6 Pentecost Proper C10
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 10:25-37 Sermon
July 11, 2010
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
164 "God Himself Is Present"
472 "Lead Us, O Father, In The Paths Of Peace"
168 "Our God Our Help In Ages Past"
461 "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Saviour"
TOO MANY RELIGIOUS PEOPLE!
TEXT (vs. 25-28): "On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. 'Teacher,' he asked, 'What must I do to inherit eternal life?' 'What is written in the Law?' he replied. 'How do you read it?' He answered: '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, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 'You have answered correctly,' Jesus replied. 'Do this and you will live.'"
It's been awhile back, several years I would guess, that I was having a casual conversation with a woman who is a rather prominent attorney. When I first met her, she knew I was a pastor, but very little else about me. She was polite, but sort of cool in my presence. One of the first things she said to me was, "I'm not a very religious person." I'm thinking that she said this to me to let me know that she didn't have much use for a lot of moralizing and "God talk," and she wanted to put me in my place right away.
However, I don't think that she was at all prepared for the answer I gave her. I told her, "I'm happy to hear that. I think that religious people are a huge pain in the neck."
Believe me, that certainly got her attention. She looked at me kind of wide-eyed for a moment, and then she got this big smile on her face. Then she said, "I couldn't agree with you more!"
That's exactly what it took for us to get off on the right foot, so-to-speak. It broke down whatever barriers might have been there, and we have gotten along well since that time, even though it's been a good six months since I've seen her or talked to her.
But you know something? I wasn't lying to her. I told her exactly the way I felt. I really do think that "religious" people are a big pain in the neck, and I don't like being around them any more than the next person does.
You're probably thinking, "Now that's a strange thing for a pastor to say." However, you must understand that I'm not talking about Christians in general, or people who love their Lord, or people who are active in their church. That does not really describe what a so-called "religious" person is.
Religious people to me are very plastic and superficial. To them, being religious is the kind of appearance they put on for other people to see. And so they walk around with their Bibles in their hands and halos over their heads. They become judgmental and critical of others, and will take offense at just about everything. They think that God will somehow take pleasure in their proverbial "dog and pony show" and will reward them accordingly.
Religious people can also have this tendency to try to isolate themselves from the world in which they live. They're the ones who will listen to nothing but Christian radio--not because they might enjoy it or get something out of it, but because that's what they feel God wants. They'll throw away their televisions, get rid of any secular music CD's, and divest themselves of anything that we would consider a normal part of life in our society.
And then when you talk to some of them, it's like they open their mouths and every word seems to be coated with Karo Syrup. They have to throw in a Bible verse into about every paragraph, and end every sentence with a "Praise the Lord" or a "Hallelujah" or something like that--that is, when they're not condemning something and being judgmental.
I think you know the type of person I'm talking about. And when you come across such a person, you either want to slap them silly, or vomit, or do a combination of both. So-called "religious" people do more to make people want to turn and run away from Jesus instead of coming to him.
As we look at our text for this morning, which is our Gospel lesson appointed for today, we see Jesus encountering religious people of this type. And the most obvious thing we note is that he doesn't have any more use for them than we do. That's the whole thrust behind the lesson we are learning from Jesus' parable this morning.
We have before us probably one of the most well-known parables in Jesus' ministry, the parable of the Good Samaritan. This is evidenced by the fact that we have laws on our books called "Good Samaritan laws" whereby a physician is required to stop and give aid to somebody in need. Or if you are a camper or an RVer, you might belong to the "Good Sam Club," which is dedicated to the principle of people helping people, especially other campers and RVers--I happen to be a life member of this group.
The occasion for this story is Jesus being approached by a teacher of the law who is trying to set a type of trap for Jesus. The initial question seems fair enough--"What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus answers his question with another question, "What does God's law tell you?"
Now this guy is really smart, or he wouldn't be in the position he is in. Out of the 613 laws of Moses, he cuts right to the heart of it: Love God, and love your neighbor. We all know that this is the best summary of God's entire law. The Ten Commandments fall into one of those two categories. That's all well and good.
But now, we need to remember the type of person who was talking to Jesus. He was one of those "religious people" I have been talking about. His idea of loving God and loving his neighbor was very superficial; he was more intent on making himself look good. Our Gospel lesson records these words in verse 29: "But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?'"
Jesus then responds with this story about the Good Samaritan. The premise of the story is rather simple--a man is beaten and robbed, and is lying by the road almost dead. Two "religious-type" men, a priest and a Levite see him; but instead of helping him, they pass by on the other side. They couldn't be bothered.
But now comes a Samaritan. The Jews hated the Samaritans with a strong vengeance for a couple of reasons. They were they Gentiles, and that was reason enough. However, they were also the worst sort of Gentiles. They were a result of crossbreeding between Jews and Gentiles. Various Jews had polluted themselves by mating with heathens, so the faithful Jews saw these people as being a double curse. The Jews felt that these people had no redeeming qualities whatsoever. And of course a good "religious" Jew would never even scarcely mention, let alone be associated with such a person.
The whole point is, that it wasn't the "religious" Jews who stopped and helped the man in need; rather it was this dirt-bag of a Samaritan! Even though the Jews had God's law and knew his promises, yet the Samaritan was the one who acted in a God-pleasing way. The Samaritan really showed up the Jews, and they had to learn a lesson from it.
If you notice, Jesus has a way of working things so people wind up answering their own questions. But one of the striking things about this story is the way the expert in the law answered the question Jesus posed to him. In verse 36 of our text Jesus asks: "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"
Now that's an easy enough question, don't you think? The logical answer that any of us would probably give would be "the Samaritan." We would say that the Samaritan was the man who was the neighbor to the other man who fell into the hands of the robbers. But that's not the way this Jewish expert in the law answered. In verse 37 he answers Jesus' question by saying, "The one who had mercy on him." He couldn't even bring himself to use the word "Samaritan!" He was that much of a bigot.
The Jews in the story acted in a manner that was typical of the religious Jews. They knew God's law, and they could almost recite it in their sleep. But they had absolutely no concept as to how to put God's will into action.
After the religious Jew answers Jesus' question, Jesus responds with the hardest thing this Jew could hear. In verse 37 Jesus simply replies, "Go and do likewise."
Do you realize what a blow that was to the Jew? Jesus tells him to go and act like the Samaritan! The Jew knew Jesus was right too; but by pointing this out, Jesus was able to show the Jew how incapable he was of generating the righteousness God seeks on his own.
One of the key issues brought out in this story is how God regards human life. In God's eyes, there is nothing that divides. Race, ethnicity, skin color, language, or any of the other ways we tend to segregate people makes no difference. In Romans chapter 3 verse 23 Paul writes: "There is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
Sin is the one common thread that links all of humanity together. And it is God's desire that this sin be paid for and forgiven. That's why Jesus came to this earth. In Luke chapter 5 verse 32 Jesus says, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
Even though Jesus applied the law to the Jew who questioned him, he just didn't get it. He couldn't come to terms with his own sinfulness. He just couldn't comprehend the fact that he couldn't save himself by simply being religious.
The summary of the law that this Jewish expert in the law stated is very correct. In verse 27 he says, "'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, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' " When we look at these words honestly, we know that we haven't kept them as we should. We know that we have fallen flat many, many times. That happens because we are sinful human beings.
We know that we can come to Jesus just the way we are. It doesn't matter who we are or what we have done. We just have to come. And when we come to him in faith, we know that he loves us. He will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We call Jesus our Saviour because that's what he does. He saves us. He forgives us and gives us a whole new life. We have purpose, direction, and hope for the future.
In Galatians chapter 3 verse 28 Paul reminds us: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." And if somebody tries to make us feel like we are in some way second-rate because of who or what we are, we know the truth of the matter. Jesus Christ has saved each and every one of us through faith alone.
Being religious isn't going to save us. Being religious won't cleanse us from our sins. Being religious isn't going to bring people to know Jesus. And that's because being religious isn't what God wants. If you've ever been frustrated by "religious people," you can just imagine how frustrated God gets with them!
Being a Christian is something that we are because of nothing more than faith in Christ Jesus alone. And when we know Jesus, then we also know freedom. We can be free to be exactly who and what we are. We don't have to put on any plastic images or false fronts. We don't have to pretend to be something that we're not. We don't have to do a whole lot of special things to please other people.
God simply wants us to be faithful. And when we are faithful to Jesus our Saviour, then we'll naturally reflect that love in everything we say and do, even if that is nothing more than a kind word, or a helping hand, or even just a smile.
And when those occasions arise where we can be a "Good Samaritan" to somebody else, it won't be with the attitude of earthly glory or an attempt to get on God's "good side." Rather, we can do so simply and naturally out of a thankful heart to Jesus who has taken us who have been beaten and bruised by the world, and has healed us and made us whole again.