Recent Sunday Sermon
Jesus said to him, go and you do likewise. (Luke x 37)
One of the modern day famous Christians that used to be included in RE lessons when I was teaching was Chad Varah, Church of England vicar, founder of the Samaritans. The Samaritans became known as a 24/7 telephone helpline aimed at offering support particularly to people at risk of taking their own lives. Varah had been motivated by a tragic case in his early ministry of a teenage girl who had ended her life through a misunderstanding. Since 1953 the organisation has recruited many volunteers and helped many people.
The question, who is my neighbour, and who needs my help is one that applies in all times and in all places.
What Jesus was teaching was not intended to be difficult to understand. God’s message to his people, Israel, was not something obscure or cryptic. It was meant to be obvious, to love God and follow in his ways, that involve loving one another, loving your neighbour, those around you.
The way to experience God, and God’s blessings has been set before us. It is to love God and to follow ever in his ways, to live the life that is given to us in Jesus.
Come unto me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest, Jesus says. Take my yoke upon me and learn of me. The yoke that I give is not heavy, the burden is light.
Jesus wants us to return unto the Lord our God and to serve him and love him with all our heart and soul. It is not about a formal adherence to a formal set of rules, but an affair of the heart. It is about a living personal relationship to God through Jesus and a commitment to live God’s way.
The problem with the teachers of the Jewish law, with the leaders of Israel, as Jesus saw it, was that their hearts were not right. They accepted the law of Moses and practised the faith making great play of its outward commitments. But they seemed to miss what it was really about.
The parable makes its points very clearly. The heroe and villains are sharply dileneated. The priest and the Levite were so focused on their religious temple duties that they had forgotten the more important application of it. The one who got it right was the person they would have looked down on.
Samaritan worshippers were regarded by Jews as second-rate believers. In the story the Samaritan got it right, it was he who had compassion, spent time and money and energy on the helpless victim of crime. The Jewish religious men despite their high standing in temple circles got it wrong. The parable was both telling and embarrassing for the hearers.
But the point was not to shame them but to urge them to do things differently. Go and do likewise. Live a life that is honouring to the law of God, to the law of love, to the God of life and love. The possibilities were before them. It was not too hard or too obscure.
So what is God saying to us? It is first and foremost that we should lead lives that are honouring to him, that honour his commandments. It is to follow the royal law, love your neighbour as you love yourself.
There is a saying of Walt Disney, ‘if you can dream it you can do it’. Our vision of what faith is about has got too small. Our view of what is possible and desirable does not encompass what is being asked of us.
Henry Ford of the Ford car company once said ‘the whole secret of a successful life is to find out what is one’s destiny to do and then do it’.
Through the Bible and the life of Jesus we discover the secret of a fruitful life. The key to it is that we are loyal to God, that we return unto him with our whole heart. It is that we gladly obey his commandments.
God’s love and grace have come to us in Jesus Christ. Jesus offers himself to us as the one who can satisfy our deepest needs, as the one who can make our lives well.
With him all can be well with our soul. What is required of us is our glad acceptance of his offer.
God has set before us a choice, life or death, blessing or curse, to know him and enjoy him, or to live without him. The way of hope and healing and satisfaction is in Jesus: he is God’s word to us, God’s affirmation and God’s Yes! It requires in turn our Yes.
Most people brew tea from tea bags. Tea bags were introduced in Britain by Tetley in 1953, and gradually this innovation took off. The original idea was to enable you to remove the tea leaves from the pot before the brewing process was complete, but it came to be regarded more as a convenience. One of the slogans of tea bags a few years back was ‘lets the flavour flood out’. The taste of tea depends on the tea itself as well as other aspects of the process; and with a tea bag the flavour must flood out.
For us as people who seek to follow Jesus, the flavour of a Christ-filled, Christian life needs to flood out, and change the way we live.
Our lives can be filled with the fullness of God when we live with Jesus when the power of God’s Holy Spirit is residing in us. When our hearts are given wholly to the Lord then it is entirely do-able.
But all the same we find it a challenge. We don’t like things that are new or challenging. We want a quiet life, just like the priest and the Levite who walked by on the other side rather than get involved in something that would cost time and energy. Perhaps we need to hear God’s challenge to us not to stay the same, and that we can actually start loving our neighbour in practical ways.
The law of love: love goes beyond obeying rules: it is a more noble concept. Love is not just a feeling, it is action.
At times we may feel powerless, demotivated, weary, afraid, discouraged from the task. But Jesus is not asking something too hard or too difficult: start in small ways, go and do likewise.
The lawyer asked Jesus ‘who is my neighbour?’ In Edinburgh it used to seem like neighbours were the people who lived on your street who you occasionally saw but didn’t know or speak to. That’s not the way it needs to be.
One way or another we can identify our neighbours.
You remember the tune, ‘Neighbours’ by Tony Hatch, that was once voted the most catchy theme tune. That song includes the line ‘neighbours should be there for one another, that’s when neighbours become good friends’.
With God’s help and grace we can become good neighbours to someone who needs us, and even good friends.
As we try to understand the parable in its entirety let’s also remember the context in which it was told: in a conversation about what faith is about and what must a person do to inherit eternal life.
God is a God of life, he gives life and he imparts it. Jesus has life in himself: and as our lives are lived in him, and in his power, then we share in his eternity.
Eternity is a dimension that begins now and continues in the life we do not yet see.
To live life with a faith in God and with a personal commitment to Christ as Saviour is a good way to live. Not only that it is the best way to be ready for the eternal future that is God’s purpose for us.
This year Crossreach the social care arm of the church celebrates 150 years since its beginning in 1869. 150 years of loving social action in Christ’s name. It was not that social action didn’t happen in Scottish church life before then, it most certainly did, but not in an overall organised manner.
When I worked with Crossreach we were often reminded that what we did was in Christ’s name: as his servants, representing him, doing his work, reaching out to the needy, the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned, and doing it for Jesus.
One of the jobs in addiction services I had with Crossreach was in a project that had its base in 52 Queen Street Edinburgh. That house was once the home of Sir James Simpson, doctor and obstetrician pioneer of the use of chloroform for anaesthesia in surgery. There is a special exhibition in one of the rooms in his memory in the house. Sir James Simpson was a committed Christian and a member of the Free Church of Scotland from the early days of its existence after the Disruption of 1843. His Christian faith gave him strength and motivation for his work. He did much for the poor. He wore a watch on which were inscribed the words ‘God is Love’. He said that these words and the thought behind him gave him the courage to speak to patients who were nearing the end of their lives.
On one occasion Simpson was asked ‘What do you consider the greatest achievement of your life?’ The person asking probably expected as the answer, the invention of chloroform. But Simpson replied, ‘that I have a Saviour’.
A better answer could not have been given. To discover Jesus and his righteousness and his friendship is the greatest discovery we can ever make. Jesus has come to be our Saviour and to raise us from hopelessness and estrangement into a lively hope and promise of everlasting life.
God gives us the chance to opt for life, for his way, a path of loving acceptance of his grace. He calls to accept the demands of a life of loyal and loving adherence. Jesus has shown us the potential and the parameters of such a way of life. It is to love the Lord our God wholeheartedly and to love others. The gospels present Jesus as the Lord of life and he is to be accepted as such and as our Saviour.
A life that is fruitful, that abounds in caring deeds, that abounds in acts of witness and loving action is what is being asked of us.
And there’s a promise involved, that God will rejoice over us his people: and a promise of fruitfulness. These comes if we make our response to God in obedience and in turning joyfully and wholeheartedly to him. The book Deuteronomy says that God will restore and regather his people and will rejoice over them just as he rejoiced once in the patriarchs.
Isn’t that awesome: God rejoicing over us his people.
God will restore his church and refresh and renew us by his Spirit. What he asks of us is within our capacity, that we love him, serve him and loyally obey his commandments.
- Lochaber Road
- PH50 4QW