Toledo First Seventh-day Adventist Church
WHERE WE’RE GOING
Canada’s Joannie Rochette fought back tears for her entire heart-wrenching short program. When she finished, she couldn’t hold back. Skating just two days after her mother’s sudden death who died from a heart attack just a few hours after arriving in Vancouver, before she got to watch her daughter compete, Rochette finished third in the short program this past Tuesday night at the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Technically, it was almost perfect. Emotionally, it was exhausting. Afterward, Rochette put her hand to her mouth to stifle her cries while taking her bows, her eyes wet, but composed herself during most of the obligatory interviews that followed. As we saw, she attributed her toughness and resolve to the love her mom was known for and had shared with her throughout her life.
And this friends, is what I believe Jesus wants new normal Adventist churches like ours to be known for too. Which is what we’ve been discussing the last few weeks during this short sermon series “Where We’ve Been”, “Where We Are”, and today “Where We’re Going.” Periodically, it’s a good idea to reflect on these things so it’s easier for all of us to see the forest and the trees.
Last time we noticed in Luke 10 that Jesus sent a larger group of “seventy other” disciples [seventy-two according to some manuscripts] ahead of Him into every town and place he was about to go. He sent them into these places to stay. Like lambs among wolves. To bring peace peacefully. And to heal what’s broken there. We said Luke 10 basically answers the question about what it means to live sacrificially evangelistic lives. And today, we’re going to finish this series and add a few more products to that equation as we read together one of the most well known stories Jesus ever told. Please turn with me in your Bible to Luke 10:25-37.
“25On 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?’ 27He 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.’ 29But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ 30In reply Jesus said a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two silver coins 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?’ 37The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”
Some commentators suggest that this story Jesus tells involving the Samaritan and the victim of robbery had recently occurred [see Desire of Ages 499 for example]. If so, it would have occurred in these hills south of Jerusalem on the way toward the Dead Sea before you get to Jericho. I snapped this picture of these hills where our tour guide Menachem told us they’re building a “Good Samaritan” museum to be opened soon. But as you can see, this region is indeed hilly and full of caves and a story about robbers attacking an orthodox believer returning home from worshiping in Jerusalem would have grabbed this lawyer’s attention like the latest episode from Law and Order ripped from the headlines. Others say Luke 10 is just a parable with several details that echo the account from 2 Chronicles 28:14-15 in which an Israelite army from the Northern capital of Samaria first massacres Judean forces from the south, and then under the rebuke of a prophet, tends the wounded in the same ways described in Luke 10. 2 Chronicles 28:14-15 says, “14 So the soldiers gave up the prisoners and plunder in the presence of the officials and all the assembly. 15 The men designated by name took the prisoners, and from the plunder they clothed all who were naked. They provided them with clothes and sandals, food and drink, and healing balm. All those who were weak they put on donkeys. So they took them back to their fellow countrymen at Jericho, the City of Palms, and returned to Samaria.”
That literal story took place in the same region Jesus was in on His last journey to Jerusalem [cf. Matthew 19:1]. But the people listening would have remembered this story from 2 Chronicles and just from the similar details in Luke 10, they would have been subtlety reminded to be known by their love as well. And this is point number one. How do we live like lambs among wolves? How do live as sent sacrifices? Like Joannie Rochette’s mom, we live in such as way that we’re going to be known by our love.
The lawyer quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 says in Luke 10:27-29 says, “27He 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.’” It’s interesting. Jews and Samaritans knew the law. Especially the first five books of Moses. In fact, that was one of their major differences. The Jews loved all the stuff in the Old Testament [though their canon and order is a little different than ours]. Isaiah called it the law and the testimony of the prophets [cf. Isaiah 8:20]. But the Samaritans only accepted the first five books of Moses. Not the rest. Part of the reason why could be because the prophets warned and explained the Jewish exile in Babylon [see 2 Kings 17:24-41 or David Smith’s book Learning from the Stranger p.65 for more info]. And the Samaritans didn’t accept anything to do with that because that was a painful part of their history.
As Israel was conquered in 722 BC by Assyria, some of the people [mostly the upper classes] were taken off into exile while many of the poor were left to farm the land and were joined by and mingled with other displaced people moved in as part of Assyria’s empire management practices. So in addition to ancestry, the Samaritans also had the wrong religion. When the Israelites did return to the land and rebuild the temple, Ezra 4:17-23 says the Samaritans opposed them and later built a rival temple in the north [cf. John 4:20]. Jewish writings from the centuries immediately before Christ reflect animosity toward Samaritans. One quote refers to them as a group that is not really a nation, but merely “those stupid people from Shechem” [Ibid., p.66].
History also reveals that in 128 BC John Hyrcanus, a Jewish leader, attacked Samaria and destroyed their temple. He later returned to besiege and destroy the city of Samaria itself. The Roman armies that occupied Israel in Jesus’ day had in 63 BC taken Samaria from the Jews but they returned it to the Samaritans. And once while Jesus was a child, history also tells us some Samaritans crept into the Jerusalem temple one night and scattered dead people’s bones everywhere desecrating the Jews’ most sacred space. Maybe that’s why some rabbis taught that accepting alms from Samaritans would delay the redemption of Israel or that a Jew need not trouble himself to save a Samaritans’ life.
So not only does the phrase “good Samaritan” not actually occur in this passage, the scribe or lawyer asking Jesus the question would have never used it! Why? Because the Samaritans had the wrong ethnicity, the wrong religion, and the wrong politics. There was thought to be nothing good about them! You can hear the negative attitude toward them in the insults hurled at Jesus in John 8:48: “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?”
And to top it off, Jesus himself had recent reasons not to like the Samaritans either. In Luke 9:52, just a litter earlier in his journey toward Jerusalem, we are told that Jesus sent his disciples ahead to prepare for him to visit a Samaritan village. But the Samaritans refused to welcome him. Which prompted Jesus’ disciples to, as Elijah had done in the same region hundreds of years earlier, ask to call fire down from heaven to destroy them like the 100 soldiers sent to arrest him in 2 Kings 1. But Jesus rebuked the disciples [verse 55] and his story to the lawyer now echoes that rebuke.
But they aren’t the only ones this story rebukes. As we learn from the first few verses of Luke 10:25-29, this story also rebukes anyone who emphasizes law more than love. And this is exactly what as a church we’ve done. Remember these pictures? This first one from 1876 with the law and the commandments over shadowing the cross. That was our Adventist church’s original visual description of our reason for existing and mission. To elevate the law and specifically the Sabbath above all. But this was the second picture from 1883 emphasizing the Lamb of God sacrificed on the cross. This second picture is the one we’re still longing for. This is a picture of the new normal Adventist church some of pioneers were pushing us toward five years before this congregation planted its roots in downtown Toledo in 1888.
So what’s the point ? The point is Jesus wants this lawyer and everyone else to know that followers of Jesus should be known by our love not our laws. But all too often, Deuteronomy 6:5 is forgotten. 2 Chronicles 28 disappears from the collective bedtime stories being told. And we’re left with the condemnation that the law is supposed to reveal instead of the God who died to save us from its consequences. Which is one reason why I hope all of you will make time next Friday night and twice on Sabbath next week to bring all your friends and family to come hear Alden Thompson discuss Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God. Because I think lots of people still are afraid of it and of God! When they read it, all they remember is the law or the violence done in its name. But don’t you see, this is exactly the mind set that Jesus was seeking to undermine by using the details in 2 Chronicles 28 and placing its context within an actual story that recently occurred!
While we can’t worry about what we cannot change this summer in Atlanta at the General Conference session of the worldwide Adventist Church, we must take seriously what we can influence in our corner of the kingdom. Here in northwest Ohio, the Toledo First Church must be known by our love. We must continue to keep Christ our main thing. He must be our way of life. There’s more info about this in a draft of a document I’d like you all to read called The Assimilation Manual. I don’t like that name, I just haven’t come up with something better. Let me know if you do. Membership Manual perhaps. But its more than that. It goes into detail about where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going. If you cannot download the file online, you may pick up one up from the church office already printed and stapled for you. And we’ll have extra copies on the tables next week too. I would like every family to have one to read and discuss so by this summer we rename or edit it and adopt it as an official explanation of the new normal Adventist church we’re becoming. So people who move to Toledo know what they’re getting into. And so some of the 83% of Americans who won’t be going to any church on any weekend might consider coming to ours. There’s a bunch of info I really need your feedback on in that document, but let me share just three big things I creatively call “Our Three Big Things” from page four.
The first big thing is Building Families. One of the filters I’m suggesting we use to determine how we allocate resources and make decisions is by asking ourselves: “Will this help us build families?” Because families are fragmented today. It’s way worse than any episode of The Brady Bunch! So one way we could live like lambs among wolves is by emphasizing and reaching out to all the broken aspects of family. And in fact, we’ve already started doing this by building a church school and launching a learning center a few years ago. Haven of Hope is our non-profit organization we started most recently that helps us partner with existing organizations in the community to literally build the homes and make over the broken families all around us. Ephesians 2:19 in the Living Bible says we should do this because “You are all members of God’s very own family.” Another way of saying this is “Growing from the Children’s Divisions Up.” Sabbath school teachers should not be operating their classrooms on their own dime. They should have resources and training and even vacations or paid learning opportunities away from Sabbath school where they get fed and encouraged. Ephesians 4:16 says, “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love.”
To me this means that it’s okay that Toledo First has a different way of living like lambs among wolves than the Parkwood church and the Swanton church and the vast majority of other Adventist churches focused on prophecy and appealing to the 3% of literate Bible reading church attending people. It’s okay that we’re going to spend our money on felts and socks and two by fours instead of beastly brochures. Because our job is to be known by our love.
Our second big thing is related to this second picture for the existence of the Adventist church. We must be a Christ centered church. Another way to say this is we must provide hope since we say and sing along with Wayne Hooper that we have this hope. So I’m suggesting our second filter for decision making could be: “Will this help us be known as a Christ centered church?” or “Will this provide hope?” Much of Luke 10 is all about this and I’ve already been banging on point number one today so I’ll let you read the rest of this in the Assimilation Manual online. Rightly understood, God is love and his law is good [1 Timothy 1:8]. But too many people don’t hear it this way so we’re going to emphasize love more than law and Christ as our way of life. Hope for the world can not only be found in that window with the three angels proclaiming the “everlasting Gospel of Jesus”, it can also be found in Ephesians 4:15 which says, “Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head that is Christ.” We must be known as a Christ centered church.
And lastly, we must continue to shout the Gospel with our lives. That’s what ordinary outreach and kindness 2 go is all about. It’s about a lifestyle of evangelism. Where we treat everyone as true friends we can learn from not people we must convince or convert. If we love people right, baptisms will happen and fruits of the spirit will grow because God promised they would! I think that’s what Jesus was referring to in Luke 10:24 when he said, “Many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see and hear what you hear.” Shouting the Gospel with our lives is a way to proclaim peace peacefully. It’s a way of empowering community. Both within our church and outside it.
So please do me a favor and go download that document. Pick up a copy at church on any Tuesday or Thursday. We’ll have extra copies in foyer in the weeks to come. And help me figure out a version of this document we could adopt this summer to better explain why we’re so weird in a good way here in Toledo First. This is something I want you to do. Whether you’re a member or guest. Please, read the Assimilation Manual and give me your feedback of its implications before June. This is a home work assignment. But you have three months to finish it. Deal?
Moving on: Where are we going? Back to Luke 10! We’re going to be known by our love. Point number one. Why? Because we know we are loved. This is point number two. Luke 10:29-32 says, “29But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ 30In reply Jesus said a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.”
There’s another character the Bible describes who came down. Not from Jerusalem but from heaven. I thought the hymn about it was in our hymnal but I couldn’t find it. Matthew 27:28-31 says they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him and then twisted a crown of thorns and set it on his head. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.”
We are to be known by our love because point number two: We know we are loved. Like crazy! Who else would endure such trauma? That’s the literal word [traumata] in the Greek used in Luke 10:34 to describe the beating the man in the ditch took from the hands of those robbers. But it could be the same word used to describe the beating that Jesus took as well when he was crucified between two robbers. One of them in Luke 23:40-42 recognized Jesus after forgiving the people who put him there. You see, even robbers recognize true love when they see it.
Even robbers knew that Leviticus 19:18,34 said, “18Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. 34 The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”
We are to be known by our love, point number one, because we are loved, point number two! We have been literally loved to death! And because we’ve been loved to death, we must be willing to love to death too. Just like Jesus told his disciples in the upper room before he knelt to wash their feet in John 13:1, “I’m going to love you to the end [eis telos]!” How do we that? We do that by going broke! Good news people! We’re going to die broke but not broken. Here’s why.
Luke 10:33-37 describes how the Good Samaritan “34Went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two silver coins 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.’”
Now two pence in the King James or two Roman denarii doesn’t seem like much to us today. Back then, it was the equivalent to two days’ wages. But this was merely the down payment. It would no doubt be several days before the injured traveler would recuperate sufficiently to continue on his way. So the Samaritan assumes full responsibility for the stranger. He does way more than what’s required. His interest goes beyond the minimum obligation the priest and Levite ignored. Like Jesus, he was willing to die broke. And if we’re going to build families, provide hope, and empower community, we’re going to have die broke too!
I’ve told you already that I’m well on my way! But are we all? I hope so. Because if we aren’t, we’re really no better than the priest or Levite or even a pagan. But don’t take my word for it! Listen to Christ’s in Luke 6:32-35 as we conclude: “32If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. 34And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. 35But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great.”
Why should we grow from the children’s divisions up a Christ centered church that shouts the Gospel with our lives without expecting to get anything back? Because that’s how love works. That’s how Jesus lived his life. Why do we exist? We exist to be known by our love. Because we are loved. And so is every Muslim, Jew, Hindu, and Samaritan whether they realize that yet or not. Where are we going? We’re going to die broke but not broken. We’re going to spend ourselves on behalf of strangers all around us—or die trying. Either way, we’ll be known by our love. Just like Joannie Rochette’s mom.