160710 – Fred Said

Yr C ~ Pentecost 8 ~ Luke 10:25-37

We all know this story. Maybe too well! You’ve probably heard lots of different sermons on this text.
A popular approach is to cast the injured person as a homeless person and challenge us not to pass by on the other side but to help them. fred-said
Another good approach is to focus on the extravagant care and generosity that the Samaritan offers, and contrast that with the lack of compassion shown by the two religious people who should’ve known (and done) better.

And just about everyone makes the point of how Samaritans were pretty much the enemy in Jesus’ time and that even saying the word ‘Samaritan’ would’ve gotten a gasp – let alone making him the hero of the parable which would’ve baked their brains.

I’m going to focus on the question the lawyer asks that has captivated Christians ever since it was first uttered:
Who is my neighbour? And just like Jesus I’m not going to answer it directly.

The lawyer is asking Jesus about how to inherit eternal life. We’ve talked before about how eternal life is not a reward for being good when you die, it’s a gift for every moment of your living right now!
Eternal life is a life that has at its centre the character of God.
It’s a life filled with “God-ness.”
Eternal life isn’t something that starts when this physical life ends – it’s a spiritual life that starts as soon as you hear Jesus’ voice, or sense and savour the Presence of God. This blessed, abundant life is what the seeker desires.

Like a good teacher always does, Jesus makes the seeker answer their own question. “What do the scriptures say? How do you interpret them?” The lawyer gives the best possible answer. The way to have a life filled with God is to love: “love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and love your neighbour as yourself.”

Want eternal, abundant life? Love God, love people (and love one another too). Love, love, love.

Jesus says, “Good answer! DO THIS and you will live!”
Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “Good answer. You get the prize.”
He says DO THIS and you will be living what you ask for.

But the lawyer isn’t satisfied yet. Granted, I’m reading between the lines here, but I think he knew that he knew the right answer before he asked the question, and he was doing it to make himself look good. His “and who is my neighbour” question was meant to make Jesus say “the people who live near you” who, as a presumably good practicing Jew, the lawyer would have already been treating well.
So he’s looking for a pat on the back for being an upstanding guy. Jesus doesn’t give it to him.
Instead, Jesus offers a parable that greatly expands on the concept of loving one’s neighbour – and even further than you might think.

Jesus’ commandments are to love God, love people (neighbours), and love one another. I worry that we focus on the noun-form too much and not enough on the verb-form. Love doesn’t just mean having inward affection for your neighbour – it has to have an outward action. It’s not enough to think well of people, we need to act well as well.

Jesus purposely chose a person who was unlovable as the protagonist in the parable. The audience would have been predisposed NOT to think well of the Samaritan.
But the commandment to love people – to love your neighbour – doesn’t mean to learn to have affection for people you may not like it means to act neighbourly toward people regardless of how you might feel about them, or how they might feel about you.

Now, far be it from me to tell Jesus how to do his job, but I think this parable would be even more inspiring if instead of being the hero the Samaritan was the victim. Having a supposedly bad guy act lovingly than the supposed good guys might convict us and spur us into action but it could also be perceived as a guilt trip and turn us off.
“The bad guy can do it, why can’t you?”
I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant at all, but you could easily read it that way.

If the victim was a despised Samaritan, that would more readily explain the horrid behaviour of the priest and the Levite who walked by, but it would also highlight that being neighbourly – loving the “other” – is not based on affection. Remember, elsewhere Jesus teaches us to love our enemies!

So when we try to bring this message into our present context we easily see the victim as a homeless person and we feel guilty that we too often pass by – but how about if the victim is someone you personally have bad feelings about – an enemy?
Would you act neighbourly toward a skin head, or a KKK guy, or an ISIL/ISIS supporter?
How about toward the person whose politics offend you, or who said something nasty about your family, or whose religious convictions leave you shaking your head?

What if they were in need?
Or what if you were in need and they were the Samaritan?

Look, this parable is not that tricky. The answer is obvious – even the lawyer got it right!
The tricky part, the challenging part, the thought-bomb that melts your noodle trying to understand it is this:
Go and do likewise!
It’s easy to identify the correct behaviour here – now go and DO it!

But think Jesus intended to push this even further. If we read this too narrowly we will only learn that when you see someone in trouble, no matter who it is, we should show them compassion.
But what if they’re not beaten and bloody at the side of the road?
What if they’re not homeless?
What if they’re just doing their thing?
Acting neighbourly, loving others, isn’t just something that kicks in when someone is in crisis – it’s supposed to be how we act all the time! Don’t stop at just responding to trouble in a neighbourly way – act neighbourly always!

Instead of asking “who is my neighbour” and trying to figure out the ethics or the theology, love everyone. Make everyone your neighbour, and act neighbourly.
Do you know who really got this and lived this way?  Fred.

Fred said every day was beautiful, and every day was a good day for being neighbourly.
Fred said he wanted everyone to be his neighbour.
He pleaded with people to be his neighbour. Fred said, “Would you? Could you? Won’t you please be my neighbour?”
Fred said he always wanted to have a neighbor just like you! Why? Because he knew he was called to “go and do likewise” just like Jesus said.

Have you figured out who Fred is yet?

It’s a beautiful day in this neighbourhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbour.
Would you be mine? Could you be mine?

It’s a neighbourly day in this beauty wood,
A neighbourly day for a beauty,
Would you be mine? Could you be mine?

I have always wanted to have a neighbour just like you!
I’ve always wanted to live in a neighbourhood 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 neighbour?
Won’t you please, Won’t you please?
Please won’t you be my neighbour?

Fred Rogers earned a music degree, then went to work in television. He worked on some kids shows, learning about TV and developing characters, and in his spare time studied theology and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister. But instead of preaching he was specifically ordained to do children’s television. The year he was ordained he came to Canada and worked for CBC who gave him his first show as the featured performer in front of the camera. It was called Mister Rogers, and he had an apprentice named Ernie Coombs (who became Mr. Dressup!). A few years later Fred was back in the States with Mr. Rogers’ Neighbourhood and the rest is history.

I don’t know what Reverend Fred’s favourite scripture passage was, but I wonder if it might be this Good Samaritan story. He seemed to have this idea of being neighbourly as his absolute core value.

Lately, another quote from him has been making the rounds. It’s about when disaster strikes. This is particularly timely in light of the news in the world these last few weeks.

Fred said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
If you look, you will always find people being neighbourly, loving others.

Here are some other things Fred said:

“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. [Love] is an active noun, like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”

Fred said, “I believe that appreciation is a holy thing, that when we look for what’s best in the person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does; so in appreciating our neighbour, we’re participating in something truly sacred.”

Jesus said, “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.”
Fred made that his whole life’s work.

Fred said, “All of us, at some time or other, need help. Whether we’re giving or receiving help, each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world. That’s one of the things that connects us as neighbours—in our own way, each one of us is a giver and a receiver.”

Generally speaking, we are the privileged and affluent. It’s easy for us to put ourselves in the story as the Good Samaritan – the one called to be neighbourly. Or perhaps when we’re in a darker mood we see ourselves as one who passed by on the other side.
But Fred reminds us of a very important lesson. Sometimes even we strong, powerful, and successful types find ourselves in crisis and in the ditch.
At some point we all find ourselves as the one in need of a neighbour. Don’t you want one who knows about loving the other?

I started today saying that we all know this story. Knowing about this stuff is really important. Knowing that “love, love, love” – loving God, loving neighbour, loving one another – is our mission statement, is vital.
But it doesn’t really matter what you know unless you make it more than a noun and express it as a verb.
I know you know this.
Our great challenge is to go the next step and put it into action – not just in crises, not just when the news is bad, but all the time.

Jesus said, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:28)
Jesus said, “Yes, of course it was the neighbourly one who did it right. Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37)

Fred said, “It’s a beautiful day in this neighbourhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbour.
Would you be mine? Could you be mine?

Amen.