Over the last several weeks, North Coast Church has engaged in a 3-week intentional effort called Serve-Your-City.
During this campaign, North Coasters have donated resources to completely fund and provide materials for 40 unique and distinct community service projects throughout North San Diego County. More than 6,000 folks then registered and donated their time, talent and labor to serve at these project sites. All kinds of projects serving all kinds of people, where first a need was expressed; then projects were identified and created out of those needs. Skilled project leads, coordinators and supervisors were identified and put in place. Then, every project was carried out, at or above the need, very lovingly and in an amazingly orchestrated fashion over an entire weekend of serving. No in-person weekend services took place at any of our campuses as the church went out to be the church within each of our communities. All because Jesus asked us to serve others the way He modeled servanthood.
As we head into this last week of the formal Serve-Your-City campaign, now we’re called to engage in learning the discipline of intentionally loving people.
We saw Jesus do this throughout his time here on earth (Matt 9:9-13, John 4:7-42) where his influence started with going out of his way to love people. We have the same opportunity to influence people today. Whether it’s reaching out to a new neighbor, inviting someone to church, or in any other way that shows genuine care and concern, “Love Week” is our opportunity to bring people closer to Jesus by radiating His love.
To start, you can ask God, “Who in my house, neighborhood, city, work or school would you have me reach out to?”
This is about intentionally loving people. All kinds of people. Wherever God may place them onto your path.
But it’s also about building a discipline that goes beyond a one-time, check-the-box type of exercise. The intent is to begin to build a regular discipline of serving; of fleshing out our identities in accordance with who we are as Christ-followers.
As our Lead Pastor, Chris shared in the Your Story Video this week, it’s about sharing our time, talents, treasures and/or testimony with others as a means through which to invite them to “come and see” and introduce them to the person of Jesus Christ.
Maybe share a story with a friend about how your faith has developed over time, invite your neighbor over to dinner to begin/continue developing a relationship, pay for the person in line behind you at the coffee shop. Watch for all of the opportunities where God might have you engage; in the place where you live; in your neighborhood, city, work or school, and ask God, “What does love require me to do here?”
There’s a story in the Bible that Jesus told, that so perfectly illustrates this calling. It’s one that most of us will claim familiarity with but, in this retelling, provides something of a twist. I came across an interesting blog about the story of the Good Samaritan that looked at the parable from what, for me, was a new perspective. One, as it turns out, many people never notice.
A Surprising and Significant Twist in the Good Samaritan Story Most People Never Notice
When Jesus told an inquirer that if he would ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ he would have eternal life, the inquirer asked: ‘And who is my neighbor?’
This sets the occasion for Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan which is so familiar to all of us. It is so familiar that most of us can do a pretty good job of repeating the story in detail. Yet I think there is an aspect to the parable most of us completely miss. I missed it myself for 30 years until I read a book that pointed me to this insight. The Story of the Good Samaritan, which is Jesus’ answer to the inquirer’s question, ‘And who is my neighbor?’, is found in Luke 10. Here is the story in its entirety.
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
Then Jesus asks the inquirer
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?
Of course, the inquirer answers that it is ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ (the Samaritan).
So far, the story is very familiar to us; we have heard it perhaps hundreds of times. And the lesson we draw from it is that those whom we should love as our neighbors include people we would not ordinarily consider our neighbor—people outside our personal tribe. For, as we all know, the Jews did not hold Samaritans in high regard.
This is a good lesson on loving others. But there is a twist here I think we should also consider.
The Significant Hidden Twist to the Story
The story of the Good Samaritan addresses the question, ‘Who is the neighbor I should love as myself?’ In other words, ‘Who lies within the scope of those I should love?’ And the answer we usually derive from the story is that we should love the Samaritan, a person that Jews ordinarily despised; Samaritans were mixed descendants of Israelites who held substandard, corrupted, even heretical beliefs.
When the Jews returned from the Babylonian captivity, the Samaritans (remnants of the Northern Kingdom) offered to help them rebuild, but they were rebuffed as impure heretics. The rejection of the Samaritans by the Jews, and the resentment of the Jews by the Samaritans, continued to Jesus’ time.
So it seems we should love even those whom we feel are beneath us; those who are mistaken in their beliefs and impure in the practices. This is a good answer, but it is not what the story says.
The Samaritan does not represent one who reaches down to show love to those beneath him. The Samaritan shows empathy, compassion, and care to a person who normally would look down on him and despise him; in fact this Jew was an oppressor. Yet the Samaritan, with a heart of love, showed empathy, compassion, and care for his very oppressor—apparently because he saw him simply as a human in distress and need.
Note that the question is ‘Who is the neighbor I should love?’ But in the story, the ‘neighbor’ is not the one who received love but the one who demonstrated love. It turns the question completely around.
I don’t know that Jesus intended this secondary message, but the story indicates that those we must love as we love as ourselves include those who oppress us—even our enemies. It is not just a case of the privileged showing love for the lower masses, but a case of showing love to those who look down on us, judge us, and disparage us—those who might even be the very people who disempower us.
So love does not just flow downward; love flows upward. In other places Jesus actually says we must love even our enemies, and at points he specifically has in mind the occupying forces of the Roman Empire. If Jesus expected the Jews to love the Romans as they loved themselves, then there can be no limit, nor exclusion, for those we should love.
Let us consider again the inquirer’s question, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ or ‘Who lies within the scope of those I should love as myself?’ We might rephrase this last question as ‘Who lies outside the scope of those I should love as myself?’
The answer is no one. There is no one for whom we should not show love as the Samaritan did—in terms of genuine empathy, compassion, and care. There are no exceptions. Let us dwell on this and consider how it applies to our individual lives.