Love Your Neighbor: Let’s Define It

Good Morning,

Today we are looking at a passage that is a bit untraditional for this time of year, but I think we can all safely say that this has been a very atypical year for all of us. The passage, as we know, describes this final night that Jesus will share with his disciples. This is the beginning of the passover passage, the last supper, where we will see Jesus speak in such simple and yet deep words. No where else in scripture is the heart of God so unveiled for us and therefore when doing a sermon series on loving your neighbor, it only feels natural that we would begin here. This is the night that Jesus will give his disciples their calling. This simple moment of Jesus washing the disciples feet will shape the trajectory of all church history. It is kind of the calling card that Jesus offers, that Christians will do the uncommon and necessary things to make the world a better place.

This is going to be one of the final acts that Jesus will commit in this world. He knows that his time is going to come to an end and knows that humanity is going to need this radical love that he expresses for his disciples in this final night with them. This act was so powerful because it showed the disciples that there was no one too important that they should not serve others and that there was never anyone too outcast in the world that they did not deserve love.

We are living in uncertain times with the COVID-19 virus that has ravaged communities and our world, the toll of which can not be fully understood until we are on the other side of this horrible pandemic. We are living through divisions in our denomination around the conversation of human sexuality and what should be permissible in the church. We are living through decades now of political tensions and divisions where we have picked sides and entrenched ourselves in our own camps. All of these breakdown the foundations that communities function and lives filled with stress and hurt. As a minister, it is a difficult time in human history to speak prophetically about the world and our lives within it.

As a pastor, my hope has been to inspire, equip and encourage people to grow in the way of Jesus Christ. The goal of which would be to help people to become deeply committed Christians and seek the way that is to life. For John and Charles Wesley, this was called sanctification. This meant that we were to grow in our understanding of Jesus and to the place where you were perfected in Christian love. Where you love your God with all your heart soul mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. This faith is intended to be one of intellect, heart and the Holy Spirit working through our lives to encourage us to go out and be the hands of Jesus healing the brokenness in this world. I think that we need a lot more of that healing now.

The church has pretty much since the time of Christ, struggled with outside forces that have tried to mold it and shape it in a different image than the one that Jesus offers in our passage from John 13. We often hear claims that our society is a Christian nation, but how often does it look that way? It does not look that way because we have encamped ourselves into our segregated groups that rely on confirmation bias to continue to inform our decisions. In other words, we have stopped talking with each other. We no longer see each other the way we once did. I have heard it said, maybe you have too, that the parties used to work with each other and now they don’t. This is very true, but I have never heard anyone ask why. The answer is simple, we stopped communicating with one another.

The disciples that followed Jesus were from different ways of life, different perspectives and they did not always agree with each other. Time and time again, Jesus teaches them something simple like washing each others feet to show them what? (ask the congregation) Jesus wanted to show them how you lower yourself and love another in a radical way. Washing each others feet at this time in human history was unthinkable! They would never have done this because let’s be honest, they didn’t have the cleanest feet in the world. This outrageously humble task of washing his disciples feet, something that was reserved for only the lowest of servants, would have been world shaking for the disciples. They would have had a very clear picture of what Jesus was trying to teach them.

“But while he is steadily fixed in his religious principles in what he believes to be the truth as it is in Jesus; while he firmly adheres to that worship of God which he judges to be most acceptable in his sight; and while he is united by the tenderest and closest ties to one particular congregation,”

“his heart is enlarged toward all mankind, those he knows and those he does not; he embraces with strong and cordial affection neighbours and strangers, friends and enemies.”

“This is catholic or universal love. And he that has this is of a catholic spirit. For love alone gives the title to this character: Catholic love is a catholic spirit.”

These are quotes from John Wesley’s sermon on “The Catholic Spirit”, from 1749. The sermon speaks about the spirit of welcome, the formation of a settled predisposition to love, and the committed that was divinely given that we make peace. I admire that at a time when the church was struggling to connect with the people of the world, John Wesley spoke up and said that God’s love was a universal love. It was not picking and choosing who was deserving, but rather Jesus loves every person who walks in this world. Jesus loves the people that make us the most mad and even though we may not like to, we should as well.

When we are not doing that, we miss the mark and the definition of missing the mark is sin. The mark is loving God and loving neighbor and when we stray away from that love, we miss the mark. The love that we see in this passage from John 13 is what is called agape love. This agape love is the defining quality of the Christian life. It is the love that Jesus instructed and exampled for his disciples. Agape love is different from the warm fuzzy feeling kind of love, rather this is a moral love. The kind of love that you offer because you know that it is the right thing to do, even when you can’t stand the person that you are offering it to. It is the kind of love that Jesus asks us to offer when we pray for our enemies. How often can we say that we pray for our enemies? Who would we be praying for if we did that?

Agape love is determined to bless the other person, put the needs of the other ahead of our own. I believe that the next 5 years are going to be absolutely critical to our church communities, our nation, and the world. The next 5 years are going to define what the future truly holds. Are we willing to except the pain and hardship that we have been experiencing as normal? Now I know there are many things that happen in life that are well beyond our control, this virus included, but there are many things that are well within our control. This is a critical moment for us.

As a church we are worshipping in our sanctuary again, for me, this is a first. And I know how excited I was for this moment, as I am sure that many of you have been too. This feeling of joy that we get to embrace together, I believe, can be a catalyst for our congregation into the next season church of life in ministry together. This can be the spring board that will set us off into a whole new bright future that honors the past and is eagerly anticipating the future. Can I get a huzzah!

Today, let’s begin this new and exciting future by being radical agape lovers of the world. Let’s make it our goal to love one person each week and find ways to expand this feeling of joy we have together here, into our world. Remember that Jesus is with us and will give us the courage and the words to say when we feel lost and confused. Never forget that Jesus loves you so that we can love the world. Go forth and be the love of Jesus today. Amen.