A lawyer once asked Jesus what needed to be done to gain eternal life. The answer was to love God and love your neighbor. But what does that mean, to love your neighbor? As we continue to prepare the way for Christmas, we’ll look at a story Jesus told that’s intended to open our eyes and hands to those around us, our neighbors, and respond compassionately to the needs that surround us.
Full Sermon Script:
We are 10 days away from Christmas, so I have some Christmas facts for you …
1 in 3 men wait until Christmas Eve to do their shopping
46% of people have lied about liking a gift
47% of women want jewelry for Christmas
32% of men want gift vouchers
61% of people say they’re willing to take on more credit card debt for the holidays
2/3rds of adults feel pressure to spend more than they’d like, or more than they have on holiday gifts
Nearly every year since 2008, the amount of money that consumers spend on holiday gifts has been increasing.
2019, experts expect the average will be $920 per person, a total of more than $1 trillion in holiday spending.
Actual spending tends to be higher than forecasts
There’s good and bad to that …
Debt … not good
Generously giving to those we love … generally good
Many of you were recently incredibly generous with donations of gifts, money and your time to the Holiday Toy Shop…
The Toy Shop was this last Thur-Sat and there was an incredible response!
An update on that a little later
As we continue in our Prepare the Way series, today we’re talking about Prepare Your Hands
We’ve talked about preparing our Minds and Attitudes … Why our hands?
According to Aristotle, the hands are the “tool of tools.”
In general, they represent strength, power and protection.
However, they also represent hospitality and generosity.
There is value in our hands…
A basketball in my hands is not worth more than the price of the ball, yet in Steph Curry’s hands it’s worth $37 million a year.
Power tools in my hands are dangerous … but in a master craftsman’s hands can build whatever the imagination dreams
There are many instances where we see Jesus using His hands =…
He reached out His hand and caught Peter sinking in the water after he stepped out of the boat.
Using His hands, He fed 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish, multiplying them to feed everyone.
He reached out to touch a man with leprosy and he was healed.
Mark 1:41a (ESV) “Moved with pity (compassion), he (Jesus) stretched out His hand…” (healing a leprous man)
It was even in a command given to the Israelites in relation to how they were to treat each other …
Deuteronomy 15:7-8 “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.”
The early church was driven by openhanded compassion …
The earliest church communities did not have to be told to be compassionate to the poor and marginalized. They merely did what they had seen Christ do and what He taught.
They made sure no one among them was in need
Acts 2:45 “And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
They ensured that the most vulnerable in their communities, in this case widows, were taken care of
They taught the sign of religion that God accepted as pure and faultless was taking care of widows and orphans
James 1:27 “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction…”
Ministering to the poor was just as important as having proper theology
Galatians 2:10 “Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.”
As the church began to grow beyond Palestine, this continued.
Dionysius (dai-o-NIHSH-ih-uhs) of Corinth, around 170 A.D. wrote of the generosity of the church in Rome, saying,
“From the beginning you had the custom of helping all the brethren in many sorts of ways and sending support to many congregations in all cities. Through these gifts you have been sending all along…you have eased the poverty of the needy.”
In the second century, Aristides (ar-uh-stahy-deez), an Athenian philosopher who became a Christ-follower, described the social-consciousness of the church…
“They have the commands of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself graven upon their hearts…they despise not the widow, nor oppress the orphan; and he that has, gives ungrudgingly for the maintenance of him who has not. If they see a stranger, they take him under their roof, and rejoice over him as a brother, for they call themselves brethren not after the flesh but after the Spirit.”
Professor Peter Brown refers to the Christians in the Roman Empire (300-600 AD) providing for the needs of the poor as a revolution that impacted the social imagination of the times.
The concept of the love of the poor did not naturally grow out of Greek and Roman ideals of benefactors helping their cities. Christian charity was not just another form of charity and generosity being practiced among other forms, it was a completely new departure from existing values and practices.
When a plague hit in the early 4th century, the populace of the Roman city of Caesarea began fleeing for safety in the countryside. In the midst of this, one group was staying behind, the Christians. An historian of the early church, Eusebius (yoo-SEE-bee-uhs), recorded,
All day long some of them [the Christians] tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them. Others gathered together from all parts of the city a multitude of those withered from famine and distributed bread to them all.
He goes on to state that because of their compassion in the midst of the plague, the Christians’ “deeds were on everyone’s lips, and they glorified the God of the Christians. Such actions convinced them that they alone were pious and truly reverent to God.”
A few decades after Eusebius (yoo-SEE-bee-uhs), the last pagan emperor, Julian the Apostate, recognized that the Christian compassion was one cause behind the transformation of the faith from a small movement on the edge of the empire, to its growth throughout the empire. He wrote…
“when it came about that the poor were neglected and overlooked by the [pagan] priests, then I think the impious Galilaeans [i.e., Christians] observed this fact and devoted themselves to philanthropy. [They] support not only their poor, but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.”
Now, some of you might already be thinking “I know where this is going….”
He’s going to ask me to give up my latte a day and give money …
I wish I hadn’t invited someone to sit with me today …
This is my first and last time here …
There’s going to be a special offering at the end of the service …
I’m going to be guilted that I’m not doing enough …
And full disclosure … I struggle with this in my life
I can be very empathetic and sympathetic
I am compassionate to those close to me
I can all too often be oblivious to the needs of those around me
Here’s the goal of what I want us to see and hear today …
Compassion isn’t just something we give towards or do … it’s an attitude we possess
The early church led in compassion and we still should
Compassion means to recognize the suffering of others and then take action to help.
It embodies a tangible expression of love for those who are suffering or in need.
The component of action is what separates compassion from sympathy or pity.
Compassion gets involved.
When others keep their distance from those who are suffering…
Compassion prompts action on their behalf.
The Bible is saturated with compassion, through the pages of the OT & NT
Jesus told a parable that illustrates this for us …
If you’re not familiar with the Bible…
A parable is a story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual principle
Jesus would tell parables, or stories often
Author Ray Lubeck wrote,
“Our brains are hardwired for narratives. When children ask to hear a story it’s not simply a biological craving for amusement or a demand for attention. It arises out of a genuine human need to make sense of the disparate experiences of our lives and that need is addressed in storytelling.”
He goes on to say, “Through stories we learn how to see patterns, we learn about cause and effect, we learn how to discover the consequences of our choices, our sense of right and wrong, and of what is most important or least valuable in life. All of these are shaped for us by the stories we hear and then live.”
Stories invite us to place ourselves within them, to think about who we are and what we care about.
Luke is writing from eyewitness accounts of events
25On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27He 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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
Ask a question, get an answer. Done … right?
29But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Honest question isn’t it? Or is it?
Jewish understanding “neighbor” meant fellow Israelite
You take care of your own
Your family, your group, your ethnicity, your like-kind
You had no responsibility for someone outside your circle
He’s looking for limits … limits allow us to not feel a responsibility(?) for all
So … Jesus tells him a story …
30In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.
This was a 17-mile journey on a road lined with caves that made good hideouts for robbers and bandits. The road was notoriously dangerous, and rarely did you travel alone.
31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity (felt compassion) on him.
If in Jewish thought a neighbor was understood to be another Israelite, the two “neighbors” of the beaten man
avoided his need … ignored his need … left him in need
were not incredibly neighborly, wouldn’t you agree?
But not so with the Samaritan … why?
The day before Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, he delivered his last speech at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee.
The address is known as the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech and it it, he looks at this well-known parable of the “Good Samaritan.”
“One day a man came to Jesus and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters of life. At points he wanted to trick Jesus and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew and throw him off base. Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from midair and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side; they didn’t stop to help him. Finally, a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But he got down with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying this was the good man, this was the great man because he had the capacity to project the “I” into the “thou,” and to be concerned about his brother.
“Now, you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn’t be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that one who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body 24 hours before the ceremony. And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem, or down to Jericho, rather, to organize a Jericho Road Improvement Association. That’s a possibility. Maybe they felt it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effect.
“But I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho Road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road I said to my wife, ‘I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.’ It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about twelve hundred feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about twenty-two feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus, it came to be known as the ‘Bloody Pass.’ And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking, and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so, the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’
“But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”
We have to pause there for a moment…
If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?
What stops us in engaging in acts of compassion?
Let’s be honest with each other for a few moments…
insecurity – I don’t know how to help
arrogance – it’s below me
scarcity – I don’t have enough myself
ignorance – I didn’t know anything was needed
apathy – I don’t care
exhaustion – I just can’t take more emotionally, physically
The attitude of the Samaritan was If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?
33…when he saw him, he took pity (felt compassion) on him (btw… same word used to describe Jesus’ compassion in Mark 1:41). 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii (a day’s wages) and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
It’s a trick question … and here’s why …
The hero is unexpected … to the lawyer asking Jesus, he’s a bad guy.
Jews and Samaritans are like Raider and 49er fans … there’s no love
In fact, the parable turns the whole question around.
The lawyer asks who his neighbor is in the hope that some people are not.
37The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Love God … Love others
In essence, if you love God your neighborhood has expanded.
In light of this, the lawyer must now live differently.
No longer can he claim to love God or neighbor while turning a blind eye to the needs around him.
1 John 3:17-18
17If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity (shows no compassion) on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
Now, some of you have experienced the guilting that can be done by churches
I want to do the opposite … ENCOURAGE you!!
Many of you have engage with our Compassion Partners and our Love the Tri-Valley Initiative
Here’s how …
Through your generosity, we are driving the investment of $500k into our compassion partners in the Tri-Valley through our Love the Tri-Valley Initiative
That doesn’t include the value of your volunteer hours
Time is more valuable than money
An estimated 1000 volunteer hours as many of you have served with our partners, and some of you do this on a regular ongoing basis
30 chapel services monthly in assisted care facilities
6500 Crayon Kits delivered to hospitals worldwide
22,800 meals delivered around the world
280 hygiene kits delivered to the homeless through CityTeam
443 gifts donated to the Holiday Pop Up Shop (images that Lyssia sent)
But here’s the thing … most of us don’t realize the bigger picture of our engagement with Compassion
Matthew 25:34-40 34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
To show you what I mean, watch this video …
No one act, or volunteer hour with a Compassion partner, or dollar given to the Love the Tri-Valley Initiative is an isolated activity. It all contributes to a greater, larger work that God is doing.
And now that you’ve seen that, I want you to hear from Jessica, and her perspective as someone who has experienced the very compassion that Jesus spoke of and you’ve displayed as a church…
Imagine if the reputation of Blue Oaks Church was how well we love and serve the people God has placed in and around our lives.
Imagine if the first thought that came to the mind of someone who lived in Pleasanton, Dublin, Livermore, San Ramon was, “I don’t know that I believe in this Jesus you do, I don’t know that I really fully believe in the God you worship, but, I’m intrigued by Him because of the compassion you show so well.”
Isaiah 58:1 “…if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”
This is why one of our nine values as a church is Compassion
We will generously provide love and resources to our broken world, beginning in our own community.
Not everyone will agree with what we believe, but image if we will be known for our compassion and generosity to those around us.
So … what’s in your hands that you can use to show compassion to those surrounding us?
As a church we’re going to continue to ask If we do not stop to help others, what will happen to them?
I challenge you to continue to ask If I do not stop to help others, what will happen to them?
1 John 3:17-18