Love Your Neighbor: For The Love of God!

Good Morning Church,

I believe it is safe to say that we have all told a little white lie from time to time, or at the very least we have kept our feelings from each other even when there is a misunderstanding between two parties. Deception is and has always been a prevalent part of the human experience. Humanity has regularly struggled with how we honor one another and respect one another. We know too that our actions are often dictated by where we find our identity. So where do we find our identity?

For most of us we find identity in our faith, our families, our local communities groups or organizations, and even our social and political leanings. All of these have value and can give a glimpse into how we can be the best we can be for each other. These parts of our lives have given us moral structures for how we can look out for our neighbor and they provide us the reason for the decisions that we make every day. The problem with any one of these components of our lives is that they are human made and flawed in many ways. They do not have the purity that is needed for a truly righteous and fully faithful way of living. The only thing in human existence that is pure enough is Jesus Christ and his teachings.

As I mentioned in previous weeks, this sermon series is focused on getting back to the basics. The call to follow Jesus and live the Christian life as instructed by him is a call to get back to the basics. Human made structures like religion and social engagement, will always be flawed in one way or another. Just look at human history and we see where the church has failed, where society has faltered, and where humanity has collapsed on its own brokenness. When we rely on human made institutions to be our guide for truth and justice it becomes easy for us to be divorced from the grace of Jesus Christ. Humanity has relied on itself to fix the problems that we ourselves create, but we have not always been the best at having an unbiased perspective of the world. There has always been a great need for humanity to have wholistic perspectives of life and God’s will for us and therefore it is necessary that we be able to remove ourselves from given situations in order to have clear heads to see the way of Jesus.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says that “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, 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.” The love that Jesus instructed his students in was one where we would give something of ours to the other. We do not do acts of charity and love because they are the way to salvation, but rather they are the means of grace that we offer because of the gift of salvation that we have received. We work on our faith in Christ so that when the time comes for us to live for justice and mercy, we will be ready.

When I speak about getting back to the basics of Christian life, this is what I am speaking about. Many churches and church communities have been fearing the lessening influence of the church in the larger society and have called for us to the harken back to the good old days, but we must ask when those were? The Christian religion in the United States as well as around the world has been complicit in many of the atrocities that we read about in history books. For many of us the holocaust comes to mind, or slavery in the United States, Japanese internment camps, or even opposition to civil rights of the 1960’s. In our culture what has often been defined as God’s will has been the things that bring us comfort even if they may not have been right. There have been moments and communities throughout history that have embodied the way of Jesus in truly amazing ways and have often paid a price for that commitment.

I have heard said that Christian communities of the past can not be held to account based on more modern understandings of morality. The example that I often hear the most is that though we believe holding slaves is wrong, we can’t hold those Christians to account because that understanding was not a part of their culture. Though that may sound reasonable I also think about the fact that they had the example of Jesus just as much as we do.

When speaking about slavery, John Wesley was always an ardent supporter of abolishing the practice. He believed that it was the singular greatest evil that man could commit. He said of slavery, “Give liberty to whom liberty is due, that is, to every child of man, to every partaker of human nature. Let none serve you but by his own act and deed, by his own voluntary action. Away with all whips, all chains, all compulsion. Be gentle toward all men; and see that you invariably do with every one as you would he should do unto you.”

This sounds a lot like Christ’s calling in Matthew 25, the passage of 1 John 4 that we read, as well as our calling to love our neighbor. All of which revolves around this understanding of honoring, caring for, and treating our neighbor as we would want to be treated. Christians have not always been the best at living into this calling of loving God and neighbor. We have been unwilling at different times to be honest with ourselves about where we are in our faith. We have not always done our best to put the wellbeing of our neighbor ahead of our own. And yet, that opportunity is always just around the corner for us. It is always one decision away from becoming the reality that will guide and inform our entire life.

So that brings us to what is next. Though many of the more flagrantly dark times in Christianity might be in the past, we still have a responsibility to not just present, but live into the 1 John 4 love that we have read. If we as the church want to feel the presence of God in and amongst us, then we need to live into the life changing love of God. For Methodists we call this the process of sanctification, something that Jim Paxson will be sharing with us in a few weeks.

Our 1 John passage calls us to live in God’s love and allow for it to abide in our hearts. We begin this process of abiding with God by asking questions and seeking answers. We need to be open to how God is changing our hearts in the midst of this world. We are expected to listen to one another and hear each others hearts. By listening to each other we will be freed of our own perceptions of the other person. Society has been relying on assumptions about who people are and what they are feeling for us to even have a complete comprehension of one another. Too often our world relies on stereotypes and fear of the other. This does not allow for the love of Jesus to move freely in our world. God has given us a great gift in Jesus Christ, but we also have the choice and the ability to stifle this gift too.

My prayer for our world and society is that we can get back to the basics. I pray that we are able to see, honor, and respect each other enough to value one another as Jesus has valued us. I do not trust that the world, both Christians and non Christians will be able to experience the freeing power of God’s grace if it is too clouded in judgement and distrust. We need a revival of God’s faith that looks to the heart of the individual rather than the labels or preconceived notions. The church has had to struggle through generations of failure to make even modest improvements of where our hearts are. I fear that the current climate can do damage that will take generations to repair. As much as we may not like to admit, our culture is slipping backwards into those places where though our morals might be different, our hearts are beginning to view each other as threats more than as possible helpers in the journey of life.

Friends, this is where loving our neighbors comes back into play. I entitled this sermon, Love Your Neighbor: For The Love of God! We need to love our neighbors for our own self interest as much as for theirs. Today, let's encourage each other to be beacons of light in the world. When we abide in Christ and him in us, we will see the changes immediately in our own personal wellbeing. We will be set free of the burdens that the world places on us. The stress and anxiety of the other will begin to melt away because we will no longer view them as an enemy, but rather a beautifully created child of God. In time, we will see the transformative power of God working in the world, healing the broken hearted because we will be changing from the inside out.

As I mentioned last Sunday, we do not know what life will be like after this election. There is no way that we can tell the future, but we need to be preparing ourselves to be the church in that uncertain world. That begins here with us allowing for Jesus to abide in us and us in him. Let us allow for Christ’s perfect love to cast out our fear. Let us love because he first loved us. Let us love everyone so that we are not made to be liars. And, let us pray that God will help us to love our brothers and sisters as Christ does. Amen.