Sermon: Welcoming the Stranger

Without my glasses, I cannot see very well. My eyes are deformed a bit and anything more than an arms-length away starts to get blurry. (glasses off) Margaret’s lovely face is nothing but a blurry blob to me. (glasses on) But now I can see Jennifer clearly all the way in the back. That’s why I wear glasses – these lenses are particularly shaped to help me see correctly, but I cannot do that on my own. There is something wrong with my natural vision that needs to be corrected.

One of our spiritual forefathers, John Calvin, compared the Bible to a pair of glasses. Through sin and ignorance, our natural vision of God, ourselves, and the world isn’t right. We can’t see God clearly on our own. We can’t even know ourselves clearly on our own. We need corrective lenses. We need, to use Calvin’s phrase, the “spectacles of Scripture” in order to restore our vision.

This morning we are going to let a verse in the Bible be our lens to help us see. It is 2 Timothy 3:16. We are going to let this verse help us to see more clearly a passage in the Gospel of Luke, Luke 10:25-37. We are going to let one part of scripture be our guide, be our lens, to understanding another part. Do you think we can try that together?

Say these words after me: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

One more time: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

All Scripture is God-breathed. All Scripture. All of it. The Christian conviction has been down the ages and continues to be that what Paul says to Timothy is true. All Scripture is God-breathed. The parts we like and that give us comfort and joy and peace – those words are trustworthy and true, for they come from the mouth of God. Those parts we don’t like and that twist up our stomach or make us wonder what this whole God-thing, this Christian-thing is all about – those words too are trustworthy and true, for they come from the mouth of God. All Scripture is God-breathed means that we don’t get to pick and choose what parts of the Bible we have to listen to, because all of it comes from God and all of it must be wrestled with.

The Christian conviction has been down the ages and continues to be that what Paul said to Timothy is true – All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful – it is useful. There are no throwaway lines in the Bible. All of it is useful, none of it is useless. And Paul tells us what it is useful for – teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. So we should expect that when we hear God’s Word it is doing these four things – teaching us, reproving us, correcting us, and training us in righteousness. If that is true of all Scripture, then it is true as we listen to Luke 10:25-37. So let’s listen together to the Word of the Lord and then look for how it is doing each of those four things – teaching, reproving, correcting, and training in righteousness. But before we do, please take a moment to pray with me:

Father, open our eyes to see Jesus, open our ears to hear your word, and open our hearts to receive your Spirit, and open my mouth to speak your Word to your people this morning. We pray all this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

If you are able, I invite you to stand to hear God’s word. Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God:

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “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.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer. Do this and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 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. Now by chance a priest was going down that road and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 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.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Say these words after me: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

Teaching

In other words, is there a story to tell?

Luke 10:25-37, known as the parable of the Good Samaritan, is really three stories all wrapped up together.

First, there is the story of Jesus and the Lawyer. When we think of lawyer, our mind goes to someone trained in the legal profession, but that is not what is going on here. In the New Testament, a lawyer was someone who was an expert in the Law – not the civil law, but the biblical law. A lawyer was a Bible expert. He stands up to test Jesus, but ends up getting tested himself. By the end of his encounter with Jesus, the question is not how will Jesus respond to the test, but how will the lawyer.

Second, there is the story of the man on the road. He is heading from Jerusalem to Jericho when he falls into the hands of wicked men. He is stripped, beaten, and left for dead. While some pass him by, one man comes near him, binds up his wounds, lifts him up, cares for him, and pays for his healing.

Lastly, there is the story of the three men – the priest, the levite, and the Samaritan. Each of them comes to the place of the broken man, sees him, and chooses to respond.

Three stories all bound together. As we hear these stories, we find ourselves in each of them.

Say these words after me: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. What does the parable of the Good Samaritan teach? What story does it tell? Three stories – the lawyer and Jesus, the man on the road, and the three men – and we find ourselves in each of them.

Reproof

Teaching, Reproof – What is reproof?

To reprove means to call out something as wrong. It is a bit like the work that doctors do in diagnosing an illness. They check your temperature, run some blood work, and then tell you what is wrong. But they tell you what is wrong in order to be able to give the right treatment. In the same way, one of the things that all scripture does is name the ways we are walking apart from God, the ways we sin. That is not the only thing God’s Word does, but it is one of them. It does it for the same reason that the doctor gives us the diagnoses, for our good. So, as we hear the parable of the Good Samaritan, we have to ask, “Is there a sin for us to confess?”

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. Now by chance a priest was going down that road and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

Passed by on the other side. A man lies hurting on the road, naked, beaten, left for dead. The first two people who come across him pass by on the other side.

Is there a sin to confess this morning? The priest and the Levite were extremely religious people. They worked in the temple, they tried to follow God. But they saw a man hurting and passed by on the other side. Is there a sin to confess this morning?

Maybe they thought he was dead or unclean and were worried if they touched him they would become unclean. In Leviticus it says that anyone who touches a dead body would be unclean and couldn’t go to the temple to worship. It wasn’t a sin, but it would make the priest doing his job more difficult. It would make it more difficult for the Levite to worship. So they passed him by on the other side. I mean, it would be costly to help him. It would make life more difficult to help him. So they passed him by on the other side. Is there a sin to confess this morning?

They had their reasons. They had their excuses and justifications. But they could not pretend they had not seen him. Jesus makes it clear that every one who drew near saw the suffering man. They knew he was there. They could see his suffering. They saw him, but still passed him by.

Friends, who have we passed by on the other side? Who do we see right in front of us and yet pass by? A few years back, I met a man named Evan. His look, his clothes, let you know that he was struggling. As we sat around a table eating lunch, he told me of visiting his mother’s church in Florida. He had really enjoyed the service and when he went up to greet the pastor, he told me the pastor took one look at him and then simply looked through him. Their entire brief conversation, he could tell the pastor was looking for other people to shake hands with, not Evan. Evan said, “He looked right through me.” He saw me, but didn’t see me.

Like the priest and the Levite, that pastor chose to pass Evan by. He chose to see him, but to look through him as he focused on more important things.

Friends, is there a sin to confess this morning? We don’t all have our brokenness as visible as Evan, but it’s there. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.

(pause)

Correction

Say these words after me: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

Correction. Correction is like a cast on a broken bone. It sets things right so that they can heal in the right direction. The question for us is this: Is there a promise in this passage that we should claim? Is there a promise to claim?

The promise is this: Jesus does not pass us by on the other side. But, like the Samaritan, he draws near to us, binds our wounds, cares for us, and pays for us to be healed. We are the man on the road. The man was going down the road when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him. They beat him. They left him.

We are that man. The falling may look different – a failed marriage, a failure of integrity – but it is there. The robbers who seize us may have different faces – the bully who daily strips our dignity, the addiction we cannot seem to shake, the disease that ravages our bodies, – different faces but they are there. What is stripped from us may look different, the violence we suffer may look different, or the loneliness in our lives may look different, but it is there. We could go on, but you know this.

But in and behind all our aches and pains and loneliness is a deeper brokenness that comes from being estranged from God. But the promise of the gospel is this: Jesus does not pass us by on the side. You, in your pain. You, in your loneliness. You, in the beaten down stage of your life. Jesus does not pass you by on the other side. Instead, he comes to you, he binds up your wounds, cares for you, and pays for your healing.

While we were fell, the Son of God took on flesh – our flesh, our life, our temptations, our struggles – and in his flesh raised us up. While we were wounded, Jesus took on wounds so that we might be healed. While we were left alone, Jesus came to bring us to himself. While we were left for dead, Jesus came and paid for our healing with his very life.

If you have been passed by your whole life, know that Jesus sees you and is moved with pity. If you aren’t sure whether your pain or your struggle can ever been seen or ever be healed, Jesus sees you and is moved with pity. He will go to you, bind your wounds, and heal you. Jesus does not pass us by on the other side.

One last time, say these words after me: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

Training in Righteousness

Training in righteousness – Is there a command to obey?

The command is clear. We know it. The lawyer knew it. Love your neighbor as yourself. That was never in question. But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “and who is my neighbor?”

Wanting to justify himself. He knew what the commandments were – love God and love your neighbor – but he wanted to find a way to feel as if he was right in the way he was living. He wanted validation for saying that some people counted as neighbors, some people were those he was supposed to care for and treat with love, but others didn’t qualify. But Jesus won’t have it – not with him and not with us.

We are really good at drawing lines around groups of people – these people belong with me, these people do not; these people deserve my help and these people do not. But Jesus tells us this is the wrong question. It is not ‘who is my neighbor’ but ‘who is a neighbor.’ In other words, we are not called to ask “Who counts as my neighbor?,” but “how can I be a neighbor?”

Because all of us have been on the outside, all of us have been the man on the road – stripped, beaten, and left. But Jesus came to us, cared for us, and healed us. Jesus did not pass us by on the other side. Since he has been a neighbor to us, being a neighbor to others is no longer a duty, but a joy.

That Jesus did not pass you by on the other side changes how you will walk into the church building. It will no longer be about finding your preferred seat and making sure that you have the best experience possible in worship. Instead, we will have a white, hot passion for guests and go out of our way to welcome the stranger.

It will change you how go to your work and your school. Your neighbor will no longer just be the people who look or think like you or even who work closely with you. Instead, you will look for ways to be a neighbor to those around you.

It will change how we enter our neighborhoods. Our homes will no longer be fortresses of solitude, but havens of hospitality. It will change how we vote and spend our money, what we do with our bodies. When you were weak, Christ came to you. When you were broken, Christ healed you. When you were poor, Christ gave you all his riches. When you were alone, Christ made you his own. When you were on the road, Christ did not pass you by on the other side.

Is there a command to obey? We know it: Love your neighbor as yourself. But this week, do not ask ‘who is my neighbor,’ but remember how Christ was a neighbor to you and ask how you can be a neighbor to others.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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