Who Is My Neighbor?

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25)

This weekend we will be continuing in our series on the Beatitudes. As a part of that conversation, we will be considering the story of the “Good Samaritan,” for which the quote above is the introduction.

There is a legend that comes from one of our Presbyterian seminaries that on the day of their final exam the students were told to be at a certain building at a certain time, in a very specific room. Upon their arrival at that place each would find a sign on the door that said that their exam is in a different room on the far side of campus. Desperate to do well on their final and with hardly any time to spare, the students would run off toward their new destination. As they did, all of them passed by a person in the middle of the sidewalk, clearly hurt, unconsciously lying there in need of help. When they arrived at the far building, their professor then lead them in an oral examination on the topic of the Good Samaritan.

For many of us within the Christian tradition, we have heard this story so many times that we forget how controversial it really was. Samaritans were foreigners, in this case residing in Jewish territory, and were considered second-class humans, if not even lower. On some level, we understand that as the two priests pass him on the other side, we are witnessing the religious establishment ignoring those most desperately in need out of fear for protecting their “piety.” And all of this was in response to the lawyer’s question of Jesus, but really “who is my neighbor?”

The question we should ask ourselves is where are the people we pass over? Ignore out of fear? When do we turn our eyes and ears away? Pretend they don’t exist?

It’s important to remember that following Christ was never meant to be comfortable. It’s supposed to push us. Stretch us. Transform us – because only then can we become more like the Triune God in whose image we were made.

Let us not miss Christ’s message from this parable: we will be held accountable for how we treat others. Jesus spends more time on the importance of living out our faith in tangible acts of mercy than almost any topic. Instead of telling us to run from “evildoers,” he consistently points to the ways we must choose to overcome the evil in ourselves, with God’s help of course. It is not ours to choose who is worthy of love; it is our job to simply live out love in as many ways as we can.

I look forward to further conversation with you about this parable and the next beatitude this weekend. And I pray that God will continue to open our eyes and ears to those in desperate need of our help, and that we will finally hear God’s lesson that the relief and help for these people will come through us.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Child of God

Remember, you are a child of God.
And God loves God's children!
How much?
Very much!
Will it stop?

This week is “Traveling Day Camp” here at FPC and our campus is alive with children laughing, learning, dancing, and growing in their faith.

Our counselors from our Presbytery’s Camp Krislund are doing great, as are our friends from Providence PCUSA and, as always, our amazing leadership team here. And the kids seemed excited to meet their new pastor this week (and her twin sons, who finally showed up this morning).

We’ve covered topics from God’s creation to God’s desire to make us new to our desire to be better. There are countless things these fifty children are learning in the midst of songs, crafts, games, bible studies, and so much more.

Something that every pastor wonders is what is the most essential message we want people to hear and how do we communicate it.

When I arrived here a month and a half ago, we added this line to the charge and benediction at the end of worship: Remember you are a child of God – And God loves God’s children. I cannot take credit for this line, as I picked it up from a colleague during a youth conference at our national PCUSA Conference Center, Montreat. But it has become an essential part of my ministry.

Here’s why: as I told the children this week, a church is a family. And every family has their own special language – key phrases or gestures that are special to them and how they live life together. Whatever else I may ever teach anyone here at FPC, from age 1 to 100, this is the message I want to make sure every single person hears. Learns. Knows, all the way into their bones.

Children, however, need to particularly know how special and important they are, in order that they can be empowered to be the people God intends them to be. So, this morning, we added a few more lines – just for them. (You can check them out above.)

Once you get to know me better you will find that I have one favorite scripture passage that beats out all the rest (though I do have a long list of favorites): I am convinced that… nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). This is the heart of the gospel. This is a message that everyone on this planet needs to hear – that they are loved. Fully. Completely. Just as they are. No matter what.

Our children need this message, but so do all of the “big kids” (i.e. grown-ups), too. So I encourage everyone to learn this benediction well and take it to heart – just as your kids are learning their own chant this week. Once we know that we are loved it is remarkable how everything else about us will fall into place.

Blessings, Pastor Janie