The Good Samaritan and The Prodigal Family
10:25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
10:26 He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?"
10:27 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."
10:28 And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."
10:29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
10:30 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.
10:31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
10:32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
10:33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.
10:34 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.
10:35 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.'
10:36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?"
10:37 He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
You know, there are times we are so familiar with something, that we actually think there is nothing left to know about it. It could be somebody close to you - a family member, a loved one, a friend; it could be something you have been doing for a long time - a hobby, a sport, an interest; it could be something you are the subject matter expert.
When i read the lectionary text before i left for the US, i thought to myself - the Parable of the Good Samaritan? Hasn't it been preached to death? What else new can i offer on it? Isn't the point of the parable - "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," something i have preached repeated on, again and again, that i sound like a broken record?
That's the thing when we assume we have nothing left to learn - that we know all there is to know. That is the end of growth. The sense of adventure and of exploration, our curiosity and questions are the means of our growth. We are not meant to stop learning. God has not stopped revealing things to us.
Those of you at Amplify last year (2012) would remember Bishop Gene Robinson's sermon on John 16:12-13 "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, (the Spirit) will guide you into all the truth, for the Spirit will not speak on her own, but will speak whatever (the Spirit hears), and she will declare to you the things that are to come."
God has not stopped revealing things to us. We cannot close our minds and pretend that we know all that is to know. We need to be open - in our hearts, in our minds, in our souls - so that God can continue to work in us and with us. So that God can transform us, and help us grow.
Spiritual growth is hard work. What have you been doing to grow spiritually?
I read. Not as much as i hope to, but i read. Not just the Bible, not just books on Christianity or theology, not just Facebook - but also books on psychology, politics, economics. i need to explore, see the connections, and what the Spirit is guiding me into.
But it is not reading that helps my spiritual growth, but my openness to the possibility of change, possibility of being wrong, and allowing myself to be shaped and transformed.
We have always been told - at least from the handful of sermons i have heard about the parable of the Good Samaritan - that Jesus used the example of the Good Samaritan as an extreme to shock the people listening to him. It is like us saying the Good Taliban. That may be true - the Samaritans and the Jews didn't exactly get along - but that is not the first instance in Scripture where the Samaritans stepped up to help their neighbors.
i had a geek-out moment when i was preparing this sermon. i bought a copy of "The Jewish Annotated New Testament," which became part of my 100 pound luggage that i lugged around my trip.
The Hebrew Bible was written in the paleo-Hebrew alphabet, which some of you may know, consists only of consonants, and not vowels. You can imagine the confusion that may arise.
Y cn mgn th cnfsn tht my rse.
Professor Amy-Jill Levine, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of New Testament Studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, wrote in the annotations to Luke 10:25-37
In Hebrew, the words "neighbour" (re'a "one who dwells nearby, fellow-citizen" as in Leviticus 19:18) and "enemy/evil [one]" (ra', as in 1 Sam 30:22, 'ish-ra', "evil person") share the same consonants (resh and ayin); they differ only in the vowels, which are not included in the text. When Jesus asks the lawyer, "What do you read there?" he is asking, "Are you able to see, in Torah's words, the command to love both neighbour narrowly defined and those you would see as enemies?"
"Priest and Levite indicate not an interest in purity but a point about community. Jews generally then, and now, fit into one of three groups: priests (kohanim) descended from Aaron; Levites (levi'im) descended from the other children of Levi, and Israelites, descended from children of Jacob other than Levi. The citation of the first two anticipates the mention of the third. The parable shocks by making the third person not the expected Israelite but the unexpected Samaritan, the enemy of the Jews. It thus evokes 2 Chronicles 28:8-15 wherein enemy Samaritans care for Jewish victims, even as it reframes the lawyer's question. The issue is not "who is my neighbour?" but can we recognize that the enemy might be our neighbour and can we accept this disruption of our stereotypes?"
Where again? 2 Chr 28? 8-15?
2 Chr 28 talks about Ahaz reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. For those of you not familiar, the Israelite Kingdom split into two - the Northern Kingdom of Israel with its capital in Samaria and the Southern Kingdom of Judah with its capital in Jerusalem. Ahaz ignored the prophets Isaiah, Hosea and Micah, and interesting enough, even though he was far from a good king, he is in the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel according to Matthew.
 And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD, like his father David, (David isn't his father but his ancestor - ten generations apart, according to the Gospel according to Matthew) but walked in the ways of the kings of Israel. He even made molten images for the Ba'als;
 and he burned incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burned his sons as an offering, according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel.
 And he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree.
So we are told " God gave him into the hand of the king of Syria, who defeated him and took captive a great number of his people and brought them to Damascus. He was also given into the hand of the king of Israel, who defeated him with great slaughter."
The men of Israel took captive two hundred thousand of their kinsfolk, women, sons, and daughters; they also took much spoil from them and brought the spoil to Sama'ria.
 But a prophet of the LORD was there, whose name was Oded; and he went out to meet the army that came to Sama'ria, and said to them, "Behold, because the LORD, the God of your fathers, was angry with Judah, he gave them into your hand, but you have slain them in a rage which has reached up to heaven.
 And now you intend to subjugate the people of Judah and Jerusalem, male and female, as your slaves. Have you not sins of your own against the LORD your God?
 Now hear me, and send back the captives from your kinsfolk whom you have taken, for the fierce wrath of the LORD is upon you."
 Certain chiefs also of the men of E'phraim, Azari'ah the son of Joha'nan, Berechi'ah the son of Meshil'lemoth, Jehizki'ah the son of Shallum, and Ama'sa the son of Hadlai, stood up against those who were coming from the war,
 and said to them, "You shall not bring the captives in here, for you propose to bring upon us guilt against the LORD in addition to our present sins and guilt. For our guilt is already great, and there is fierce wrath against Israel."
 So the armed men left the captives and the spoil before the princes and all the assembly.
 And the men who have been mentioned by name rose and took the captives, and with the spoil they clothed all that were naked among them; they clothed them, gave them sandals, provided them with food and drink, and anointed them; and carrying all the feeble among them on asses, they brought them to their kinsfolk at Jericho, the city of palm trees. Then they returned to Sama'ria.
On which road did the Samaritan walk by the injured man? The road from Jerusalem to Jericho. The same road where the Samaritans "clothed all that were naked among them; they clothed them, gave them sandals, provided them with food and drink, and anointed them; and carrying all the feeble among them on asses, they brought them to their kinsfolk at Jericho, the city of palm trees. Then they returned to Sama'ria."
The lawyer (nomikos) who was "testing" Jesus - was he open to being transformed? Was he open to the possibility of being wrong? Certainly he knew the answers - Jesus told him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you would live."
But is it about knowing the right answer? No. It is about knowing the right answer and doing the right answer. We all know the right answer, just like the lawyer - "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." Do we do the right answer?
With all our heart? With all our soul? With all our strength? With all our mind?
i would be the first to say - no, i don't. There are many times that i did not love God with all my heart - because there is a part of me that loves myself more. While there is a part of me that answers YES! to God, there is a part of me that says "Not me, God." There are many times that i did not God with all my soul - because i was afraid. Because i was uncomfortable. Because i was tired. Because i am human.
i often do not love my neighbour as myself. Because my neighbour is annoying. My neighbour isn't good looking, attractive, or likeable. My neighbour hates me. My neighbour is rude. My neighbour doesn't look like me. My neighbour doesn't believe in the same things that i do. My neighbour doesn't speak the same language that i do. My neighbour doesn't have fashion sense. My neighbour supports PAP. My neighbour just cut into my lane and is hogging the road. My neighbour doesn't respect my space.
Love your neighbour as yourself.
I like Mark's mention of how we are unlike each other in the prayer segment earlier. Unlike rather than like. Do we only like people we are like? We are not called to like each other, but to love each other. And very often we are called to love even the people we don't like. And people unlike us, and people who don't like us.
No i am not perfect. But that is the place that i start from. That is where God starts to work in me, and with me, in my growth and my transformation. i believe that is grace. God accepts us where we are at, and from there works with us in our transformation, and through our transformation to sow the seeds of transformation in the world.
Jesus said "do this and you would live." The word "live" in Greek, ζάω Za-ao, is the same "live" in "living water." How do we live?
Claire organized a informal session meeting other Christians who may not think gay is ok called "Straight Talk." It was one of the most moving experiences i had - because even though i don't think i changed anyone's mind about the issue of homosexuality, we had an encounter of love - because we were all willing to listen to one another. We met at 2.30pm. We ended at 6.30pm. God was there. That is loving, in spite of our differences.
FCC has a calling. We say to people "Welcome home."
What does that mean? We have heard time again about people who walked through our doors and found themselves home. We have heard in their stories and testimonies echoes of our own experiences of coming home. Finding the prodigal God who embraces us for who we are.
Someone asked me what "prodigal" means. i had to check the dictionary. Sometimes we are so familiar with something that we forget its meaning. Sometimes we are so comfortable at home that we forget to make other people feel at home. Prodigal means "Spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant."
Home is where we are often most comfortable. And we tell folks make yourself feel at home. The responsibility is then imposed upon the guest to make themselves feel comfortable. Yes, we do our best to make it possible for the guest to be comfortable, but perhaps not to the degree where we get uncomfortable ourselves.
I remember years ago, my dad invited his Muslim colleague over for dinner. There must be something special - an occasion of some sort - because my dad never invited any colleague over for dinner. I remember my mom buying an entire set of cutlery and plates and bowls so that our guest can feel comfortable - after all, we are not Muslims, and the food we eat certainly isn't halal. i don't think what my mother did would earn a Halal certification from MUIS, but what she did, i think is radical hospitality. Prodigal hospitality.
For FCC to be truly home for all people, all of us must, in some way make ourselves uncomfortable so those coming home would find home. This is wasteful extravagance - our way of emulating God's abundant grace.
Kenny started including Mandarin worship songs. For many of you, like myself, it is outside of our comfort zone. The only time i sing Mandarin songs is when i go to KTV. Or maybe when i am walking along the pacific ocean, and then i burst out into 听海ting hai (listening to the sea).
But what we are really doing is creating that space for those people whose primary language isn't English. i hope you don't see that we are trying to be sino-centric here - i am aware that having a mandarin song can be exclusionary to those who are not Chinese. (and even to some of us who are Chinese). i hope we all have the generosity to be a little uncomfortable so we can create a space for some people to feel comfortable.
What other ways can we express the radical love to each other here? What other ways can we express radical hospitality to visitors?
I am sure you have heard Love starts at Home. So we start our radical love and prodigal hospitality and love right here. And at the same time, in our daily lives, we bring that radial love and prodigal hospitality out into the world.
We are the church who wants to be witnesses to God's Radical Love through our Prodigal Hospitality.
We want to mean it when we say, Welcome Home!
Next few months, we would look at our prodigal family - who are amongst us - build bridges to know different groups of people - this month we looked at the youth - next month, we will explore more about the non-Singaporeans amongst us - since it is National Day - let us think about how this nationalistic celebration can be alienating and exclude some people in our family. Sep - the more matured amongst us, Oct - straight, Nov - Transgender, Dec - Family
Let us testify to God's radical love through our prodigal hospitality.