Who is My Neighbor? 
Sunday, July 15, 2007, 08:20 AM - Sermon
Luke 10:25-37

Ask a question and get a story. Jesus I just want to know who my neighbor is. Is it people of live on either side of me? It is people in my ward? Folks in my town? Americans? Christian people? English speaking people? What if a immigrant family moves in next to me?

It would be simple if Jesus would give us a yardstick to tell us who does and doesn't fall in the category of neighbors to love as we love ourselves. The book titled How by Dov L. Seidman tells us that a rule is a proxy; a stand-in when we cannot be there ourselves or when we don't trust others to act as we would wish. The less trust the more rules. Yet rules fail us.

1. You can't make a rule for every situation. New situations keep coming up that are not covered by the old rules. So rules fail as proxy, they can't stand in for the rule maker, because they are limited to past situations.

2. A rule sets the floor not the ceiling, as Dov Seidman writes. Rules don't tell you how to excel, how to be first or the best. They limit and protect, but do not encourage and inspire. We not have a law, a rule, of no smoking in public buildings. Yet we can't make enough rules to make people choose healthy lives.

3. Folks are very good at getting around rules. Firestone High School changed their dress code while I was there prohibiting wearing shorts. (I know it seems like a quaint worry of yesteryear now.) One boy figured out how to obey the rule yet still stay cool, he wore a skirt, which were allowed.

4. Rules require constant maintenance. Look at the income tax code. Or locally we have supreme court cases, more than one, about enforcing the speed limit in a school zone. How did that happen?

5. Rules require enforcement. If rules are not enforced they are ignored and fail to stand-in for the rule maker. The one I hear most around the church are copyright rules. “No one will know so we can make copies…” Unenforced rules devalue the principle and the morality they try to protect. We don't want to be people who only act rightly when someone is watching.

These are reasons why Jesus doesn't give us a rule of loving the neighbor. I think he senses that our friend is looking for some wriggle room, a way to do the minimum daily requirement for maximum eternal life. Jesus is about doing the minimum. John 10:10 says that Jesus came so that we might have life and have it abundantly.

Jesus tells us a story instead of giving us a rule. Stories are great for building a culture, where folks can trust one another because they all know what the purposes and mission of the place are. Dov Siedman tells the story of the visits to factories and the various ways rules and culture intersects.

Dov Seidman has a story about rules and how they are limited. He imagines a group going on the tour of several factories. A person in the group, lets say he is in sales asks if he has to wear a hard hat at each of the factories. He gets a different response at each factory.

Factory #1: “Go ahead, do want you want, its your neck. It doesn't matter, when your time is up, its ups right?”
Factory #2: “Well, if it was up to me, I'd let you slide, but the boss has this thing about hard hats. If he sees you without one, I'll get in trouble. So you better wear it. Sorry about that, at least you don't have to wear these uniforms he makes us wear!”
Factory #3: “Let me look that up.” (Much page turning and study.) Hmmm. I need to ask a supervisor about that.” (15 minutes later) “Sorry the guy who could sign off on that is out of town and we can't reach him. I don't know what to tell you.”
Factory #4: “Yes, you'll have to wear a hard hat. Safety is important to us. We have had over a 1000 days without a lost time accident because we look out for each other. Even if I let you go without one. The first person who saw you without one would give you one, we look out for each other's safety here.”

Just as you can't rule your way to safety; you cannot rule you way to how and who a neighbor is.

Just so Jesus tells us a story to show us that you cannot assume a neighbor is one who is a holy person, of the same faith and culture than you. We forget that the Samaritans were hated and taboo for good Jews. They were half-breed collaborators, unclean, traitors, that couldn't be trusted. Jesus says you can't always easily identify your neighbors by country, neighborhood, ethnicity, or language. A neighbor is one who helps another when they need help, whether in the Sudan or in New Orleans, or in the next pew. Regardless of their attitude to us, or relationship to us, or if they say thank you to us for being nice.

What would this look like if the world view each other not as other, but as neighbor. If we answered the question of “Are you my neighbor” with “Yes” more than “No.”?

Washington Post reported last Friday of a family that was having a dinner on the patio with friends. In through the open gate comes a hooded man who puts a gun to a 14 year-old's head and says “Give me your money and no one gets hurt.” What do you do? Give him your money? Tackle him? Pull out your concealed weapon and let him have it? One of the dinner guests did none of these. Instead she sees a neighbor not a robber, “We just finished dinner. Why don't you have some wine with us?” The robber, I mean neighbor, took the wine and said, “Damn, that is good wine.” The neighbor said, “Keep the glass!” and the house owner said, “Here have the bottle.” The robber sat down, put his gun away and ate some cheese. He said, “I think I have the wrong house.”. He then asked for a hug. First individually, then as a group they hug their new neighbor. Who left with the wine and no money. The police found the glass placed in the alley behind the house.

Who is your neighbor? Everyone you meet. Strangers are just friends you haven't met yet.

Advanced permission is given for non-profit, for-prophet use of the above at no charge as long as it is reproduced unedited with notices and copyright intact. Written copies are provided after they are preached as a courtesy for the personal, private, appreciative use of the congregation of Goodyear Heights Presbyterian Church, their families and friends to support the ministry of Goodyear Heights Presbyterian Church and its pastor the Rev. J. Christy Ramsey. Join us Sundays! 8:15 Traditional Worship and 10:15 Blended. Mingle in our Gathering Room between services and take advantage of Christian Education opportunities.

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