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Example Sermon: “Love your Neighbor: No Exceptions”

“Love your Neighbor: No Exceptions” Luke 10:25-37

Luke 10:25-37 Jesus tells a story about being a neighbor.

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.”

Part of my ministry as Director of Spiritual Care at the hospital is to check in with staff around the hospital and offer support where needed. A recent Monday afternoon as I was rounding, I noticed her quietly pushing her cart of cleaning supplies. I noticed she was wearing a hijab – a head covering worn by Muslim women. Since this was the Monday after the Friday Executive Order limiting immigration. I wondered how she was doing. I experienced an irresistible nudge to check in with her. I approached her with a warm smile and introduced myself. Often when I’m rounding, I offer blessings of hands to staff, so I asked her, “May I offer you a blessing?” She nodded with tear-filled eyes. “May I touch your hands?” Once again she nodded and tenderly placed her hands in mine. We stood together, hands joined – gazing into each other’s eyes. “You are welcome here,” I said warmly and firmly. “You are welcome here. Your presence here is important to us. May God’s love and grace fill you. You are not alone.” More tears. “Are you afraid?” “Yes.” She expressed worry and concern and of course, confusion, about what is happening. We continued in quiet conversation. By this time, other staff members were gathering around us. And together we proclaimed, “You are welcome here. You are not alone.” We all were deeply moved.

One of the reasons this encounter was so profound for me is that I, like you, am deeply troubled, and I often wonder what on earth I can do to make a difference. This is a great – and difficult moment in human history. It is a moment rampant with suspicion, prejudice, chauvinism, and fear. You may have heard some of these thoughts spoken – or even wrestled with them yourself… “From now on, whatever goes wrong around here is because someone unlike us came along and ruined everything. We can’t understand the accent so we can’t get the help we need when we’re shopping. And anyway, we don’t like the way they look at us. We think they’re up to something.”

Prejudice divides us from them. “We don’t mind those people in general, we say; it’s just these particular people who bother us. They should have gone somewhere where people believe in that kind of a god. We don’t. These people are everywhere now. They take our jobs, and move into our houses, but don’t keep them clean. Somebody has to tell them to find a place of their own.”

Chauvinism judges everyone not like us as lesser. “They don’t know what it means to be a citizen here, we insist. They don’t know our history. They didn’t fight for this country. But they’ll pull our economy down because they don’t work as hard as we do.”

And at the base of it all is fear. The fear of difference. The fear of otherness. The fear of loss. The fear of change. The fear of those whom Jesus insists are our neighbors. This is where my challenge lies – honestly. I find myself fearing those who hate. What am I to do about that?

Jesus tells a story about what it means to be a neighbor, not in a “take some fresh-baked cookies to the new family that just moved in next door” kind of way, but by illustrating the scandal that radical obedience to Jesus’ command to love God and love neighbor requires. Remember: Jesus tells this story in response to the lawyer’s question, “And who is my neighbor?” In other words, “to whom am I obligated to behave in a neighborly way?” He was expecting an answer that would define the limits of required neighborliness. We can only imagine the disgust of the hearers when Jesus dared to challenge the long-standing hostility between Jews and Samaritans – they despised, hated, and feared one another!!

And then, Jesus turns the question back to the lawyer: “Which of these three was a neighbor?” The multiple choice question forces such a distasteful answer that the lawyer will not even use the word Samaritan. He says instead, “The one who showed him mercy.” Ironically, his indirect answer provides an accurate description of a neighbor. Jesus has turned the issue from the boundaries of required neighborliness to the essential nature of neighborliness. As an Arab proverb says, “To have a good neighbor you must be one.”

To love God and love our neighbor meant then – and now – that we must often reject society’s rules in favor of the codes of God’s reign: a society without distinctions and boundaries between its members – a society of neighborliness. In other words, love your neighbor without exception.

My sermon title this morning is the 2017 theme for the work of SD Faith in Public Life: “Love your Neighbor: No Exceptions.” I serve as a member of this Board made up of faith leaders from diverse religious groups in South Dakota – Muslim, Jewish, and a variety of Christian denominations. In 2009, our very own Rev. Marcia Sietstra, led the effort to form this interfaith organization committed to publicly modeling respectful dialogue on controversial social and issues and committed to the search for solutions on which we might agree.

Needless to say, we have a lot of work to do this year – we have plans to respond to and help prevent increased hate rhetoric and bigotry that impacts our most vulnerable neighbors – including immigrants, Muslims, refugees, LGBTQ, and persons of color. We share a common belief that the rising tide of hateful behavior is incompatible with the moral values of all major religions, every one of which includes the imperative to treat others as we wish to be treated. I promise you will hear more about the work in the months to come.

Conscious ally-ship is one of our major projects. Last year we studied and advocated for capping interest rates on payday loans. Year before, Medicaid expansion was our topic. Some efforts are currently underway in response to the recent immigration ban and its impact on Muslim brothers and sisters:

We are in the process of sending a signed letter to our South Dakota Legislators re: our objection to Senate Resolution 7 which expresses an underlying implication that all Muslims should be treated with suspicion. We believe it wrongly condemns an entire religion and contributes to a climate of fear and prejudice against Muslims.

If you read the Argus this morning, you may have read a Letter to the Editor from the Chair of SD Faith in Public Life, Rev. Bill Tesch: read excerpt…

The work of SD Faith in Public Life is important. So are marches and rallies and standing in solidarity as an ally. Certainly, coordinated efforts to support vulnerable sisters and brothers are effective and critical work. But, we can’t show up to every march and donate to every cause. [And we can’t write expositions on every issue on Facebook!] But we can play to our strengths. If you’re a writer, write articles shedding light on important issues. If you’re an artist, make art with a conscience. Teachers can bring social justice into your classroom. Lawyers can volunteer at free legal clinics or do pro bono work. Love to bake? Bring cookies and coffee to public events you support. No matter what your passion, there’s a way to use it for good.

How are we to be the church – and yes, be neighbors – in the midst of these days? If we take seriously the call to be a Christian in the way of Jesus, we will, in fact, have to swim upstream in today’s American culture. Who is your neighbor that you are called – without exception – to love? This feels overwhelming and truly daunting, and sometimes, frankly, a little bit scary. As Pastor Jean reminded us last week, this is no time to be timid, but to walk bravely into the world together – empowered by the Spirit of God.

After my brief encounter on that Monday, I felt less overwhelmed and more hopeful. Because I realized that – although they are important – being a neighbor doesn’t require proper proclamations or major movements or massive marches. To stand in solidarity with those who are afraid doesn’t require something huge. It requires something daily – an openness to opportunities to reach across a perceived chasm of difference and discover there a meaningful human connection.

Let’s not forget that we Jesus-followers have incredible opportunities in our everyday lives to demonstrate God’s compassion and grace. In these days, I am called to follow through on an inner nudge to speak to or smile at a stranger; to share words of encouragement and grace to those whose paths I cross along the way – whether it be in an elevator at the hospital, at HyVee, in a coffee shop, or in the checkout line at Target. And for me, that may mean reaching out to someone who’s hateful posts on Facebook I find offensive – seeking understanding.

I invite you to do the same: Start with being true to who you’ve been created to be. Seek connection. Let folks know – in your own unique way – that you will be there to support them and that you care. Look for opportunities to build bridges not walls. Pay attention to those around who may be afraid and extend your heart and hand. And then, get out there and join your brothers and sisters in a combined effort to impact our most vulnerable neighbors.

May we continue to grow in our awareness, our courage, and our commitment to love our neighbors – no exceptions. Amen.



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