Deuteronomy 22:1-6 March 18, 2018
Barbara and I said goodbye to a good friend this week. Even though Tom was an instant friend to everyone he met, he took a little getting used to. Tom didn’t always follow the rules, or even know there were rules, like the time he brought his chickens to Vacation Bible School so the children could meet them. Tom sometimes got his Bible stories a little wrong. He had no need for theological training. But Tom knew what it meant to live like Jesus. Tom knew what it meant to love his neighbor. He was the “Eggman” because part of his ministry was to share eggs with his brothers and sisters in Christ. Visitors to his church were welcomed with a carton of eggs. Often he had eggs for his friends at just the perfect time. He would often say, “God told me to give you these eggs.” And quite often it was at the time his friend needed them most. Tom not only gave eggs to his friends, he once gave money from his wife’s life insurance after her passing to a friend so he could buy a new truck when the old truck broke down. Tom’s real ministry was helping others and he was good at it.
Today’s text talks about helping our neighbors. There are a lot of scriptures that could be interpreted a few ways, but verse three of this passage is pretty clear. We have to help our neighbor. The Bible says it in the negative, “You may not withhold your help.” But the point is clear. We have no choice. We MUST help our neighbor in need.
If you look at our world today, you might wonder if anyone has read this text lately. We not only withhold our help, we rejoice when bad things happen to those we dislike. We even have a word for it. The German word, Schadenfreude means to take joy in the misfortune of another. In many of our interactions, we not only don’t help; we do everything we can to obstruct others trying to help. Think about it. When was the last time you heard about someone refusing to help someone they don’t get along with? We don’t hear about that because it is so common. But when someone goes out of their way to help—a police officer giving his shoes to a homeless person or a child using their hard earned money to help someone who has suffered loss—that is so rare that it is newsworthy.
Our text today is saying that for our society to work, we need to help each other. So what does it mean to help our neighbor?
First, it means that we are to take care of our neighbor as we want to be taken care of. The text talks about this in terms of safeguarding and restoring our neighbor’s ox, or sheep, or donkey. Today we might talk about a lost wallet, or incorrect change, or a wayward cell phone. We are supposed to return whatever our neighbor lost. If we don’t know who the thing belongs to we are to take care of the item until the owner comes to take it back. We are to safeguard and restore our neighbor’s physical things, but what about safeguarding our neighbor’s spirit? When we see our neighbor losing their faith shouldn’t we be there for them and try to share our faith until theirs becomes strong? What about when they lose their hope? We can remind them that with God there is always hope. When they have lost their ability to love, we need to share with them the love God has given.
Next, it means that we are supposed to ease our neighbor’s burden. Again the Bible talks in terms of livestock. Today, there are so many other ways to ease our neighbor’s burden: We can feed the hungry. We can clothe the naked. We can advocate for those with no voice. We can help to seek justice when there is no justice. We can work to restore relationships.
But we should also ease our neighbor’s spiritual burdens: We need to pray with and for those who don’t know God’s peace. When our neighbor doubts God’s love, we need to be God’s hands and feet showing them that God loves them. When our neighbor struggles with their belief, we need to point out to them that God is still with us. When our neighbor is brought down by the stresses of the world, we need to lift them up by helping to relieve their stress.
Finally we need to take a global view of helping others. The Bible says we are to care even for the bird sitting on her nest. Jesus tells us that God’s eye is on the sparrow. If God’s eye is on the sparrow ours should be as well. Many times we try to get out of this responsibility to help by defining our neighbor narrowly. We think maybe we only need to help those who think like us, or those who look like us, or those who worship like us. But we need to hear what Jesus says in answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” In the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus says that my neighbor is anyone who is in need; even—or maybe especially—my enemy.
God tells us to help our neighbor by taking care of them as we would like others to take care of us. Even more, God shows us how to love and care for others but giving us His Son, Jesus to be our model. I think the words of a song we sang at our friend Tom’s funeral sum it up:
"Live Like That"
Sometimes I think
What will people say of me
When I'm only just a memory
When I'm home where my soul belongs
Was I love
When no one else would show up
Was I Jesus to the least of us
Was my worship more than just a song
I want to live like that
And give it all I have
So that everything I say and do
Points to You
God expects us to love others not only as we love ourselves, but as God loves us. Amen.