Who is my neighbour?

“All true Christian preaching is expository preaching”, declared John Stott, and in my judgement rightly so. And yet there is more to preaching than expounding a text. We need to know what God through his Word is saying to us now. It is not enough to understand what God said hundreds of years ago. God’s Word must be brought to bear upon life as it is today. It must be applied creatively, sensitive, and relevantly. That is the ultimate challenge for the preacher.

Last Sunday I preached on the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In my initial preparation I wrote what I felt was a really good expository sermon, but it had no bite. I had spelled out the two-fold lesson of the parable: first, that there are no limits to neighbourliness – our neighbour is anyone we come across who is in need; and secondly, that action and not concern is required – for love “is not just ‘caring about’, it is ‘caring for’” (John Havlik). Yet there was no application. The sermon was ‘interesting’ but not ‘challenging’. Thankfully, with just two days to go, inspiration came. It came as I reflected on my own experience of the past week and realised that God was laying on my heart one way of applying the parable. So let me share with you how I moved from exposition to application:

There are many ways in which the teaching of Jesus here can be applied. Let me give you just one example – and it comes from my experience of life this week. This week I have been made very aware of those who have been ‘robbed’ of their health, and find themselves ‘incarcerated’ in care homes.

Gosh, the term ‘incarcerated’ is a strong term, and yet that is the word that is used by a friend whom I visit most Tuesday afternoons. Let me tell you about him. I have known him for almost 25 years. During my ministry at Chelmsford he came to renewed faith, and I had the joy of baptising him. Although he has gone through tough times, for the most part life has been good to him. A Cambridge graduate, he became a medical doctor, spent some time in Kenya, before settling down as a GP in this country. Blessed with an outgoing wife, as a couple they have had a wide circle of friends. But in the last five years or so, his world has been turned upside down. Although when I first knew him he was one of the strongest and fittest men I have known, he now can only walk with difficulty with a Zimmer frame. For the last two years he has been ‘incarcerated’ in a care home, where most of the residents are old ladies with degrees of dementia. Not surprisingly, he feels pretty ‘down’. His life is now extraordinarily limited – and the future seems to offer no hope. And yet he would be the first to acknowledge that in many ways he is among the fortunate. His wife takes him out regularly, and his children visit him too. By contrast there are many in that care home who receive no visitors. It’s tough growing old – especially when people are ‘robbed’ not just of health, but of friends and family.

On Wednesday I visited another care home – this time to see my 95 year old mother in Hove. She is in constant pain, and is almost blind. She longs for God to take her – but she is still with us. Thankfully she has not been abandoned by her family – my brother in Liverpool visits her every other month, I visit her once a month, my sister in Romsey visits her every other week, and my brother in Hove visits her once or twice a week. In addition she has friends to visit her too. She is the best visited lady in the care home. By contrast there are others there who have no visitors. On Wednesday I met one lady who has two sons: one lives in Germany, and the other in New Zealand. Not surprisingly they see her rarely. It’s tough growing old – especially when people are ‘robbed’ not just of health, but also of friends and family.

Of course, it is not just people in care homes who have been ‘robbed’ of health, friends and family. There are many other older people, still living independently, who because they are not as fit as once they were they live restricted lives; whose husbands or whose wives have died; who have lost too many friends. Only this week I called on an older couple whose circle of friendship is getting smaller. It is tough growing old – especially when people are robbed not just of healthy, but of friends and family.

It is all too easy for those of us who are fit and well, who lead busy lives, to ‘pass by on the other side’. I wonder, is God calling some of us this morning to care for our older neighbours in need? Yes, there are many other ways in which this parable of the Good Samaritan can be applied. I have no idea how Jesus may be challenging you. All I know is that Jesus wants us to care for neighbours in need.

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