Luke 10:25-37 (Sermon 1: “Joyful Practitioners”)
(Sermon 2: “Self Recognition?”)
Colossians 1: 1-14
Amos 7: 7-17
Perfect worship is beyond us.
No church or cathedral can be beautiful enough,
no hymn can be joyful enough,
no congregation can be loving enough,
to do justice to that wonderful God
‘who has delivered us from the province of darkness and transferred us
into the light of his dear Son.’
Does this mean we shake our heads and give up trying to worship?
Not at all! God wants our sincerity, not some perfect performance.
It is when we realise that God is too majestic for us,
that holy awe takes over and genuine worship begins.
Let everyone praise God.
The Lord’s name be praised.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all.
And also with you
Give thanks to God who has qualified you
to share in the inheritance of the saints
in the realm of light.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
and with all you soul,
and with all your strength,
and with all your mind,
and your neighbour as yourself.
Let us worship this God with loving and thankful hearts.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
God of unspeakable love, we praise you for the holy Beauty which awakens our worship, and takes us from dullness to wonder, from timidity to trust, and from human ignorance to the divine light of your Christ. Please bring into focus all our thoughts, feelings and faith, as we bow before you. To the glory of your name.
CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE
We come to God, not to justify ourselves but to repent and trust the saving grace of Christ Jesus.
Let us pray.
Look upon us, loving Saviour, sift our thoughts
and assess our feelings.
Deal firmly with those things that have inhibited our love
and diverted our energies.
Loving God, whatever you see -
as self righteous, censure,
as twisted, straighten,
as heartless, soften,
as fruitless, prune,
as infected, cleanse.
Flood your relentless Spirit through our whole being,
sweeping away guilt and its lethargy,
and by the saving grace of Christ Jesus,
heal the hidden springs of our personality.
Thank you, Holy Friend, for answering our prayers
before we get round to asking them,
and for doing much more than we ask or think.
Through your Son and our Saviour;
In Christ Jesus we are a radically renewed community.
Thanks be to God!
Old things are done away with, all things become new.
Thanks be to God!
We are agents of grace and reconciliation.
Thanks be to God!
With every step or stumble, Christ will be with us.
Thanks be to God!
PRAYER FOR CHILDREN
Thanks For Winter
God, thank you for giving us winter;
snow coating the mountains,
rain washing streets and highways,
streams swelling the reservoirs,
winter sunshine and frosty mornings,
for the garden quietly enjoying a rest,
and fruit trees saving energy for spring.
Thanks for steaming drinks and hot meals,
heated homes and warm clothing,
winter sports and cheering crowds,
and hot showers and cosy beds.
Thank you God for all the seasons
and for bodies and minds
to enjoy them all.
God alone takes the chair
in the high court of the angels.
In the midst of the children of God,
The verdict is declared on earthlings.
“How long will you people pervert justice?
How long will you favour the powerful and rich?
Give some justice to the weak and the fatherless,
stand up for the persecuted and the destitute.
Rescue the powerless and the impoverished.
liberate them from the clutches of the wicked.
Your decision-makers have not got a clue,
they have neither understanding nor empathy.
They strut about in the darkness
while the foundations of the world are shaking.
I tell you this: You were meant to be gods,
children of God all of you!
But you shall all die as earthlings,
you shall fall and crumble, one and all.”
Please God, please rise up and judge us all,
for all nations are under your jurisdiction!
Ó B. D. Prewer 2006
As I was coming home through life
some muggers hit me hard,
they stripped me of the things most dear
and left me by the road.
A news crew found me all bloodied,
the cameras zoomed in near;
“That’s great TV” a fat man said,
and left me lying there.
A Senator saw the film crew
and spied me in the ditch:
“Of course we’d like to help” he said,
“but budgets will not stretch.”
A young preacher came down that way
and knelt to succour me.
The muggers moved in mercilessly
and hanged him on a tree.
God of love, the word and way of your true Son has revealed all that is required of us, and supplied all that is deficient in us. Trusting in his saving grace, and relying on the guidance of your Holy Spirit, may we love our neighbours wherever we encounter suffering and neglect. For the healing of humanity and the glory of your name. Through Christ Jesus our Redeemer.
SERMON 1: JOYFUL PRACTITIONERS
Luke 10: 25-37
Who is my neighbour? Luke 10:29
Who proved to be a neighbour? Luke 10: 36
In this interchange between Jesus and an ecclesiastical lawyer, two gulfs are exposed. One is between theory and practice, and the other between law and grace. These are gulfs which are a cause of soul searching by sincere believers, and the ground for debate among those who are trying to minimise their responsibilities.
A first year university student thought he would major in philosophy. That intent did not last for long. He changed direction. As he explained it to me: “I did not feel like spending so much energy among teachers who were keen to talk but very slow to act.” His judgement was no doubt unfair to some of the teaching staff. On the other hand, it was possibility an accurate assessment of certain academics. The young are quick to spot insincerity. When one is eighteen years old, and the world seems to be in a mess, and you are keen to make a difference, theory which does not involve action can seem like a cowardly cop out.
The sad fact is, most of us who have bumped around in life for a while, and gathered significant bruises and abrasions, become more willing to talk about issues than making commitments. We tend to become theoreticians rather than practitioners.
Jesus was a young man who looked for commitment, for action. The church lawyer wanted a debate, an exhilarating game; a kind of mental tennis match.
The lawyer served first with a fast, curving ball: “ Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Calmly Jesus patted the ball back to him: “What is written in the religious law? What do you read there?”
The fellow had no alternative than to return the ball down the centre of the court: “ You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, an love your neighbour as yourself.”
He was astute. He did make the connection between loving God and loving others. He was well aware that love of God and love of your fellows, were inextricably bound together. Truly loving others brings you nearer to God, and truly loving God must bring you nearer to others.
He has got the theory right. There is no room for argument here.
Jesus returned this shot back to the lawyer’s feet: “ Right. Do this and you will live.”
See how the young teacher forces the theory back to action? “Do this!” Jesus is not interested in unproductive words games. He wants commitments. Loving is his thing, and he knows there are plenty of ways of loving for those who are willing to commit.
Our friend the lawyer thinks he sees his opening. Action? Now that does open a whole can of worms. So he rushes to the net and volleys at Jesus: “Ah! But who is my neighbour?” .
To argue this point of who is my neighbour, for whom should I accept responsibility, can keep the rally going for ages. And this ‘legal eagle’ enjoys long rallies; he is smart; in the past he has played many and won most.
Is my neighbour the person next door? Or someone from my town? Or those who are a righteous Jews? Or maybe any Jew, whether good or bad? And then there is the question of dispensations: When dealing with the law of God, there are numerous exceptions, caveats that a sensible person must consider. Life is not black and white. So it was with satisfaction that the lawyer put a deep ball back in Jesus’ court. “Return this one if you can.”
Jesus surprises him by going for a very high lob. He tells a story about a bloke who gets mugged and robbed, and about three men who come by.
Notice how the man who happens to be travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho, is not given a clear definition Jesus says “A certain man. He is not given a name or a race. Just “A certain man”. Neither rich nor poor, Jew nor Greek, religious nor irreligious, young nor old; neither a Peter, nor a Giovanni, nor a Boris. It could be any person. It could be you, it could be me.
Notice too that this is a chance happening. “By chance, a certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho” It could be any person, at any time. It could happen to you. It could happen to me. It is as open as life itself.
What happens on the road to Jericho is well known. The robbers ambush the traveller, leaving him half dead. The Priest and Levite (no personal names, just categories) see the victim but pass by without helping. They are in fact within their rights: they are following the regulations for ritual purity; they cannot risk touching a dead body. They put their version of godliness above human compassion. The Priest and Levite are in that dangerous territory where love of God is deemed more important than love of humanity. This attitude it is a tearing apart of what God has inextricably bound together.
Then arrives the villain: A fellow on a donkey comes by. He is a Samaritan- a mixed blood mongrel. One of those no-hopers who denied much of the Scriptures, kept their own heretical, sectarian beliefs, and made their own blood sacrifices on Mt Gerizim. As Jesus told this story, I wonder how many good Jews in the listening crowd spat into the dust when the Samaritan was mentioned.
Yet it is this despised character who runs to the aid of the victim, tends his wounds, places him on his donkey and delivers the poor fellow to a hotel, where he pays for his upkeep. At no stage does the Samaritan stop and ask the legal question: “Is this fellow my neighbour?” He lives not legalistically but with the liberty of grace.
BACK TO THE MATCH
Back to the drama of the contest between Jesus and the lawyer. The lawyer had plenty of time in which to see the lob from Jesus’ racket curling over his head. As he ran to retrieve it, Jesus’ voice followed him: Who do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell among robbers?
The lawyer’s return was the only face-saving one in the circumstances: “The one who showed mercy on him.” This ball fell short in mid-court. Jesus replied: “Go and do likewise.” A clean winner. Game set and match.
In the whole encounter, Jesus has kept to the point of doing the right deed rather than trying to define the boundaries of love’s operation.
In doing so he discards the theoretical question of “But who is my neighbour” and applies the practical: To whom can I be a good neighbour. Who or what the other person is, does not in any way define the boundaries of loving. Their race, gender, marital status, skin colour, education, political preference, religious affiliation, age, are all irrelevant.
All that matters is that there is fellow human being in need.
To whom can I be a good neighbour as I travel the road of life? Will I be a person of grace, like the Samaritan?
In fact, the Samaritan is like God. He can be rightly called a child of God.
The Priest and the Levite, were not like God. The lawyer is too focussed on calculating the obligatory duties that will fulfil righteousness, to be anything like God. The God of Jesus does not calculate his mercies. God’s loving is like the sun and the rain which fall on good and bad alike. Grace is unearned and unmeasured. Grace is outflowing generosity.
Jesus was a generous practitioner. His Samaritan character was a generous practitioner.
That must have stuck in the gullet of the lawyer. When Jesus put the question: Which of these three men was neighbour to the man who was set upon by robbers? the lawyer could not bring himself to use the word “Samaritan’. His reply was: “The man who showed mercy on him.” I reckon he was seething that Jesus dared make up a parable with the Samaritan as the hero. He was not going to utter the words: “The Samaritan who showed mercy on him.”
To morally erect people, who are proud of their own hard won goodness, it is a scandal that some outsiders are more gracious than they are. What is more, for some of them it is offensive that God dares to be more gracious than they are. God has no right to be that forgiving and merciful!
As one highly moral churchgoer commented: “The Lord Jesus was, I am afraid, far too permissive!”
Like the parable of the Prodigal Son, this good neighbour story is also about grace in action. The Samaritan in the person of grace in the story.
Grace is a scandal to some, a foolishness to others, but to those who dare to accept it and share it, it is a liberty of spirit which makes life more like a celebration than a responsibility.
Christ’s best practitioners are joyful characters.
Thanks be to God!
SERMON 2: SELF RECOGNITION
Luke 10: 25-37
One of the ‘cool’ things about Jesus’ parables
is that we recognise the characters- even after 2 millennia since he told these stories. Often we recognise ourselves. In story form Jesus reveals what is going on both around us and in our own hearts. Parables opens up a window for self-recognition. We find that we too are the parable people.
That’s how it is with the parable we know as “The Good Samaritan.”.
It is about caring for one another in this world. Real people. Real events. It asks us whether we pass the caring test or flunk it.
Today I will, attempt to help you recognise yourself and others
in the story by dealing (very simply) with three types of attitude and action that occur in the parable. The robbers, the priest and Levite, and the Samaritan..
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and he fell among thieves.”
anonymous in the story apart from their evil trade, represent all those who basic attitude to their fellows is: Yours is mine if I can get it.
They apply this robber mentality towards
money and possession, towards time, abilities and jobs. In fact, this attitude underlines much of that which is corrupt in our society. “Yours in mine of I can get it.”
Twice my wife and I have had our home broken into by thieves.
Once in Adelaide and once here in Sunbury. What hurt most was not the loss of a few possessions, not even the loss of family heirlooms which could not be worth much to the robbers. What hurt most was the sense of violation, and the loss of the feeling of security in one’s own home. If we have to, we could do without many of our possessions. The loss of security is more disquieting.
Robbery is widespread.
Your job is mine of I can get it. Your investment is mine of I can plunder it. Your abilities are mine if I can exploit them to my advantage. Your company is mine if I can take it over. Your time is mine if I can get some hold over you. Even your health is mine if I can make you a slave to the inducement of promotion in my firm.
“A man was going down from Sydney to Melbourne and he fell among thieves.”
It is the same in the international scene.
What holds for the affluent and powerful within our nation also holds for wealthy and powerful among nations. The cant about economic “level playing fields” is music in the ears of the strong and the ruthless. The strong ruthlessly suck dry the resources of the weak.
No wonder there is bitterness and anger.
No surprise the fabric of society is cracking. While many of those who break into our houses, or hold up service stations, or rob banks, get caught and sentenced to gaol, they see nearly all of the big players in business and politics not only avoid the courts but receive applause and massive life pensions. Little nations who get caught in similar “daylight robbery” get condemned in international courts. Powerful nations thumb their noses at such councils or courts.
wly countries is not hard to find.
“Yours is mine if I can get it” is a code which is now rampant.
As a society we have substituted greed for ideals, and legality for morality, and are paying a heavy price for it. As a world we are now paying a costly price for it. We may yet pay a higher price.
“A man was going down from New York to Damascus to Sydney to Tokyo and he fell among thieves.”
THE PRIEST AND LEVITE
“Now by chance. a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.”
These are not robbers. They are self protectors.
The attitude is: Mine is my own if I can keep it. What I have I will hang on to.
The priest and Levite were cautious;
they saw the man who had been bashed, but would not risk stopping and helping. What if the robbers were still nearby? What if helping the victim will involve them in some financial cost, or a delay in their plans for the day. There is no law saying they must help. Why take the risk?
This way of life is also rampant in our society these days.
Caring for the neighbour is relegated to the pretty ideas file. People don’t want to get involved. They will neither risk losing time, effort, and certainly not money.
As citizens we are likely protest
if a hostel is planned in our neighbourhood for Down’s Syndrome people. Our comfortable neighbourhood is ours of we can keep it. If taxes increase to enable the government to minister more effectively among the poor and disadvantaged, we then raise political mayhem. Our present affluence is ours of we can keep it. We go to devious lengths to stop desperate refugees coming to our country and settling. Our country is ours, just as it is right now, if we can keep it.
Like the priest and Levite we are biased towards selfishness.
Of course we may sometimes permit ourselves to get sentimental
about those unfortunates who “fall among thieves” on their journey through life. Current affairs programs specialise in making us shed a few tears for a few of the disadvantaged who are seen to be such “nice, respectable folk.” Perhaps we have our pet charities. We may make a few donations that don’t really cost us much; being especially generous when it is income tax deductible gifts.
I suspect that for Christians the temptation to be like the Priest and Levite
is far greater than the temptation to be like the robbers. The Priest and the Levite are very much with us. I have both of them tucked away inside me. They are rarely allowed to make public appearances but they offer me plentiful advice. Very talkative and plausible characters they are. And exceedingly respectable!
Some self recognition? I am not alone in this, am I? Mine is my own if I can keep it.
THE GOOD SAMARITAN
“But a Samaritan who was making the journey came upon him, and when he saw him he had pity. He went to him, bathed his wounds with oil and wine and bandaged him. The he lifted him on his own ass and brought him to an inn, and looked after him there.”
The Samaritan, despised by righteous Jews,
is the unlikely saviour in this parable. His attitude is: “Mine is yours if you need it.”
He is the good guy.
This detested, mongrel-blooded, Samaritan “Wog” had an approach to life which is risky but wonderful. He knew he could be set upon by the same robbers if he tarried on the road. There was the risk he could end up like the victim. Or the delay might have upset his whole travelling itinerary, or made him miss an important business deal. This Samaritan could have counted the cost and worried about his budget, his health, or his life.
Instead he gave the most practical help and footed the bill.
I like that bit where he says to the inn keeper, “Whatever else he costs, I’ll pay you on my return journey.” That was risky. Unpretentiously he accepts responsibility for a wounded stranger to whom he willingly become a good neighbour. Mine is yours if you need it.
But…as Christians we are not called to be puppets of other people’s wants. There will always be selfish folk who will take every opportunity to make demands on our time, our money and our energy. In truth such people have never grown up. They will not accept responsibility for their own lives. What is more, they never will as long as they can find kindly ‘suckers’ to manipulate and use up. There are enough genuine neighbours in need, without wasting our precious energies on manipulators.
We need to make a sincere estimate of our resources, both personal and financial, and decide how best they can be used in the ongoing ministry of Christ. We can only do this by limiting ourselves. To say no as well as yes, is a sign of Christian maturity. This applies to both individuals and churches. We should never try to do it all. Tough decisions have to be made, just as Jesus had to make the tough decisions.
“Mine is yours if you need it” remains the challenge for all who follow Jesus. To whom can we and should we be a good neighbour? How willing are we? This Good Samaritan parable lies close to the heart all that Jesus believed and practised.
-- Yours is mine if I can get it. The robbers.
-- Mine is my own if I can keep it. The priest and Levit.
-- Mine is yours of you need it. The Samaritan.
Let me remind you how this parable was born.
A lawyer had asked Jesus; “What must I do to inherit eternal life.” The parable flowed from this starting point. Eternal life means the limitless life that God wants for his earth children. An abundant life that starts here and now.
Eternal life is not found by exploiting, cheating and robbing others.
The fullness of life does not come to those who clutch things selfishly to themselves. It comes to the good Samaritan and people of like generous spirit. Christ is the good Samaritan par excellence. We are his agents, and the participants in eternal life.
“Mine is yours if you need it” is God’s thing;
it is characteristic of the abundant generosity of God’s dealing with us. It is sharing in the divine life of the Holy Trinity..
I believe we are here because of the eternal generosity of that Holy Lover whom we call God.
Because God is, there is an abundant universe; galaxies, sun, moon, and the green earth.
Because God is, there are mountains and plains, streams and seas, forests and grasslands,
Because God is, there are living creatures; seagulls and wallabies, parrots and butterflies.
Because God is, we are breathing, thinking, feeling, self-aware creatures, asking deep questions and lifting up our hearts in prayer.
Because God is, we are made for loving, and by the grace of our Brother Jesus, we find the liberty to be people of uncalculating compassion.
Because God is, we have a Spirit-Friend who inspires and counsels, comforts and gives new life to both young and old.
I believe in “God in three Persona” who is shaping my soul and has far more to make of me yet, until I can look on the face of my Lord in the land of the living.
Let us unite our small, human compassion with the compassion of God.
Let us pray for other people.
Hidden yet ever-present God,
always loving, never tiring,
we seek your aid.
You see the unrelieved suffering
of innumerable souls,
and hear the raw weeping
of countless of your children.
O let your breath be upon all you see,
your hands upon all disease,
your arms around all distress,
and your kiss on all tormented minds.
Hidden yet ever-present God,
please do for us those things we cannot do for ourselves,
yet make us bold to do what we can do.
For the healing of your world
and the glory of your name.
Through Christ Jesus our Redeemer.
Ahead of you is the expanse of a new week where as yet no one has yet trodden
with either anxious or arrogant feet.
Take your lead from Jesus; tread softly but boldly,
knowing that he is at your side with grace, mercy and peace.
Your God is abundantly resourceful!
The blessing of God:
Loving Parent, Brother and Sister,
Creator, Saviour and Helper,
the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
will be with you now and always.