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Being Neighborly
July 16, 1989

LUKE 10:25-37

In a movie a mad scientist invented a serum that could bring inanimate objects to life. He injected the serum into a statue of a great general in the city park. Sure enough, the statue came to life, and with creaking joints the general stepped down. The scientist said to the general, "I have given you life. What will you do with it?" The general replied, "I'm going to shoot two million pigeons!"

A lawyer asked Jesus how to find life, how to live fully and richly, how to receive eternal life. Jesus asked him what the commandments said.

The lawyer replied, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."

Jesus said, "You've got it. That's how to live! That's life!"

"But," the lawyer asked, "who is my neighbor?"

So Jesus told him a story about being neighborly. Jesus loved to tell stories, like Abraham Lincoln. Jesus rarely answered a question directly. He loved to tell stories. And in the story which we heard read in the gospel lesson this morning, Jesus described three approaches to life. As the scientist said to the statue, "I have given you life. What will you do with it?" so, God says to you, "I have given you life. What will you do with it?"

The first approach to life Jesus described is: What's yours is mine, I'll take it. A man was walking from Jerusalem to Jericho, walking on the Jericho road. As he made his way towards Jericho, he was ambushed, attacked, mugged by a bunch of no-goods who robbed him, stripped him, beat him, and left him half dead. Their approach to life was, "Hey, man, what's yours is mine, I'll take it."

This is a very popular stance today. In order to feed drug habits, burglary, shoplifting, and mugging are on the increase. There are not too many areas where it is safe to walk at night.

There is also a widespread attitude of "entitlement," where people feel entitled to whatever anyone else has. What you have, I ought to have; I'm entitled, I deserve, and so, therefore, I take.

"What's yours is mine, I'll take it" is not limited to the kids. Takers are everywhere. The elderly must protect themselves from scams or scum, I should say, who seem to have no conscience when it comes to stealing life savings. Not only the elderly, but even corporations have to protect themselves from shrewd takeover schemes. Hostile takeovers of companies are a constant threat today.

Scandals of greed and corruption are common news. It seems to be patriotic, the American way, to cheat the government. What is tragic in the recent HUD scandals, is not only the attitude--what's the governments is mine, I'll take it--but those who ripped off HUD are really stealing from the elderly and low-income people, taking the roof from over their heads.

Fraud, greed, corruption, embezzlement, cheating, stealing. Where does it stop? How long can a nation survive when "What's yours is mine, I'll take it" is in the very fabric of society? Where are honesty, integrity, consciences, ethics, morality?

The second approach to life Jesus described in his story is: What's mine is mine, I'll keep it! A priest was also walking on the Jericho Road that day, and noticed the victim lying beside the road, naked, bruised, bleeding. The priest quickly walked to the other side of the road and went on his way. A levite walked by. The levite was an official in the temple, one of the religious leaders of the day. He too crossed to the other side of the road and went on his way.

Before you become too critical of these two upstanding citizens, have you never crossed to the other side of the street to avoid getting involved? Or didn't answer your door bell? Or suddenly became very interested in what a bird was doing up in a tree so that you wouldn't have to see the pain? A former parishioner told me of a picnic they were having when a passerby tripped and fell. A friend of her son's who was picnicking with them quickly said, "If you don't see him, you don't have to help him."

Sudden blindness in uncomfortable situations is a symptom of: What's mine is mine, I'll keep it. The priest and the levite didn't want to be inconvenienced. After all, they might have had to delay their journey if they stopped to help the man.

Their plans were made. My plans are mine, I'll keep them.

Their time was precious to them. Could they be expected to share their time? My time is mine, I'll keep it.

And, after all, if they stopped to help the man, they might have to part with some money in order to help him.

It was obvious the man had been robbed, so he had no money for medicine, or bandages, or clothing. My money is mine, I'll keep it, thank you very much!

This approach to life is very popular today also. The modern expression of "what's mine is mine, I'll keep it," goes something like this: I've worked hard for my money. I've earned it. It's mine. Why should I part with it?

Is that really true?

How much of what you have, how much of your wealth and blessings is due to your parent's training, or a good education, or knowing the right people who recommended you for positions?

What do the poor people do who don't know people in companies who can get them jobs?

How much of what you have is because you were born with the color you have?

How much of what you have is because you are privileged to live in the United States?

How much of what you have is due to God's grace, God's goodness? Is what you have really yours?

George White wrote,

The preacher never stopped talking about money.

The congregation clutched their billfolds and squirmed.

He told them not to worry so much about stuff that'll rot and rust.

He told them that the folding stuff was not the currency to buy meaning and happiness.

He singled out one man and told him to sell everything and then give the proceeds to the poor.

He had them shaking their heads when he said, "Happy are the poor."

Some of the best-dressed stomped out, their noses in the air.

A few of the wealthy and powerful slipped quietly into a backroom and had a contract put out on the young preacher's life.

And it only cost them thirty pieces of silver.

In Jesus' story, the thugs practiced, "What's yours is mine, I'll take it." The priest and levite practiced, "What's mine is mine, I'll keep it."

The third approach to life Jesus described is: What's mine is yours, I'll share it. A Samaritan walked along the Jericho Road, saw the wounded man, and had compassion on him. His attitude towards a person in need was: what's mine is yours, I'll share it. The Samaritan bound up the man's wounds with his own hands. He himself poured in oil and wine to clean the wound. He put the victim on his animal and took him to an inn. He gave the inn keeper a sum of money equivalent to the average two day's pay for the patient's care, and guaranteed to pay even more if necessary.

What is especially remarkable about the story is that Jesus cast a Samaritan in the role of "good guy." Samaritans were hated by the Jews. Samaritans were the descendants of the Northern Kingdom. For Jesus to have a Samaritan help a Jew is like a Catholic in Northern Ireland helping a Protestant, or a black man helping a knight of the Ku Klux Klan, or a Jew helping a Nazi skinhead. In his own inimitable style, Jesus took a stab at prejudice by starring a Samaritan as an example of the quality of life that leads to eternal life: what's mine is yours, I'll share it.

Actually, God sets the example for this approach to life. God created and is creating all there is. All the universes, all the galaxies, the earth with its seas, mountains, air and land all belongs to God. Yet God shares his creation with all of us. What's mine is yours, says God, I'll share it.

A very successful salesman wanted more out of life than he was getting. Like the lawyer who approached Jesus, the salesman hungered for life with a capital L. He was a Christian, and he served. He taught Sunday School and served on church committees. But, something was missing. He decided to commit his life wholly and completely to Christ. He decided to practice "What's mine is yours, I'll share it." He began to tithe his income. He gave 10% of his income to God's work through his church's ministry. For a time, tithing gave him a feeling of joy and peace. But, gradually, he hungered for something more, and decided God was asking him to tithe his time and talents as well.

As a successful salesman, he had a talent for selling. He was not afraid to approach people and sell them insurance, and he decided to tithe his talent for selling. He told his secretary to leave his Tuesday afternoons and evenings free for special appointments with business acquaintances. "But tell them," he said, "I do not want to sell them any insurance." The following Tuesday he made his first call on a man with whom he had business dealings for years, and with whom he had never discussed religion. With the same directness and winsome manner that had made him a super salesman, he presented the case for Jesus Christ. When he returned home that evening after making three such calls, he said to his wife with a smile and twinkle in his eye, "Well, I landed one of them." The next Sunday he stood with an entire family as they came into church membership on profession of faith.

Not only did he convert the friend to Christ, but he persuaded the new convert to tithe his income and his time as well. The next week the two of them went together, and then other teams began organizing. Within a period of one year, the tithing salesman was responsible for more than one hundred new members in his church. He willingly, gladly, joyfully shared his resources, shared his money, shared his time, shared his talent, and, in so doing, found Life with a capital L.

Jesus told a story about being neighborly, which is what eternal life, life with a capital L, is all about: what's mine is yours, I'll share it. Which of the three approaches is your approach to life?

© 1989 Douglas I. Norris