True Love Cares
8th Sunday after Pentecost
True Love Cares
Text: Luke 10:25-37
“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Would you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor?” Sadly the next generation won’t know the warm and caring voice of Fred Rogers singing while zipping up his cardigan and flipping his shoe from one hand to the other. You could hardly find a more friendly man in real life or on TV. Every day the TV audience was invited to explore the loving, friendly world of Mr. Roger’s neighborhood.
We hear more about neighbors these days in State Farm insurance commercials. In these commercials people will find themselves in the strangest, somewhat scary situations—like having their car mauled by a bear. So they shout, “And like a good neighbor State Farm is there.” Suddenly they are with a State Farm agent and everything is better.
Mr. Rogers wanted everyone to love and care for people in our neighborhoods. State Farm wants us to believe that they care so much for clients that they are like good neighbors.
But what is a good neighbor? Who is a good neighbor? What is it like to be a good neighbor? Is a good neighbor the one who returns my lawn mower and lets me pick oranges off their tree? Is a good neighbor the one who leaves me alone and doesn’t bother me? Or the one who will get my mail when I’m out of town? Am I a good neighbor if I take Christmas cookies next door or give out the biggest Trick-or-Treat candy bars?
Such a question prompted Jesus to tell a very famous story. A teacher of the law once asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” But even though he asked about neighbors, there was a bigger question in mind.
This teacher of the law came to Jesus to test him with a question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He wanted to know what Jesus taught about how to earn heaven. So Jesus tested him back: “What is written in the Law?” The man properly 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.’”
Since this man was convinced he could do something to earn heaven, Jesus gave him a reply that fit in his small mind: “’You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.’ But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”
The question is more than, “And who is my neighbor?” The teacher meant, “Whom do you think I should love as myself, Jesus? Whom should I treat this way? Whom should I be a neighbor to? What is true love like?” That’s what he really was wondering.
So Jesus told a story to explain. A Jewish man was walking from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was mugged by a band of robbers. They stripped him, beat him, robbed him, and left him half dead. A priest walked by. Certainly a priest who knew the words of God so well would help his fellow Jew. But instead he passed by on the other side of the road. Then a Levite passed by. Certainly a Levite who served in the temple of the Lord would stop to help his fellow Jew. But he too passed by on the other side of the road.
Then a Samaritan came by. Eww! Gross! A Samaritan! The Jews hated the Samaritans. They were half-breed heathens! But this Samaritan stopped. He had compassion for this man. He bandaged him up. He put him on his donkey (likely meaning he then had to walk). He took him to an inn and put him up. He even paid his hotel stay and promised to pay all his doctor bills.
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The answer was obvious. As much as the Jewish teacher hated to admit it, it was the Samaritan who cared. It was the Samaritan who showed true love and acted like a neighbor. “Go and do likewise,” Jesus said.
Here’s the point of the story: True Love Cares. This teacher wanted to know what he had to do, how he could earn eternal life. If he wanted to earn it, then he had to show love for God and love for his neighbor. But here’s the hard part: True Love Cares for God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind. True Love Cares for every person like they are your best and favorite neighbor.
This is one of the more famous stories that Jesus told. Most people know something about the story. We even refer to it still today in popular culture. Your car breaks down and someone stops to help you, or someone gives you some extra money or food when you are in need and you say, “Wow! Thanks for being a Good Samaritan!” We also have things like Good Samaritan societies that help people in need.
With such a famous story it’s often interesting to wondering what you would do if you were in the story. Would you have stopped? Would you have helped someone beaten and bloodied and left for dead? “Of course I would,” you say, “That person needed help.”
But would you stop if you were in danger of being mugged yourself? Would you stop to help someone in a back alley of the Bronx or a back alley of Bunnell for that matter? What if that person was an illegal immigrant who couldn’t speak English? What if that person was a Muslim who held a detonator in his hand? Would you help that person?
This is more to the point. Jesus told a story about true love caring for anyone and everyone. But we humans don’t function or think that way. We cheer when the missiles land in Baghdad. After all, they attacked us first on 9/11. We shrug our shoulders with indifference when Tiger Woods loses millions of dollars when we find out about his secret lifestyle. “I guess he got what was coming to him!” And when our angry, abusive boss finally gets canned we laugh because justice tastes so sweet. But is that true love?
When you rush past the single mom who dropped her groceries because you have an appointment to make—is that true love? When you write the most snarky, sassy, sarcastic message you could possibly create to tell that jerk what you think—is that true love? When you don’t greet new visitors at church, but only half smile and walk on by—is that true love? When you sit in your big, comfortable, cozy home while others sleep on the streets—is that true love?
This is the point that Jesus was making. You think you are such a good person? You think you are such a good believer? You think you deserve God’s love and affection or life in heaven because of who you are and what you have done? No way! God demands perfect love for him and perfect love for others—family, friends, and enemies included!
This whole story started because this teacher was testing Jesus. He wanted to see what Jesus had to teach about getting to heaven. As Jesus told the story, we can imagine the teacher’s heart sinking with sadness: “I haven’t shown love like that.” But what he failed to realize was that the answer was standing right in front of him!
Could you imagine if God treated us with an attitude of “they’ll get what they deserve”? What if God repaid every unloving word and action with a lack of care and love back from him? We would be in big trouble—worse trouble than this Jewish man left for dead on the side of the road. If God repaid us according to our love, we would be dead—spiritually and eternally.
But the answer is Jesus who teaches us about this perfect, caring love. Jesus is like that Good Samaritan, but even greater. He showed compassion for sinners spiritually dying. He paid the price for our healing—not a few dollars for a hotel and some medicine—the price was his own life. He paid that price when he died for our sins.
Jesus has cared for the uncaring and loved the unlovable. He has loved liars and cheaters and foul-mouths and addicts and alcoholics and adulterers and murderers and doubters and deniers. Those whom Jesus should have never stopped to help—those who have sinned against him and are “underserving” of any love—Jesus came to forgive and save. He came to love us.
So now, “Go and do likewise.” As Jesus has loved you, so go and love others. Whom? Who is your neighbor? Everyone. That’s the point of Jesus’ story. True Love Cares about everyone just as Jesus cared about you.
Take time to spend just a few extra dollars to get some non-perishable food items for our food bank here in our closet. Spend four hours volunteering at our Kids Carnival this November to help put on an event for free for families (something hard to find around here). Give your first and your best in offerings to the Lord because those good gifts are used to do ministry—to show love to people and to share God’s Word with people.
When you see Muslims on CNN chanting for American blood, don’t wish for revenge. Get down on your knees and pray that they learn about salvation through Jesus before they end up in hell. When you see someone whose lifestyle or appearance or clothes or demeanor sickens you, don’t roll your eyes and turn away in disgust. See if you can teach that person what it means to be connected to Jesus and to live like Jesus. They probably don’t know. When you find out the person next door is really struggling with life, take time to invite them to church or refer them to your pastor. When you see a face you don’t know at church, take a moment to introduce yourself and welcome them to our church.
Wives, be patient with your husbands. We’re not always so bright and usually miss our chances to treasure you. Husbands, treasure your wives like the precious gifts from God they are. Parents, give your children everything they need—not everything they want—and especially give them a loving Christian home connected to the Lord.
Employers, be fair and respectful to your employees. Employees, be faithful and dutiful for your bosses even if they might not always deserve it.
Older folks, be understanding and patient with us younger folks when we act young and dumb like we know it all. Younger folks, be understanding and patient with older folks who think they always know better just because they’ve lived longer and can barely fit their candles on their cakes anymore.
It all seems so obvious doesn’t it? We smile and chuckle, “Yes, those are things I could work on.” But now don’t nod your head and smile at a good suggestion and then walk out those doors and do what you always have done. Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.”
Listen to the story Jesus told. More importantly, look to Jesus himself. Jesus has shown perfect, true, caring love for us. He has forgiven all of our loveless sins. He has paid for all our wrongs and given us a new life to live, a new life of love to live for him and for others.
Your neighbor is anyone and everyone in this world—family, friend, or foe. Be a good neighbor. Be a loving neighbor. Let Christ’s love be your motivation, your model, your guide and then, “Go and do likewise.”