March 26, 2017
Pastor Joe Wittwer
#3—BeFriend the Other
Introduction and offering:
This is week 3 of our series, Befriend. The Big Idea for this series is that God has moved toward us when we were His enemies and made us His friends, and now He calls us to do the same with others. Move toward the other. Move toward the person who is different and befriend them.
We all gravitate toward people who are like us. When you enter a room, the first thing you look for is someone you know—a familiar face. If you don’t know anyone, the next thing you look for is someone like you: same age, same gender, same race, same “look”. It’s not wrong—it’s just human nature.
The problem is that we can get so comfortable with “our kind” of people that we avoid those who are different. We may unconsciously group people into “us/them,” and we stick with “us” and avoid “them.” We play it safe and stay in our comfort zone. And before long, it becomes easy to demonize the other. We make all kinds of judgments about them, and tar all of them with the same brush. “Oh, you’re one of them.”
If we have to courage to break out of our comfort zone and move toward the other, we will humanize them rather then demonize them. We’ll realize that person is a human being just like me, with a unique story, and hopes and dreams and fears just like mine. We realize that there really isn’t an “us/them”—there is just us.
Does that mean we must agree on everything? Of course not. You don’t have agree with the other; you just have to love them, and be a friend. So today, I want to talk with you about expanding your “us” by befriending the other.
The Big Idea: Who is your “other”? Who is your “us/them”? We need to expand our “us” by befriending the “other”.
We’re going to ask two important questions and I’ll send you out with a charge from Jesus.
Who is my neighbor?
Does anyone recognize this question? It was famously asked of Jesus by an expert in the Jewish Law. Here’s the story.
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “ ‘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.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “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. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 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. 35 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.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
This expert in Jewish Law wanted Jesus’ opinion on a popular question: what must I do to inherit eternal life. Jesus turned the question back on him: “You know the Law; what do you think it says.” And the man answered with what we know as the Great Commandment: Love God with all you’ve got and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus commended him: “You’ve answered correctly. Do this and you’ll live.” But the man wanted to justify himself, so he asked, “And who is my neighbor?”
There were some rabbis and experts in Jewish law who defined neighbor as a fellow Jew. In other words, someone of their race and religion. They believed that they were obligated only to love those like them, those of their race and religion, not someone different. That’s what lies behind this question. The man wanted a very narrow definition of neighbor; Jesus gave him a shocking answer. We know it as the story of the Good Samaritan.
A Jewish man is traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, about 17 miles steeply downhill, when he is attacked, beaten, robbed and left for dead. Along comes a Jewish priest. Cue heroic music! Jesus’ audience would have smiled—who more likely to help than a priest! A man of God! If Jesus were telling the story here at Life Center, He would have said, “Pastor Joe walked by,” and you’d all think, “Awesome! How lucky for the guy in the road! It’s PJ—he’s got cool socks! He’ll take care of him!” But PJ walks on by and leaves him there. What a let down!
Then along comes a Levite—an assistant to the priest. Re-cue heroic music! Jesus’ audience is smiling again. The priest must have had a good reason for walking by—an important meeting perhaps—but surely the Levite will help. If Jesus were telling the story here at Life Center, it would be one of our assistant pastors—maybe Pastor Michael, or David or Josh. You’re all thinking, “Whew. PJ blew it, but this guy will save the day.” But he walks on by too and leaves the man there. Are you kidding me? We’ve got to find a new church!
Then along comes…who? Who would Jesus’ audience expect? The Jews often spoke of the “priests, Levites and people.” So they were expecting one of the Jewish people next. If the religious leaders failed, well, count on one of the people to step up. We all like a story where the Big Shots blow it, but a common person saves the day.
Then along comes…a Samaritan. Cue sinister music! The Jews and Samaritans were bitter enemies. They avoided traveling in each other’s countries because it was so dangerous. When they hear that a Samaritan has arrived, what do they expect? He’s going to finish the guy off! Instead, the Samaritan feels compassion, stops and tends the man’s wounds, and takes him to the nearest ER, where he not only pays for his treatment, but promises to cover the rest of the bill if needed. Have you been to the ER lately? That’s a huge commitment! All this for a stranger, a foreigner, a man of a different race and religion, the enemy.
If Jesus were telling the story here, Pastor Joe walks by, one of the assistant pastors walks by, then a member of ISIS stops and tends the man. “Wait, Jesus,” you think, “that’s the wrong hero. That’s the bad guy!”
So the hated Samaritan is the hero of Jesus’ story. And then Jesus asks, “Which of the three was a neighbor to the man in the road?” What do you expect him to say? “The Samaritan.” But he can’t even say the word. “The one who showed mercy,” he says. And Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”
Who is my neighbor? My neighbor is whoever is in front of me right now. My neighbor is anyone in need. My neighbor is someone different—a different race and religion. My neighbor is anyone and everyone. To love your neighbor is to love everyone always.
But Jesus added a twist to the man’s question. “Who is my neighbor?” the man asked. Jesus asked in return, “Who was a neighbor?” It is more important to be a neighbor than to define your neighbor. In this case, the Samaritan was a neighbor to the man in the road. He moved toward him in his need and cared for him. He loved his neighbor, a man of a different race and religion, at great risk and cost to himself.
ILL: Let me tell you a modern day Good Samaritan story. My niece, Whitney just returned from a month in Mosul, Iraq. She worked as a trauma nurse in an emergency field hospital sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse. She was treating acute trauma patients caught in the crossfire of the fighting between ISIS and the Iraqi army. Her letter broke my heart. I’ll share just one paragraph.
“…it would be so easy to get angry, to hate the men of (ISIS). To be honest it’s what I would’ve expected. But an amazing thing happened. On my second day home I had a friend ask, “Were you angry?” We were talking about the way we were called to care for the members of ISIS that were at times laying on the stretchers next to the children they had been a part of blowing up. As I thought back, I was shocked at my answer. “No” I responded. Wondering to myself why I wasn’t angered, the Lord showed me. The men of ISIS are men that are so heartbreakingly lost. I saw their faces. I bandaged their wounds. I heard their stories of being forced to join ISIS or be killed, many of them so young and so impressionable. I watched as they asked us why we were so kind to them, telling us they had only heard of how evil we were. You could see the dismay as they realized the realities they had built their beliefs on began to fracture. I realized the men of ISIS were the same as so many others, they were men lost, deceived by false reports they’d been fed. For the first time in my life I began to find a new understanding of how our Savior could hang crucified and look out at those that had put him there and cry out, “Forgive them, for they do not know what they’re doing”. At times we mourned as we discharged some of our “enemy combatant” patients, knowing as we discharged them and sent them to the Iraqi general, that they would inevitably be interrogated for information and promptly executed. I realized that it was here, that I began to really learn what Jesus meant when he called us to love our enemies.
Whitney is living the Good Samaritan story. She is loving her enemy. But I want to ask you: does her story make you uncomfortable? Is she siding with ISIS? No, not for a moment. Is she justifying what they are doing. Absolutely not. But she was being a neighbor to the man fallen in the road. Please pray for Whitney; she returns to Mosul to work in the hospital again next week.
Who is my neighbor? The person in front of me right now. The more important question is, “Am I being a neighbor? Am I moving toward those who are different?”
Who is my “other”?
Let’s befriend the other. But who is the “other”? There are dozens of possible answers. Who is different from you? Who makes you feel uncomfortable? Who would you rather avoid?
ILL: This is Nicole. She has cerebral palsy, is wheelchair bound, and can be hard to understand. She loves Jesus and has come to Life Center for years, and whenever I see her, I stop and give her hug, say hi, ask a question or two, and then move on within a minute. I struggle to understand her—it is awkward for me. Uncomfortable.
A couple weeks ago, I saw Nicole at Project ID—I went there with my Rooted group for our serve experience. Project ID provides a safe place for adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities to hang out—it’s a great ministry. When Nicole saw me there, she was so excited she almost came out of her chair. I did my usual minute and was about to move on when God nudged me. “Don’t walk away; engage Nicole in a conversation.” I spent the next 30 minutes talking with Nicole—it was slow, difficult…and rewarding. She stopped everyone who walked by and introduced me to them as her “old pastor.” (Project ID also provides a Sunday church service and Nicole is going there now—hence, old as in “previous” not “ancient.”) At one point, she said, “I read my Bible and I pray every day. And I pray for you, Pastor Joe.” I almost started crying. I felt unworthy.
Anyone else ever avoid the disabled? Who is your other? Who makes you uncomfortable? Take a moment and write down who your “other” is. There are many possibilities; I want to focus on four big ones.
Move toward the person of a different race. Back in the Gracism series, I told you that about 25 years ago, I realized that I had few friends of color. I don’t believe that I was racist; I felt no ill-will or prejudice; I simply lived in a white majority community and rarely crossed paths with people of color. I decided to change that, and began to move toward people of color. Rodney McAuley was first—I invited him to lunch, and asked him, “Tell me your story.” I had several opportunities in that conversation to ask Rodney, “Tell me more,” especially when he described what it was like to live as a black man in Spokane.
That started what has been an on-going education for me! I realized that I had no idea what prejudice or racism felt like. I don’t wake up every day and wonder if I’ll be judged by the color of my skin. So I’ve done two things to educate myself. First, I have continued to move towards people of color and befriend them. I listen a lot, and I’m very grateful to my friends for being willing to hang out with me and tell me their stories. I continue to work on this. Second, I am also educating myself in the more traditional fashion: reading lots of books and articles, listening to talks given by people of color.
And I want to encourage you to do the same. Move toward the other. Move with an open heart and listening ears. I believe the cure for racism is gracism. Move toward those who of a different race with grace, and see what God does.
The Good Samaritan—the hero of our story—moved toward the man in the road, a Jew, a different race. Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”
In John 4, Jesus stops to rest beside a well in Samaria. While His disciples go into town to get lunch, a Samaritan woman comes to the well to draw water. Jesus befriends her. He initiates a conversation that starts with, “Will you give me a drink,” and soon moves much deeper.
When the disciples return, they are shocked that Jesus is talking with this woman. This woman was Jesus’ “other.” She was “other” four times over: she was a different race, different religion, different gender (men didn’t usually talk to women in public), and a different reputation (she was probably at the well at noon because no one else would normally be there—she was shunned by her neighbors because of her marital history).
Jesus had at least four different reasons to avoid this woman. He ignored them all and moved toward her, shocking His disciples. Go and do the same.
Who is your “other?” Don’t let race stop you from befriending the other.
Move toward the person who believes differently than you. Once again, I’ll remind you that the Good Samaritan befriended the man in the road, a man whose race and religion was different from his own. And Jesus moved toward the woman at the well, a woman whose race and religion was different from His. I told you that conversation started with a simple question, “Will you give me a drink?” Jesus gently took it deeper, talking with the woman about who she was and who He was. Eventually, they talked about their different religions, and remarkably, the conversation ends with Jesus telling this woman that He was the Messiah, the Savior of the world. This very different woman—a different race, different religion, questionable morals—is the first person to learn that Jesus is the Messiah!
Ok, so I have to admit that this is uncomfortable for me. I follow Jesus. And I’m way more comfortable around people who also follow Jesus. If I had been sitting by the well, and this lady arrived, I might have avoided her—not so much because of race, but religion. When I was growing up, I was taught there are two subject you avoid in polite conversation: religion and politics. Now, I think that’s crazy—we need to talk about those—but I admit that it’s awkward, especially with someone very different from you.
But Jesus did it. Go and do the same.
ILL: Last year, Laina and I went to a community event called “Meet the Neighbors.” It is sponsored by the Spokane Interfaith Council. Several times a year, a different faith group will host the event, and invite people from other faiths to come “meet the neighbors.” This particular event was “Meet the Christians” and it was hosted by St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral. The dean of the Cathedral and I were asked to give short talks about what we believe and then field questions. Then we gathered for snacks afterwards.
When Laina and I got to the room for snackage, we looked around for…people like us. But those tables were full. The table that did have a couple open seats was occupied by Muslims; some of the ladies were wearing their head coverings. Laina and I thought, “Well, we’re here to meet the neighbors!” So we asked if we could join them and spent the next hour in delightful conversation. I am so glad we didn’t take the easy route, and sit with those like us. We moved toward the other, and made some new friends. In fact I am having coffee with one of the men at the table in two weeks.
Am I suggesting that all religions are the same? No. Am I suggesting that it doesn’t matter what you believe? No. I believe in Jesus, and I believe what Jesus said in
John 14:6 I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
I believe that Jesus is the way to the Father. To befriend those of different faith is not to deny your own faith, but to live it out as Jesus expects us to. I love this quote from Scott Saul’s book, Befriend.
The more we walk the narrow path, the wider our communal embrace will be. The more convinced we are of the exclusive claims of Jesus— that he is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through him—the more inclusively kind and compassionate we will be. Befriend, by Scott Sauls
Who is your “other?” Is it someone of a different faith or no faith at all, and you’re nervous talking with them? Don’t be afraid! Befriend the other.
Race, religion…they naturally lead to the next R:
Many of the refugees in our fair city are of a different race and religion, although many are also Christians. Most of them have fled here because of religious or political persecution in their homelands. They have sought refuge in America, and most of them arrived with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They find themselves in a new home where they don’t know the language, the culture or customs. How would Jesus have us treat the refugees or immigrants among us? If you were a refugee in a foreign country, how would you want to be treated?
I listed three passages on your outline. In Matthew 2, we read that Jesus was a refugee. Shortly after his birth, Joseph and Mary fled with their newborn son to Egypt because King Herod wanted to kill them. They stayed in Egypt several years until Herod was dead. So Jesus began his life as a refugee in a foreign land.
In Matthew 25, Jesus gives this description of the final judgment. People will be divided into two groups: sheep and goats. To the sheep, the Lord will say,
35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Notice: “I was a stranger, and you invited me in.” The word “stranger” is the Greek word xenos, which means “stranger, foreigner.” Our English word “xenophobia” is fear of foreigners. “I was a foreigner, and you invited me in,” Jesus said. We ask, “When did we do that?” And Jesus answers, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.” When you invite the foreigner in, you are welcoming Jesus.
Hebrews 13:1–2 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. 2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
Showing hospitality to strangers, to foreigners is a gospel activity.
How many of you know a refugee or refugee family in our community? I hope you’ll move toward them. Treat them the way you’d want to be treated.
Who is your “other?” Befriend the stranger, the refugee.
There is so much political rancor in our nation right now. People are shouting, not listening; they are demonizing each other. “You are one of those.” We can be part of breaking this destructive cycle by moving toward people who are different and listening. When someone goes off on a political rant, don’t rant back; ask questions. Use the “tell me” questions. Tell me why you feel that way. Tell me how you came to that conclusion. Tell me where you got your facts. Tell me more. You might learn something new. And you might make a friend across the political divide.
In Luke 6 there is a list of Jesus disciples. Among them are Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot. These two would have been natural political adversaries. The Zealots were a band of Jewish nationalists who opposed all foreign intervention in Israel. They hated the Romans who occupied their land, and were willing to do anything, including violence, to get rid of them. Tax collectors like Matthew, on the other hand, were Jews who collaborated with the Roman officials to collect their taxes, and got rich doing it. They were widely considered to be traitors, but especially by the Zealots, who hated them.
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus called a Zealot and a tax collector to follow Him, and they had to learn to be friends. Jesus brought left and right together…
Who is your “other?” Is it someone whose politics you abhor? Move toward the other and see what happens.
Race, religion, refugees, politics—the list could go on and on. Who is your “other?” Here is what Jesus said:
“Go and do the same!”
The Good Samaritan moved toward the man in the road—his “other.” Go and do the same.
Jesus moved toward the woman at the well—his “other.” Go and do the same.
Take a look at this, and then we’ll pray:
Video of We Dine Together.
 Sauls, Scott. Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation, and Fear (p. 22). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. Kindle Edition.