Our sermons are available as audio files to listen at your convenience.
Our sermons are available as audio files to listen at your convenience.
Stewardship Series 2021 ~~
“Love in Action: Reflecting Christ’s Love and Mercy”
Sermon #3: “Love in Action through Growing”
Luke 10: 25-37
October 17, 2021
Some of you know that I am a fan of the late Rev. Fred Rogers, a Presbyterian minister who lived out his call through his children’s television program, Mister Rogers Neighborhood. The entire premise of the show was based on this passage of scripture. Rogers helped not just children but people of all ages understand what it means to be a neighbor. In recent years, there has been a resurgence in popularity of the show, which ran from 1968 until 2001, with postage stamps, documentaries and even a drama featuring Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers.
Perhaps that’s because, in a world with so much anonymity, where neighbors are often strangers, people pass on the street without making eye contact, and there are more friends on social media than in real life, people are longing for neighbors.
Today is the third Sunday in Stewardship Season, as we prepare to rededicate ourselves to God and to the church in the year ahead. Each Sunday, we are considering one aspect of the church’s mission statement, and today our focus is this:
MPC is called to reflect Christ’s love and mercy by GROWING as individuals, families and community as we continue to discover who we are in Jesus Christ, trying to follow his example.
Throughout our lives, we continue growing in our understanding of how to live out the love of Christ, to fulfill the greatest commandments. Our gospel passage this morning is a story of growth. A lawyer---that is, a scholar of religious law---grew in his understanding of the greatest commandments. The passage tells us that when the man asked Jesus about eternal life, he was not really seeking guidance; he said this to test Jesus..
Jesus responded with a question of his own: “What do you read in scripture?” The man responded with the commands from the Old Testament that Jesus lifted up as the greatest things: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.
Then the man asked, “Who is my neighbor?”
The problem with this question is that it implies there is one group of people who are my neighbors, and there are other people who are not. The understanding at that time was that your neighbor was someone like you, of the same people, a member of the same religious community.1
So Jesus’ told this parable. As they listened, the lawyer and the others present would have expected the priest and the Levite to be the heroes of the story. But instead, the man who stopped to help was not someone they would have expected to be a neighbor. Samaritans and Jews viewed one another with animosity and hostility. But it was the Samaritan who showed compassion for the wounded Jew. He went beyond basic care, not only providing for the man’s immediate needs, but taking him to an inn, and paying the inn keeper to care for the man until he returned.
When Jesus ended the parable and asked, “Which of these three was a neighbor,” the lawyer had gotten the message. “The one who showed him mercy,” he said.
And Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”
Someone once said this passage demonstrates three different attitudes. The first is
“What’s yours is mine and I am going to take it.” That’s the attitude of the robbers, who beat the man and left him for dead beside the road.
The second attitude is “What’s mine is mine and I am going to keep it!” The first two men who passed by had this attitude. The priest and the Levite, both of whom would have been people of resources and means, did not give anything of themselves to help this man. But then there was the Samaritan. He demonstrated the third attitude:
“What is mine is yours and I am going to share it.”2
In this parable, the Samaritan is the Christ figure. That is the attitude of our Savior: What’s mine is yours, and I am going to share it. Our mission statement says that we will follow Christ’s example. As we grow in our understanding of who we are in Christ, we realize that loving our neighbor requires compassion, commitment and cost. I love our first scripture reading today from Ephesians. As the Stewardship Team and I were talking about the scripture passages for the sermons this month, one of the Team members shared The Message translation of this passage:
“Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with God and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.”3
We grow by following Christ’s example, and we cannot do that on our own. We grow through the work of the church, that helps us come to know who Christ is, who we are, and how to follow his example.
The first way we grow is by studying God’s word together. We have to have a basic foundation of knowledge in the Bible, as we see in Jesus’ question to the lawyer, “What do you read in the scripture?” This starts with our youngest children, who learn through the Christian formation ministries of the church. Throughout the pandemic, Patricia and the Christian Formation Ministry Team have provided creative ways for children to continue learning. Now we are resuming Christian Formation ministries, like Vacation Bible School, which we hope to have this summer. We have a wonderful group of kids involved in Children’s Choir this fall, and in addition to music, they are learning about faith through hymn studies, as we will see next Sunday, when the children will sing for worship. All of that requires our support through our giving.
Then as we mature, we grow deeper. Growth is a lifelong process. Discovering who are in Christ and following his example is something we continue to learn all our lives long. Consider the lawyer in this passage: this man was an expert in religious teaching! A scholar of scripture! Yet he was still learning. Jesus expanded his understanding of what it meant to love and enlarged his concept of who the neighbor is.
The youth of our church are an amazing group of people: they are intelligent, sensitive and compassionate, and they want to grow in their faith. I don’t have to tell you the challenges youth face today. We as a church have made vows, sacred promises, to help them know and follow Jesus Christ and be faithful members of Christ’s church. Our youth need us. We have no greater mission than to fulfill this vow to this next generation.
When I first came to this church, one thing I heard over and over was this: the youth are spending all their time planning fund raisers. There was no time in youth group for studying the Bible, no time for deepening their theology, no time for learning spiritual practices and developing life-giving friendships and relationships. They were spending almost all of their time planning fund raisers. So in talking with Patricia and others who work with youth, we knew this had to change. If we are going to fulfill our vow, this has to change. The annual trips to Montreat for High School and Massanetta for Middle School are true mountaintop times, an intensive experience where they are immersed in Christian formation, spiritual pilgrimages where they encounter God in powerful ways and deepen relationships with one another. This past summer, because of Covid, our Middle School youth did not go to Massanetta, but we were very thankful that our High School youth were able to go to Montreat. You will hear more about that in a few weeks, on November 7, which is Youth Sunday.
These are important experiences, and while the families will continue to pay a portion of the cost, we as a church must provide more of the funding. The youth will have one or possibly two fundraisers a year to help offset the cost, but they are not going to do the number of fundraisers they have in the past. We must support our ministry with youth and children, and so that is part of our church budget for 2022.
Even as adults, we continue to grow. We need to come together in person or virtually to study God’s word, to grow in our knowledge and understanding of how to apply God’s word, through Bible studies and small groups, Presbyterian Women, training for church officers and other leaders. We have a new Intergenerational Sunday School that is going really well, bringing together different ages to learn God’s word together. The world is longing for the love of a neighbor, and together, we can fulfill that great commandment.
This is a crucial time in the life of our church. We are focusing on mission and how to be the church of Jesus Christ together in a time when everything has changed. Things were changing even before the pandemic, with the retirement of a longtime pastor, a three-year interim period, the calling of a new pastor. Before my arrival, the church developed the new mission statement, and now we are learning how to live that out in a world that is nothing like what it was before.
The Admin/Finance Team and Session approved a challenge budget goal that is an increase of 6% over the current year. That requires all of us together supporting the church by giving our time, talents and resources, so that we can “reflect Christ’s love and mercy by GROWING as individuals, families and community as we continue to discover who we are in Jesus Christ, trying to follow his example.”
The church helps us know who we are, know who our neighbor is, and follow Christ’s example.
The late Fred Craddock told this true story about something that happened to him and his wife when they were vacationing in the Great Smoky Mountains. They were in a restaurant when an older man approached and began to chat with them, asking friendly questions, and when he heard that Craddock was a minister, he asked if he could sit down with them for a minute. Then the man said, “I grew up in these mountains. My mother was not married, and the whole community knew it. I was what was called an illegitimate child. In those days, that was a shame, and I was ashamed . . . When I went into town with [my mother], I could see people staring at me, making guesses as to who my father was. At school the children said ugly things to me, and so I stayed to myself during recess, and I ate my lunch alone.”
But in his early teens, the man said, he began to attend a “little church back in the mountains.” He was afraid he wouldn’t be welcome there, he said, “So I would go just in time for the sermon, and when it was over I would move out because I was afraid someone would say, ‘What’s a boy like you doing in church?’”
“One Sunday some people queued up in the aisle before I could get out,” he said, “and I was stopped. Before I could make my way through the group, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was the minister. . . . I trembled in fear. . . He turned his face around so he could see mine and seemed to be staring for a little while. I knew what he was doing. He was going to make a guess who my father was. A moment later he said, ‘Well, boy, you’re a child of . . .’ and he paused. I knew it was coming.” But then he said, “’Boy, you’re a child of God. I see a striking resemblance, boy. . . . Now, you go and claim your inheritance.’”
The man said, “I left that building a different person. In fact, that was really the beginning of my life.”
That man, Craddock said, was Ben Hooper, who twice was elected governor of the state of Tennessee.4
My friends, how did you learn about the love of God? Who taught you to know and follow Jesus? Think of how the church helped you grow, and how we all are called to pass on what we received, to continue growing and helping others grow to imitate Christ. May we, like the lawyer in this passage, never stop growing in our commitment to love God and to love our neighbor. May we, like the Good Samaritan, like Jesus himself, love extravagantly, for that is the way God loves us. In the name of God our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, Amen.
Rev. Dawn M. Mayes
Manassas Presbyterian Church