Delivered at First UMC Clairton, Pine Run UMC, Glassport UMC, and Otterbein UMC. Just a reminder, this is pretty much a transcript of the sermon, so it's written as I spoke it, not how it would be written it for publication.
Scripture: Luke 10:25-37
I am quite confident that you all have heard of this passage. This parable is one of the first that we teach our children in Sunday school. This passage is so well known we have laws called “Good Samaritan Laws” for individuals responding to emergencies, it is a common expression for one to be called a “Good Samaritan” and It is a commonly used passage to illustrate the love of God for humanity. A love that sees no racial, national, or otherwise discriminatory measures. The parable is set as a question between a lawyer.
This lawyer wasn’t a lawyer as much as we think of them, someone going before a judge and jury prosecuting and defending criminals, but a man who was well versed in Mosaic law. He was an expert in the law given to Moses by God in the Old Testament. He asked Jesus some good questions and gave the correct answers to the questions that Jesus posed.
This parable, in my opinion had three main purposes. The first thing that it did was to illustrate the love of God to humanity the second thing it did was critique the religious establishment, and the last purpose of the parable was to illustrate the love that we as individuals must have towards each other.
Every time I have ever heard a sermon on this passage, it has led to an inevitable talk on how Christians must love all people. I believe this to be true. I believe that Christians must find it in their hearts to put aside all reservations when it comes to love – to love recklessly and with abandon.
Our founder John Wesley, in his wisdom, stated in his journal on this passage, "With an honest openness of mind let us always remember that kindred between man and man, and cultivate that happy instinct whereby, in the original constitution of our nature, God has strongly bound us to each other."
With this explanation of the parable, that we must love all with abandon, comes another important point to me. This point is not that this is an incorrect interpretation, but an interpretation that leaves much to be left out of the lawyer’s second answer: “The one who had mercy on him.” When reading this, I was caught by this response to Jesus’ question and by Jesus’ reply.
That is a striking conversation.
When I younger, a question that I was always puzzled by is if God loves everyone so much, if we receive this unconditional and reckless love from God, why does it really matter? In our minds love is important because it has conditions. In fact, if I am correct and this passage reflects the love of God - a God that shows mercy across all bounds - Those listening in to this conversation would have been shocked to hear that the enemy of the Judeans, a Samaritan, was the one who rescued the robbed man.
For example, if you and your husband or wife love each other it is important because you love only your husband or wife in a manner that is so important it is reserved between the two of you. You are set apart from everyone else. If you love your best friend, it is because you two have a certain relationship that warrants a special designation. If you love your parent, it is because they gave you so much that they gained respect and affection from you.
The love of God, as illustrated by this passage, is the opposite of that. It has absolutely no reservations whatsoever and this confused me. I finally came to realize that what is important about God’s love is the action behind it. The thing is that our God is a God of action. We have a God who never stopped creating his creation, who never ceased giving attention to humans, a God who is constantly loving us, a God that loves us all as individuals so much that he gave his son for your individual sins.
There’s a translation of the Bible called the Amplified Version. Instead of picking possible translations to words that are difficult to translate to English perfectly, it attempts to provide every meaning to the words in question. In the Amplified version it reads as so: “He answered, “The one who showed compassion and mercy to him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and constantly do the same.”
What strikes me about this answer is that it is an individual mandate. So yes church. I plead with you to love all people. But I also ask that you recognize that it is an individual and constant responsibility to show mercy to others in your lives.
This is a story of action. In the book of James, we are reminded that faith without works is dead. Similarly, love without works is dead. In this passage, Christ is calling us beyond love as an emotion and into love, mercy and compassion as an individual action.
This parable made everyone, especially the religious establishment, that heard it uncomfortable – and it is a demand to make us uncomfortable as well.
Church your job is to live a life of love with action.
Now I couldn’t leave you without a practical application to this. I think me doing so would be contradictory to my message. There are a lot of groups of people right now that need your love, mercy, and compassion right now. Migrants crossing the southern border, addicts struggling in our current opioid crisis, those affected by poverty, those struggling with divorce – the list goes on.
In our conference, especially, I’ll point out youth. Over the summer I’ve been working with students who must get free lunches at local parks in order to go without hunger. I’ve met students that have no college prospects, and little direction for work after their primary education. I’ve met students that have little to do outside of the programs that the church offers. In our 2020 conference budget, we allocated less than half a percent to youth ministry. Most of that money goes towards a single event. Many of our churches go without dedicated youth ministries and many members of our conference do not know or care about the coming crisis the youth will have to face when older ministers die off and there are not enough young people to replace them. Our youth continue to be disadvantaged – to be robbed of a future within the church – if you will, because of adult apathy.
It is our job as a church to show all mercy, love, and compassion – and it is your job as an individual Christ follower, to ensure that it happens. So church, I plead with you that throughout this year look specifically for ways to show love to people. And as we look forward as a church, let us look for ways to empower those and love those that need it.