Loving Jesus – and loving our neighbours

Good Sam7

A report of this morning’s sermon on Luke 15:25-42

‘Now listen carefully,’ said Philip Noble as he began reading the Bible passage for today, Luke 10:25-42.  These verses begin with Jesus’ famous story about the Good Samaritan, and the point of Philip’s comment was that often when we’re very familiar with a story we don’t pay attention to the words, and so potentially miss vital details.

After the Bible reading, he showed us a clip from last Saturday’s England v Italy Six Nations Rugby match at Twickenham. The Italian team was following a tactic which wasn’t familiar to their opponents, who asked the ref to clarify. ‘I’m the referee, not the coach,’ was the response, and the England team had to wait until half time for clarification from their coach.  It was a phrase which Philip would refer to later in his sermon.

Good Sam4Who is my neighbour?

The Good Samaritan story, he began, begins with a lawyer who wants to get the rules quite clear in his mind.  It’s human nature, Philip pointed out, to want the know the rules so that we can keep safe, and get on with our lives.

‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ the lawyer asked Jesus.

But rather than replying directly, Jesus asked a question of his own – what, he asked, did the lawyer think the Law had to say about this?

And the lawyer replied: ‘”Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”; and “Love your neighbour as yourself.”’

Jesus is pleased with his response. ‘Do this and you will live.’

But it looks like the lawyer was wanting a little more clarification. ‘Who is my neighbour?’ he asked. (v29) [John comments ‘I guess he was really hoping to find out if there was a limit to the love he should be showing, and perhaps to ‘justify’ (v29) himself by receiving reassurance that whatever degree of love he was already showing to people in his everyday life was enough.]

And then Jesus told his now-famous story, and concluded by asking which of the passers-by was a true neighbour to the wounded travellers. And of course it wasn’t the theologically-correct religious men, but the Samaritan, the outsider, who showed genuine love.  The lawyer recognised that the Samaritan, in doing something to help the victim of attack, was his true neighbour.

Very well, Jesus said ‘Go and do likewise.’ (v37)

This was often Jesus’ way of teaching – drawing truth out of people themselves by asking the right questions, compelling them to think.

Bias to the poor

This passage is a key text for what Philip told us has been known as the ‘Social Gospel’, which emphasises our responsibility to help others.  The trouble is, he suggested, that we are so familiar with the story that we make it into a kind of ‘law’ – ‘we must help people whom we find fallen and injured by the roadside.’  In fact, what Jesus was teaching is that we must at all times and in all circumstances show kindness, love and mercy to others.

Philip reminded us of the title of a book Bishop David Sheppard, published back in the 1980s. Bias to the poor, it was called. Sheppard emphasised that God seems to have a particular tenderness towards those who are poor. At a time when so many of us privilege the rich and famous, the challenge of the God Samaritan story is that we should show love to all, but privilege in our loving those who are weak, powerless and broken.

Now this is all fine, Philip said. But the passage we read contains a second story (v38-42) which reminds us that if all we do is show mercy, we are missing an important dimension of the Gospel.

The wilderness dimension

Philip reminded us of Mark 1:29-39)  Jesus had been preaching, and been healing many  people. The next day, long before sunrise, Jesus went away off into the desert to spend time praying, where eventually, his disciples found him.

‘Everyone is looking for you!’ they tell him (Mark 1:37)

But Jesus replied ‘Let’s go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so that I can preach there also. That is why I have come.’ (Mark 1:38)

It’s a remarkable thing for Jesus to have said.  Yes, there were people in need in the place he had been to the day before.  But he left them behind, and went to the nearby villages.

Showing mercy is not the whole story.

Mary stting at Jesus feet scott freemanSitting at Jesus’ feet

Anyway, in the house in Luke 10:38-42, Martha is hard at work fixing the evening meal. Mary, on the other hand, is simply sitting listening to Jesus.  Eventually, Martha grumbles to Jesus about this, ‘Tell her to help me!’ (v40)

But Jesus replies ‘Mary had chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’ (v42)

It is important to take time to sit and listen to Jesus. How many of us, Philip asked, take that opportunity?

He quoted some words by Roland Walls about church attendance statistics. What they count is the number of people attending church. When the Bible refers to Jesus and the crowd of 4000 or 5000, it is not counting attendance numbers, but the number of people Jesus fed. Perhaps in reporting on numbers, the right question is not ‘How many came?’ but ‘How many were fed, how many were touched by an encounter with God’s love?’

A life changing moment for Roland Walls

Walls simplePhilip told us a little about Roland Walls (A biography of him, A simple life, was written by John Miller, and Ron Ferguson edited a book of conversations with him  Mole under the fence.)

Walls, who lived to the age of 92, was a new kind of monk, working with the community, and living in a shed made of tin in Rosslin, Midlothian. He tried to live simply – he wore habits made of blankets for winter, and denim for summer because conventional habits were so expensive. And he was a man who was constantly giving.

Eventually, he wore himself out, and his friends decided to send him on a holiday. Walls had never been abroad before, but he decided he’d like to go to the Isle of Patmos, where the Apostle John had written the book of Revelation.

[John says: I have found on-line the following slightly different version of the story Philip told, and probably speaks more powerfully that me simply reconstructing from my notes what Philip said:

While in Patmos Roland heard about a solitary monk who lived in a cave by the sea, he decided to visit him. Walking along the seaside he met a middle aged, well dressed lady who looked angry and agitated:

‘Are you going to see that Monk?’
she barked at Roland
‘Then save your time.’
‘I came all this way to see him
to receive spiritual nourishment
and he waffled on for half an hour
about the beauty of creation
and told me the names of all the plants
and fauna around him: Waste of my time!’

Walls picShe took off down the beach. Roland arrived at the cave, and the rather dishevelled looking man, pointed to a rock, which Roland presumed he should sit on. The monk never said one word for over 30 minutes, he just sat quietly, looking directly at Roland, who fidgeted the whole time. Roland was convinced the Monk had looked into his very soul, not found anything a great substance and so decided to say nothing. The Monk stood up and gestured to Roland to do the same, he then embraced Roland and spoke quietly to him;

‘Those who lean on Jesus breast
hear God’s heart beat’

It was a life changing moment for Roland. He recognised this to be what the Desert Tradition describes as a ‘Word for your life’ and he must now embrace that word and have the courage to follow wherever it would lead him.

Keeping close to Jesus

The first time Jesus and his disciples had communion, they would Philip said, according to the custom be reclining at the table. John’s ear was close to Jesus’ heart.

How, Philip asked, can we get so close to Jesus that we hear the beat of his heart.

He suggested:

We must keep our eyes and ears, all our senses alert, open to see and take opportunities to show mercy and kindness.

We  need to learn to spend time with Jesus, to draw really close to him.

Philip asked us to pause for 10 seconds, and open ourselves up to Jesus, listening, and sharing what’s in our hearts. And we can multi-task, we can do this in the middle of other things we are doing. ‘Thank you that you are with me! How would you react in this situation?  Help compassion to flow from me towards that person. I love you, Lord.’

‘Be with me in what I’m doing,’ Philip breathed to God recently. And immediately, in an almost audible voice, the voice replied. ‘No, you come and meet me where I am.’

[John writes: Yes, Jesus is present with us in all our business, and we often cry out ‘Come and help me!’ But there are times when the Martha in us dominates, and we need to hear the voice which summoned Jesus from sleep that early morning nearly 2000 years ago ‘Come and meet me where I am.’]

‘I’m the referee, not the coach.’  If Jesus were the referee, we would be discouraged by the catalogue of our failings. But Jesus is the coach! And we don’t need to wait until half-time for a briefing. The coach is with us, on the field, the Jesus who is closer to our hearts than we are to his.

Duncan added a helpful thought at the end of the service. Yes, there were times for action (doing) and times for listening to God (being).  But there are times when we all find ourselves in situations of helplessness and brokenness. In such situations, as we acknowledge our need for help from God and from other people, we are blessed as the Good Samaritan’s hands reach out to our woundes.

Note

[John writes: I love this list of characteristics of life in Roland Walls’ community.

What were the essential characteristics of their way for living ?
1. Seek the Lord with all your heart find Him daily in everyday places.
2. Trust in him completely for everything and do you part.
3. Don’t take yourself seriously, or seek social status or popularity
4. Celebrate, enjoy, share, use well the all you are given by God.
5. Treat all folk the same, show hospitality to all.
6. Don’t seek to teach anybody share what you know with your companions
7. Don’t judge anyone, gossip about them, lie about them.
8. Be humble before God and your community.
9. Those who lean on Jesus breast hear God’s heartbeat.
10. Laugh a lot, deep meaningful belly laughing remember God’s goodness
11. Speak up for those who have no voice of their own.
12. Be a real blessing to others with no expectation of a reward.]

The painting of the Good Samaritan is by Dr. He Qi, that of Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet is by Scott Freeman,

A building at the Roslin Community, and Vincent Van Gogh’s take on the Good Samaritan Story

Walls roslienGood Sam3

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