Jesus said.” “Do this and you will live.”
Too bad he couldn’t leave well enough alone. But NOW the lawyer feels like HE’s being tested. Jesus has turned the tables. And we know that by what comes next: But [the lawyer], desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
He’s on the defensive now. “Love God AND love your neighbor” was the correct answer. But look at his follow-on question. He doesn’t ask what it means to love God well. He was confident in that department. Fundamentalists always think they have the “love God” part down pat.
But it was the other one, the neighbor-love, that made him nervous. He didn’t want to know if he was doing enough. He wanted to know how LITTLE he could do and still skate by. He didn’t say, “Tell me what it means to love my neighbor well.” He said, “OK, if I HAVE to LOVE my neighbor then who IS my neighbor? Who, exactly, do I have to be nice to in order to check all the boxes?” It is a cynical question from a spiritually cocky person. And frankly, it is a spiritually arrogant disengagement that COVID has stripped bare, even in some parts of our own Gig Harbor church community.
Jesus’ response, his most famous parable, actually answers two questions: who is my neighbor and what does neighbor-love look like?
30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” Luke 10:25-37
We’ve all seen those horrifying videos of attacks on innocent people in broad daylight. The inhumanity of the attacks is bad enough. But equally disturbing is this: how can you stand there with your phone in hand, recording, instead of shouting or intervening or at least using that phone to call the police instead of making your next viral video? The capacity to ignore human suffering is disgusting; it was just as disgusting in Jesus’ time.