Won’t You Be My Neighbor? | The Meal Is In The Method | Luke 7:34-50 | Week 3

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR: The Meal is the Method  Luke 7:34-50

Welcome.  You’re here on week three of a four-week series called “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” How many of you have seen the Mr. Roger’s documentary that they did?  Amazing documentary and tribute to an amazing man who really lived out the way of love, and did so in a compelling, breathtaking way.  Kelly and I saw the movie and I thought I really need to do a series on this because my heart’s plea to Jesus is that our church would look a little bit more like Mr. Roger’s neighborhood.  The first week we talked about the fact that God isn’t calling us to identify or define our neighbor, that’s sort of a low-level question.  In fact, He’s asking us to become neighborly to whomever we might meet.  Last week we said that’s not easy; as long as there’s been hospitality, there’s been complaining about offering it.  In 1 Peter 4:8-9, Peter writes to the church and says:  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  We typically grumble when we offer hospitality…..They’re coming over again?  How long are they going to stay?  Are they going to jack up our house and eat up all our food?  My goodness!  We said we’ve got to build margin into our life if we’re actually going to live out this way of Jesus, of not just offering hospitality but doing so without grumbling.

I don’t know about you, but as I’ve been wrestling with this topic more and more, and Jesus has been calling me to open my heart, my life, and my home, more and more, I’ve been seeing more opportunities to do that.  Anybody with me?  At the beginning of September, I was asked to be on a world religions panel at Kelly’s high school, Mountain Vista.  I was there along with a Buddhist, a Hindu, and a Muslim imam.  They asked us a number of different questions.  At one point, the Muslim was explaining things we get wrong about Islam.  He asked the class a question:  How many of you guys have a Muslim friend?  A few of the students’ hands went up.  I thought to myself, “I can’t raise my hand to that.  I don’t have a Muslim friend.”  In that moment I thought, “But I want one.”  After the panel, we all left and I was driving back to work thinking, “I really want….I would love a Muslim friend.”  So I emailed him.  I said something like hi, this is Ryan from the panel.  Great job.  Really fun to meet you.  I don’t have any Muslim friends and I would like one.  I felt like I was in middle school again….Will you be my friend?  Check ‘yes’ or ‘no.’   He wrote back and said, “I’d love to be friends.”  We started up this conversation via email and last Monday we went out for lunch together.  We got to talk about our faith.  We got to talk about our families. We got to talk about our upbringing.  We got to talk about Jesus.  It was as though as the table sort of turned into this altar, where something unique and something special started to happen.

But that isn’t all that unique and all that special because that happens around tables all the time, doesn’t it?  Every time we gather with friends, or family, or strangers around a table and share food, something unique, something SACRED, happens.  Which is a good thing because we spend a lot of our lives eating, have you recognized this?  We will spend 67 minutes on average per day eating or drinking.  Over the course of our life, we will spend somewhere around 32,000 hours eating!  So, it’s good thing that something sacred and meaningful happens around the table.

Also, we live in this tension, don’t we?  We live in a time and place where chefs have become celebrities, some of them.  They have written best-selling books.  They’ve become inspirational speakers.  AND, at the same time, we as a country, spend over $50 billion every year on dieting.  At any moment, you could do a survey of our nation and 25% of men and 47% of women will be dieting at any one time.  We have this sort of love-hate relationship with food, don’t we?  At least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from some sort of an eating disorder; that’s just under 10% of our country.

Food is a sort of tough thing to wrestle down and our relationship to it.  If you look at the story of God, there’s food all throughout.  In the very beginning, food is where things start to go wrong…..Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, right?  In the middle of the story, you have the picture of things going right….or being put back to right…..it’s a table…this is my body given….the breaking of bread.  My blood shed….drinking of wine.  And in the very end, you see that the picture of God’s culmination, restoration of the history is the marriage supper of the Lamb.  Things go wrong through food.  The picture of things being made right is food.  The end of God’s restoration is a feast.  All throughout.  So it shouldn’t surprise us that yeah, something sacred happens around really ordinary tables.

If you have your Bible, turn with me to Luke 7.  As you do that, we’re going to play a little game.  There’s a phrase three times in the Scriptures — The Son of Man came _____________.  Don’t say it out loud, but just think how many of those blanks you could fill in.  Here’s the first time the New Testament uses that phrase.  The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)  Mark is talking about Jesus’s mission; this is why He came….to serve us and to give his life for us.  The second time it’s mentioned is in Luke 19:10.  The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.  This is another retelling of his mission.  Jesus comes on a rescue mission.  Both of these have to do with the REASON Jesus came.  The third time this phrase is mentioned doesn’t have to do with the reason He came, it has to do with the WAY that He came.  Listen to Luke 7:34 — The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”   So the fact that Jesus could be called a glutton, a drunkard, means he didn’t just come sort of dabbling in a meal.  He didn’t come….well, every once in a while I’ll grab a meal.  Jesus was known for feasting.  Jesus was known for the way that he gathered around tables, for the way that he ate.  Of all the ways to come!  He could have come with fanfare; he could have come with angels backing him; he could have come with a legion of angels at his side ready to just wreck shop, whatever he wanted, He’s the Son of God.  And how does he come?   Gathering around tables.  Eating and drinking.  We might say that he was seriously into eating and drinking.

His methodology for the way that he would change the world, for the way that he would bring about the ransom for many and the seeking and the saving of the lost….the way that Jesus did that was a long meal, stretching into the evening, oftentimes with people good Jewish folks would never have associated with….THAT’S where he did his work!  Here’s what Jesus knew…..that the meal, the table, is not simply about consumption, it’s not just about what you take, it also has this very mystical, but real, power, a sacred power, of creation.  {Slide reads:  The table is not simply about consumption, it is also about creation!}  Think about it, we’re all a little bit changed after a meal, aren’t we?  Yeah, some meals we’ve added a few pounds.  Or the conversation changes us just a little bit, so it shouldn’t surprise us that when we pick up the Scriptures, we see Jesus eating ALL the time.

Some have proposed that in Luke’s gospel, Jesus eats his way from one story to the next.  Let me show it to you.  In Luke 5:  Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners at Levi’s house.  In Luke 7: Jesus is anointed at a meal in the home of Simon the Pharisee.  In Luke 9:  Jesus feeds 5,000 people.  In Luke 10:  Jesus eats at Mary and Martha’s house.  Luke 11:  Jesus condemns the Pharisees and teachers of the law at a dinner.  Luke 14:  Jesus is at a meal and urges people to invite the poor rather than just their friends and family.  Luke 19: Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house.  That’s an awesome passage — Zacchaeus, I’m coming to your house today; hope you got something good.  Luke 22:  We have the Lord’s Supper — His body broken, His blood shed symbolized through bread and wine.  Luke 24:  Jesus, the Risen Christ, has dinner with two disciples in Emmaus and then eats fish with the disciples in Jerusalem.

But this shouldn’t surprise us.  We all know something sacred happens when you gather around a table and look people in the eye and share a meal together.  In fact, we’re just being able to identify this through research.  What they’re showing is that families that eat together have an astounding elevated level of joy and happiness and goodness in their life.  Here’s what they say:  Eating meals as a family together helps kids maintain a healthy body weight, helps them have better quality diets, better eating habits.  As they grow up, they’ll be less likely to use alcohol or drugs.  Teenage girls are less likely to binge, purge, diet or otherwise engage in disordered eating behaviors.  All because of families gathering around the table together.  A recent study even suggested that children who have family meals during which they can talk more as a family have less depressive symptoms.  Some people have suggested you don’t need to be a rock star parent, you just need to eat with your kids.  That was the summary of their findings.  Have a few meals every week together as a family.  But that can be easier said than done, can’t it?  In fact, in the last thirty years, we’ve seen a 33% decline in families who eat meals together.  Over half of the families that still do eat together, do so with the television on.  We have this tension, don’t we? We’re finding out meals have this sacred, beautiful, mystical power and yet, we’re avoiding them maybe more than we ever have before.  I get it!  It’s difficult….to have your whole family in the same place at one point in time is crazy!  I get it, I hear you.  But it seems as though it was important to Jesus, and it seems as though the statistics, the research, is showing it should be important to us as well.  Think about this a second —- Of all the things Jesus could have spent his time doing, he spent it eating.  He spent it drinking.  He spent it around a table.  Why?  Why?

If you have your Bible, we’ll be exploring in Luke 7.  I’m going to read you the story, I’m not going to put all the verses up on the screen, but I want to ask this question:  What is it that the table, not just consumes, but what the table creates?  The platform for the radical gospel is the ordinary table.  Look at the way it happens in Luke 7:36-47 —  When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. {That’s typically how they would eat back in Jesus’s day.  They might have a low little table and sit on the ground.  They would have their knees forward and their feet tucked behind them.}  A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.  {Typically, if a famous rabbi would be at a house in your neighborhood, in your area, in your town, word would spread quickly.  Wealthy people, which Pharisee’s typically were, would have had a little courtyard in their home, but guests could sort of look in and see what was going on inside.  But this woman isn’t content to stay there.}  As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears.  Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. {Every commentator that writes about this story says that what this woman did, back in that day, back in that time, typically was only done in bedrooms.  The taking of the hair down.  The anointing and kissing of feet, the wiping of feet.  Only done in very intimate settings.  It would be akin to a pastor sitting at a table and a stripper coming in and starting to do a little bit of a tease.  Just sayin’.  We need to enter in….everybody at this table’s going Jesus, what are you doing?!  Get out of there!!!}  When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”  Jesus answered him, {I just love this turn of phrase.  He thought this and Jesus answered him.  That’s when you know you’re in trouble.} “Simon, I have something to tell you.”  “Tell me, teacher,” he said.  “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender.  One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both.  Now which of them will love him more?”  Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”  “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.  Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman?  I came into your house.  You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet.  You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.  Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—-as her great love has shown.  But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”  

One of the fascinating things, as you read through the gospels, that you’ll start to recognize is that “sinful” people were immensely attracted to Jesus.  They just wanted to be around them.  They put themselves in extremely uncomfortable social situations just to get near him.  I think one of the questions I always ask is why does it seem like the opposite happens now?  The church seems to attract religious people, but irreligious people hold a stiff arm to us.  I’m not going to answer this question — Have we gotten part of the message wrong?  What is it about Jesus that drew people in and what is it about the church that pushes people away?  We might have gotten just a little bit of it wrong.

Here’s what the Pharisee says (verse 39) — If you knew, Jesus, if you only knew….you must be ignorant, because if you knew who this woman was, you would have told her to go away.  A central question in Jesus’s day was with whom can I eat?  Eating was a theological statement.  In some ways, it still is today.  Back then it was called “table fellowship,” but we might just call it friendship.  One of the things that happens around the table, one of the sacred things that happens, is that the table extends friendship. {Slide reads:  The table is an extension of friendship.} You share a meal with somebody and it’s like there’s an embodied type of love that’s extended.  Food connects.  It connects family, it connects friends, it connects strangers.  There’s something that happens.  So when Jesus, in verse 34, is accused of being the friend “of tax collectors and sinners,” you can almost imagine him going, “Guilty! I am!”   Luke goes let me tell you a story, let me tell you just how friendly he is to people others would want to put a stiff arm to.  Being welcomed at a table for the purpose of eating food with another person is symbolic of friendship, of intimacy, and of unity.  I love the way Robert Karris puts it:  “In Luke’s gospel, Jesus got himself killed because of the way he ate.”

I think that same power, the power of the table that we see in the life of Jesus exists today, too.  Let me give you just two things that happen when you gather around a table.  Number one — The table has the ability to transform issues into people.  It’s easy to have an idea about somebody….about their race, about their sexual persuasion, or whatever.  But when you get across the table from somebody and start to look them in the eye, and you start to see that they eat the same way you do, and that they have the same type of things going on in their soul that you do….there’s something that’s transformed in us.  That’s why Jesus asked the Pharisees at this dinner, “Do you SEE this woman?  Do you SEE her?”  Not do you see the issue.  Not do you see the fact that she’s probably the town prostitute, that her life is an absolute mess, that she’s “dirty.”  Not all that!  Not do you see her issues….do you SEE HER?  Because if you see her things start to change.  You start to see faces and stories instead of issues and policies.

I read a story on NPR, recently, about a man by the name of Daryl Davis.  Daryl’s a blues artist, but for the last thirty years he’s had this sort of side hobby.    For the last thirty years, he’s been meeting with Ku Klux Klan members.  Listen to what he said in this interview:  Once the friendship blossoms, the Klansmen realize their hate may be misguided.  Since Davis started talking with these members, over 200 Klansmen have given up their robes.  When that takes place, Davis collects the robes and keeps them in his home as a reminder of the dent he has made in racism.  Here’s what he says — “By simply sitting down and having dinner with people.”  Maybe before we decide how we feel about an issue, we should ask “Do we know anyone in that camp?”  It might change the way that we see things. We start to see where people are coming from, the experiences that shaped them, and maybe, just maybe, we’re not all that different.

Here’s the other thing Jesus does as he sits down around tables.  It’s not just an extension of friendship, it’s an extension of social justice.  It’s him saying I’m unwilling to let this road go, divided as it is.  It’s why in Luke 14:12-14, Jesus says to the host of a dinner he’s been invited to:  When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so your will be repaid.  But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.  Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.  Look up at me a minute.  Jesus is breaking down walls as he gathers around tables.  That’s what he’s doing.  He’s embodying the justice that God longs to extend to his world.  I love the way that Ed Loring, one of the founders of Open Door Community in Atlanta, said it:  “Justice is important, but supper is essential.”  It’s no coincidence, you guys, as you read through the book of Acts, you get to Acts 10-11, and before the gospel can be taken to the Gentile world, the Jewish people must change the way they eat.  They have to, because so much that’s sacred happens around the table.

In Luke 7:36, the story starts out like this.  Notice if you see a theme.  When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.  Luke wants us to get that the person hosting this party is a Pharisee.  Pharisees, back in Jesus’s day, were a reaction to a sellout by the Jewish people.  Roughly 200 years before Jesus is on the scene, the Hellenization of the Jewish people has started.  There were a number of Jewish leaders who sort of sold out and instead of holding true to Yahweh as the One True God, they started to make sacrifices to the pantheon of Greek gods.  They adopted the Greek customs.  In reaction, the pendulum swings the other way and you have the Pharisees.  They called people out.  They called people to evaluate their holiness, and their holiness was always measured by how far we can keep ourselves from those people who aren’t quite right.  Our holiness is directly tied to our distance from the dirtiness.  That’s what they believed.  And they believed that only when they were perfectly pure, THEN their Messiah would come.  The Pharisees believed that the table in their homes was sort of a surrogate altar to the Lord’s altar in the temple, therefore, whoever they ate with had to be perfectly clean.  Enter the woman in the story.  She’s not just pushing back against the social customs of the day, she’s potentially driving a wedge between them and God.  She’s making it so that God won’t come back and be the Messiah and rescue the nation of Israel.  She’s making it so they can’t “have a relationship with God,” at least the way that they thought they would because holiness and relationship is defined by distance from sin.  When Jesus sits down to the table, he’s not only breaking down walls, he’s destroying misconceptions about who God is, and about what God is like, and about what God asks of his people.

At the end of this story, we see Jesus say to her:  Your sins are forgiven. (Luke 7:48)  It’s the same thing he says to people at the end of Luke 5:32 — I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.  He’s going I am up to something and it’s not about how clean you can get; it’s about how holy I am, and in coming close to you in my holiness, I don’t get dirty, I make you clean.  It’s about Jesus embodying grace.  It all happens around a table.  {Slide reads:  The table is an embodiment conduit of grace.}

What we see around tables, all throughout the Scriptures, is that Jesus makes this point:  God’s holiness works from the inside out, not the outside in.  It’s not how holy we can be.  In fact, in Mark 7:1-5; 17-19, there’s this story about Jesus and his disciples sitting down to eat a meal. The Jewish people had all sorts of customs—they would wash their hands, get ready to eat, make sure the food was all clean.  Jesus’s disciples just went and sat down at the meal.  They don’t play the game.  They don’t wash their hands.  It reminds me of my dinner table….almost every night!  We pray together as a family.  I have my two boys on each side of me and 9 times out of 10, I hold their hands and I think to myself, “You haven’t washed your hands in days!”  We say amen and I tell them to go wash their hands because they’re grimy, filthy.  Jesus is like double-down yes!  Yes and amen!  My disciples have dirty hands and they’re making a point.  The point is you cannot achieve cleanliness in relationship to God, you have got to receive it from Him.  You don’t work your way to Him, you open yourself to receive grace from Him.  That’s what Jesus does at the table.  It’s an embodiment of grace.

When he says, “Woman, your sins are forgiven,” (v. 48) it’s not because of anything she did.  It’s not because she was amazing, it’s simply that she knew the love that had been extended to her and she received it as her own.  That’s it!  What we see from this story is that grace can’t be integrated with self-righteousness, self-importance, or just a little bit of chest beating and I’m good.  No!  The scandal of grace is that if you’ve been working hard to make yourself right with God, {look up at me} you’ve been wasting your time!  Because you can’t earn grace, you can only receive it.

There’s something unique that happens when people sit across the table from each other…they start to be more and more open to who God is and to what God’s doing.  So it’s no coincidence the story ends with “your sins are forgiven.”  He calls her to go in peace.  It’s not hey, let’s sing Kumbaya, and what you’ve been doing is okay.  No, no, no.  Grace confronts.  Grace confronts both our failure and grace confronts our pride.  It does not leave us in the same place.  It always calls us forward, because God righteously hates the fact that sin has fractured the shalom that He created us to live in.  So he heals and he calls us forward.

Notice, all of this happens at a table.  Not in a synagogue.  Not in a church building.  Not through wonderful, eloquent preaching—-although that’s important.  You can read the Sermon on the Mount and the book of Acts, but that’s not where this transformation takes place.  It takes place around a table.  Catch this—The early church and Jesus did not run programs.  They didn’t do ministries.  They didn’t have programs.  They weren’t polished and have everything all together.  Here’s their methodology:  Let’s eat together, and let’s talk about life, and let’s share our lives together, and let’s be honest before God and each other.  Something sacred might just happen at a real ordinary table.  Because hospitality at it’s core is simply creating space for God to move and God to change us and God to invite us to something new.  It’s where Levi heard and responded to the call of discipleship.  It’s where this woman receives forgiveness and healing.  It’s where Jesus reframed what it mean to be holy.  I love the way this author, Jim Petersen, put it: “I know of no more effective environment for initiating evangelism than a dinner at home or in a quiet restaurant.”

Maybe it’s because eating at it’s core is a sacred act.  There’s something spiritual that goes on there.  There’s something physical that goes on there too.  Eating staves off death.  Have you ever recognized that?  Every time you sit down, you say to death, “Not today, no, thank you.”  You can only live roughly forty days without food, about three days without water….plus or minus on each end.  Every time you sit down to eat, well, you’re solving a problem.  You’d die if you didn’t.  But think about this also….every time you sit down to eat, there’s something on the plate on the table in front of you that at one point was alive.  I can remember when I took a group of college students to the mountains in Mexico.  The village that welcomed us, in honor of our being there, slaughtered a goat.  Right in front of the students.  They were like, “Oh my gosh!  The goat was once alive and now he’s dead and we’re going to eat him?!”  They’re shocked by this and I’m like “What is wrong with you people?!  Have you ever enjoyed a steak or hamburger?  Where do you think that comes from?”  We’re so disconnected from our food sources today, we have no clue where our food even comes from.  But whatever it was that was on your plate—whether it’s a grain or a fruit or a vegetable or an animal—at one point, it was alive. It died so that you won’t.

So think about this: Every time we sit down to eat a meal, as followers of Jesus, we’re retelling the story that we find ourselves in.  In order for us to have life, the God of the universe came down and gave His.  Died, so that we might know what it means to really, truly live.  The reality, friends, is that the table is an enactment also.  Not just of friendship and not just of grace, but of promise.  {Slide reads: The table is an enactment of promise.}  I think it’s why, when the disciples followed Jesus back to Emmaus and he sits down and he takes bread and he breaks it, their eyes are finally opened.  Oh my goodness, this is the Messiah!  I think it’s why we read here (Luke 7:50) — Your faith has saved you; go in peace.  It’s this picture of the promise of what God is doing in His incarnation, in the giving of His life so that we might have life.

This is such a great phrase:  Your faith {your trust} has saved you {healed you, restored you}; go in peace.  Peace means the bringing back together of frayed edges.  So if you put it all together, here’s how it might read, as Jesus says to this woman:  The love that you know because of the forgiveness you’ve received has resulted in a trust of Jesus, and that trust heals your brokenness and repairs the frayed edges of your life, turning them into a beautiful mosaic of God’s grace.  And all of this….all of this….happens at a meal, because as Tim Chester said in his great book, Meals With Jesus:  “Meals were about something bigger.  They represented a new world, a new kingdom, a new outlook.  But they gave that new reality substance.”

So it shouldn’t surprise us that when the early church, after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, starts to develop their rule of life (how they do life together), one of the things they include from the get-go……oh yeah, yeah, yeah, we gather in the temple courts, we gather for teaching.  We meet together because big groups is important.  Teaching is important.  Worshipping together is important.  Fellowship together is important.  But it’s not where it ends.  They also broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.  And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47) 

Something sacred happens around the table.  The table, the meal, is NOT just about consumption.  It’s also about creation.  I love the way Francis Schaeffer, the founder of L’Abri Fellowship, put it:  “Don’t start with a big program.  Don’t suddenly think that you can add to your church budget and begin.  Start personally and start in your home.  I dare you.  I dare you in the name of Jesus Christ. {Don’t you love that?  I dare you, South Fellowship Church.  I double-dog dare you!}  Do what I am going to suggest.  Begin by opening your home to community.  You don’t need a big program.  You don’t have to convince your board.  All you have to do is open your home and begin.  And there is no place in God’s world where there are no people who will come and share a home as long as it’s a real home.”  I love that!

You may not be in a place where you can open your home, but, man, right after church you can ask somebody if they want to go and grab lunch.  You can meet somebody at a restaurant, somebody at a coffee shop.  It doesn’t really matter where it is.  When you gather with people, friendship’s extended, grace is embodied, and a promise is retold.  I pray that we would become the kind of church, more and more, that lives this out.  Maybe this week, you do the block map we’ve included for the last few weeks.  Or prayer walk your neighborhood, and as you do so, just be open to God inviting you to have conversations with people.  Maybe this week you have somebody over for a meal, or you meet somebody for a cup of coffee, or you meet them at a restaurant; it’s about creating space in your life and in your heart for people.  Maybe you serve a meal at Family Promise. {We’re hosting Family Promise again in October and we provide dinners for the families every night.}  If you want a little film and theology project, I’d encourage you to rent Babette’s Feast, 1987 film.  It has subtitles—just a warning.  It is a beautiful story about the power of food, and grace, and friendship, and life.  {Ryan hands out conversation starters.}

Would you stand with me, Church?  What if…what if…what if an ordinary table with ordinary food became a sacred tool in the hands of God?  Would you live this out?  I don’t know what’s going to happen with my friend Muhammad and I.  I do know that we’re going to get together again for lunch, and my prayer is that our table would turn into an altar and that eventually he would start to see who Jesus is and the love that Jesus has for him.

So Jesus, as we follow in your way with your heart, would you help us to be people who open not just our homes, but our lives, and who see you work mightily through ordinary things.  Like a meal.  Like you always have.  It’s in your name we pray.  Amen.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? | The Meal Is In The Method | Luke 7:34-50 | Week 32024-06-12T15:41:22-06:00

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? | Leaving the Edges | 1 Peter 4:8-9 | Week 2

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR: Leaving the Edges  1 Peter 4:8-9

This series is like one long message!  You may have walked away last week thinking, “Yeah, I know, hospitality’s really good, Ryan.  That’s a great idea.  BUT….”  We have a whole list of “buts,” don’t we?  We have a whole list of reasons why it’s really, really hard.  To that, I want to say, “You’re right!  It is.”  I want to spend the next 35 minutes or so affirming you’re right!  BUT….

I was a sophomore at college at Colorado State University and was walking across the courtyard.  I saw a man who had a long beard, sort of unkempt, had a smock on (it looked homemade), had pants that looked like they were homemade, and he was holding a cardboard sign that said: “What do you think about Jesus?”  At that point in time, I was a follower of Jesus, I was serving with Young Life, and I thought, “Wow! That’s really cool that he’s sitting in the middle of our courtyard just striking up conversations with people.”  I went up and met him.  His name was Jerry.  We got into a conversation about Jesus.  At the end of our conversation, I said to him, “Hey, Jerry, if you ever need a place to take a shower, here’s our phone number, give us a call.”  He was experiencing homelessness.  I found out that homeless people take you up on offers that other people sometimes won’t.  Two days later my phone rang.  It was Jerry and he asked, “Does the offer still stand to come and take a shower?”  I was living with three other guys and asked if they were cool with it and they said yeah, they were.  So Jerry came over and took a shower.  As he was leaving, we said, “Jerry, if you know any friends who need a place to take a shower, our house is open, call us anytime.”  He did…..and so did his friends.  We said, “Hey, Jerry, if you ever need a place to throw your tent, you can throw it in our backyard.”  So….he did!  It was really cold one evening, so we poked our heads out the back door and said, “Hey, Jerry, (and to his friends) if it’s ever too cold for you guys and you’d like to come and sleep inside, come on in.”  And they did!  For two-and-a-half years of my college life, I lived with four to five homeless guys who slept on our couches, on shelves in our garage.  I can tell you this, it wasn’t always easy.  Eventually we had to ask them to leave.

Whether it’s homeless people who live with you, or an in-law or an out-law, or you have somebody over for dinner, or you’re sharing a piece of your heart with somebody in a deep conversation, neighboring or hospitality is never easy.  It demands something of us.  It demands that we open maybe our home or our table or a part of our life to the “other.”  Which is why the Scriptures deal with this subject so honestly.  I love it, because here’s what Peter says in 1 Peter 4.  You can also flip to Leviticus 19; we’re going to be going back and forth between both this morning.  1 Peter 4:8-9.  Peter is sort of pastoring a group of churches right after the resurrection of Jesus:  Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.  {It’s not about being a part of a community that’s perfect, because hey, this just in, we aren’t, we never will be, and no church you go to will be.  If you find the perfect church, don’t join it, you’ll ruin it.  It’s not whether or not we’re perfect, it’s about whether or not we love.  Love is the thing that covers our brokenness and our imperfections.}  Offer hospitality {In the Greek, it’s that word that we talked about last week…philoxenos.  Two words put together:  love of the stranger.}  to one another without grumbling.

Don’t you just love that it’s not some pie-in-the-sky, hospitality’s going to be easy, it’s going to be awesome, just Google Martha Stewart and you’re going to be good?  Peter says, “I know it’s going to be hard.”  I know some of you are offering hospitality because—in the first century—it’s required of you.  In an honor-shame-based culture, if you didn’t offer hospitality to someone, you were looked down on in the community.  There’s people offering hospitality to others, but they’re doing so and under their breath they’re going, “I can’t believe they’re going to stay this long.”  Are you kidding me?  They brought just chips and salsa to dinner??  Who are these people?  Their kids are climbing all over our new furniture!    Not that we’d do any of this!  He says offer it without grumbling.

When we think of the word “hospitality,” we oftentimes think of food.  We think of having people over into our home.  It’s certainly that, but if you were to go back into the audience of Peter, they would have something very different or expanded in their minds.  Certainly hospitality is about offering food.  It’s that, but in the first century, here’s what it meant.  We actually get English words from this word “hospitable.”  The etymology of the word hotel, hostel, hospital, and hospice are all connected to this one word, “hospitality.”

In a Greco-Roman world that was changing rapidly, the Romans brought a number of inventions; one of them was the road system.  People, for the very first time, were traveling large and extended distances.  They were doing so without a hotel or an Airbnb on the other end to sleep at.  Followers of Jesus were known—in the early Greco-Roman world—for opening their homes to people to come and to stay in.  They picked up on this need and met it with hospitality.  Listen to the way John Chrysostom, the great preacher in the fourth century, said it to his church in a sermon:  “Make for yourselves a guest chamber in your own house.  Set up a bed there, a table and a candlestick, have a room to which Christ may come and dwell.  This building is set apart for him.”  Can you imagine that as a practice at the end of this message?  Set up a room in your room, have it ready just in case somebody, anybody, a stranger, knocks on your day and needs a place to stay that night.  This was the ethos of the early church.

In 362, Emperor Julian of the Roman Empire, who was not a follower of Jesus, looks to the other Hellenistic (Greek) leaders of the day and he looks at the Christians offering hospitality and he goes, you guys, we’ve got to be more like this.  We’ve got to do what they’re doing.  He says, in a letter he was writing to one of his leaders:  “Why then do we not observe how the kindness of Christians to strangers, their care for the burial of their dead, and the sobriety of their lifestyle has done to advance their cause?  Each of these things, I think, ought really to be practiced by us.”  If you want to know how did the early church expand, well, they opened their homes.  They didn’t have a robust, amazing plan for reaching the world that was on a white board.  They just had this one methodology:  deeply care about the people around you and open your home to them.  If somebody needs a place to stay, give him a place to stay.  If somebody needs food, give him food.

In 370, Basil—who became known as Basil the Great—the bishop of Caesarea, established the very first hospital.  Did you know that part of our offering, as followers of Jesus, of hospitality was developing the first hospital?  To care for the lepers in the community, people no one else wanted to touch.  Basil said we’re followers of Christ, we’re going to open ourselves to that.  The monasteries became sort of hospitals.  They were sort of outposts on the edges, where people were cared for—physically and spiritually.  They weren’t for retreat, they were for impact.

So when Peter says offer hospitality to one another without grumbling, he’s certainly thinking about a meal, but he’s thinking about more than that.  He’s thinking about a lifestyle.  You could see how that lifestyle might mess with your plan just a little bit, can’t you? I tell you that to give you sort of a lesson in hospitality and what it meant, but also to open our minds up to start dreaming again.  I want to be part of a community that dreams God, how would you have us do this, in this day, in this time?  Don’t turn your home into a hospital, unless you’re a registered doctor or nurse or medical professional, for this using the best medical equipment, engineered by the best professionals, and including good engineering evaluation for equipment that needs special coating!  But what might it look like to offer radical hospitality in the place that you live?

Offer it without grumbling, Peter said, and we grumble.  Here’s why we grumble.  Because hospitality’s hard!  It’s inconvenient, it’s expensive, and it’s invasive.  This is sort of our cultural moment.  This is the moment that we live in.  Hospitality is inconvenient, isn’t it?  It takes time.  It takes time to open your life, to open your home to people around you.  We are maxed out on time, aren’t we?  We have work.  We have family.  We have sports.  We have hobbies.  We have other commitments, and we tend to run through life at a frantic pace!  There’s an overload of options of things to do with our time now, isn’t there?  You could fill it in a number of different ways.  And we do!  We do and then we wonder where did the time go?

Not only that, but hospitality is inconvenient because we are just a little bit obsessed with entertainment, aren’t we?  Just a moment of honesty.  I told you last week that I don’t stick the dismount on this every time.  There have been times—you don’t need to nod, you don’t need to agree, you don’t need to elbow anybody—when I have resisted offering hospitality because there was a game I wanted to watch, or there was a movie I wanted to watch, or there was a show I wanted to catch up on.  So in a world where we can get it anytime we wanted, we start to close ourselves off just a little bit, don’t we?

It’s not cheap to have people over.  If you offer somebody a meal, you open your home.  You want it to be at least slightly presentable, but most of us in this room—if the statistics hold true….   The average American carries $6000 in credit card debt, and the average American household has $10,000 in debt.  So we go well, that’s something we can cut.

Not only that, I think the biggest obstacle that we face, the biggest grumbling that we go oh, I don’t now if I want to do that….is that hospitality is invasive.  You just have to flip on HGTV—you know, the show about all the houses that look better than yours?  What are the words they use to describe the house?  This house is an oasis!  This house is a private retreat.  This house….look at the privacy fences.  This house is great!  You don’t have to talk to anyone around you!  We might as well just build a moat around our house, with a drawbridge.  That’s the way we often view it, isn’t it?  We long, we crave community but we base our lives around isolation.  That’s just a method for protection.

Here me on this, if you’re like, Paulson, I felt that last week, thanks.  This is not intended to say we’re wrong, this is intended to ask some questions: Are there some ways the Spirit might invite us to open our hands a little bit, that Jesus might use us more for our joy and the glory of His name in the place that He has divinely planted us?  This is not about guilt.  This is about opening ourselves up to God.  And it’s about pointing out some things that we all wrestle with.  In some way, there’s something up here that we go, oh no, no, no, that’s me.

What does it look like to be people that offer hospitality?  Who in the world has time for this?  Flip over to Leviticus 19.  As you’re flipping there, I was putting a book in my bookshelf this week.  I have books that I love right in back of my desk so I can grab them quickly.  That part of my bookshelf is maxed out.  So what did I do?  I tried my best to open a little tiny hole to force another book in there.  I think that’s what most of us do with hospitality.  Our lives are full.  Our lives are busy.  Running from one place to another, but Jesus says to be hospitable so gonna force that book in there and make it work!

It’s interesting that when the teacher of the law asked Jesus, what must I do to inherit eternal life? the man quotes from Deuteronomy 6:5—Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.—and then he quotes from Leviticus 19:18:  Love your neighbor as yourself.   But before that, look what it says in Leviticus 19:9-10 — When you reap the harvest of your land, {Most people were farmers in this day.  Most people lived on a plot of land that their family had owned for generations and they ate the food that they produced.} do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen.  Leave them for the poor and the foreigner.  I am the Lord your God.  Skip down to verse 18 — Love you neighbor as yourself.  How do you do that?  Well, he gives two commands:  you leave the edges of the field.  And when you harvest it, resist the urge to go back and pick up all the little pieces of grain, or whatever you’re growing, that you have dropped.  Leave them.  Why?  So that you can be a good neighbor.  So that you can love your neighbor as yourself.  Love your neighbor who’s a foreigner.  Love your neighbor who’s poor.  Love your neighbor who’s a friend.

So you get the picture….you have this sort of square plot of land.  They don’t say exactly how much margin is suppose to be left, they only say leave some.  Maybe it’s proportionate to how big a field you have.  The bigger the field, the bigger the edge.  {Look up at me for a second.}  Here’s what the author of Leviticus knows:  It’s impossible to love your neighbor if you don’t have any margin in your life.  If you don’t have any margin around the proverbial field of your life, you cannot be a neighbor.  Leave the edges!  Intentional margin is the thing that creates capacity for vibrant hospitality.

Intentional margin.  I chose that word intentionally!  Because it doesn’t happen by accident.  Our default is to fill up the pages of our life to the max, isn’t it?  Did you ever have an English teacher that was ruthless about margin around the edge of the paper?  They would measure it and if it was a little bit more or a little bit less, they were cracking down on you.  How much easier is it to read a piece of paper that has a little bit of margin around it?  It’s a lot easier.  It’s a lot easier to live a life that has a little bit of margin around it too.  But here’s my problem.  I found myself reading Leviticus 19 going, “Well, yeah, but….what if no foreigner comes to take from the edges?”  If they haven’t come, then that food is wasted, and my commitment to productivity, to maximizing my life, to making the most of my time demands that I push it to the edges!  Right?  I sensed God saying, “Look up at me, Paulson.  What if the best parts of your life happen in the margins?”  What if the most impact you have happens in the margins? What if the most joy that you find takes place in the margins?  What if those moments where you go, oh man, God, it’s good to be alive, happens in the white space around your life?  If you were to step back, I think you would affirm, “That’s true.”  If you do not prioritize margin in your life, you will not have any.  If you don’t choose to create margin, you won’t have any.  Someone once said if you don’t design your life, somebody else will.  They’ll tell you what to do with the edges of your field.  Or you will start reaping out to the very corners and the edges.

Friends, you might want to write this down.  I think this message, if we could summarize it in one succinct phrase, it could be:  God is inviting us to live by design, not by default.  The nation of Israel, for them to leave the edges of their fields for strangers, for foreigners, for people they didn’t care for much, to say come and take a little bit from me was counter-cultural.  If you start creating margin in your time, in your finances, in the space that you have and the openness to people around you, it will feel different.  Because our lives are full.  So the question is how might we do this?  What heart postures are necessary to say God, we want to be people of margin?  We want to do that.  What does it take though?  All of us would say we want to do it, but so many of us live this kind of a life, don’t we?

Flip back over to 1 Peter 4, because Peter’s going to continue this idea of offer hospitality without grumbling, and we said we do that by creating intentional margin for people to come and to receive from us, but what needs to happen in our life to get there?  Here’s what he says (1 Peter 4:10) — Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.  A steward is not an owner.  A steward is somebody who a wealthy person entrusts with typically a plot of land, back in their day.  They’re the manager.  They get to use the master’s stuff, but it’s not theirs.  What Peter says to his church, to the church he’s writing to, is if you’re going to be somebody who offers hospitality without grumbling choose to see yourself as an entrusted steward, not an entitled owner.

Let’s just get it out there.  Repeat after me:  My time is not only my time.  My money is not only my money.  My house is not only my house.  If we are apprentices of Jesus, our time, our money, our space is something that we are stewards of, not owners.  As part of that, there’s a few things I just want to encourage you.  Could we, just as a community of faith, just say we want to categorically reject the badge of busyness?  That in some way busy makes us important.  Like you ask somebody how they’re doing and they’re like “busy” and you’re like wow, you must be a big deal.  Can we, just as a community, say we’re going to choose not to use busy as a metric for how important we are or how productive we are?  Some of the most productive people in the world are not the busiest people.  They’re actually the most intentional people you know.  Let me say it this way:  You are NOT a slave to your calendar.  You are a steward of your time.  I get it, you work 9-5, but that does leave some room in there to say God, how do you want me to use this time?  How do you want me to use this space?  What do you want me to do with it?  I love the way John Ortberg said it:  “The most serious sign of hurry sickness is a diminished capacity to love.  Love and hurry are fundamentally incompatible.  Love always takes time and that’s the one thing hurried people don’t have.”

How do you create margin?  One two-letter word.  NO!  Can I encourage you to practice saying it this week and resist the voice in the back of your head that says well, that’s unspiritual.  Jesus maxed out his time.  Jesus was this beautiful combination of certainly making a massive impact in three years of public ministry.  We are here because of Him.  And yet…..Dallas Willard once was asked, “What’s the one word you would use to describe Jesus?”  His answer?  Unhurried.  He was never in a hurry.  The question we’ve got to wrestle with is do we live at a pace that allows us to be available to those closest to us?  Willard said this later on:  “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”  If you do that, it’s going to be counter-cultural, but you’ll start to create margin.  You’ll start to create space.

I’m going to tell this story again because it was just so impactful for me.   Aaron and I were in Africa last Advent season.  We were spending time at an African tea, which the men typically host, almost every evening or a few evenings a week.  They get together and they talk about life and they talk about sports and they talk about politics.  They have this tea kettle that sits in the middle of the gathering.  It’s a wood fire that heats the water for the tea.  One of the Americans with us said, “Hey, Timoteo, if you put some oxygen on that flame, it will get hotter and the tea will boil quicker.”  Like, let’s give him a microwave.  Here’s what he did, it was beautiful.  He looked at us and said, “This is the point of the tea.”  It’s not about the tea.  He said, “You Americans have watches, but we Africans have time.”

I started to think to myself, “I wonder if we’d have more tea if we had less TVs.”  I wonder if we would have more time if we had fewer ways to distract ourselves and to be busy.  What if this week, as a practice, you started to just slow your life down intentionally?  Here’s a few ways you could do this.  You could decide you’re only going to drive the speed limit this week.  What if you decided to choose the slow lane of the grocery store?  I’ve brought up a few of these before, but these are practices you can do to actually slow your life down to create margin.  You will start to see the people around you.  What if you took one meal a day and you ate it slower than you normally eat it, and really focused on the chewing and the tasting?  Have you ever gotten done with a meal and thought, “I know that tasted good but I don’t remember what it tasted like?”  Most of our meals, right?

What if you decided, like Jesus, to spend just a little bit of time in solitude?  In quiet?  Because you do know this, right, your field, the field of your life, is only good for hospitality if it’s producing something.  If there’s some food that comes from it.  If it’s healthy.  If it’s whole.  Solitude is the place we gain freedom from the forces of the society that wants to shape us.  Almost everybody that writes about hospitality says that the demands of hospitality can only be met by persons sustained by a strong life of prayer and times of solitude.  It’s wholeness that creates the capacity for hospitality.  Maybe you start getting to your appointments just a little bit early.  I know you’d have to sit in the waiting room.  I get it!  You know who else is in the waiting room?  People!  People that God might have an invitation for you in.

What if we did the same with our money?  What if we did the same with our space?  I just want to speak to this a little bit and then we’ll move on.  Will you look up at me for a second?  We have in our day, in our culture, and in our time, a view of our house as our castle, as a place to retreat.  What if, as followers of Jesus, we started to rewire that thinking to say, “My house, my space is the platform God’s given me for kingdom impact.”  Not just the place where I get away.  You need to do that.  You need to rest.  You need to recharge, we just talked about that.  But what if we just made this fundamental shift, God, you’ve given me this space—whatever it is, an apartment, a condo—in order to make a difference for your kingdom.  You may own your house, but God owns your all.  So we’re people that intentionally create margin by going hey, we’re stewards of this stuff, we’re not owners.   Of our time, of our space, and of our money.  It’s ALL God’s.

Here’s what he says next (1 Peter 4:10-11) — Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.   Quick timeout. Peter is saying that this hospitality that I’m calling you to offer without grumbling doesn’t look the same for everyone.  It doesn’t.  Some people are wired to go I want to have a TON of people over.  I want to have a big party.  I want it to be lavish.  I want it to be over the top and I want to do it every week.  Some of you go man, I would love to get together with a trusted friend and share life.  I’d love to just have one person over, one couple over, one family over.  I don’t want it over the top, I just want one person.  Here’s the deal, if you are an introvert and were thinking, oh great, freaking sermon series on hospitality; this is my worse nightmare!  Jesus’s invitation to you is it doesn’t have to look like anything other than what it looks like for you.  Do it the way you do it.

We’ve got to understand that God has gifted you intentionally—all of us intentionally—and called us uniquely.  Some of you young moms….the goal is just survival.  Some of you people who are in school….the papers looming….I get it.  Some of you are retired and maybe the energy isn’t what it used to be.  Whatever season you are in, Jesus sees that and it’s not some standard that you have to reach up to.  He goes okay, what do you have that you could uniquely offer?  For some people it’s speaking….that’s how you can offer hospitality….with just a word.  For some people it’s serving.  Whatever it is, it’s God’s grace that He’s given you that you then get to extend to someone else.  Don’t miss the image of this field, because every field has boundaries, doesn’t it?  Every field has limits.  You can’t give away somebody else’s, and—catch this—you’re not called to give away all of yours.  The calling of hospitality is not give until you die!  The calling of hospitality is to say back to God, God, we’re stewards of the things you’ve given us; based on who we are, we want to extend those back to you to use for the sake of your kingdom so others may know who you are and may bow in worship.

There’s this famous story of Martin Luther, the great reformer.  When he got married to his wife, Katerina, someone knocked on their door on their wedding night!  He opened it up, invited them in and gave them a place to stay!  Fellas, I’m not suggesting that.  If you’re engaged, don’t do that.  Don’t even tell people where you’re saying.  Some people take this over the top and it kills them eventually.  That’s not what Jesus has for you.  Who are you?  What do you have in your hand?  And then live into it.

There’s a story that’s told in the three synoptic gospels, in Matthew, Mark and Luke.  In Mark 5:30-34, we see Mark retell the story.  There’s this powerful man.  He’s sort of one of the main guys at the synagogue.  He comes up to Jesus and says, “My daughter is sick.”  Jesus, being who He is, says, well, let’s go.  Let’s go immediately.  You can almost imagine this guy (named Jairus) putting his arm around Jesus and saying, “Come on, Jesus.”  They’re walking through the crowd and all of a sudden Jesus stops.  He says, “Who touched me?”  I can imagine if I’m Jairus, I’m going, “We’ve got places to go, we’ve got people to see, we’ve got a daughter who’s sick.  Jesus, come on!  Who touched you?  Everybody’s touching you!  Who cares?!  My daughter’s life is on the line.”  Right?  There’s this woman who’s been bleeding for twelve years.  Jesus looks right at her and asks again, “Who touched me?”  She says, “I did.”  The Scriptures say that Jesus SEES her, looks at her with compassion.  Not only does he heal her, but he loves her and calls her “daughter,” a woman who hasn’t been touched in years because of her condition.  He just starts to invite her in.

I think it’s a beautiful picture of what it looks like to live a life of margin, because it means that we embrace interruptions as divine appointments, not as distracting inconveniences. Look up at me for one last time today.  The most important thing you do tomorrow may not be on your calendar.  You might not be able to find it in your iPhone calendar.  The most important thing God’s inviting you to do may not be the thing that you set out to do.

It was really cool….we threw this big party.  A lot of you were part of putting that on.  We as a church said we just wanted to love our community and love our community well.  After SouthFest, we got this email from one of our partners, Love INC.  Love INC is a great organization and here’s the email they sent to Molly, one of our staff members.  Kathryn said, “Thank you so much for such a great opportunity.  It was a fantastic event and a beautiful evening.  I was able to talk with so many folks from South and the community.  We got five to six folks that were interested in volunteering, which we really, deeply appreciate.  I also got reconnected with Rebecca Bell, who’s the director of the preschool, and will be following up with her about ways that we can support some of the preschool families you serve.  One woman I spoke to came from Parker.  She saw the Facebook posting that morning.  Well done, to you all, and to all South Fellowship staff and volunteers.  I know what a big undertaking it is.  We’re so grateful to be a part of it and to be building up our partnership as we serve the community with Christ’s love.”  That was one of those things we didn’t expect to come out of SouthFest, but we’re just going, “God, thank you for the way that these divine appointments come into places and spaces that we don’t expect.”

One last story — Last week we shared that Tim Klibbe, one of the members of our church, strong contributor, tragically passed away on Labor Day from a motorcycle accident.  Someone came up to me after service last Sunday and said, “I just want to tell you a story about Tim.”  My brother was stranded along the side of the road on C-470.  A car pulled up behind him and just stopped.  Someone got out and said hey, do you need a ride to the gas station?  This person took him to the gas station and waited there 45 minutes while they figured out all the towing and all the things that were going on with the car.  He just waited there and talked to him.  They didn’t know each other.  This person came up to me after last week’s service and said, “The person that stopped for my brother was Tim Klibbe.”  It was a total inconvenience, wasn’t expected, not in his calendar.  He said my brother is always going to remember that some stranger—he said he was from South Fellowship Church—stopped.  What might it look like for us to do the same?  To just hit pause long enough to say God, we’re stewards, we’re not owners.  It’s not our time, it’s not our money, it’s not our house, it’s not our energy….it’s yours.  You’ve only given me a certain amount of it, but how do you want me to use it?  We want to create space and we want to create margin so we can.  So that when those “inconveniences” come, we might see them as divine appointments. Rather than throwing us off track that God is calling us to be on track with Him.

This week, what’s it going to look like to live it out?  I’ve decided to give us the same set of practices every Sunday during this series.  You have a block map on the back of your bulletin.  Anybody have one more of those boxes filled in this week?  Maybe you download the NextDoor app and start to get plugged in.  Maybe you have someone over for dinner.  Allison hosted a bagel breakfast for their neighborhood on Saturday.  Maybe you prayer walk your neighborhood.  What does it look like for you?  I know it’s inconvenient.  As long as hospitality’s been offered, people have grumbled about it.  But you stop grumbling when you see the way it can impact the people around you.  {Ryan hands out Solid Grounds coffee cards to people for their office.}

Would you stand with me as we close our time today?  Jesus, we do.  We surrender our stuff, our time, our energy, our thoughts.  It’s yours.  We’re stewards, we are not owners, Jesus.  Remind us of that this week.  Father, I pray that when interruptions come into our life that we might see them as appointments, not interruptions.  Jesus, that we might open our hearts and our lives to others.  As hard as that may be, would you show us what it might look like for us, in the season of life that we’re in and the time that we have and the resources that you’ve given us?  What does it look like to love our neighbor as ourselves?  Teach us.  We’re your disciples, apprentices, we want to follow after you.  Amen.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? | Leaving the Edges | 1 Peter 4:8-9 | Week 22023-06-27T11:21:21-06:00

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? | Neighborly | Luke 10:25-37 | Week 1

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR: Neighborly   Luke 10:25-37

A few months ago, our elders started to ask this question:  What would it look like to create a culture of hospitality?  Where, as a church family, we didn’t just attend, but we gathered together and linked arms and hearts.  Not just show up on a Sunday morning, but open our homes and our lives to the people who we worship with.  It was our conviction, not that we weren’t that place, but there were some ways that Jesus was drawing us deeper and inviting us to more, that this would feel more like a family.  One of our values here is that we’re family together, not just on Sunday morning, but throughout the week as well.  About that same time, my wife and I went out on a date night and we went and saw a movie.  This will give you a little insight on just how nerdy we actually are.  We don’t watch superhero movies—nothing against them, just not our jam.  We went and saw a movie called “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”  It was a documentary about Mr. Rogers.  I walked out of that movie with this angst in my soul.  My wife Kelly watched the entire movie with a Kleenex in hand, crying a little bit throughout the whole thing, and popcorn in the other hand.  I walked out with this conviction, this thought in my head, “What if church looked more like Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood?”  Where there wasn’t any other standard than presence to be invited in.  Where you didn’t have to reach some sort of affluence level.  You didn’t have to have a certain color of skin.  You didn’t have to talk a certain way or be from a certain place.  If you were there, you were invited.  I walked out of that movie deeply touched and it stuck with me, and it’s helped to shape and form the next four weeks of our teaching series.  In case you haven’t seen the movie, I just wanted you to get a little glimpse, here’s the trailer.  {Video plays}

“The greatest thing we can do is help someone know that they’re loved and capable of loving.”  How many of you watched Mr. Rogers at some point in your life?  I did.   After I watched the film, I remember trying to remember an episode of it.  I can’t remember any single episode of Mr. Rogers, but I can remember the way that I felt when I watched it.  It was drawing me in.  There was this sort of healing balm, this love, that just sort of beckoned and said, “Come a little bit closer.  It’s safe here.”

Fred Rogers — After graduating from college, he went to seminary.  His goal was to be a Presbyterian pastor.  He graduated, I believe, from seminary, but decided to go into TV instead.  He said, “I went into television because I hated it so, and I thought there’s some way of using this fabulous instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen.”  And he did so for over thirty years!

My guess is you’ve heard some rumors about Mr. Rogers.  After he passed away, the rumors started to spread.  There’s one rumor out there that he was a Navy SEAL in the Vietnam War and has a ton of kills under his belt.  Have you heard this?  Another rumor is that the reason he wore sweaters—it wasn’t a fashion statement—was to cover all the tattoos that went up and down his arms.  Both of those are false, by the way.  There’s another rumor going around—you can Google this if you want—of Mr. Rogers giving kids “the finger” on his last television show.  There’s this still shot from the video of him giving the finger.  He’s actually counting for kids and they stilled it and twisted it.

I think it’s interesting that when somebody starts to live in the way of Jesus, they hold a mirror up for us, don’t they?  Sometimes the way that they live convicts us.  It’s easier to make rumors and turn it into stories — He couldn’t have been that good, because we know we’re not.  That’s essentially what happened.  There’s this desire to tear people down, because sometimes they hold a mirror up for us.

Mr. Rogers built an entire TV show, for over three decades, on one simple question:  Won’t you be my neighbor?  It doesn’t matter how much money you have, it doesn’t matter what language you speak, it doesn’t matter what color your skin is. . . .if you’re present, you’re invited.  Won’t you be my neighbor?  I walked out of that film going I want church to be more like that.  On just going to put my cards on the table.  Here’s some of my hopes for this series….that you might know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the God of the universe says to you, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”  That’s one of my hopes.  My hope is that our church starts to look a little bit more like Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood.  My hope is that you would get here a little bit earlier and hang out a little bit longer.  Maybe you just spend fifteen minutes hanging out and talking with people a little bit.  My hope is that you’d open your house, or your condo, or your apartment to somebody you don’t know that well.  That you’d invite them in to your space, your life, a little bit.  My hope is that if you’re lonely, you start to find friendship.  My hope is if you feel unloved, you start to feel somebody’s arms wrapping around you.  My hope is if you’re a cynic, you start to say, “If Jesus-people are like this, I might want to explore more.”  My hope is that we’d look a little bit more like Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood.

You may have noticed that we live in a cultural moment that’s as divided as it’s ever been.  You don’t have to look too far to find ways that you differ from the people around you, whether it’s religiously, or politically, or ethnically.  There’s a number of ways we can choose to draw our lines in the sand and define ourselves by what we are or by what we aren’t.  I just want to propose to you, I think that’s a tired way of living.  I think Jesus has more for us.  In a moment where 46% of Americans report feel lonely, maybe God is calling the church to be part of that healing balm that says we have room for you around our table, in our homes, and in our lives.  What if God wanted to use us to breathe a little bit of hope?  Won’t you be my neighbor?

If you have your Bible, open to Luke 10.  We’re going to look at this famous story that essentially asks that same question.  There’s a man who comes up to Jesus. . . .my guess is if you’ve been around church, you’ve heard this story a little bit.  My hope is that you’d hear it fresh today.  It’s a story of the Good Samaritan.  Before we jump in, you need to know that “good Samaritan” would have felt like an oxymoron to everybody in Jesus’s original audience.  You can’t be good and a Samaritan.  We’ll talk about why in just a moment.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. {This was an honorable way for somebody in the synagogue, or in a gathering, to address a rabbi.  You would stand up and ask a question.  It was a way of showing respect.  But Luke sort of tells us a little bit of what’s going on….this man wants to ‘test’ Jesus.}  “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”     Just a quick pause here.  Two things.  What must I DO….to INHERIT?  Do you see anything wrong with that?  What does anybody DO to inherit anything??  You’re just a part of the family, aren’t you?  Like, what must I do to inherit Bill Gates’ fortune?  He would have to adopt me as one of his kids, which, by the way, Bill or Melinda, if you’re listening, I’m open to that!  I’m 38 years old, I’ve got a family, but we’re adoptable!   No, you don’t DO anything to inherit, but this teacher of the law….he’s got these hints and shadows….there’s something out there that I know I can’t earn my way to, but that I long for with every fiber of my being.  Have you ever felt that?  He says here’s what I want Jesus.  I want eternal life.  When we hear that, we typically hear, “I want to go to heaven.”  But I don’t think that’s all of what this teacher of the law was talking about.  For a Jewish mind, eternal life meant two things:  it meant the kind of life that lasts forever and the kind of life that you want to last forever.  Eternal life, for a Jewish person, was eternal in both quality and duration.  The kind of life where you go, “Oh yeah!  THIS is what it means to be alive and I want that kind of life THIS way, THIS life that never ends.”

That’s his question—how do I get that kind of life?  Jesus says, “What’s written in the Law? What’s Torah say?”   “What is written in the Law?” he replied.  “How do you read it?”  He answered, {This man had probably heard Jesus teach at some point in time, so he poaches what He’s taught about the greatest commandment.} “‘ 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.'”   That’s how you get eternal life.

I grew up in a church, you may have too, if you were to have said, “Hit pause there.  Did he get the answer right?” we would have said, “Well, no!”  How you get eternal life is you pray a prayer.  You trust Jesus.  You accept, you believe, you confess.  That’s Romans 10:9.  He FAILED!  The only problem with that is Jesus!   “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied.    {I think they’re talking about the same thing—Romans 10:9—in different ways.  The life that lasts forever, that you want to last forever, in very different ways, but Jesus says, “You’ve nailed it.  You’ve stuck the dismount.”  Love God with your whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, AND love your neighbor as yourself.  You almost get the sense that this man starts to go , “Sort of a high bar there, Jesus,” and so, wanting to justify himself, wanting to make sure he’s okay…..} But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  If I draw that circle too big, Jesus, I don’t think I get in it.  So, if I can draw it small enough….if my neighbor can be the people that I like, if the neighbor can be my family, but only the family members that I like….    If my neighbor can be the people that talk the same as me, believe the same as me, look the same as me…..if my neighbor can look a lot like me, Jesus, we’re going to get this done.  It’s going to be wonderful.  It’s going to be great.

I found myself lamenting to our writing team—we write devos that go along with the messages—I wished he’d asked a different question.  I wish he would have just been honest and said, “I feel like I’m coming up short of that.  What do I do then?”   I don’t feel like I’m living that out.  I think the teacher of the law does what many of us do, he wants to sort of protect himself.  He wants to protect his accomplishments, his achievements.  He wants to be okay.  So he goes, let’s talk about this, Jesus, who’s my neighbor?  Could we draw that circle small enough that I can accomplish it?

Jesus says well, that’s an interesting question.  Let me tell you a story.  In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers.   {Quick timeout.  That road from Jerusalem to Jericho was a small road.  It weaved its way around mountain edges.  Oftentimes, you could only fit one person the width of the road.  It was called “The Way of Blood” back in Jesus’s day.  So the parable that Jesus tells, many scholars think Jesus isn’t just telling a parable, they think he’s telling a story that happened and that happens.  It’s 3500 feet DOWN from Jerusalem to Jericho, so you’re going, weaving your way down this little tiny track.}  They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  

Jesus has just taken the two stars of the Jewish faith, at this point in time, and essentially throws them under the bus.  So you have the priest, who is the upper echelon of the religious folk in Jesus’s day.  And you have their assistants, the Levites.  Priests would have been off serving in the temple in Jerusalem for two week stints.  They spent time up there and they would finish their service for that season and they would come back to the place that they lived…..in Jericho, for this man’s life.  You’d often be coming back with your pay, which was grain, or food, or goats, or sheep, that you were going to give to your family.  It was the way that you got paid for your temple services.

So the priest and the Levite have some issues.  They have issues with this person that’s along the side of the road.  He’s beaten, maybe to a pulp.  They don’t know if he is a Jew or if he isn’t a Jew.  If he were a Jew, the priest or Levite would have had to stop to help him.  That’s their neighbor.  But we don’t know if he’s a Jew because he’s beaten so badly.  The priest is bound to duty, but duty can only take you so far.  Duty can only do a certain amount in your life.  It can’t transform you, it can only hold you to a certain set of standards.  What Jesus seems to be winking and nodding at is duty isn’t enough to live the kind of life that I’m calling you to live.

The other problem is if this man is dead.  If the priest or Levite touches him, he’s going to be unclean.  Which meant that they would have had to turn right back around, walk the eighteen or so miles back to Jerusalem to go into a week-long process of becoming ceremonially clean.  Not only that, but the grain or the goats or the sheep that they had with them as part of their payment would have been unclean too.  So he would have lost all of his money.  So the priest is in this predicament; the Levite’s in this predicament.  Am I going to hold to my religion, or am I going care for the people around me?  Am I going to be religious or am I going to show compassion?  You almost get the sense that Jesus pauses at this point in the story and says that seems like it should be a false dichotomy.  It seems like we shouldn’t have to choose, whether we’re going to uphold a religion or love the people around us.  If that’s the case, maybe we’ve got something wrong!

Well, if you’re a Jewish person, you’re expecting….I see where you’re going here, Jesus.  A priest.  A Levite.  They both failed.  I know where you’re going.  It’s going to be the Jewish lay person that comes through.  It’s going to be just the normal Joe Shmoe of Judaism….he’s going to be the star of your show.  You might know the end, that’s not how it goes.  It’s called the Good Samaritan for a reason.   But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  {He had compassion on him.  Literally, his insides turned with empathy for this man.}  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.  Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper.  ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

‘Good Samaritan’ was an oxymoron for the Jewish people.  The Jewish people were at odds with the Samaritan race.  Seven centuries before, 722 BCC, the Northern Kingdoms, ten tribes in the north, were taken off into captivity into Assyria.  Some people were left back, though.  Some people were left there.  The Assyrians imported people to breed with the Jewish people who were left, so that they could essentially extinguish the race.  The Samaritans were half Jews, half Assyrians.  The Jewish people—they would say the true Jewish people—of the two tribes that were left—the tribes of Judah, who were carried into Babylon a number of centuries AFTER the Northern Kingdom was taken away—said to the Babylonians, oh no, no, no, we’re not going to intermarry.  We’re going to hold true to who we were called to be…..the people of God.  When they were taken into exile, they refused to marry.  Jewish people saw Samaritans as sell-outs and Samaritans saw Jews as racist and cruel.  That cycle that was seven centuries old continued in Jesus’s day.  A good Samaritan??  This cannot be.

Jesus ends:  Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?   {Which one do you think?  He said well, it was the Samaritan.  Only that’s not what he says.  Read what he says.}  The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”  He couldn’t even say his name.  That guy!  You know, Jesus, you told the story.  It’s the protagonist.  That guy.  He’s the one who showed mercy.

Jesus, in his brilliance, does two things in one story — he universalizes neighbor….it’s anybody.  There’s no drawing the circle and coming up with a certain set of standards of people that can be your neighbor.  If they look like you, talk like you, believe like you, then they’re your neighbor.  If they’re your family or your friends, then they’re your neighbor.  Jesus goes no, no, no, no, it’s anybody.  He universalizes neighbor, but in the same story he particularizes (personalizes) the stranger.  It’s not just anybody, it’s ANYBODY you see right in front of you.  THAT’S your neighbor!

Notice, Jesus does not answer the man’s question.  This is the story about the art of asking the wrong question — What must I do to inherit eternal life?  You don’t DO anything to inherit.  Who is my neighbor?  Notice, Jesus doesn’t answer that question.  He doesn’t say, “Well, this is your neighbor.”  He asks, “Who WAS a neighbor?”  As if to say, we’re asking the wrong question if we want to know who our neighbor is.  The goal is not to define or identify our neighbor, it’s to become neighborly.  It’s not to draw the circle smaller so that we feel like we can justify ourselves and beat our chests a little bit and feel like we’re okay.  It’s to become the type of person that has room for the other in our life, compassion that we act out on, not just hold in our hearts.

All throughout the Scriptures, there’s this discussion that goes on about neighbor.  There’s different words that are used.  One of these is this word philoxenos. It’s two Greek words put together.  It’s the word ‘philo,’ which is the word for love.  ‘Xenos’ is the word for stranger.  Love of a stranger.  It’s commanded all throughout the Scriptures that followers of Jesus would be people of philoxenos, that we would love the stranger.  It means that we have room in our lives, in our homes, around our tables, for the person we don’t know yet.  Hospitality or neighbor means the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. We often think hospitality has to do with food.  This is the way I would say it.  In the same way that worship is more than singing, but it’s rarely less, hospitality is always MORE than food, but it’s rarely LESS.  It often involves a meal.  Look throughout the Scriptures.  It’s more than that, but it’s not less than that.  The term ‘hospitality,’ philoxenos, is where we get our English words hospital, hotel, hostel, hospice.  That’s the word philoxenos.

Here’s the other word, though, that’s contrasted with that: xenophobia.  That means fear of the stranger.  Fear of the one who doesn’t look like me, who I have a few questions about.  We have a few disagreements.  Fear of them.  Did you know that you cannot have fear of your neighbor and love of your neighbor at the same time?  What Jesus is calling us to is a fundamental attitude towards the other that says we have room in our hearts and in our lives for you…..exactly the way that you are.  We don’t offer hospitality in order to change people, but we create space where they can change.  I love the way Philip Hallie, an ethicist, said it.  He spent years studying the human capacity for good and for evil.  He concluded that “the opposite of cruelty is not simply freedom from the cruel relationship, it is hospitality.”  Henri Nouwen, in his wonderful book Reaching Out—it’s one of our recommended resources for this series—said:  “If there is any concept worth restoring to its original depth and evocative potential, it is the concept of hospitality.”

I’ve had a few weeks to get my heart and my mind around this series and I just want to stand before you and say this is not one that I feel like I’m sticking the dismount on, personally.  I’ve been challenged.  I’ve been convicted that hospitality isn’t something that I’ve been great at offering.  As I’ve tried to think about why, I think there’s this sense in me that I just didn’t need it.  I have some healthy friendships.  I have a healthy family.  I haven’t sensed the need to invite others into my life and I’ve felt really convicted by the Spirit of God, because I feel like this is an area in my discipleship that I need to continue to grow.  It’s not whether or not I need it, it might be about whether or not other people need it.  It might be about what God wants to do in my heart and soul as I offer it to other people.  So maybe you’re in the same place.  Maybe you hear hospitality and you think Pinterest and you go I can’t do that.  That’s not me!  I just want to invite you to push back against the voice of guilt and shame (if you’re like me) that might rage when we talk about hospitality and push back against it and say God, convict me where I need to be convicted so that you might lead me to the way of life that lasts forever.  God, we want to be the kind of people who love you with our heart, soul, mind, and strength, AND who love our neighbor as ourself.  Amen?

So what does that look like?  If Jesus says listen, love for your neighbor looks like more than just the people who look like you, talk like you, act like you, believe like you…..that’s the way he told it back in the first century.  I think he might tell the story a little bit differently today in our society.  They had this sort of foundation of hospitality that was required of them.  It was part of their culture.  It was something they did whether they wanted to or not.  It’s not a part of our culture.  If you’re like me, it may be something that you don’t do all that often.  If Jesus were to tell the same story today, I think he would say let’s just start with your literal neighbor.  You know that person that lives right next door to you, that as the crow flies, sleeps with their head on a pillow less than 100 feet from your head?  Let’s just start there.  That guy.  The guy in the apartment right next to you….that person.  Who is that person for you?  Think about them for a moment, get their picture in your head.

If we assume that the neighbor is everybody, it’s easy to make her or him NOBODY.  For THIS story to press on us like it did for the original audience, we have got to take love of neighbor out of the metaphor, out of the ethereal, out of that nameless, faceless person and put it into real love. {Slide reads:  Real Love > Metaphoric Love} That’s what God is calling us to.  He’s not calling us to agree with him and go yeah, I think we should love our neighbor, that’s a really good thing.  He’s calling us to do it!

Sometimes church feels like this fictitious picture of going to the gym, right?  Can you imagine going to the gym and you head in there in the morning and you’re ready to work out?  You’re in your workout clothes.  You get in there…..24-hour Fitness…..and they’re like hey, grab a seat.  You have somebody who is ripped and they’re like welcome, we’re so glad that you’re here at Peptide Therapy Scottsdale because health and fitness seem to be everything and all that matters at the end of the day.  This workout is going to be amazing.  This is going to be great!  You’re going to get ripped.  You’re going to get shredded.  It’s going to be unreal!  Have a great day, God bless you, and he walks right out, and didn’t do anything with it.  You went the next day and they were like alright, we’re going to work the legs today.  We want to be equally yoked up top and bottom.  Right?  We’re going to get after it.  It’s going to be amazing!  You’re going to do great!  You’re going to do wonderful!  You’re going to be a beautiful person when we’re done with this!  Good bye!  God bless you!  Have a wonderful day!  Does church ever feel like that?  You start to get pumped up.  Jesus, what do you want us to do with that?  I read a book recently where this guy in it said:  Most followers of Jesus think praying for their enemies is a great idea; very few of them actually do it.  Most followers of Jesus think being a neighbor is a great idea.  I think very few of us actually do it.

It’s easy to have metaphoric love for metaphoric neighbors, but that isn’t what Jesus is calling us to.  Look at the way the good Samaritan lives this out.  He saw him.  He went to him.  He bandaged him and poured wine and oil on his wounds.  He put him on his donkey.  He brought him to an inn and took care of him.  He returned to check on him.  This is real love for a real neighbor. One of the ways you can know if you’re offering real love to a real neighbor is whether or not it costs you anything.  The Scriptures say about Jesus is we know what love is because Jesus laid down his life for us.  It cost him something and therefore we should lay down our lives for others as well.

If you’re looking for something to do this week, can I encourage you?  Turn the bulletin note sheet over and draw a tic-tac-toe board on the back of it.  Write me in the middle of it.  I’d love for you to spend some time and think through man, who are my neighbors?  Real names.  And see how many of these boxes of people that live around you.  If you live in an apartment, you’re looking at a cube.  Who are your neighbors?  Real names.  Not….I think that guy’s name is Bobby; he could be Bobby; he should be Bobby.  No!  Real names.  Ten percent of people can actually do this….fill out every box.  Only ten percent.  If you’re part of the 90% like me, no guilt, no shame, but what I’d love for you to do is say Jesus, which one of these houses might you want me to get to know a little bit?  You might have to eat some crow.  You may have to go up to them and say hey, we’ve been neighbors for the last five years.  I’ve asked you your name before, but I don’t remember what it is.  What’s your name?  That’s a hard conversation.  I know, because I had it.  But it’s important.  Real love for a real neighbor actually demands that we know their names.  Maybe by the end of this series, in the next four weeks, you have more of these boxes filled in.

Here’s a question for you.  Why do you think Jesus picked a Samaritan as the star of his story? If Jesus’s only point in the story of the Good Samaritan is ‘you should love your neighbor,’ He doesn’t need the Samaritan to be the star of the story, does he?  It could be a Jewish lay person, it could be anybody, but he picks a hated person as the protagonist of his story.  Why does he do that?  I think he wants to suggest to you and I that the ‘us vs. them’ divide is trite, is tired, and should be done away with.  Us vs. them is no way to live.  Drawing a line in the sand and saying, “We’re against you because of X,” is NOT the way of Jesus.  Why does he pick a Samaritan?  Because he wants us to realize that kingdom allegiance is greater than tribal adherence, than just going along with the party line.  The divisions that keep us apart……well, I’m progressive….I’m conservative….I’m a Republican….I’m a Democrat….I’m an American, you’re not….I’m a Christian, you’re not….     So He goes, aha, I’m going to make the Samaritan the star of the story.  The Samaritan’s the one who’s becoming neighborly.  The Samaritan’s the one who’s living in the way of Jesus.  You wonder if He sort of stood back and went ha! ha! take that!

Two things for you, and can I invite you to look up at me for just a moment?  You do not have to agree with people to love them.  Does God love you?  I believe that with every fiber of my being….God loves you.  Does God agree with you in every way?  Probably not!  And we don’t all agree with each other, so it’s impossible for God to agree with ALL of us, right?  He loves you, but He doesn’t necessarily agree with you.  You don’t need to agree with people to love them.  Look up at me for just a moment….We have got to get this right, you guys!  I believe that followers of Jesus are getting run over in our cultural moment because we’ve lost sight of this.  Here’s the second thing:  You do not need to agree with people to treat them with dignity, with value, with kindness, and to recognize the image of God within them.  You don’t need to.  You don’t need to agree with them in order to do that!  I don’t know about you, but I want to be part of a church that says won’t you be my neighbor?  We have all sorts of differences, we have things we don’t agree on, but…….and maybe it’s not anything that they just HEAR while they’re here, maybe it’s like me watching Mr. Rogers…..I don’t remember ONE episode!  You may not remember one sermon, but I hope you remember the way that you feel when you’re here.  I hope the way that you feel is man, there’s something about these people….they care for me, they love me, they’re for me, they’re going to be with me in the hills and the valleys.

So Jesus looks at this man and asks well, which do you think was the neighbor?  The man says it was the one who had mercy, the one who had compassion, the one whose insides like turned when they saw this man and he did something about it.  He acted on it.  That’s the guy who was neighborly.  He can’t even say the name ‘Samaritan.’  Jesus responds with this real simple, mic drop moment…..wonderful, go and do likewise.  You should do that!  You should become that kind of person…..where your religion doesn’t keep you from loving.  Where mercy is greater than religiosity.  If it was in fact, I’ll be ceremonially unclean if I touch that dead body.  If it was the fact man, if this guy’s Jewish, I need to help him, if he’s not then who cares.  What Jesus says is no, no, no, no, mercy triumphs over religion.  It’s not just about what we can do to appease God, it’s about actually living in the way of Jesus.  That’s what He is inviting us to.

Look up at me a moment.  If your religion prevents you from loving, it’s not from Jesus.  Read through the gospels.  Look at every time Jesus heals on the Sabbath.  Could he have healed on Sunday, the next day?  Sure!  He could have.  Why does He do that?  Because he wants to break down the systems that oppress people instead of lift people up.  That rob people life rather than the things that bring people life.  All throughout Jesus’s ministry, he’s chipping away at religiosity and saying mercy is BETTER than religion.  You read through the story that Jesus tells of the two men praying in the temple (Luke 18:9-14).  He says about the Pharisee:  To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else…   We’ve got it all together and man, you need some help.  Friends, we all need help.  I hope that’s the banner we gather when we come together.  It’s that humility that’s actually the birthplace of being neighborly.

So, the question isn’t “Who’s my neighbor?”   The question is:  Am I becoming neighborly?  That’s where Jesus wants to lead us.  What if you started with the conviction that man, Jesus has me exactly where He wants me for a reason?  As Acts 17:26-27 says, he’s appointed the times and the places that people would live so that some would reach out and find him.  Listen, what if you didn’t just by happenstance choose the house that you’re in, the apartment that you’re in, the condo that you’re in.  What if Jesus has a reason for you being in that very place and his reason is that you may be a conduit of his grace, of his mercy, and of his love to strangers—people you don’t know yet—but that He might invite you or call you to open your life to?   So in a world full of divisions and fissures and fractures, I just want to end by saying one thing…..Love your neighbor.  Love your rich neighbor, love your poor neighbor.  Love your gay neighbor, love your straight neighbor.  Love your dirty neighbor, love your clean neighbor.  Love your loud neighbor (that’s my family), love your quiet neighbor.  Love the neighbor you like, love the neighbor you don’t like.  Love your neighbor PERIOD.  And just like He did, all throughout the first, second, third century, I think Jesus might just use his church to transform the world.

I want to end by giving you just a few practices and then I’m going to invite Yvonne up to lead us in an imaginative prayer exercise to end.  I think we need some handles for this message so it’s not just an idea.  Here’s a few things you could do this week:  I would encourage you to fill out that Block Map.  No guilt.  No shame.  Just fill it out honestly and start praying over it.  Maybe this week you start prayer walking around your neighborhood.  As you do so, just introduce yourself to people.  Say hi! to them, get to know them a little bit.  Make that a part of your practice.  It’s good for your health, it’s good for your witness.  It’s good for everything.  I’d encourage you to download the Next Door app.  You’ll get connected with a bunch of people in your community, if you’re not already.  You’ll find out things that are going on.  I found out things that were going on in my neighborhood that I celebrate, that are awesome, that are great.  Maybe you open your house and have people over for dinner, for lunch, whatever.  What might Jesus do to say to you, “Come on.  Come a little bit deeper.  What does it look like to become a neighbor?”   {Ryan then hands out two Einstein Bagel cards for offices.}

I just want to invite you to spend a moment asking Jesus what he wants us to do with that.  How does he want us to live this out?  I’ve asked Yvonne to lead us in that.

Yvonne: As Ryan said, there are lots of ways we can demonstrate a heart that is neighborly to those around us.  Ryan asked that I would lead us in a time where, before we exit the doors, and maybe over lunch we talk to our families or our friends about how convicting this message is, let’s just spend a little bit of time with Jesus and see what He has to say and what He might invite us into this week.  First we will pause and still our hearts.  Jesus, we welcome you into this time.  We know that you’re already here, but we ask that you speak to our hearts today and give us direction on how to take this message into the rest of our lives.

If you want, you can close your eyes and imagine yourself with Jesus on that day.  Excuse me, Jesus.  I’m curious about this life you’ve been teaching about.  What would someone like me have to do to receive that kind of life?   Jesus turns gently to look your way.  “Well, what have you heard?  What’s written in the law I’ve given you?”  You pause and think, Hmmm, I guess it’s love.  Isn’t that what we keep hearing you talk about?  Loving God and loving others.  Yeah, I’ve heard it today, love your neighbor as yourself.  Jesus, with his kind eyes, leans a little closer:  “Do this and you’ll live.”  You lean back, taking this all in.  Inside you say to yourself, “Okay, what does that even mean?  It’s a grand idea:  to love my neighbor as myself, but it still feels kinda vague.”  Okay, but who?  You hear the words coming out, but it’s too late to stop.  Who? Who exactly am I supposed to love?  Who is my neighbor?  Half smirking, Jesus says, “I’m glad you asked.”

Let me invite you into the story.  There are already people in your life that you can make space for.  This may be hard.  There may be some unspoken things between you and these people.  Maybe some of these images may resonate. {Scrolls through photos.}  Maybe sporting alliances.  Maybe that house that seems to have everything….or the people that live down the road…in a tent.  Maybe the barrier is political; your perspectives are different and it’s hard to understand them.  Maybe it’s those people you feel justified to feel against.  God has created so many people….all that He’s placed his image upon.  There is someone in your life that Jesus may be inviting you to be a neighbor to today.  Or this week.  Or this month.  So take a moment and ask Jesus, quietly within your heart, to reveal a face, someone whom you can be merciful to.

Jesus turns once more to you and says, “Remember the story of the Samaritan.  Go and do likewise.”   Amen.

{Ryan}  Jesus, we want to become people who genuinely, in real ways, love the people that you’ve divinely placed around us.  Give us your heart, we pray, give us your mind.  Lord, as we step out in practice this week, would we see you move in both our hearts and in the lives in the people around us, we pray.  In Jesus’ name.  And all God’s people said…..Amen.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? | Neighborly | Luke 10:25-37 | Week 12023-06-27T11:21:49-06:00
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