Sermon for 14 July 2019
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
“You Go, and Do Likewise”
Grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text this morning is today’s Gospel lesson about the Good Samaritan, especially verse 37, when Jesus says, “You go, and do likewise.” This is our text.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen.
Introduction: “He passed by on the other side…” We hear this expression twice in today’s Gospel lesson – and it’s all over the place in English literature. Whenever someone avoids helping a neighbor in need, we say that he “passed by on the other side.”
The opposite would be “giving him the shirt off your back,” which is another allusion from Scripture – from the Sermon on the Mount, to be precise. Jesus says there that we should also “go the extra mile,” yet another allusion to the Word of God. We quote the Bible more than we realize! We speak of “raising Cain” and “eating the forbidden fruit.” After the Flood, Noah knew that God had finally caused the waters to dry up enough to expose dry land, because a dove returned to him with an olive branch. That’s where we get the expression, “extending the olive branch.” And in the early English translation of the Bible (the Authorized Version of 1611), the translators dedicated their new English Bible to “the High and Mighty King James.” (So, the next time you say, “Oh, she thinks she’s so high and mighty,” you’ll be quoting the Bible!)
These allusions to the Bible are all over the place in our English language, far more than we notice, but today, let’s take a closer look at the one we use when we mean he avoided helping his neighbor in need. More to the point, we avoid helping our neighbor in need…
We “pass by on the other side.” Of course, we prefer to think we’re the Good Samaritan. We like to think we love God and our neighbor – at least, we love them good enough and often enough. Now, we quickly gloss over that part in the Bible where God demands that we love him with all we have (“with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”). We skip right over that and focus instead on “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That part we can manipulate and minimize – just like the lawyer in this story. “Who is my neighbor?” If we can limit “neighbor” to mean just the people we like to love anyway… Well, we can manage to love our good neighbors and the family we can’t help but love… We can at least love our nice relatives, right?
But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that even the unbelievers do that much: “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:46-48).
“Perfect? What! We’re supposed to be as perfect as our heavenly Father?”
(Yes, and holy, too… But we’ll get back to that later.)
Jesus goes even further than telling us to love all our neighbors. He demands that we love our enemies, too! Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
See how your neighbor is whoever needs your help? Even your enemy!
They don’t deserve it? Well, of course they don’t. And neither do you. None of us deserves the love God rains down on us every day. Remember, “he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Both the rain and the sunshine are undeserved blessings from God to all of us.
Reality-check here: Do you really want what you deserve from God for all you’ve ever done? (Don’t be too quick to answer!) When you consider what we would get from God if he ever did give us exactly what we do deserve for all the bad we’ve ever done (and all the good we neglected to do)… Well, in that case, we’d be lucky if the atheists were right and our souls just disappear and cease to exist when we die. But no, annihilation is a myth. Our eternal souls are forever, and there will be a day of reckoning. God will not be mocked forever. And thank God that He does not “pass by on the other side,” because we are actually the “dead” man in this parable. We desperately need his help, more than we like to admit. It was “while we were still weak, at the right time” that “Christ died for the ungodly.” (That’s us.) “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God (not a result of works), so that no one may boast.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Yes, we “walk in the good works God prepared for us to do.” In other words, we love the ones God has placed right in front of us – but we don’t trust in our own goodness to get us to heaven. (We’re not that good!) We waste a lot of time trying to get God to like us, when he already loves us! God loved us enough to given us new hearts, replacing our cold hearts of stone with truly loving hearts. “We love, because God first loved us.” We trust in his love, shown most clearly on the cross, where Jesus died, so we can live.
When we were dead in our sins, God “made us alive together with Christ,” “because of the great love with which he loved us,” not because of some inherent worth that we already had. God gives us our worth, because of his love with which he loved us. We were ungodly, and yet Christ gave his life to save us. That is the amazing grace of God! We were slaves to sin, trying to save ourselves, but we were helpless – dead! We try to save ourselves by redefining “good enough,” trying to convince ourselves that we’re “good enough” to please God. We lower the standard until it describes us and our pathetic “goodness.”
The lawyer tried to redefine “neighbor.” We try to get off the hook by redefining “love.”
God said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.”
*But we ignore his commands and defy God, by telling him how he should have defined love. What we call love, God has called an abomination…
He said, “Thou shalt not steal.”
*We say, “Redistribute the wealth! Steal from the top 1% and give to the poor!”
He said lust in your heart is adultery.
*We say, “Love who you love.”
He said (John 15:13) “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
*We say Love is just the “laying down” part…
Or we elevate self-love to the level of a sacrament: A top-40 song by Whitney Houston back in the ‘80s taught us that “Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.” But Jesus said plainly that the greatest love was laying down your live for others…
You know, God saw us coming with this self-centered wickedness masquerading as love. Through his prophet Isaiah, God wrote (5:20-21):
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
“Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
and shrewd in their own sight!”
Even our efforts to really love (as God defines it) are no more than self-centered efforts to get ourselves into heaven: “What must I do to inherit eternal life – “for ME?” (“Me, me, me!”)
You want to earn and deserve eternal life? Here’s how to get yourself to heaven. Jesus said, “You go and do likewise.” How’s that working out for you? Save ourselves by keeping the Law of Love? LORD, HAVE MERCY!
The trouble with getting to heaven by being “good enough” is that no one is! God’s standard of “good enough” is pure, perfect. and holy.
(I told you we’d get back to that.)
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
“You shall be holy, for I am holy,” says the Lord. Word of God! You! Holy!
Perfect and holy… Who can possibly pass that test?
When Christ says, “Save yourself by keeping the Law,” we should immediately cry out for mercy, realizing we have failed miserably and deserve nothing good from God. We are far from pure, perfect, and holy! Lord, have mercy!
BUT GOD DID HAVE MERCY ON US!
You see, Jesus is the Good Samaritan. He was pure, perfect, and holy – for us.
He helped the helpless when we failed to love our neighbor. Jesus went all the way to the cross to help us escape our rightful judgment from God. On that cross Jesus took the punishment we deserve and gave us his reward, the inheritance he deserved. Jesus is far more than a role model. Oh, he is the perfect role model, but (far more important!) Jesus is our great Substitute. Jesus takes our blame for not loving, and he gives us credit for his love, the love he still showers on our neighbors. He still showers us with that same love, because he is love.
Jesus is the ultimate Good Samaritan:
– When he saw us, he had compassion on us.
– He came to us thru’ the manger and bound up our wounds thru’ the cross.
– He poured on us the soothing “oil and wine” of forgiveness.
– Then he “set us on his own mount and brought us to an inn” (by placing us in the Church, where we continue to receive his gifts of love and forgiveness.)
– Jesus took care of us and then paid the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.”
(In other words, until Jesus returns on Judgment Day, the Holy Spirit works here in the Church, thru’ the Word of God, nourishing us, keeping us healthy and safe.)
God asks, “What more could I do?” “What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it?”
Actually, the real Good Samaritan (Jesus) did find more that He could do – and He did it / for you and for me: He lay down his life for his friends. What more could God have done for you? Nada! “It is finished!”
What must you do to inherit eternal life? Nada! “It is finished!” Jesus did it all for you, on the cross.
Knowing God gave his all for us and made us right with him, we love him and we love all… “We love, because he first loved us.” But we do not trust in our love to get us to heaven – it’s not good enough. “Go ye and do likewise” isn’t going to get you to heaven. That answer from Jesus should drive you to the cross where you plead for mercy! No, we don’t trust in our own goodness and love. Our love is certainly not “pure, perfect, and holy.” So, we trust only in the perfect love of God, in Christ Jesus, who was pure, perfect, and holy for us.
What must I do to inherit eternal life? It has already been done for you on the cross of Christ. The price has been paid. You were washed clean when you had no more help to offer God than little Asher had at the baptismal font. While we applied water to the body, God did the real work by washing the soul clean (pure, perfect, and holy) in the purifying blood of the Lamb. All you really could offer / was your sinful self that needed washing, but (thanks be to God!) he saved you when you could not save yourself!
What must you do to inherit eternal life? Nothing. Eternal life is yours already, earned for you by Christ crucified. Amen.
The peace of God, which is beyond all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.