Sermon for July 14th

First Reading Deuteronomy 30:9-14

Second Reading: Colossians 1:1-14

Gospel Reading: Luke 10:25-37

Sermon: “On the Road of Life”

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,

A beautiful day for a neighbor,

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?

It’s a neighborly day in this beautywood,

A neighborly day for a beauty,

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?

I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you,

I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.

So let’s make the most of this beautiful day,

Since we’re together, we might as well say,

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?

Won’t you be my neighbor?

(source: https://www.lyricsondemand.com/tvthemes/mrrogersneighborhoodlyrics.html)

So sang a former Presbyterian minister for about 30 years. Fred McFeely Rodgers and his show Mr Rodgers Neighborhood sought to create a safe, calm place for children in the otherwise fast paced, confusing and scary world. His world was a place where all were welcome, where there was time to talk about things and meet new people and work through the everyday challenges of being a young child. This simple and very Biblical theme resonated with many many people.

As Wikipedia records: “Rogers received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, 40 honorary degrees,[6] and a Peabody Award. He was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame and was recognized in two congressional resolutions. He was ranked number 35 of the TV Guide‘s0 Fifty Greatest TV Stars of All Time.[7] Several buildings and artworks in Pennsylvania are dedicated to his memory, and the Smithsonian Institution displays one of his trademark sweaters as a “Treasure of American History”. On June 25, 2016, the Fred Rogers Historical Marker was placed near Latrobe, Pennsylvania in his memory.”

Why was he so determined to present this view of life? Surely because of his faith and surely also because his childhood was not so kind, inclusive or gentle. Mr. Rogers had a difficult childhood; he had a shy, introverted personality and was overweight. He was frequently homebound after suffering bouts of asthma.[10] He was bullied and taunted as a child for his weight, and was called “Fat Freddy.”[13] that would change in High school where he found his way and became involved and excelled and soon pursued and degree in music and became involved in television production, but it left its mark.

Sometimes it seems like it’s an impossibly long trolley ride from Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood to real life, and yet Fred Rodgers was sure that the same principles should apply in both places. He’s is good company. So did Moses and so does our Lord Jesus! We first heard the parable of the Good Samaritan in Sunday school. Do we sometimes think that it refers to another world apart for ours? An ideal world like Mr Rodger’s world of make believe? Before we turn to these familiar words that might seem like such a world apart from what we know, hear these words along with the commands to ‘love God with everything we are and to love our neighbor as ourselves’

In summarizing the law for the nation of Israel before they were to go into the promised land Moses reminded them this way: “This command I am giving you today is not too difficult for you, and it is not beyond your reach. It is not kept in heaven, so distant that you must ask, ‘Who will go up to heaven and bring it down so we can hear it and obey?’ It is not kept beyond the sea, so far away that you must ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to bring it to us so we can hear it and obey?’ No, the message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart so that you can obey it.” (Deut 30:11-14)

Just so you know how very real Jesus’ setting of this parable was, let me fill you in on a few things we don’t normally tell the youngsters. The NLT tells us it was a “despised Samaritan” who came to the aid of the Jewish man who had been robbed. almost beaten to death and left abandoned by the side of the road that day. Do you know why the Jews and the Samaritans hated each other so? You have no doubt heard that it was a thing of religious dispute and perhaps of distaste for the mixed blood of the Samaritans and that is true. But the full story is far deeper, messier and deadlier than just an intellectual dispute. Its too much to convey in this setting, but Let me give you a short summary.

When the Kingdom of Israel split after Solomon’s death, the Northern kingdom of Israel built rival sanctuaries to Jerusalem at Dan and Bethel featuring a golden calf. They established their capital on the hill of Samaria, hence their name in later times. After many years they were conquered and many were exiled by the Assyrians. Other people from other lands were brought into the land to replace the exiles and a hybrid religion developed with a mixture of Israelite and pagan elements. They even had their own version of the scriptures and rewrote the 10 commandments to demand worship of God on Mt Gerizim. You may recall reference to that place of worship from the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. What you may not know is that after the people of Judah returned home after their own exile at the hands of the Babylonians, their rebuilding of Jerusalem and its temple was bitterly opposed by the Samaritans. When the world order was reset by Alexander the Great, the Samaritans received permission to build their own temple on Mount Gerizim. Both suffered greatly under the successors to Alexander in that region – the Seleucids.

The Maccabean revolt which established an independent Israel in 165BC brings us to another vicious chapter in this history. One of the Priest-Kings of that time was John Hyrcanus. He marched on that rival temple in 128BC and destroyed it and attempted to reimpose traditional Jewish worship on the Samaritans. With the rise of the Romans empire, the Maccabean period ended in 63BC. But political intrigues, bribery, and violence continued, including Samaritan desecration of the temple in Jerusalem and ending in the rule of Herod the Great. It is a nasty and confusing period of History and it makes the phrase “despised Samaritan” look charitable.

When Jesus chooses to highlight this act of neighborly love by a Samaritan for a helpless Jew, we need to hear it in its full shocking context to really appreciate what he was trying to teach us. It is in fact the very same lesson as he had taught earlier in the sermon on the plain when Jesus said (Luke 6:27-36 NLT) [27] “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. [28] Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. [29] If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. [30] Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. [31] Do to others as you would like them to do to you. [32] “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! [33] And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! [34] And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. [35] “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. [36] You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.

These are difficult lessons for us to hear. But know this for absolute certainty – The days that Jesus walked on this earth were no less complicated and dangerous than ours – arguably, they were worse. World powers striving for dominance – Check. Shifting populations and refugees from other parts of the world – Check. Leaders with Questionable motivations – check. Huge gaps between wealth and poverty – Check. Religiously motivated attacks and terrorism – check. Human lives considered expendable, best not to get involved – check. You get the point by now. Jesus did not live in some distant golden age. He lived and taught in a very real world quite similar to ours. The Good news reminds us that God loves all of us – quite unconditionally – just as we are – but loves us too much to leave us that way. There is a better way to live and to love on this road of life. Ours is no less dangerous than that notorious road from Jerusalem down to Jericho.

Moses would remind us: “This command I am giving you today is not too difficult for you, and it is not beyond your reach.” Jesus asks “Which would you say was neighbor to the man? Now go and do the same.”