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The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
July 14, 2013
The Gospel: Luke 10:25-37
Sermon: "Do This and Live!"
The Very Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
Watch the complete video of this service on our YouTube Channel
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" 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." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 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. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 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. 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.' Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
Do This and Live!
Many people are afraid of dogs. It is a common fear, considering all of the “Beware of Dog” signs we see. The great scientist, Louis Pasteur, was far more frightened of dogs than most people. Even a distant bark would terrify him. In his mind he could still see a mad wolf that had raged through his boyhood village bringing agony and death to many of his neighbors. “I have always been haunted by the cries of those victims,” he said time and again. Yet, in 1882, past the age of 60, Pasteur gave up all his other studies in an intense search for a cure for rabies.
For three long years, in spite of his deep-seated fears, he risked his life living with mad dogs. At last he came through with a cure for the victims of rabies. On a July night in 1885 he tried the first injection on a little boy, bitten and infected by a rabid dog. The boy lived. The remembered agony of his neighbor’s cries spurred Louis Pasteur to find a cure for this dread disease.
Let’s move now from the sublime to the ridiculous. Many of you are fans of America’s best known fat cat, Garfield. In one cartoon, Garfield is seated in a comfortable living room chair as snow falls outside. He sees Odie, his over-exuberant canine foil, at the window peering in eagerly. Garfield says to himself, “Poor Odie, locked outside in the cold. I just can’t bear to see him like this. I gotta’ do something.” Whereupon Garfield gets up and closes the drapes.
Those are two very different responses to need. And they’re brought into contrast in our Gospel lesson from Luke this morning. A lawyer puts Jesus to the test with this question: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus turns the question back to the man. “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” The lawyer answers, “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.” Jesus says to him, “You have answered right; Do this and live.”
That’s a powerful statement, and there are some things to consider about it this morning. The first thing is this; the simplest formula for a good life ever given, and from Jesus himself: Love God, and love your neighbor, and you will live!
Doctors know that it is true too. Love God and your neighbor is the healthiest thing you can do for yourself. Time after time it has been proven. Men and women who keep to themselves, even those in good physical health, are more likely to die prematurely than are those whose lives are lived in close relationships with others. Even more impressive are studies that show that we benefit physically and emotionally from helping those less fortunate than ourselves. Dr. Hans Selye, an authority on stress, calls this kind of service to others, “self-serving altruism,” because the pleasure one receives from doing this often adds more to the inner quality of the helper than it does even the person who is helped. After all, it is in giving ourselves away that we discover what we have to give. Giving to others leads to self-discovery.
Besides, everyone here this morning is aware of how rewarding it is to help someone who cannot help themselves. We know how much joy we receive when we go out of our way to help someone in need.
Yet, there is something within us that rebels against doing the very thing that would bring us the most joy; that keeps us from being in a giving mode all the time despite the joy we receive from it. That is a story as old as the Garden of Eden. Even when we know the key to life, we resist it.
A young woman made a commitment of her life to Christ. Yet she still found life depressing and boring. She went to a psychotherapist for help, but after several sessions with him, she felt that the effort was futile. Then one day she came into her therapist’s office with her face radiant with excitement. “I’ve had the most wonderful day,” she said. “This morning I could not get my car started, so I called the pastor and asked him if he could drive me to my appointment with you. He said he could, but on the way he had to stop by the hospital and make a few calls. I went with him and while I was in the hospital I visited some elderly people in one of the wards. I read from the Bible and prayed with them. By the time the morning was over, I was higher than a kite. I haven’t felt this good in years.”
The psychotherapist quickly responded, “Now we know how to make you happy! Our problem is solved! Now we know how to keep you out of the doldrums!” Much to his surprise, the young woman answered, “You don’t honestly expect me to do this sort of thing often, do you?”
She knew the solution to her problems. She knew how much satisfaction she received from ministering to others, but still she resisted. Her story is not unlike our story. All around us are opportunities to help people in need. I’m not referring just to physical needs, so much this morning. Emotional needs can be more devastating than physical needs. The most serious disease in America today, according to some experts, is loneliness. Many of us could hear cries for help right in our own neighborhood, if we listen; or in our own families; or in our church family. “Do this and live,” says Jesus. It’s a simple formula for a good and joy-filled life. To love is to live. For those who have discovered this life-giving principle of doing for others, their lives show it.
That’s the first thing to consider this morning about Jesus’ words. But one thing more needs to be said. We are to love our neighbor because Christ first loved us. The lawyer who asked Jesus about the great commandment wanted clarification. “And who is my neighbor?” he asked. At this point Jesus told him a parable; a parable all of us know by heart: the parable of the Good Samaritan. Each of us at some time or another has found ourselves in the shoes of the priest or the Levite who passed by on the other side. In our better moments we have been able to identify and act with the Samaritan himself who ministered to the man who had been beaten and robbed.
But, we will never have the power to fully be the loving person God intends for us to be until we identify with the man who is lying bruised and beaten beside the road; when we have discovered that it is Christ himself who has been the Samaritan binding up our broken hearts and lives.
Here’s an example of a life transformed by that discovery. V.P. Menon was a significant political figure in India during its struggle for independence from Britain after World War II. Menon had a splendid reputation for personal charity. His daughter explained the background of this trait after he died. When Menon arrived in Delhi to seek a job in government, all his possessions, including his money and I.D., were stolen at the railroad station.
He would have to return home, though he didn’t know how, and in defeat. In desperation, he turned to an elderly Sikh, explained his troubles, and asked for a temporary loan of fifteen rupees to tide him over until he could get a job. The Sikh gave him the money. When Menon asked the man for his address so that he could repay him, the Sikh said that Menon didn’t owe him the debt, but that he could pay it to any stranger who came to him in need, as long as he lived. The help came from a stranger and was to be repaid to a stranger.
Menon never forgot that debt. His daughter said that the day before Menon died, a beggar came to the family home in Bangalore asking for help to buy new sandals, as his feet were covered with sores. Menon asked his daughter to take fifteen rupees out of his wallet to give to the man. It was Menon’s last conscious act. Menon ministered to strangers because a stranger had ministered to him.
You see, we get it all backwards. We say, "I will love my neighbor if I feel there is a chance he will love me back. I will love my neighbor if he is worthy of that love. I will love my neighbor after he shows some initiative; pulls himself up a bit first.” What we fail to remember is that while we were yet unworthy Christ died for us. While we were yet unloving and unlovable he gave himself in our behalf. It’s an incredible debt, but Christ has cancelled it. So what are we to do? Just this: respond in gratitude and joy by joining him in finding others, even those who we may consider unworthy and unloving and perhaps unlovable, and pass on to them what we have received from Christ.
The great preacher, Dr. W.E. Sangster, was once asked what impressed him most on his extensive world travels. He replied that the greatest impression was that he had not seen one single Atheist’s Home for Orphan Children, or any example of an Agnostic Hospital for the Poor and Indigent. On the other hand, in countless countries and unexpected places, he encountered Christians reaching out with comfort and encouragement through health and feeding programs.
Why do Christians respond like this? It is because once we were lying beside the road, broken and bleeding, and nail-scarred hands reached down to us and ministered to us in our need. Now we seek to do the same for others. Are you looking to join Christ in ministry? Here are a couple of suggestions: The Soup Kitchen needs hands to cook the food and serve it. The Outreach Center needs support. And on another front, our Stephen’s Ministry that brings emotional comfort needs some new ministers. I have more, and you may have a few suggestions to add as well; just ask. Opportunities to serve are all around us. Besides, we have found that such a concern for others is the source of unlimited joy. Our Master himself puts it like this: “Do this and live!”