Praise God! Hey awesome people, my name is Allen. I do a few things at Whitewater and it’s always an honor to join you to bring the word of God.
Listen, I just want to be up-front and say this is only my second time up speaking. I really love interaction so during our time together if you feel like saying, “Amen” or “That’s good” or “Preach it Asian Man!” - any of those are fine in this house.
If you’re new here in the building or online, one of the things we like to say around here is: “Welcome to our island of misfits.” Thank you for checking us out, where we’re all a little weird, we’re all a little different, and that’s how we like it! Can all my different people say, “Amen?"
The last few weeks we’ve been moving through a teaching series called, “For Everyone” where we get to look at all the ways Jesus was For The One, For The Community, and today, I want us to see he was For The City. More specifically, “MY City,” “YOUR City.” We get this idea from Jesus himself before he leaves Earth to go up to Heaven. He tells us in Acts 1: 8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere... in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Jesus was FOR Jerusalem, FOR Judea, FOR Samaria, FOR the cities he lived in and passed through. So that begs the question for us, how can I be for MY City? And I’m not just talking about Cleves (where this building resides), I’m talking about all the cities represented right now: Colerain, Harrison, Marco Island, Lawrenceburg, in fact, put your city in the chat right now and let us know where you’re from because here in the building we have people from all over the tri-state area and online we go beyond state lines!
I saw a lot of us were, “FOR OUR CITY” of Cincinnati about two weeks ago. Most of you went into your closets, dusted off an old Bengals jersey or bought new Cincinnati logo sweaters, and wore it proudly. I saw a lot of Cincinnati pride going around, and I’m a really good bandwagon sports fan, so I jumped right in. I was yelling stuff like, “Who Dey” or “Joe Shiesty” and eating Skyline chili, it was a lot of fun! But it made me wonder, is THIS what being FOR MY CITY is all about?
Because how many know that if we’re going to be FOR OUR CITY, we can’t just be FOR one part of it. We can’t just be FOR the exciting part where our team goes to the Superbowl. We can’t just be FOR the history, the architecture, or FOR the logo hats and t-shirts that we wear... because all of that stuff is fleeting. It’s about the people. The students and teachers, the moms and dads, the single and married, the wealthy and poor, the healthy and sick, the lost and found, THE PEOPLE.
In the same way that The Church isn’t a building, The City isn’t a Tourist Destination. Matthew 5:14 says it like this, “You are the light of the world, a city on a hill cannot be hidden.” Why can’t the City be hidden? Because YOU are in it, and when we team up with others who carry that same Holy Spirit light and love that lives in each and every believer, then we can’t help but light up the cities where we all live.
Today I want us to see that Jesus teaches us this city principle with a very important emphasis on how to truly love people.
As we settle in let’s turn to our Bibles to Luke 10: 25-37; if you don’t have a physical Bible, let us know! I really believe the Word of God should be held, flipped, written in, and wrestled with. So, if you need one we’ve got one for you. Does anyone want to read? Just kidding, here we go:
One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. By chance, a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant (also called a Levite in other Bible versions) walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’" “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”
Before we continue, I want to recognize that this scripture is pretty well-known. Even people who don’t know Jesus know OF the Good Samaritan. There’s a show on CBS called, “Good Sam,” based on Good Samaritan hospitals all over the country. There’s even one in Cincinnati. Even if you aren’t a Christian you’re probably familiar with this story. Not only is this story well-known but it has one of, if not THE most famous Christian phrases in the passage: “Love your neighbor as Yourself.” Sometimes we can totally gloss over the part that says, “As Yourself.” But can I just say... sometimes, it’s HARD to love yourself. I don’t know about you but there are days when I feel completely unlovable. When I look in the mirror and think, “I don’t love that one pack that’s forming on my belly.” “I don’t love my hair today.” Or we think about the things we’ve done in the past like, “I don’t love that I’m divorced.” “I don’t love that I stole money from my job because I was too irresponsible with my own money.” These are things about my life that I look back on and think, “How can God possibly expect me to love THAT person; who’s my neighbor when I can barely love THIS person; who is myself.”
The answer is right here in the text it says, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.” There’s a reason why it comes BEFORE “Love your neighbor as yourself” because you can’t truly love yourself without loving God first. When you start to love God with everything you have, when you start to pray, you open a line of communication with Him, you read His Word, you worship Him through your daily tasks...He starts to tell you the truth. The truth that you are His child, that He molded you intimately with his hands, scripture tells us that each and every one of us are His masterpieces, created in His image. And His image is perfection. So, whatever you did in the past, whatever that stupid boy said to you in 6th grade, whatever terrible words anyone has ever told you to make you feel unlovable and small, they take a BACKSEAT to the car of your life. Because Jesus is driving now and He has an air freshener dangling from the rearview mirror that says, "I truly LOVE you." So how can we love ourselves enough to be able to love our neighbor? We get close to God. Because even a little bit of God’s love in your heart is a WHOLE lot of love for the rest of the world. “Love your neighbor, as Yourself...the way God loves you.”
As we keep studying this passage, I want us to re-evaluate the term "neighbor." Because what we’ll see in scripture, is that our neighbors aren’t just pleasant Bob and Nancy next door who don’t cause any trouble. Our neighbors are also the ones you peek through the blinds to see what they’re up to. (You know how we do like...) Our neighbors aren’t just the people you see in church every Sunday, they’re the ones with a bumper sticker that says, "God’s not real." Your neighbor isn’t just across the street, they’re on the other side of the tracks!
So, if we keep going in this passage in verse 28, this Teacher of the Law actually gets it right with Jesus. Sometimes we read about these teachers in the Bible and usually, Jesus challenges their views but this time he gives this guy a high five, “Yeah, you got it boo-boo! Good job!” But now the teacher feels stupid about his question because remember earlier in the passage it says, “An expert in religious law stood up to TEST Jesus” and how many know that you don’t test Jesus - Jesus tests you. And it says in order to JUSTIFY his first question this guy asks another one, but in reality, I think he was just trying to sound smart. Do you know anyone like that? Don’t look at the person next to you.
And instead of answering the question with a straight answer, Jesus tells a parable, about a Jewish man (which is an important detail) who was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. I want to park at Jericho for a second because Jericho is the same place where a prostitute named Rahab (who is an ancestor to Jesus Christ Himself) hid two Israelite spies before a battle. So, let’s never forget that our Christian lineage dates back to a prostitute who risked her life to bring Isreal to the Promise Land. This is a good reminder that God can use ANYBODY. As we continue, we find that a priest came along and PASSED HIM BY. And then a Temple Assistant walked over and actually looked at this poor Jewish dude and also PASSED BY. How messed up is that? This man is a Jew just like they are! He’s their kin. But it got me thinking: How many people have we passed by in our lifetime because we saw how different they looked to us in their moment of brokenness?
I don’t know about you, but there are people I’ve met (purposely or not) that I’ve judged based on a first impression; and it just so happens that in that first impression, they were in the worst season of their life. So we don’t get to meet them at their best, at their most charming, at their 100%, so intentionally or not we decide, “that person’s not for me.”
An article on Psychology Today says, “Models of friendship show that there are two main categories of factors that influence our choice and pursuit of potential friends: individual factors and environmental factors. Individual factors include such influences as approachability, social skills, self-disclosure, similarity, and closeness.” When someone just lost a newborn, was told that their mother has cancer, and just dropped their coffee on the way in... they probably won’t look the most approachable, they’ll probably just want to keep to themselves, so you won’t get to find out any similarities you share, which prevents any closeness. But Jesus says in John 7:24, “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” These so-called godly people in our passage judged incorrectly - because this broken Jewish man on the ground was one of them - but not only did they judge incorrectly; they just JUDGED. If they were truly people of godly ministry, then wouldn’t you think their actions should have matched the words they spoke in the temples? That their actions should have matched the words they would read on their scrolls?
When I lived in Chicago, there was a man wearing a suit on a very crowded street called State Street, who would stand in front of an Old Navy with a small portable speaker and a microphone, waving his Bible and yelling crazy things at people as they walked by. “I see you smokin', you’re going to hell!” “Ohh I see you holdin’ hands, repent of your sins”...just some of the most outlandish presumptions about people based on a walk-by. And the crazy thing is, this guy is famous now, not in a good way. He’s in memes now! And here’s the thing, he’s been doing this a LONG time. And I’m not trying to call him out, but instead of building relationships with people he doesn’t know, he decides to scream at them, with what result? How many people do you think asked him for prayer during that time? How many people do you think he baptized then? If there’s anything you get out of this teaching series, it’s that Religion does NOT work without Relationship. Jesus is a personal, intimate God who gets up close with people, who heals wounds with a touch, who gives people hope with a whisper, who has dinner with people, who sees people for who God made them to be, not the first glance of their brokenness.
I know some of us are thinking, “Well, Allen, I don’t have a speaker or a microphone, and I don’t stand out anywhere yelling at people - that isn’t me!” Yeah but, we do with our eyes, with our ears, we take mental notes on what we think about people’s agendas and not their stories. And because of that, we assume people are different from us. See, if we keep going with our passage in verse 33 it says, “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him.” When I was studying this I thought - hold up - why does it say a, “despised” Samaritan? Because if you didn’t know, Judea and Samaria were rival cities. Not only that but Jews and Samaritans hated each other...for several reasons! They hated each other based on race (Samaritans are what my Harry Potter fans would call a "Mudblood") because they were somewhat Jewish but somewhat Assyrian. They hated each other based on religion, they had different ideas on where and how to worship God, some Samaritans didn’t even worship the Lord. There was a geographical difference, a cultural difference... does this sound familiar? Nothing like what we experience now, right?
Because of their history, the Jews literally walked around Samaria to reach their destinations. Because of this hate, Samaritans literally avoided Jews. And it makes me think about how segregation equals more segregation. Avoidance equals more un-health. The tension was amplified by the fact that they continued to ignore the problem, and leaned into their differences, which led to no solution.
If we keep going with our passage it says this Samaritan felt, “compassion.” But I want us to look at this word in a different way. Check this out, the Greek word used for compassion here is: Splagna - which derives from Splagchnon, which means compassion from the bowels, from your intestines, a deep inward affection, a tender mercy. The kind of mercy that’s so deep it moves you figuratively and physically. Jesus felt this same type of splagna compassion with a leper in Mark 1: 41, “Moved with compassion, moved with Splagna, Jesus reached out and said, “Be healed.” Parents in the room know how this compassion feels when your kid is in the worst pain and all you want to do is make them feel better. As followers of Christ, we’re told we should have THIS kind of empathy, this kind of compassion to not just others, but to people who we view as our Samaritans.
One of my best friends in high school, Brandon is pretty white for a fly guy, very into sports, loves hip hop music, and has a healthy debit card balance. Me on the other hand, a theater kid, if I wasn’t rocking out to Fall Out Boy I was definitely crying to N’Sync songs. And in high school I didn’t have a debit card balance, I had a debit card imbalance. We lived in different cities and lived completely different lives. So, how did we even get to know each other? We met on a bowling team and one of us initiated a conversation where we found out that we both didn’t grow up with dads. As soon as he told me I felt immediate compassion, immediate empathy. Brandon was one of my many Samaritan neighbors, that had it not been for a simple conversation, we would have passed each other by, never knowing that even if we had nothing superficial in common, we shared a bond through the depth of our life story. The compassion we felt in each of us was greater than the differences we saw in each other.
Because of the Samaritan’s deep compassion, this deep mercy, in verse 34 of our passage - "The Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.'” I don’t want us to miss this because in this very moment, the Samaritan sacrificed a lot just to take care of someone who most likely hated him. He used his own resources of olive oil, wine, and bandages. Donkeys are usually a one-person per ride animal so he most likely walked alongside the donkey carrying this Jewish man. Then he was generous enough to not only pay for a stay at the inn, but also for the innkeeper to watch over him. Also, how much time did all of these events take? These four sentences elapsed over three days. This despised Samaritan, gave away his money, his resources, and his time. You want to talk about loving people different from you?
There’s a great band from Seattle that I used to listen to in college, who I didn’t know were believers, until they dropped this song called, “The Road to Jericho.” And the main part of the bridge goes like this: “If lovin’ were easy, it wouldn’t be love.” Loving can be diff-i-cult. Parents, I know you know this, you love your kids, but sometimes... So imagine trying to love someone who we have already predetermined is our enemy. Let’s admit that fact. Let’s admit that without God, loving people from the other side is challenging!
You wanna know the good news? Our verse for this series says it perfectly. Let’s read it again. Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” In every difficult situation, including loving others, we have to rely on the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. Because just like the Samaritan each of us is imbued with a skill, an ability, and a resource that can help us truly love people in tangible ways - which in turn allows people to see Jesus working through us.
Now, I’m a massive nerd and a huge fan of superhero movies and video games. Shoutout to all my Nerdy Christians out there - but there’s a video game that was released in 2005 called, “City of Heroes" where as a player you can create your own superhero, you’re given a superpower, and then a city to protect and serve. In 1 Corinthians 12: 4-11 it says:
"There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us."
Now, these gifts aren’t just for biblical times, these gifts are given to us in this age, in this time. Some of you have gifts, talents, and abilities you think are just some weird thing you were born with, or were randomly taught... but we need to understand that these are gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit, some of them could be the gift of:
Hospitality, cooking a meal, listening, conversation, being funny, gathering people, giving compliments, giving advice, storytelling, film-making, songwriting, dancing, entertaining, singing, etc.
What I’m trying to say is that while Jesus is calling us to love those who are different from us, the Holy Spirit gave us the power, abilities, interest, and passion to do it! We don’t have to have fictional superpowers to save a city from darkness, we have God’s Holy Spirit right here, right now. The talents you consider small, the little time you have, the treasure you possess can all be used for God’s Kingdom! If we can just all be intentional in using these abilities together for the people we’re called to love, those similar to us, and those different from us - then we would be a united front of Kingdom-minded people in Cincinnati, in Cleves, in Colerain, in Chicago, in New York, Lawrenceburg, in Harrison, Sri-Lanka, Jordan, and wherever else you live. I want a City of Heroes.
Listen, some of you may or may not know I’ve been able to hang out with Jon and be a misfit with him for several years now. He and his wife, Kelly invited my wife and me to move here almost two years ago and be a part of the mission at Whitewater, and by God’s instruction, we planted our roots here. Sarah and I got married a few minutes from this building in Ross, OH. We moved downtown. We love the communities we’re a part of, and this is home for us now. If I can have some real honest talk with you, about taking the Gospel to people who are not like you, I know very well that to some of you I represent... Samaria. I know for some of you I represent something very different. I know this because when I first came here someone asked Jon, “Where’d that oriental come from?” Look I get it, there’s maybe some differences... the obvious one being my race, my skin tone, the clothes I wear. The not-so-obvious is my personality, my attitude, my demeanor, my values, and my beliefs. I realize I’m not like many of you. And trust me it’s been one of my life’s stories - the token Asian.
I remember when Jon and I first visited Whitewater, we entered the doors, walked into this very Worship Center, and thought, “I might be one of three non-white attendees, alright..” And I’m not here to condemn, or to judge, or get sympathy, or give any opinion. I know there has been amazing progress when it comes to racial diversity here. All I’m saying is the people you reach for are the result of your intention. Jesus intentionally went to the Samaritan woman at the well because He needed her to spread the Gospel to her city. Jesus intentionally ate dinners at hated tax collectors’ homes so he could give Hope to those who’ve been outcasted. You and I would not be here in this church if not for Jesus telling his apostles to go and preach the Gospel to non-Jews. This church body is not a west-sider Cleves, OH church - it is a church made up of many different, unique, exotic, loving, kind, people who are able to reach every corner of the tri-state area and more! To put it in Star Trek terms, “We can boldly go where no one has gone before.”
If this church body were to stretch out our hands to literally reach out to those who are different from us, not only would we push ourselves out of our comfort zone to think more like Jesus, but we would have a congregation reflective of the bold, and awesome colors of Heaven.
At the end of our passage, Jesus asks, “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” So who is your Samaria? Who are your Samaritans? Who are “those'' people to you? Who are those you despise? Because once you find that out, all you have to do is: Show Them Mercy.
As followers of King Jesus, we have to take on the heart of the hero in HIS parable: the despised Samaritan. When we see a hurting enemy who is different racially, financially, emotionally, and mentally Jesus is asking us to:
- Engage physically
- Be Inconvenienced
- Be Beyond Financially Generous
- Show Splagna Compassion
- And do all of this with Zero Expectation
The Samaritan didn’t think twice because he didn’t wonder what this broken Jewish man would do with his donkey or his two silver coins. Jesus never told us what happened in the rest of the parable because when we show people mercy it should be with our hearts, not our reasoning. Oftentimes, we can create a barrier to helping others because we create reasons NOT to help. We ask questions like, “What will they do with my $20?” “How do I know that they won’t buy themselves...?” Jesus isn’t asking us to be illogical, He’s just asking us to be obedient.
If we want to be FOR OUR CITIES, we can’t just be For The Brand, we have to be For The Broken. We can’t just be For Those We Like, we have to be For Those We Despise. We can’t just Talk Religion, we have to Show Relationship. We can’t just Care For People, we have to be Compassionate. And it’s okay that this is hard to do!
Because say it with me: “If Lovin’ were easy... It wouldn’t be love.”