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Loving our Neighbour

Vision / Mission 2018  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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The love that we are to show to others flows from the love God has shown us, and involves loving the unlovable. It is only possible with the help of the Holy Spirit

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Loving the unlovable

As I’m sure in all our lives, there is somebody that you just find really hard to love. That might be for any number of reasons. Quite likely there’s someone that you interact with, whether in the workplace, or in your family or wherever, where they just annoy you. Maybe it’s a certain annoying mannerism. Maybe it’s there constant use of sarcasm.
Or maybe it’s more serious. Perhaps you’ve had some falling out over an issue. In some cases, it would appear that the original issue is sometimes even forgotten, or at least put aside, and tension between two people can almost take a life of its own.
However, for some of them, it’s not quite that easy. Now I’d have to say I’m talking about a minority of them here, but for some, you try to engage them and you get nothing. In that minority, you almost get the sense that they want to make your life miserable.
Maybe you have a real strong love/hate relationship with that person. I know this is often the case when it is a close family member but a rift has become the two.
Now I’m not going to lie. For that minority, it can be hard to love them, and I really find myself having to remind myself th
But maybe that unlovable person in your life has never been a friend. Maybe it’s some vindictive person who you’ve somehow come in contact with and you know they are nothing but trouble.
And then there is a different category - those people who aren’t actually in our lives, but they belong to a certain group that are a nuisance to society. I’m talking the likes of drug addicts, street workers, gangs and the like. For the most part, we don’t really know them, but they are hard to love when we see the sort of devastation they effectively create.
I list these people, because whether they are directly in your life, or are from a group that you can’t come to terms with, this is where the Christian message of love becomes really hard.
You see, we talk about love, and on the surface it sounds really great. Just like we’ve all got those unlovable people in our lives, we’ve also all got people in our lives where showering them with kindness is just a great joy.
It’s like in churches. Go into any church, and usually you will find the vast majority of the people will be really easy to love. And so when I say from the front of the pulpit to love others, I think our thoughts immediately turn to these lovable people, and so in our hearts we’re probably calling out - preach it brother!
The problem of course is when we bring to mind those unlovables.

Link to previous week

In the first two weeks of May Mission Month, we started looking at God’s love. Firstly reflecting on God’s love for us and last week reflecting on how we should love God. This is where it starts, but it can’t be where it stops!
You see there is a vital bit of knowledge that came from understanding God’s love for us which changes everything. That is that God’s love for us is not because we deserved it, but is in fact completely undeserved. This truth can seem like a double edged sword.
On one hand, it is the best news ever, that’s because if we’re honest, we can’t be right before God on our own.
If you’ve grown up with the Christian heritage, that shouldn’t come as a shock to you - it gets right at the heart of our Christian message.
But what I think becomes more shocking, and this is because we don’t like to dwell on it as much, but that same undeserved love that applies to you, also applies to that unlovable person you can’t stand to be around.
Well, to explore this, we’re going to look at the parable of the Good Samaritan which is the place where Jesus makes this the clearest for us, so let’s turn to that now.

The Good Samaritan

It’s the passage I read earlier and you can find it in starting at verse 25.

Context

The passage itself starts with the words “on one occasion”, so we’re not really told exactly when or where this little exchange occurred.
What we do know is that there is an expert in the law and Jesus, and so we do find some parallels with the passage we read last week. If you were here last week, we were in Matthews Gospel where we found ourselves in the last week before the crucifixion, and Pharisees sent an expert in the law to try and trap Jesus.
It would seem on this occasion however the law experts questioning may just be a little more genuine, although that could be debated.
The expert asks a question but he evidently knows the answer. The question is: “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
On this occasion, Jesus seems to sense where the question is going, and so he reflects it back to the questioning, asking him what the law says and how he reads it.

The Great Commandment

At this point we get to the very same two verses we looked at last week.
Namely the quote from which says to “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 as Jesus also did, move to the next part which is commonly taken from where it includes the words “Love your neighbour as yourself”.
Not surprisingly, Jesus concurs with this response and affirms his answer. Jesus then says that if you do this you will live - and by live he is referring back to the original question of eternal life, so he doesn’t mean you won’t face death, but that death won’t keep you down.

Who is my neighbour?

Now the first part of that we covered last week, namely to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. I suspect also that this expert in the law has no problem with that part either - but having studied the law in detail he has realised a problem with the second part.
Leviticus 19:18 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
‘ “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.
That is, how far does the command to love your neighbour extend. Now he would have understood that by neighbour it moves beyond what we would refer to as our next-door-neighbour, in others the person who lives in the house next to yours.
But the word neighbour, both in English and the word translated from the Greek implies some close proximity, so it is a genuine question to wonder to what extent this goes. And so this lawyer asks the question directly - who is my neighbour?

The Parable

And so we come to the parable known as the Good Samaritan. Now I know this is a well known parable, but it’s worth briefly telling again
It starts with a man who was going from Jerusalem to Jericho. To give a bit of information about this road, it’s about 27km, which is about the equivalent of here to Raymond Terrace, although unlike the trip to Raymond Terrace which for us is relatively flat, this trip decended in elevation by over one thousand metres. In addition the country it went through was known as being desert and rocky country. For this reason, it was a prime place for a robber to jump on an unsuspecting traveller.
Well, in this parable, that is exactly what happens, the man was attacked by robbers, stripped, beaten and left half-dead.
The first person to come along was a priest, who saw the man but made an effort to pass by on the other side of the road. Curiously, that might not have been so shocking to those listening, because if the man was nearing death, there would have been a chance the priest would have been rendered unclean. As shocking as that sounds to our ears, and I think it is intended to shock, from the perspective of the priest, he didn’t think helping this man was worth becoming unclean.
Well the same thing happens with the second person, this time a Levite. Now a Levite was someone from the priestly tribe. Not specifically being designated as a priest meant he was inferior to the priest, but still a privileged person in Jewish society.
He too probably had similar thinking to the priest. He would have been less bound by ritual cleansing, but nevertheless, to become unclean was not something you wanted to do lightly.
Well the third person was a strong contrast to the first two. He was a Samaritan and to make sense of the parable, you need to understand the animosity between Jews and Samaritans. I won’t give a full account of the difference, but they did share some common history, only with the Samaritans they had strayed considerably in much of their teaching and understanding of God. Suffice at this point to say that there was considerable tension between the two, and it’s been noted that at the time of Jesus, those tensions were at a particularly bad level.
The other thing to note is that the same consideration of becoming unclean would also have applied to the Samaritan as their traditions were similar in this regard.
Yet as we all know, because the story is familiar to us all, when the Samaritan saw the man who had been attacked, he looked past all the prejudices that naturally occur between them, he ignored the cultural expectation of what he knew should be expected, he also ignored any ritual implications and instead saw someone who needed help.
And the help he showed was not some token amount of sympathy. You know, sometimes I think we can think of ourselves as loving towards certain people when really all we do is say a few nice things and not much else. But that’s not the case here.
Rather what we see is a man that really takes care of someone in need. And he did more than just do the first step. After dressing his wounds, he then took him to an inn, and not only that, he even paid the inn, and promised to pay any extra expenses. This is no mere token effort.
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There is a clear lesson in this parable, and that is that we need to look beyond the barriers we typically put in front of various people or groups of people, and instead show real love to those in need.

What it looks like

This really is a challenge, but while ever we leave this love as an abstract concept it remains quite easy. Essentially what I mean by that, is that love in an abstract sense is little more than giving lip service.
You know, I suspect that most, if not all of us here, would probably claim to love others. But to really test this, we need to move from just thinking about love in the abstract, and instead start to consider what this looks like in practice. And that’s what I want to do now.

Paying the cost

Firstly, there is a cost to loving someone. Quite possibly this will include a monetary cost. Obviously it will depend on the circumstances, but if may involve giving something away that will cost you money. Maybe it will involve driving and with the cost of fuel, this an add up too. When we love in this practical way, more often than not you won’t be re-paid.
But it might not be monetary. It might be your time - which I know for many of you can be a rare resource. It often seems to happen that the you find someone needing help right when everything else is really busy.

Putting aside self

So firstly, this love of others will cost us, but it also involves a level of self-denial.
Something that many, maybe even all of us, struggle with, is selfishness. I’ve read good arguments for why this is the greatest of sins. But if we are to love others then we need to put our self aside, otherwise we will remain blind to the needs of others.
This was essentially the problem with the Priest and the Levite in the parable. They were essentially too concerned about the possible implications on themselves that they either didn’t see the need, or minimised it to the point that they could just ignore it.
The sad thing is that this often happens without us even realising it.
You see, this is what I believe happens. We all know that we have our own problems. Quite often these problems become huge in our own lives. If we manage to see someone elses problems, which let’s face it, we are often oblivious to it, but let’s say we do see it, well, we can easily make an argument that we need to sort our own problem out first.
Now I don’t want to deny that there are often a lot of complexities in this, and I might be sounding like I’m oversimplifying it. I’ll get to this shortly, but while I acknowledge that sometimes we aren’t in a position to help someone, too often we’re not even giving it ample consideration of whether we can offer some help.

Listening

So help will firstly cost us something, it will involve denying our self, and let me just offer a third one, it involves listening.
What we see with the priest and Levite is that once they saw the injured man, they moved to the other side of the road. They say ignorance is bliss, and I think it’s true because if you don’t inquire you can assume your help isn’t needed.
In our situation, we need to actually have the time to listen to others - and this means more than just a passing, ‘how are you doing?’
Now when I combine this with the knowledge that we have to do it to those we despise, this becomes hard. If we see them down, we’d prefer not to know, but swallow your pride and actually listen.

Summary of type of help

If we are truly going to love those around us, we need to understand what love looks like. I’ve just offered three things, but I’m sure you could think of many more.
But let me remind you that it means loving beyond these four walls around us.
It may mean putting out your neighbours garbage bin when they forget, even though they constantly annoy you.
It may mean saying a kind word to the group of youths hanging out the front of Coles - you never know, those kind words may go a long way.
Maybe you’ll see a drunkard, passed out on the side of the road - it’s not your problem, but just maybe you are able to check their all right, and maybe even get attention to them if needed.
Where not doing this to score browny points, or for any other objective. We’re doing it because God first loved us, and as a result we need to show love to others.

But it’s complicated

Before I close, I want to address a particular issue. You see, this often gets complicated. I said before that you need to deny yourself, but there is a point in which you can spread yourself so thin that you become useless to anyone.
There are times when a particular individual may be most wise to not get involved in a specific incident.
To address this, I’m going to draw on the fact that today is Pentecost.
As Christians, when we celebrate Pentecost we remember that day, 50 after the resurrection of Jesus when the Holy Spirit descended and we saw the birth of the church.
This was significant for a number of reason, but if we boil it down, it comes down to the fact that the Spirit was there to guide and strengthen the church.
In , we’re told that the Holy Spirit will remind us of everything that Jesus has said.
In other words, because of the Holy Spirit, we can know what it is to love like Jesus.
This is particularly important as we consider how to love in those tricky situations.
As you come to those times when you just don’t know what to do, let me tell you that you should rest on the knowledge that the Spirit is with you guiding you.
So let this Pentecost be a reminder that as we learn to love others flowing from the love of God, that we have the Spirit who helps this link to happen.

Conclusion

The applications of loving others essentially becomes endless.
But knowing that God first loved us, and these applications should start to define us. Wouldn’t it be just so wonderful if the community around us started thinking about us by the love we show.
But are we loving them enough for that sort of reputation to happen?
And by love I mean more than just say we love them.
God loves us. Our first task is to show God our love, and flowing from this will we start to love others in the way that only the Holy Spirit can enable.
Let this be something that really defines who we are at Tanilba Bay Baptist.
Let’s pray...
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