Summary: This sermon asks - "Who are you a neighbor to?" instead of "Who is my neighbor?"
What to do when you hear the cries…
NOTE: Children’s message used "Horton Hears a Who" by Dr. Seuss
The children’s message this morning gave us one literary vision of being “neighborly”. Horton, the elephant heard a cry for help and did all in his power (even amid the teasing of his friends) to protect the small people, affirming his belief that A person’s a person, no matter how small. But now, hear these immortal words:
…The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
’Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ’Good fences make good neighbors’…
Good fences make good neighbors? Well, at least that’s what the neighbor believes in this poem by Robert Frost. Some people in the United States think that a good fence will make us good neighbors with Mexico. In Israel, a good fence will make good neighbors with the Palestinians. In post-World War 2 in Germany – a good fence made good neighbors of East and West Berlin. For a fence is a barrier that separates one from another. A fence is a barrier to keep in what you want and to keep out what you don’t want.
As Josh and I stand on the deck on the back of our house, we can look out and see fence after fence – some chain link, some wooden privacy fences, some a combination – all with the intent to mark out our own territory.
But fences aren’t just physical barriers that we put up around our house and property. We also build emotional fences (or walls) to guard our selves. Just as a person must enter your physical property through the gate, our emotional fences also have gates. We choose who to let into our lives and who too keep at arms length and who to bar for eternity.
The Jews of Jesus’ time had barred the Samaritans from entrance into their world. At that time the Jews would pass through Samaria if only it was absolutely necessary – but mostly, if they could, they would by-pass Samaria. Why? Well, the Samaritans were not considered pure. They had been left in the land during the exile and had intermarried and assimilated some of the culture of the enemies into their lives. By Jesus’ time, they had built their own Temple and didn’t see the need to go to Jerusalem to worship God (not that they would have been welcomed at the Jerusalem Temple anyway).
The Jews of Jesus time believed the Samaritans to be unclean, impure and unworthy of giving and receiving God’s love. The Samaritans were merely tolerated only because neither the Jews nor the Samaritans were going to move.
So, when Jesus told this parable about being neighborly imagine the shock of the hearers when the person who showed mercy was one of those “dirty, good-for-nothing” Samaritans!
Why it would be like Jesus telling the parable to us today and the one who showed mercy was a drunkard, a child molester, a politician, a homeless person, a teenage single mother, an illegal immigrant, a Wiccan high-priestess or a myriad of other persons in our world and culture that we tend to view as unworthy of showing God’s love.
In truth, we walk by people in need everyday. People that you work with everyday are hurting. They feel as if the world has robbed them and left them for dead and they are hungering for the good news of Jesus Christ. Will you walk passed them, not wanting to get involved? Will you be like the priest and the Levite – those 1st century Holy Rollers – who didn’t want to get involved? Who were worried about what stopping to help might mean for their position in life? Who weighed the risks that perhaps the robbers were still lying in wait to rob the person who stopped to help this left for dead body?
We all have reasons why we shouldn’t help – some are cultural and some are personal. By the many fences around our homes, one can tell that culturally we are a private people. Most of us don’t like to delve into the problems, cares and worries of others – after all, if we know something is wrong, then we will feel a responsibility to help find a solution. And what if we’re not equipped to help solve the problem? In our world many cases of spousal and child abuse go unreported because of our not wanting to “get involved”. In our community people are struggle with addictions to alcohol, gambling, drugs, pornography and other matters that keep them from having right and healthy relationships with their families, friends and God. No, it is not common for us to walk down Lexington Ave and see someone left for dead and lying in the gutter, but as we walk down Lexington Ave, we are passing by many people who are hurt and suffering. What are we doing about it?