Good morning! When I received the email of Pastor Hiroishi last month requesting me to give the message today, my reply was “ Yes, and thank you for giving the opportunity, it is a privilege to be serving God in this manner. …
let us pray…..
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, Oh Lord and my Redeemer.. Amen..
There are 65 million people displaced in the world today ( UNHCR data 2019). In response to the global migration crisis, Christian churches all over the world including the UMC has planned one Sunday in July for prayer and a special offering to raise the awareness and funds to aid migrants and refugees all over the world. And I am glad that Yoyogi Uehara church has designated today`s worship to act in solidarity with the global church.
I made the title ” Who is my neighbor” with compassion and vulnerability as key words to ponder upon. And let me begin with the comment of a drug dealer to minister that I read from an article sometime ago. “Pastor, when kids gets up in the morning and heads off to school, I am there.. When he comes out to play, I am there.. They know where I am, Pastor.
Where are you?”… I am not a pastor, but I felt that question was for ME. Yes Evil is all around us, but where am I? where are you? Where are we? Where is the church of Jesus?
I raised the same question in mind whenever I watch news on television about war, man made destructions, calamities, death of innocent families and children involved, hunger, when communities, churches or nations are deeply divided. When people disagree with each other and often don’t trust each other. I often feel sorry for these people and the nagging question always is “Is there really something I can do about it”
I came across with the definition of Compassion, according to Webster dictionary- compassion means to suffer with another person. “To have compassion means more than just feeling sorry for somebody. It means to get down where they are in the midst of their need, to suffer with them in the midst of their pain”. In other words, “ suffering with another is “painful sympathy” Painful sympathy, I like that, but I find it very challenging. Biblical compassion means that you see the problem, you are moved by the need, you go out to where the problem is, and you get your hands dirty trying to help one person after another get their problems solved and raise them up to a higher level of life.
And this was illustrated in the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37), Let`s take a look in its timeless, in its message and its challenge. I would like us to closely look at Five Characters in the parable namely;
It started with The Lawyer- who asked Jesus the question “what do I do to obtain eternal life . Personally, this question is like the question that causes teachers to shrink when they hear” What do I need to get an A”. Just give me formula to get the letter to pass. I`m sure good teacher hate this question. They much prefer the question, “ What will I learn?, or How will I improve?.. If a man on the street ask this question, it might be more apt to believe that this was a genuine question, but it was a lawyer who asked according to bible scholars, and lawyers back then and today are taught to never ask question in which they already have an answer. The lawyer has the answer, And Jesus know that the lawyer thinks he already knew the answer and so he says, “you know the law, tell me yourself” The lawyer answers quoting law” Love the Lord your God with all with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might. And love your neighbor as yourself.”
In Modern language Jesus says, “good job.” The lawyer presses, “but who is my neighbor?” As if one thing to respond to the question: “Are you a Christian?” and say, “yes I believe, I go to church, I have values based on the teaching of Christ that guide my life choices.” or “have you been saved?” Yes. “Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior?” Yes. “Good deal. You are good to go.” That’s all the law says you have to do. But then what if you have questions? Like, “but, who is my neighbor?” then that`s something else.
Now, the story on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. This road was, and still is a notoriously dangerous road. The road between Jerusalem and Jericho is a seventeen-mile hike of narrow rocky passages, and of sudden turns, which made it easy for robbers to take advantage of travelers. This would have been common knowledge for the original listeners of Jesus story…and no surprise that a human being was mugged and beaten along the side of the road. So thieves fell upon the man, beat him, stripped him, robbed him and left him for dead.
- What do we know about the victim, he was a human being. We don’t know if he was Jewish or a Gentile, if he was wealthy or poor, a conservative or a liberal, a good person or a bad person. He’s just a naked, completely vulnerable, beaten person, for dead on the side of the road. The only thing we know about the victim was that “ He was a human being”.
- the first passer by, a minister of God, most knowledgeable of the laws. when he saw the man lying down the road, he walked on the other side of the road, he didn`t want to get involved, he had to get to the temple. He knows that if he would touch a dead man, he would be made unclean and would lose his role in the temple. The priest abides by the rule book of an ethical and theological system. - Let me say, His life was a system of do’s and don'ts. He didn’t stop and help because he wants to save his job. To be fair, he may have had compassion for the man, but job security kept him from doing the right thing.
- the second passer by. A theologian, a Doctor of Theology, a student of God`s word, a man who supposed to know the character of God.When the Levite saw the man by the road side, he crossed to the other side so he wouldn`t have to bother with him. He was already late for his weekly discussion group. The Levite would not have had as many restrictions as the priest. He could have rendered aid and not been legally in trouble. - And we see that he didn`t approach the man. Luke says, the Levite came to the place.
- the third passer by. This is like saying, “the low-life, good for nothing” Samaritans were rejected group, Others would never say anything good about them, infact they were cursed daily in the synagogues and prayers were lifted up hoping that the Samaritans would not be partakers of eternal life, when the this half -breed, hated Samaritan came along and saw the poor man lying there. When he found out that the he was still alive, he took his wine and poured it on his wounds. He dressed his wounds, picked the man up, put him on his donkey, took him up to the inn, stayed the night with the man, and the next morning he took money out of his own pocket, gave it to the inn keeper saying, “If there is more, I’ll settle the bill when I come back later.”
So which of these three was the true neighbor to the man in need? The Priest, the Levite, the Samaritan.
Today if we saw a beaten man lying by the road, we would first call 911 and then do what we could while we waited for help to arrive. But there were no EMTs (emergency medical technician) on the treacherous road winding through the mountains from Jerusalem down to Jericho. If this man were to survive, the Samaritan would have to take the whole burden on himself. Either he got involved or the man died. There were no other options seen in that light, many of us might have hesitated. After all, we`ve got things to do, places to go, people to see. I don`t know who isn`t busy these days. The demands of life lie heavily on all of us. And you can`t save the world, you just can`t. No matter who you are or how much you care or how hard you work or how much you pray, you can’t save them all. It just can’t be done. But that is no reason not to help those whom God puts in your path. So why did the Samaritan get involved when the priest and the Levite passed by on the other side?
It’s not a matter of busyness nor is it a matter of preparation. I suppose one could argue that his background as an outcast made him more likely to respond to human need. It`s a proof that it is possible.
At that particular moment, this particular Samaritan saw this particular man robbed, beaten and left for dead,and he decided to get involved. We need not ask what he would have done if he had seen 10 men lying by the road or if he had seen 100 men robbed, beaten, and left for dead. He cared enough to help the man he actually did see. That`s all that matters.
I’ve already noted that few of us would have done what he did. But don’t miss the point. When he saw this man by the road, he evidently didn’t do a mental calculation and say, “I’m going to end up paying for this man’s hotel bill.” That would come somewhere down the road. As a practical matter, he couldn’t have known what was required. The only decision he had to make was, “Should I get involved or should I pass by on the other side of the road?"
Sometimes compassion will demand much of us. Which is why we ought not to be overly calculating before we get involved. Sometimes the help we give will be brief and easy to do. Other times we will discover that the demands are long-lasting and heavy to bear.
He left him in the care of the inn keeper and then went on his way. Most of the time we can’t do it all by ourselves. No one can do it all, and no one is being asked to do it all. But we can all do something.
In the story Jesus said “Go and do likewise.”.. Today, I guess the real question is not, “Who is my neighbor?” but rather “Whose neighbor will I be to those I meet today?" In other words, This story is on me, on you, on us not on those in need. It’s about those who had a chance to help and didn’t,
Just look around. Your neighbors are all around you. They live on your street, you go to school with them, you shop at the same stores, eat at the same restaurants, you drive the same streets they do, you ride the same train everyday, you work with your neighbors, and you see them when you go to church.
If Jesus just wanted us to take home the golden rule from this passage the title of the parable would have been “the Good Person.” But It’s not. It’s the Good Samaritan. It’s a parable, and parables always have something shocking, surprising, unexpected, something to be wrestled with and puzzled over, and in this story, it is the fact that an unwanted, rejected Samaritan is the one who shows mercy to his enemy.
Working with migrants and refugees all these years exposed me to different challenging situations, yet it taught me to become better person of faith. There is this one case that I couldn`t forget. The story of Oliver who had little reason to be a Good Samaritan. Oliver was raised in a tough home, the child of an alcoholic father. He once said, “All my father ever taught me is that I didn’t want to grow up to be like him.” But something happened to Oliver when he came to Japan that changed his life, changed his heart. He had to undergo a surgery with no relative, friends in sight, he was frightened, he remembers the many prayers and compassionate thoughts reassuring him “not to worry,”. “I’ll be with you no matter what happens.” And when Oliver was discharged from the hospital, we were true to our word to be with him. To make the long story short, he regain his strength back and was able to get back to work normally.
Years later, Oliver, a construction worker, it was during the March 2011 triple disaster that he witnessed an accident while at work, A man was pinned upside down in the rubble and as Oliver was trying to get him out of the wreckage, he assured the man, “Look, don’t worry,” he said, “I’m right here with you, I’m not going anywhere.” When he said that, Oliver remembered later, he was reminded of how Nankiren took care of him and had said the same thing and he never left him.
Days later, he has been referring clients he met in the street to Nankiren office for help. “ he said, I just couldn’t leave them just like that without help..,”.
The world refugee crisis is a serious call for Christians to respond as our faith instructs us, people are fleeing from death, We need to see that as the same way as Jesus, No one can do it all, and no one is being asked to do it all. But we can all do something together. There are people in our lives who need the help only you can give. Some of them need a word of encouragement, and you are the only one who can give them that word. Some of them are staggering beneath a heavy load, and you are the only one who can lift that burden from their shoulders. Some of them are about to quit, and you are the only one who can keep them in the race. Some of them have been hit with an incredible string of trials, and you are the only one who can help them keep going.
How do you change the world? Not through programs and not even through preaching done at a distance. You change the world one heart at a time, one life at a time. Compassion that isn’t personal isn’t compassion. God help us to be men and women of compassion, to reach out and touch a hurting world.
Compassion is not something you talk about. Compassion is something you do. If you want your neighborhood to be changed, get involved. Your neighborhood could be changed, but you have to do it the hard way, the slow way, the quiet way, the unseen, difficult way. But in God’s economy, that’s the only way it works.
“My dear child says the Lord, you must love me with your whole heart and you must love your neighbor. And by neighbor, dear one, I mean people you don’t trust, don’t like and don’t want to be around. And by being a neighbor I mean you have to also let them be a neighbor to you. Let them serve you, as you serve them. As you do, you will know me. You must let me love you. Let me look up you with mercy, pick you up out of whatever ditch you are in, and give you healing. And then dear one, go and do likewise.”
Let us pray.
Lord Jesus, your word is a lamp to our feet, and a light to our path. Thank you that can live in your light and walk in your truth. May the words that you revealed and thoughts that we learned from the parable of the Good Samaritan will dwell in our hearts, and stir us to action. Use us to be your hands and feet to the needy, your words of affirmation to the oppressed and your arms of comfort to the lonely. Thank you for choosing to use us as your instruments in bringing your kingdom here on earth. Be with us, anoint us all for your glory and honor. In the precious name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ we pray, Amen!