Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 14 July 2019.
We expect our homes to be built properly: we expect the walls to be vertical, the floors horizontal, the roofs watertight, and the water and electricity and internet connections to work properly.
God’s also had expectations of Israel and these were set out in the 10 Commandments, and the regulations on hygiene, the conduct of worship and other aspects of personal, civic, and religions life.
Essentially they were about proper dealing in all relationships and transactions.
This was the plumb-line by which Israel was judged and the expectation was that they would live according to the law that God had given.
Persistent failure would lead to judgment and this was what Amos was expressing to the people of Samaria.
Then in the Gospel, there was the lawyer questioning Jesus, wanting to be seen and noticed.
One suspects that he was able and ambitious, with an eye to a position on the ruling council, the Sanhedrin. If he could get the better of Jesus, who was already being seen as a gadfly, then it would do him no harm.
It is interesting that he thought that an inheritance had to be earned. In most circumstances it comes as the result of kinship or long term friendship or commitment, for to earn anything is to receive it as a wage rather than as a gift or an inheritance.
So he was ready to quibble and argue – ‘What do you mean by neighbour?’ Define your terms, explain the exceptions.
It is very interesting that he was challenging Jesus on what he thought was Jesus’ weakest point – and that he did not start asking questions about love, and just what that meant.
Jesus’ answer was the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Here He stressed a person’s personal encounter with a neighbour at their point of need. It could be any neighbour, but the point was the personal commitment of time and money and effort when meeting a person at their point of need.
The priest may have had reason to avoid ritual contamination by contact with a dead body or with a person who might yet die, and possibly also the Levite.
But it was the outsider, a historic rival in the worship of Israel who did most to fulfil the requirements of the law to love his neighbour as he loved himself.
It could be the nationalist meeting the foreigner, the vigilante meeting the oddball loner, the socially and morally respectable meeting the compromiser and corrupt chancer. Jesus did not allow room for debating and there were no limits, but the point was always the personal contact and the personal commitment to act in their relief.
As I said, this was the lawyer looks as if he was trying to provoke Jesus with what he thought was weak link in Jesus’ answer.
He might also have wanted to question Jesus on Love, but decided that what Jesus had to say about neighbourliness was enough.
Here the answer might have been even more pointed. We love because God loved first; our love is defined and directed by His, not the other way round.
In the extremity of His love for the world is the extravagance of God in giving His own Son to die for us. The best and the most wonderful part of the whole of both creation and of the realm of heaven before the creation even began.
To love is to act and to live and to be – it is not to feel or to hold opinions. It is there in the heart that hears the call of another person’s need and resolves to act to meet that need.
Paul’s prayer for the church in Colossae was knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. He desired lives lived worthy of the Lord, which were fully pleasing to Him.
Paul had already expressed how much he believed and trusted in them and his prayer was an expression of that confidence.
They might not feel very confident in their own strength or wisdom, they were probably well aware of their own faults and of the pressures to conform to the customs and assumptions of their non-Christian neighbours.
But Jesus is the measure and the standard, the plumb-line, the level and square and measure in all things. Nothing more, nothing less.
This is the nature and the measure of His love, not only for His disciples but also for those who opposed and obstructed Him.
For Jesus did not die only for those who believed in Him, but for those who did not but might yet come to faith. He died for the future generations in all parts of the world, all cultures and all races. In this He laid Himself down for the whole of humanity in its own self-condemnation of sin and estrangement.