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.