Proper 10c, July 10, 2016

July 12, 2016

Touched By A Neighbor

Luke 10:25-37


10:25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “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; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”


A Jewish Rabbi went to get his hair cut one day and when he stood up to pay for the haircut the barber said, No, you are a man of God and this is my contribution to your good work. When the barber got to work the next morning there was a bag of fresh bagels at the door and a note from the rabbi expressing his gratitude for the nice haircut the man had given him. Later that day a Catholic priest droped by for a haircut and once again, when the priest went to pay the barber said, No, you are a man of God and this is my contribution to your ministry. When the barber arrived for work the next morning there were a dozen warm donuts at his door and a note from the priest thanking him for the fine haircut. Later that day a United Methodist minister dropped in for a haircut, and once again, when he went to pay the barber said, No, you are doing God’s work and this is my contribution to your ministry. So, when the barber showed up for work the next morning there were a dozen United Methodist ministers waiting for him to arrive.


I apologize if I’ve told that joke here before. It’s my favorite preacher joke. I’m sure you could substitute a lot of other denominations and professions with the United Methodist minister, but there’s a lot of truth to this suggestion that we United Methodist ministers are highly sensitive to financial matters.


Being a cheapskate isn’t the worst form of in-hospitality, but I think this morning’s lesson focuses our attention on the importance of being extra-hospitable. This passage of scripture isn’t hard to understand, but it may be one of the most difficult lessons to actually follow. What this passage reveals is how Jesus saw no justification for treating anyone with anything less than total respect and compassion. Who is our neighbor? Everyone! There isn’t anything complex about this passage of scripture. In fact what it reveals is how empty our excuses are when we operate with anything less than authentic concern for those we encounter who are in need. And it’s a particularly Godly thing to reach out in concern and service to someone who is outside of our comfortable social circle.


The contrast between the inaction of the religious men who should have reached out to the man who was in need and the action of the man who was the least likely to behave with compassion is unforgettable. The message in this story is clear. If you want to be in touch with the abundant life that God offers we have to live with compassion and understanding toward those we have been trained to distrust and disregard.


In light of the events of this last week I don’t guess there’s a more important message for any of us to hear. What we seem to have seen last week are examples of people acting on their instincts of prejudice and dehumanization, and it’s easy to use those events as opportunities to reinforce our own prejudices and our inclinations to dehumanize members of other ethnic communites. This is a critical story for us to hear because it reminds us of how holy it is to disrupt our divisive traditions. This is not a time for any of us to increase our defensiveness toward people who are somehow other than ourselves – this is a time for us to find new ways to eliminate barriers that traditionally divide us. This may be some of the hardest work anyone ever does, but it’s probably the most important work we ever do. Our calling is to see the humanity of people that our society has trained us to see as others.


After my father died, my sister and I were cleaning out this space he used as his office, and we came across a group of letters in one of the drawers of his desk that were addressed to my grandfather. There were five letters from four different German men who had been prisoners of war at a camp that had been set up in Wynne. I guess there were a number of POW camps set up within the United States during WWII. We actually haven’t been able to read one of them because it’s written in German, but the other letters reveal an appreciation for the kindness and generosity of my grandfather as well as an appeal for him to help them. The letters were written after the war had ended and the men were back in Germany and living under very harsh conditions.


I’m going to read one of the letters to you because I think it represents the spirit of neighborliness that Jesus sought to generate. I’m not saying my grandfather was a champion of human rights and unprejudiced thinking in every way, but I was touched by the way in which he treated an official enemy with some basic humanity. (But here’s a short disclaimer – this letter was written during a time when the sharing of cigarettes was considered to be a symbol of hospitality and not the nasty avenue to all kinds of cancer and death that we now understand them to be – so children, please keep in mind that I am in no way advocating the use of tobacco!)


March 12, 1948

Dear Mr. Murray!

When you get this letter you will be much surprise and don’t know of whom it is. Though I introduce again at first. Once I was a prisoner of war and lived at the camp in Wynne for about a years time. The last two months of my staying in Wynne I worked for you, sometimes in your big garden for picking strawberries or cleaning the field of your farm and sometimes working by your pond where the ox frogs quacked with their dry voices. Yes I remember very well too this things when you brought us Coca Cola and other refreshments and food for dinner. And still today I hear your words saying we have done a good days work. I am the blonde fellow who worked together with Hans Keindle, the only fellow who spoke English, if you remember. The last work we have done for you was to build the weekend house on the hill near the spring. But in the meantime a lot of years have gone. And I think you cannot remember to me.


When we left America we thought we would sail to Germany. No, in the contrary, we were unloaded in Liverpool.  There I stayed for another 19 months and in January of this year I was discharged after a long time as a prisoner. Now I am in Germany and at home. I haven’t had a good life as a prisoner, but when I saw the conditions in Germany where I live, I would like to go back to America at once. Because it is no life here it is a starvation. Maybe you don’t believe the story I tell you, but it is true and if it doesn’t change nobody knows what and when the end is and how it looks. There is nothing to buy and less than nothing to eat. When I came from England I had no suit and no shoes to find just the battle dress I wore on my body. The things I had before the war were taken. The time I lived in Wynne we didn’t get a lot to eat at the camp. But everyday I worked for you you brought us a good meal sometimes made by your wife and cigarettes.  You always had a nice word or a joke for us and we could be laughing once again and you helped us over some bad hours of our prisoner life.


But now I am no prisoner and all the same and I ask you for a favor. I told you the present conditions and I think you will help me now too. I will be very glad and thankful to you if you could send us something. I use everything because I have nothing. Mainly food, cigarettes, tobacco, clothes or other things you would like to send. If you can disperse with anything I would never forget it.

Please excuse my bad English, but I am just a beginner. I hope you can read my writing. With the kindest regards and with best wishes for you and your wife.



Werner Lohr


I’m really proud to read you this letter. It makes me feel like my grandfather was able to see beyond the false boundaries created by nations and see neighbors, but primarily what this letter does is remind me how God endlessly provides us with opportunities to step out of ordinary life and to touch eternal life.


Every time we come face to face with a person who is struggling in life we are presented with an opportunity to find eternal life. This is what the lawyer wanted to know from Jesus – how do we find eternal life? And to answer that question Jesus told him this unforgettable story.


These are challenging times for us. It’s hard not to live with deep distrust of people who we are inclined to think are different from ourselves, and certainly there are always people who behave in ways that reinforce our preconceived notions of those we consider to be other than ourselves, but Jesus calls us to disrupt those traditional ways of thinking and acting.


This is hard to do. I don’t think we are called to simply provide for every need that we ever come across. I certainly don’t do that and I don’t expect anyone else to behave in that way, but we must be forever sensitive to the needs of others and to the opportunities that other people provide for us to live as the kind of neighbor that Jesus described.


It’s not easy to live as a neighbor in a world that trains us to be faithful to our own particular interest groups, but that is what Jesus calls us to do if we seek the gift of eternal life. Jesus calls for us to exceed the level of hospitality that our peers might expect and to show the kind of hospitality that disrupts the world and pleases God.


It’s not easy, but the Lord knows we need to, and by the grace of God we will! Thanks be to God.






One Response to “Proper 10c, July 10, 2016”

  1. Earl Jones Says:

    Always enjoy “old folks ” stories, invariably I learn something that I should be doing now that I be one.

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