Who Is My Neighbor?

This sermon was preached from Luke 10:25-37, on March 21, 2010 at the Central Schwenkfelder Church, Worcester, PA.  

You remember from last week that I invited you to respond to the sermon.  I asked: “What brought you to this church?  What/whom did God use to draw you here?”  Maybe you’re interested in the results, as well as hearing a few.  I received 66 responses.  Thank you for providing your feedback. 

I broke them up into the following categories: 25% responded that their parents or family were responsible for them being here.  Another 10% were independently seeking a church.  15% replied that the music program was what drew them here.  The same percentage responded that it was the youth or children’s program, including Happy Days’ Preschool.  10% said that the pastor is the person God used to bring others here.  But the figure that I want to point out to you is how God uses relationships and personal invitations.  25% responded that this was the key factor in bringing them here. 

In other words, there was a strong presence of relationships and personal invitation in encouraging folks to attend Central.  Once here, the youth, music or preaching may have kept them here, as some stated.  But the importance of relationships was the most essential factor in bringing people to Central. 

I am blessed when people tell me that this is a friendly church.  I hope we will always maintain that reputation.  But that takes a conscious and ongoing effort.  Among the personal responses, hear the following:

“When we moved to the area, we put my son in Happy Days (preschool) and then tried the church.  I attended here going to hymn sings with Christian Endeavor when I was young.  Bible based preaching and youth programs were important.” 

Another: “We had our first child.  I wanted a large church in the neighborhood that would offer a large variety of people and activities- like a family- to become a part of and grow with.  I like the spiritual heritage of Schwenckfeld and his views and the church was able to hold the diversity of faiths here and lead us forward.  I liked it.”

And another: “My parents, through an invitation from Cleta and Ernie Heebner, came here.  The building was brand new and the Sunday School was exactly what we needed in 1951.  It has become my spiritual home on earth.” 

Someone else responded: “Moving into the area, we were seeking a church home.  We visited our denomination and finally started coming to Central, because our daughter attended Happy Days.  We had also met the Colvins at the local library.  We liked the children’s programs, music, and preaching, and joined 6 months later.” 

And this: “Harold Kerper and Wilson Allebach knocked on our front door and came into our home one evening and invited us to come to Central Schwenkfelder Church.  I was Lutheran and my new husband was Catholic.  This invitation was just what we needed.  That was over 40 years ago.” 

Finally: “We were new in the area.  Lettie Schultz was a patient at my mother’s doctor’s office.  In a friendly conversation, she told my mom: “Oh, your daughter lives in Lansdale?  Well she should come to our church!”  Were it not for Lettie’s enthusiastic invitation (through my mom) – we’d have never come through the doors.” 

I share those excerpts with you to show you how important it is that we reach out.  As I said last week, the church of Jesus Christ is the only organization on earth that does not exist for itself.  We, in fact, exist for our neighbors. 

With this I ask, “How did Jesus touch on the subject of being a neighbor?  Who is my neighbor?  Jesus answered that question by telling a story.  The story of the Good Samaritan is one that many of us are familiar with.  Or, at least we have heard of the title.  It has even become a cliché.  We all want to be “Good Samaritans.” 

From this we learn that…

A GOOD SAMARITAN IS GOOD.

Jesus is approached by a teacher of the law.  He asks: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?  Christ responds by giving him the two greatest commandments: love God and love others.  To this, the man agreed, but it could be understood that the man had a head knowledge, but he lacked a heart knowledge.  In order to justify himself he asked “Who is my neighbor?”  His question or Jesus’ answer does not teach a works righteousness.  Rather Christ was bringing the man along in his knowledge to a particular point of decision, which we’ll see in a moment.  Jesus then tells the story of an unusually kind foreigner, who helped a person mugged, beaten and left for dead.

The story is unique in that Samaritans were the least suspected of being good.  Even the mentioning of the name would invoke a response.  Notice what one scholar noted: “It is significant that the person Jesus commended was neither the religious leader nor the lay associate, but a hated foreigner.  Jews viewed Samaritans as half-breeds, both physically and spiritually.  Samaritans and Jews practiced open hostility, but Jesus asserted that love knows no national boundaries.”[1]

I was watching a history program a few nights ago, teaching on the Irish immigration to this country in the mid 1800’s.  It said: “From 1815 to the start of the Civil War, 5 million people moved to the United States, about half from England and 40 percent from Ireland.”[2] The Irish were looked upon with disdain for a long time, considered the bottom feeders pertaining to jobs, etc.  They were a group that knew what it was like to be mistreated.  This was a group that should’ve avoided prejudice, you’d think.  But when they discovered that they could deflect their mistreatment onto the blacks at the time, and that the Africans were a threat to their social structure, they quickly reverted to the same prejudices displayed by the other people groups towards blacks. 

In contrast, this Samaritan took an interest in the victimized man.  He felt a sense of responsibility for him.  So he reached out and cared for him; even invested in the man’s recovery.  The two silver coins were a typical two days’ worth of wages, enough to pay for an eight week stay at an inn at that time.  From his sacrifice of convenience, resources and reputation, we are left with a profound impression of kindness. 

What would it take to become a decent neighbor?  Some positive qualities:

  • Hospitable
  • Helpful- ready to help.
  • Open- not necessarily approving of others, but friendly nonetheless.
  • A person of integrity, principled.  Someone who knows and lives the truth.  The Samaritan had a high view of human life, obviously. 
  • Not afraid to share your faith, while others occupy the myriad of places on the spiritual spectrum.  You walk with God and behave out of your relationship to Him. 

Much like Romans 12:9-21 says.  Or Leviticus 19: 13-18.   Are you a Good Samaritan?  Am I?  Who is my neighbor?   A Good Samaritan is good.  Secondly…

 A GOOD SAMARITAN IS (at the end of the day) A SAMARITAN- just like you and me!

In other words, we are all alike in more ways than we are different.  We have real commonalities with our neighbors.  For instance, our neighbors are:

  • Those that are trying to earn a living.
  • Those that have real problems: broken homes, idiosyncrasies, addictions, hurting marriages, imperfections, etc. 
  • Those that are interested in spirituality.
  • Those that respond to kindness.
  • Those that have real needs!  Children, JVR, etc.  Our programs are a means to an end.
  • Those who are lonely and in need of friendship.
  • Those that think our building is beautiful and stately.  But is that what we want to be remembered for? 
  • Those that need the good news of Jesus Christ!

 Isn’t that all of us?  Our neighbor is everyone (no exceptions!).    Yet, it is funny how the concept of neighbor has changed over the years.  There was a time when neighbors were the people we welcomed into the neighborhood by inviting them to a cookout or delivering a plate of full of cookies to welcome them.  Now, we allow them to move in and wait to see how they behave, and then we’ll react.  And if we become friends, great.  If not, who cares? 

Or the busyness of our lives overtakes us and we see that they move in, but don’t want to bother them.  We may get around to introducing ourselves; or we may not.  We can be very private and so respect the privacy of others, even at the cost of even knowing their names!   Then there are those we work with, see regularly or even come across in the market.  What about them?  I recently heard from a missionary in Iceland who lives in an apartment building and there were many who shared the hallway with him and his wife, but they did not know their names.  Many they’ve never met or had dinner with in order to get to know them.  The Good Samaritan took an interest in others.  Aren’t we thankful that Jesus was the Good Samaritan to all of us!

I sat with a group of ministers this week in a meeting.  We were talking about outreach.  The consensus was that outreach is more than a program.  Rather it is a mindset!  We have to go to people and meet them where they are: physically, emotionally and spiritually.  We cannot wait for them to come to us!

What are some churches doing to be a body of good neighbors?  One church near Pottstown is holding an after school Bible club in a local elementary school. At the outset, they had 6 children.  Now they have over 50 participating!

Another church in Hamburg, PA purchased a local garage and converted it into a café where people in the community are invited in for fellowship and conversation.  The same church holds its VBS under a big tent at a neutral site so as to attract families with young children. 

Why are house churches becoming so popular?  Because people long for intimacy and relationships.  Small groups ought to be in homes, rather than in the church building, so as to attract the unchurched. 

Today, we’ve learned two points of contact with the story of the Good Samaritan.  First, the Good Samaritan was good.  We as a church and as believers need to rediscover that goodness matters, especially in our culture.  Secondly, the Good Samaritan was a Samaritan- of which we all are to various degrees.  People are people.  People need people.  Howard Snyder states: “The church must meet together in ways that permit and encourage communication among the members- which won’t’ be the traditional Sunday service.  Prayer is part of it.  The church must have structures which are sufficiently informal and intimate to permit the freedom of the Spirit.  Traditional corporate worship must be supplemented with informal opportunities for fellowship.”[3]

Can you identify one person that you will reach out to this week?  Someone to whom you show mercy, kindness, help, etc.?  Please take a moment and write that name down at this time.  Now let us say a prayer for those folks


[1] NIV Study Bible, 1560. 

[2] http://www.history.com/topics/immigration.

[3] Howard Snyder, “Radical Renewal- The Problem of Wineskins Today,” (Houston: Touch Publications, June 2002).

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