Prayer of Illumination: Welcoming God, we are about to crawl back into your lap to be held and to hear your familiar stories. Grant us curiosity, excitement, and joy as we listen and as we go out into the world to share your joy with the rest of your children. Amen.
Luke 10:25-37 CEB
25 A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?”
26 Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?”
27 He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”[a]
28 Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
29 But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. 31 Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. 32 Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. 33 A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. 34 The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’ 36 What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”
37 Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Throughout the summer when I preach, we will be exploring what it means to have faith like a child. And fair warning, if Dan geeks out about history, the English major in me geeks out children’s books with deep meanings. I geek out about finding new ways to relate to God through reading literature. Children’s books are a great way to experience and learn about God. While these books are often simple, they can pack a theological punch. All the children’s books I’m using for this series will also be available in our church library after the close of the summer and I encourage you to re-read them.
Today’s book is “Who is my Neighbor” by Amy-Jill Levine and Sandy Eistenberg Sasso and illustrated by Denise Turu. As you hear the story, I invite you to think about some questions: Where are you in this story? What groups do you belong to? Do you ever think your group is better than others? Have you ever been scared of doing something even when it was the right thing to do?
Who is your neighbor? By: Amy-Jill Levine and Sandy Eisenberg Sasso: Once there was a town where only the Blues lived. There were navy and indigo, aqua and sapphire, powder blue and midnight blue. They planted irises and forget me nots and feasted on blueberries and blue cheese. They sailed on blue waters. Blue jays perched on branches, and brilliant blue cracker butterflies shimmered. The blues thought they were the coolest colors!
The yellows lived in a different town. There were gold and bronze, lemon, and mustard, canary and pale yellow. They planted daffodils and feasted on bananas and butter scotch pudding. They traveled on yellow brick roads. Goldfinches perched on branches and busy yellow jackets buzzed. The yellows thought they were the hottest color.
The blues and yellows did not like each other. The blues said: Be careful of the Yellows. We are better than they are…they are not our neighbors. There is no such thing as a good yellow.
The yellows said: Be careful of the Blues. We are better than they are. They are not our neighbors. There is no such thing as a good blue.
One day, midnight blue put on his best blue helmet and got on his blue bike. He loved cruising under the bright blue sky and passing by the tranquil blue lakes, singing a bluegrass tune. Then, out of the blue, someone passed by so quickly that he lost his balance. Midnight blue tumbled to the ground. His knees started to turn black and blue. He needed help.
Navy comes around corner but is afraid. She wondered maybe someone made midnight blue fall, maybe that person is still around so she pretended not to notice. Why hadn’t Navy stopped to help? After all, Navy was his neighbor.
Along came Powder Blue. Surely Powder blue will help me, midnight blue thought. But Powder blue wondered, did midnight blue get into a fight? Is the other person still around? He was afraid, so he pretended not to notice midnight blue. Midnight Blue was surprised. Why hadn’t Powder blue stopped either? After all, Powder blue was his neighbor.
Along came Lemon. Oh no! A yellow! Thought midnight blue. A yellow will only make things worse. Maybe this yellow will steal my books! But midnight blue wasn’t the only one scared. Lemon worried about helping a blue. What if that blue wanted to trick her? What if that Blue jumped up and took her bike? Maybe she should just hurry by.
But Lemon didn’t hurry by. She decided to help. She didn’t steal his books; she picked them up. She lifted midnight blue from the dirt and took him to her doctor.
While they waited, lemon gave midnight blue a butterscotch cookie. It was broken but still delicious. Midnight blue said, “you’re a good yellow, not like the others.” “most yellows are good.” Lemon said.
“So are most Blues,” midnight blue smiled and pulled out a small bag of blueberries to share.
Midnight blue turned to lemon and said, “thank you for helping me. I would like to be your friend.” Lemon nodded, “of course! A Good friend!”
When Midnight blue returned to his town, he told all the blues what had happened. It was not at all what they expected to hear. He said, “Lemon did not pass by. Lemon did not look the other way. Lemon helped! And Dr. Gold did too.”
The blues thought, the yellows do not look like us or eat the same foods, but maybe the yellows can be our friends.
When lemon returned to her town, she told all the yellows what had happened. It was not at all what they expected. She said, “midnight blue wasn’t mean at all. He was thankful! He shared his blueberries. From now on we are going to be friends.”
The yellows thought, the blues do not know our songs or grow our plants, but maybe we can help the blues and the blues can help us.
From that time on, the blues and yellows began to say, “maybe we don’t have to look alike or even live nearby. Perhaps we will like hearing new songs and tasting new foods. We might like making new friends! Maybe we can all help one another!”
What makes Lemon a “good” yellow? What makes the Samaritan good? For Jesus’ original audience a “good” Samaritan is an oxymoron. There is no such thing as a “good” Samaritan for Jews. That is one of the many things about this story that turns it around on its head- the oxymoron of the Good Samaritan, there simply was no such thing.
Today we may fill in Samaritan with a variety of words. How might you fill in? If you cheer for Virginia Tech, you might think there is no such thing as a good University of Virginia fan or vice versa. If you are a Pittsburgh Steeler fan, you might think there is no such thing as a good Baltimore Ravens fan.
If you are a millennial you might think there is no such thing as a good Boomer or vice versa. For the most part these are light- hearted examples however, you can probably think of many other examples of diametrically opposed foes, modern day Samaritans, groups of people or people who when seen as good creates a tense oxymoron.
But who gets to define who is good? What if the Samaritan was good because he simply made the choice to come near the almost dead guy in the ditch? To approach the man who clearly needed help? Friends, we tend to spend a lot of energy in our lives toward decided detachment, disengagement, and disenfranchisement. Sometimes these decisions are very much justified — for our safety, our self-preservation, our self-care. But other times, our distance is decided by our determination not to change. Our resistance to intimacy of being near. Our rejection of those persons that might actually expose who we truly are. Imagine if the Levite and the priest came near? Maybe then they would have to face some hard truths about themselves that I suspect they would rather not admit and that they have spent a lifetime pretending, hoping, even ensuring, don’t exist.
“Who is my neighbor?” means, according to Jesus, a commitment to coming near. Your neighbor is not just the person living next door…Your neighbor is not one who happens to be convenient for you to help. Your neighbor is not the one who meets the qualifications of your company. Your neighbor is someone who, without a doubt, is experiencing pain, struggles, challenges, and sorrow, and yet to whom you draw near. Your neighbor is someone who clearly has needs and you decide — I will help you. Being a good neighbor means coming alongside.
A part of what makes Lemon yellow and the Samaritan good neighbors is they see the needs of someone and do something about it. They not only look at their neighbor in the ditch with fear for what might happen to them if they help, the Samaritan and Lemon see a need and crawl into the ditch with their neighbor, a stranger, in need. The Samaritan and Lemon do something. Can you think of ways to become a better neighbor?
Maybe being a better neighbor means not turning an eye on the suffering of those in need. Maybe being a better neighbor means volunteering at Highland Food Pantry or Jubilee kitchen. Or perhaps the best insight comes from my favorite theologian and everyone’s favorite neighbor, Mister Rogers, who says: “Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered just one kind word to another person. There have been so many stories about the impatience of today’s world, road rage and even restaurant rage. Sometimes all it takes is one kind word to nourish another person. Think of the ripple effect that can be created when we nourish someone. One kind empathetic word has a wonderful way of turning into many.” Maybe the act of just noticing and drawing near to our neighbors is a starting place.
But perhaps the best insight on this question comes from Flora, a young girl I had the privilege of working with while serving as associate pastor in Graham, North Carolina. As we talked about today’s scripture, I asked the group why do we love our neighbors, and without batting an eye, Flora responded, “Because God made everyone and loves everyone. God wants us to, isn’t that a good enough reason?” Friends, we can learn so much from the children and youth among us. It is all that simple and all that hard.
Next time, we will spend some time looking at prayer and Matthew Paul Turner’s beautiful children’s book, “When I Pray for You.” Until then, let us strive to be a good neighbor. Someone who works to break down prejudices rather than build up prejudices. Someone who is moved with compassion when they see someone in need. Someone who shares an empathic word. Let us go, and do likewise. May it be so, amen.