Walt Whitman said, “The truth is simple. If it was complicated, everyone would understand it.” I agree. The everyday world in which we live has become more and more complicated as systems become more complex and interlocked. We are more and more connected through technology and other superficial means, but find ourselves more and more disconnected from each other as we are in so many ways disconnected from ourselves, and ultimately God. That’s why I need to sit and be taught anew the simplicity of Jesus’ gospel.
Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan is the simple story of what it means to be a neighbor. It is the simplicity of God’s love in real life.
Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. And God showed his love for us by sending his only Son into the world, so that we might have life through him. (1 John 4:7-9)
What prompted these next five sermons is the fiftieth anniversary last February of Fred Roger’s debut as the host of “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood” on February 19, 1968. Fred Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian pastor, embodied for me the spirit of Jesus’ love in ways that continue to move me. As I sat in the Sebastiani Theater watching the documentary of Fred’s life, I silently wept several times as Fred’s words and actions reminded me of Jesus’ invitation to radically love as a child loves. Jesus said that unless we become as little children, we cannot enter the kingdom of God. (Matthew 18:3) It’s not that Jesus is locking us out—we lock ourselves out.
“At the center of the Universe is a loving heart that continues to beat and that wants the best for every person. Anything that we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job. Those of us who have this particular vision must continue against all odds. Life is for service.” (Fred Rogers)
I need Fred Rogers to help me experience Jesus’ profound description of what it means to love God, and my neighbor as myself. I suspect some of you need that as well. Kindness and goodness matter, and I need to be reminded of that everyday. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to be together Sunday as we let the Spirit of the living God teach us anew the simple truth of love. This is the story of the Good Samaritan:
A teacher of the Law came up and tried to trap Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to receive eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “What do the Scriptures say? How do you interpret them?” The man answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’” “You are right,” Jesus replied; “do this and you will live.” But the teacher of the Law wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”
Jesus answered, “There was once a man who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when robbers attacked him, stripped him, and beat him up, leaving him half dead. It so happened that a priest was going down that road; but when he saw the man, he walked on by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also came there, went over and looked at the man, and then walked on by on the other side. But a Samaritan who was traveling that way came upon the man, and when he saw him, his heart was filled with pity. He went over to him, poured oil and wine on his wounds and bandaged them; then he put the man on his own animal and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Take care of him,’ he told the innkeeper, ‘and when I come back this way, I will pay you whatever else you spend on him.’”
And Jesus concluded, “In your opinion, which one of these three acted like a neighbor toward the man attacked by the robbers?” The teacher of the Law answered, “The one who was kind to him.” Jesus replied, “You go, then, and do the same.”