Not Too Far

Preacher: Jeff Davidson

Scripture: Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Luke 10:25-37

If you’ve gone to almost any Christian church for almost any amount of time you’ve heard the story of the Good Samaritan. I’ve preached on it many, many times, and before I was a preacher I’d heard lots of sermons on it. Even before I was old enough to sit in the worship service, even when I was young enough to still leave after the children’s story at the church I grew up at I knew the story of the Good Samaritan. I’d learned about it at least every year in Sunday School and often at Bible School in the summer too.

One of the things that most preachers emphasize is the long history of bad feelings between the Jews and the Samaritans and how it would be difficult for a Jewish audience to hear a story where the Samaritan is the hero, where a Samaritan is the one who is the neighbor. I’ve emphasized that too, and it’s an important part of the story. It’s particularly important when you’re talking about people who have not historically been a part of whatever group it is you’re talking to at the moment. The bonds of Christ transcend our personal histories, our political histories, our racial histories, and our religious histories.

Today, though, I don’t want us consider this story in light of the history of Jews and Samaritans. We’re not Jews. We’re not Samaritans. Although we can learn from that history, it’s not our history.

And while the lesson certainly applies to people with whom we have a long history of conflict, that’s fairly obvious. I hope I don’t need to tell you that. There are lots of groups with which groups that I am a part of have historically had conflict of some kind, whether it’s about politics or faith. It could be Nazis or people who have people who have engaged in terrible evils like genocide. It could be people who let the toilet paper hang down behind the roll instead of putting it over the top like God intends it to be. Wherever you stand on all these long running evils, you know that people who are on the other side from you are your neighbors.

Instead, let’s just think about the story as followers of Jesus. Let’s imagine that we are the disciples. Now the disciples were aware of all that history I was just talking about, but imagine for a minute that you’re a disciple and that for some reason you don’t know anything about that history. Pretend that you’re the worst Jew in the world and that you slept through all your lessons on why Samaritans are wrong while you were dreaming about a bacon cheeseburger.

So there you are, among the disciples, not knowing anything about the history of Jews and Samaritans. But you do know about this incident, which happens just a chapter before in the Bible. It’s Luke 9:51-55:

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them.

So just a short time ago, Samaritans refused to let all of you stay with them because you were on the way to Jerusalem. And in case here in 2019 we think that’s not a big deal, remember that James and John were angry enough to want to destroy the Samaritans. I suspect that all of you were probably just as angry.

Now it’s possible, it’s possible that despite being the world’s worst Jew you just believed James and John were taking a little rhetorical license, a little overstatement for dramatic affect. You may have thought to yourself, “Of course they don’t mean that literally. No one would call fire

down from heaven just because someone wouldn’t let someone else stay there.” That’s possible, right?

But between that incident and now, earlier in Luke 10, you were there when this happened. This is Luke 10:1-12, and Jesus is speaking.

But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.

So Jesus himself says that it would be worse to be a resident of a town that doesn’t show hospitality to the disciples than it would have been to be a resident of Sodom. Maybe James and John weren’t as out of line as you thought they might be.

So now, sitting there listening to this exchange between Jesus and the lawyer, and knowing about Samaritans only what you yourself have experienced and heard personally, what do you think is the lesson of Jesus’ little story?

Sometimes we need to learn lessons about people who have been our enemies for a long time. It doesn’t even have to be enemies – it can just be ideological opponents or people we disagree with or a person who

lives somewhere else whose country does something we don’t like. We need to learn lessons about all of those people and it’s important to remember that they are like the Samaritan. They are our neighbors.

But it’s not just about those long-standing kinds of things. We need to remember it about the guy who honked at us and cut us off and flipped us the bird on the way to church this morning. You know, the guy that you may have just honked at and flipped back at while you muttered something unpleasant under your breath. That guy’s a Samaritan too. That guy’s your neighbor too.

What first caught my eye when I read our passages this morning was that part in Deuteronomy where Moses says in verse 14 that the word is very near to us. He’s talking of course about the command to love God with all your heart and soul which he gives in verse 10, and then he says,

Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?”

Sometimes knowing what God wants is hard. Sometimes understanding of what God command seems far away. Sometimes the people that God calls us to love might as well be around the world from us.

They aren’t. We know what God wants. We understand God’s commands. Some of the people that God is speaking of are a long way off, yes, but others are not too far away at all.

And the response of the world to people who treat their enemies as neighbors may not be too far away either. Bruce Prewer writes:

As I was coming home through life

some muggers hit me hard,

they stripped me of the things most dear

and left me by the road.

A news crew found me all bloodied,

the cameras zoomed in near;

“That’s great TV” a fat man said,

and left me lying there.

A Senator saw the film crew

and spied me in the ditch:

“Of course we’d like to help” he said,

“but budgets will not stretch.”

A young preacher came down that way

and knelt to succour me.

The muggers moved in mercilessly

and hanged him on a tree.

The law is clear. The people involved are clear. The consequences for Christians here on earth are clear. The only thing unclear is our obedience. I hope that our willingness to surrender fully to God is not too far away. Amen.

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