Who is my neighbour? (Part 3)

Sermon by Rev Allister Lane on 22 July 2018

Readings were Psalm 119:105-112 and Luke 10: 25-37

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This is the third week considering the question “Who is my neighbour?” (If you think this has gone on too long, perhaps we are settling for an easy answer.)

This question that was asked of Jesus continues to examine us and our motivations.

As does the answer Jesus gave to this question… Which was of course a story (what we call ‘the parable of the Good Samaritan’).

Jesus is teaching us a lot more than simply about who we are to love. By teaching us with these sorts of stories, far from being tidy and conclusive moral instruction, the parables of Jesus ‘work on us’ and ‘get under our skin’.

The moral implications for us are not bounded to limited obligations. The parables work on us with creative and imaginative energy that affect how we live our faith.[1]

Dietrich Bonhoeffer sees that… Jesus is not a moralist who loves a theory of good. Rather he loves the real person.

Jesus is interested in what is helpful for the real-life human being. If this is true about why and how Jesus teaches us,… what does it mean for learning more about who is my neighbour…?

As a minimum, it means I need to pay attention! I need to pay attention to others around me – to be part of this helping each other be truly human before God. This is what Jesus shows us.

So, as said last week, responding to the question ‘Who is my neighbour?’… Jesus does not settle the question by categorising who is a neighbour and who isn’t a neighbour. Jesus doesn’t even simply say ‘everyone’. What Jesus does in this story is identify that being a neighbour is to live in an active mode. A person who is ‘our ‘neighbour’ is not a passive, pre-determined category – Jesus is teaching us to activate our understanding of who we relate to as a neighbour.

We are to “neighbourise” others. We are invited to define ourselves as neighbours to others. We see this in how Jesus asks: “Which of these was a neighbour to the man?”)

Jesus wants to turn our lives into life-giving realities. And in giving life we find life. To love your neighbour (to live a life-giving reality) is to both offer life to others, and also to love the one who can save your life.

So, how might we re-imagine who our neighbour is? Where might the ‘blind spots’ be for us?

The refugee crisis impacts the whole world, and brings to the surface how people do (and do NOT) recognise who their neighbour is. If we pay attention, we see fellow human beings whose lives we can save. And one of the truly beautiful aspects of responding (by reaching out to help) is to discover life for yourself – by entering into a ‘life-giving reality’.

In actively choosing to give life, we find we receive life – something is stirred in us that makes us more truly human.

In the latest Presbyterian magazine SPANZ there is an article about us here at St John’s, and the way we have reached out to help integrate newly arrived refugees in Wellington. This is something we can do at a local level that is part of being a globally-minded Christian, …and a neighbour. If we pay attention…

Another local initiative we are involved in is the visit we are hosting of an Indonesian Ministry Student. He arrives in two weeks, and his visit with us is an extension of what describe as our Cross Cultural Encounter with the church in Indonesia. This encounter is part of our recognition of who our neighbours are. Just as we have visited Indonesia, we want our neighbours to come and share time with us here in Wellington. Not exactly ‘next door’ neighbours – but neighbours nonetheless.

As we give, we find that we receive in equal measure. We activate a life-giving reality. If we pay attention…

I want us to open our eyes and hearts to those who we might ‘neighbourise’. Without restricting who your neighbour is… (but instead to encourage you to pay attention to your neighbours).

I want to tell you about the woman I met when I was collecting for the DCM Foodbank appeal. In contrast to the person who ignores the Foodbank collectors and strides off to their luxury car, this woman, with her children in tow, brings out of the supermarket multiple bags of groceries, expressing her awareness of the struggle it is for the ‘poor’ people. She is paying attention. And she chooses, in spite of her own circumstances (or maybe because of them), to neighbourise.

And, I’ve asked others to share in a moment their thoughts to help us pay attention to whom our neighbours may be.

What Jesus teaches us is that living out our faith matters. As has been said:

The parable of the Good Samaritan has built hospitals all over the world, and if it were truly heeded it would end racism, eliminate national hatreds, and abolish war.

And (as a final thought on this teaching of Jesus). Can see Jesus himself in his own story? Could Jesus could be the Samaritan? For Jesus himself shows us how to live – he has enabled a ‘life-giving reality’ to be ours.

Jesus comes alongside us.
Jesus saves our life.
Jesus is our neighbour.
Jesus has ‘neighbourised’ all of us.
And Jesus invites us to participate in this ‘life-giving reality’ of God, as he leads and equips us.

To him be all glory! Amen.


[1] This way of teaching is something Dietrich Bonhoeffer recognises as part of who Jesus is and how Jesus wants to relate to us. Jesus does not teach abstract ethics, and was not firstly a teacher nor legislator. His will is for us to be truly human before God. Jesus is not a philosopher who loves the ‘universally valid’, like Immanuel Kant searching for principles of general anticipation and application. Jesus does not advance actions that must be applied universally, but yearns that “my action is at this moment helps my neighbour to become [truly human] before God.”  (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, p22)

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