Vicar Martin Loescher delivers a sermon entitled “God Teaches Us To Love” based on Luke 10:25-37 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, August 4, 2019
A group of neighborhood kids were hanging out in a cul de sac one night. Some of the more popular boys discovered that one of the girls among them was allergic to cattails. They thought it would be fun, so they went and grabbed a few stalks and started waving them in her face. The girl cried out in distress, and the other children stood by and did nothing. They didn’t want to challenge what their more respected peers were doing. That involved too much risk. Perhaps the girl would be alright, maybe she wasn’t all that allergic. That’s very typical of us, isn’t it? We worry so much about what could happen to us, that we search high and low for excuses not to stick our necks out. It’s in our nature. But today, God has brought us his Word to teach us how to love. God’s Law takes away all our excuses not to love selflessly. And God, our Savior is the one who makes that selfless love possible.
Consider again our Gospel reading for today. One day, an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus, probably trying to stir up controversy. The test was: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered very simply, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” In other words, “What’s does your Old Testament Bible say? Quote it for us! The expert in the law was after all, an expert in God’s Law! He quoted Deuteronomy 6:5, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,” and then Leviticus 16:18, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus replied, “You have answered correctly!” Do this, and you will live.” Jesus showed the expert in the law there wasn’t much to debate.
God’s Law is clear. 1) Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind; 2) Love your neighbor as yourself. You can’t earn eternal life if you can’t do these two things. This was a problem for the expert in the Law. “Love your neighbor as yourself” sounded hard. That involved loving others when he had everything to lose! The expert in the law did the only thing he could do; he did the only thing anyone can do when they try to earn heaven by observing God’s Law. He searched for a loophole. “And who is my neighbor?” There was the loophole! In those days, the word “neighbor” had a number of possible meanings. It could mean something as broad as “fellow-citizen,” or something as narrow as “friend.” But in Jewish culture, the word “neighbor” never, ever included non-Jews. The expert in the law was essentially asking, “Who is it I have to love as much as myself—just friends, the people next door, all my fellow Jews? he took it for granted, of course, that at the very least, he didn’t have to love non-Jews.
Jesus answered with an illustration: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him up, and fled, leaving him half dead. But thank goodness! A priest, God’s holy servant, just happened to be going down that road. But when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way, a Levite, one of the religious elite, arrived at the place, saw him, and passed by on the other side.” But a Samaritan journeying through there, came up to him, saw the man, and had compassion.” Which was ironic to say the least, because for one thing, Samaritans were heretics. For another, Jews and Samaritans were violently racist towards one another.
In the synagogue, Jews publicly recited curses that no Samaritan would take part in the resurrection of life, they would not even allow them to convert to Judaism. Jews considered death preferable to receiving help from a Samaritan. Jesus went on, “The Samaritan bandaged his wounds, pouring on olive oil and wine. He put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he gave two denarii (worth roughly $400 today) to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him.” Then he basically wrote him a blank check. “Whatever else you spend in taking care of this man,” he said, “I will personally cover the cost.” “Which of the three proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” Jesus asked the expert in the law. “The one who showed mercy to him,” he answered, as if he couldn’t bring himself to say “the Samaritan.” And then Jesus told him, “You go, and do the same.”
“Who is my neighbor?” the expert in the law had asked. He got his answer. The kind of love God expects does not ask, “Who is my neighbor?” It does not look for a loophole, for certain people it can exclude. Love looks at the half-dead enemy and says, “I’m going to make myself his neighbor. Forget my travel plans, I am going to take care of this person as if it was my body, dying on the road. If he were conscious, he would probably rather spit at me and die, but he is getting the best of my supplies and the contents of my wallet until he gets better! God’s Law, as taught by Jesus, is clear. “Love your neighbor as yourself” means go and do like the Samaritan. It means when you can help someone in need, you do it, no matter who they are, and you spare no expense.
If we ever think that we’re getting pretty good at doing God’s will, then we might need to start taking this phrase, “love your neighbor as yourself,” a little more seriously. What does God’s Law say when our peers start talking about a friend behind her back? What does it say when we shy away from defending her, because everything they’re saying is true and we would just look bad? “Love your neighbor as yourself.” What does God’s Law say when we see a co-worker failing to keep up with the work? What does it say when we think, “I don’t have the time to hold his hand; he wouldn’t even appreciate the help?” “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
God expects us to love people in need even if we think they don’t deserve it; even if we have to make personal sacrifices. He expects a love that does not look for exceptions to the rule, people we can exclude, or reasons why we shouldn’t help them. God expects a love we cannot offer.
There is only one human being who is able to love as God expects–Jesus Christ our Savior. And he directs that selfless love toward us.
In fact, Jesus’ love for us puts the Good Samaritan to shame. The Good Samaritan stopped and had compassion when he saw one Jewish man, fallen into the hands of robbers. How many multitudes did Jesus have compassion on, when he came into the world to save our race? Nor would it be accurate to say that human beings fell into the hands of Satan—by nature, we run away from God and into Satan’s arms. The Samaritan had to overcome some racial bad blood, but Jesus had compassion on us when we hated our own Creator. The Samaritan treated the Jewish traveler’s wounds with olive oil and wine. How costly was Jesus’ antiseptic? He cleansed our souls from sin with the blood dripping out of his veins, drawn out by whips, thorns, and large spikes, pounded through his hands and feet. The Good Samaritan brought the traveler to an inn, where he provided for him with about $400 worth of money. Jesus brought us into a kingdom, his Church, where he still cares for us today.
Every day Jesus strives for our salvation. Left to ourselves, Satan and his demons would tear us to pieces, if we didn’t ruin ourselves first with empty pleasures. But the Lord of all is on our side; he manages the affairs of the world for our good. He protects our bodies from harm, heals our diseases, places us in families, and puts food in our mouths. Christ nurses us as we gather to hear his sacred Word, he feeds us when we read the Scriptures in the quiet of our homes. He sets our tables with a miraculous feast of grace and mercy, when we partake in the Lord’s own body and blood, in with and under the bread and the wine of Holy Communion.
The love that Jesus showed us on the cross, and continues to show us to this day, is actually what makes it possible for us to love more selflessly. How do these two things connect? Listen to Paul’s words to the Colossians, which we heard earlier in the second reading: “We have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people—the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you.”
You see, when we hear the message of the Gospel, Jesus’ perfect love that he had for us when we could only hate, that changes things. Jesus had compassion on us, saved us, and now sees to it that we will be cared for. Who needs to look after himself when God the Son has taken up the task? God has provided us with every blessing up to heaven itself for the sake of Jesus, and that really frees us up! When someone needs our love, we don’t need to find an excuse not to love them. There is no risk, our needs have been filled.
And so, we begin to notice the needs of others, and care about them a lot more. We see the friend whose good name is under attack, and whether she deserves it or not, we stick out our neck in her defense. She is our fellow traveler in distress, whom Jesus has bandaged and paid for with his own blood. And with this parable, Jesus calls us to join him in his loving care for her. And we begin to notice our coworker’s needs, too. He may be lazy or incompetent, but that’s beside the point. God gave him this job to provide him and his family with food. When Jesus says, “Go and do like the Samaritan,” he’s encouraging us to help our coworker along, and share in God’s work of providing for his needs.
Today, our Savior has spoken to us God’s Law: “love your neighbor as yourself.” These words convict us of sin. They take away our excuses, and show us that we have failed to love selflessly. But this same Savior who has convicted us of sin, has also rescued us from Satan’s power. He has bandaged our wounds, he has emptied his veins to cleanse our soul, and he has not stopped, nor ever will, caring for our earthly and spiritual needs. Now our Savior encourages us to go with hearts and hands full of blessings, and love our neighbor as ourselves. Amen.