Love Your Neighbor 4

Luke 10:36-37

I think I may have mentioned “Crazy Annie” before, but the story bears repeating. When I was a teen-ager there was a family up the street who acted a little odd. Most neighbors avoided any contact with them because they were peculiar. But one day when my mother was laid up with a broken leg I had to stop by their house and return something.

The mother had acquired the name “Crazy Annie” because of her strange actions (we only called her that behind her back) and I was nervous about having to see her. But she was very welcoming to me and asked about how our family was getting on. She was so concerned about my mother that she went right outside and cut a bunch of flowers from her garden for me to five my mother.

In that experience I learned that “Crazy Annie” wasn’t quite so crazy. She may not have acted and dressed exactly like everyone else in the neighborhood but she had a kind and caring heart.

After telling the story of the Good Samaritan to the expert in the law, what does Jesus ask? What does the expert answer? What is Jesus’ command?

The story of the Good Samaritan is something most of us are familiar with. With that familiarity and the distance of time and difference of culture we may not fully comprehend the shock value. To have a Samaritan show kindness to a Jew (the man who was robbed) would be difficult for the expert in the law to accept. But Jesus has supplied him with new knowledge. Jesus taught him how to understand the stranger a little better.

As we grow in our faith we must add knowledge to who we are so that we might love others. Knowledge lets us know that we are all neighbors and that the term “neighbor” is not limited to those who live within sight of our house, or who live within the boundaries of our community. We are all neighbors to one another in that we share the earth with all cultures and beliefs and behaviors.

We may not have to accept them all – that is, we do not have to approve of and endorse what others do and how they live – but we must learn to love others in the same way that God loves others.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What knowledge do you need to help you love your neighbor?

Love Your Neighbor 3

Luke 10:33-35

A few years ago my wife and I came upon a car accident that had just happened. We jumped out of the van and she went to one car while I went to the other. We were fortunate enough to have some spare blankets in the van and we used them to help comfort the drivers.

I helped dab blood from one driver’s face and held her phone up so she could speak to her husband and let him know what happened. I tried to calm her and comfort her, assuring her that everything would be alright.

I had no idea who she was. I had no idea if she was a good person or a bad person, if she lived near me or lived far away. None of that mattered. The drivers needed help and we gave what help we could.

When asked about the Great Commandment – love God, love your neighbor – the expert in the law persists with questions about who is considered a neighbor. Jesus responds with a now familiar story – the parable of the Good Samaritan. What are all the things the Samaritan did? Why do you think he did these things?

We can assume from the details of the story that the injured man is Jewish and we know the other is a Samaritan. What we may not know is that Jews and Samaritans absolutely detested one another because of their different cultures and religious practices.

Yet the Samaritan was able to show love to this Jewish man who had been robbed and left for dead. This Samaritan apparently had the knowledge that all people are children of God. It took knowledge, an awareness that God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, to show mercy to an enemy, to love his “neighbor.” He knew that God loves everyone no matter what has happened in their past or how they live now.

The Samaritan had knowledge of how to live out his faith and how to live out goodness. And with that knowledge he added self-control. It took self-control to not hate the injured man, to not delight in his misery. It took self-control to offer compassion to an enemy and to live as a neighbor to the stranger.

We must learn to be like the Samaritan. To our faith and holy goodness we must add the knowledge that helps us understand others. And to that knowledge we must add the self-control it takes to live out love.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you build your self-control so that you might be more merciful?

Love Your Neighbor 2

Psalm 122:6-9

At the end of last year I asked a member of the church to serve on the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee, an important leadership team in the church. When he came to the first meeting he asked, “Is this where all the screaming and yelling happens?”

He was joking, but unfortunately many groups and teams in churches have a reputation of being the place where screaming and yelling happens. As we work together to build our church, as we plan for the future and try to establish good direction for our ministries we can sometimes get caught up in our own desires and lose sight of the overall picture. We can fail to see that we are all believers, we are all children of God, we are all loved by God, and we should love one another.

Psalm 122 was written specifically about Jerusalem – the holy city of God – and the Temple – the place of worship. But the words of the psalm could apply to any place of worship. What should we do? What should we desire? Who will benefit by this peace and security?

Our place of worship should be a place of peace and love. But it is not always that way. We fall into arguments and disagreements with our Christian brothers and sisters. We may have strained relationships over differing opinions. But we need to learn to think less of ourselves and more of others.

For the sake of all who worship with us we need to seek peace within the walls of our church. For the sake of God’s kingdom we need to seek the prosperity of the house of God. We need to work to be a great church, and that is founded on love for all and peace between us.

Perhaps we will never be able to truly love our enemies when it comes to those who are enemies of our nation and culture. But we should work to at least begin loving others. We can begin with those we already know locally. We can begin by loving those with whom we have issues in our own church and our own community.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Think of the people in your everyday life, especially those in your place of worship. Pray for one person with whom you have “issues,” then pray that you will learn to love them.

Love Your Neighbor 1

Matthew 5:43-48

On the first Friday night of the football season our two children went with the school band and ate a meal together with the band from a rival school. Our son came home and declared with sarcasm – “It was a wonderful time of bonding. They ate on their side of the room and we ate on our side.”

It isn’t always easy to be warm and friendly to strangers. Sometimes it is even hard to be nice to people we know. The separation experienced at the dinner is nothing new. We have even attended church gatherings and encountered the same thing. People prefer to be with those they like and are familiar with.

This sense of animosity becomes even stronger when we deal with enemies, people we dislike – even hate – because of offenses and acts of aggression. It is a natural feeling to prefer your own culture over that of another.

Yet Jesus has some things to say about that. What are we supposed to do with our enemies? Why should we do that? What does Jesus point out about God’s attitude toward all people? What comparisons does he make?

One of the foundations of our faith is love. We are to love God. We are to love one another. We are to express God’s love to other people, especially those in need. And if this wasn’t hard enough Jesus’ comment about our attitude toward our enemies seems impossible.

This is not a natural attitude to have. It doesn’t come easily and requires some work, some deliberate act of our will to overcome the anger and dislike we have for certain people. But that is part of Christianity. There is no getting around this command. There is no “but” involved in what Jesus says. It is part of our growth in faith to be able to love our enemies. It is a step toward the perfection Jesus wants of us.

If we will grow to be better Christians, if we will move toward greatness as a church, we must learn to love all people no matter what our instinctive reaction might be. Having love for foreign people, especially those who have made war against our nation and our people, is a hard challenge to live up to. Yet we are called to do this.

We may think that we will never be able to truly love our enemies when it comes to those who are enemies of our nation and culture, but with God all things are possible. We may simply need to understand other people better.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Pray that God will help you understand other people better.