The following was presented at Christ United Methodist Church in Lafayette, IN on July 7, 2013.
Last week, we started a short sermon series called “Keep Calm and Matthew 22:34-40”. We are exploring this short teaching of Jesus found in the Gospel of Matthew where we are called to love God and love our neighbors as we would love ourselves. Last Sunday, we focused on loving God. We talked about how we can grow and stay in love with God when we put in an effort through prayer, study, worship, giving, serving, and sharing. Many of you have joined the Challenge 150 journey. If you weren’t here last week, I would encourage you to take a bookmark when you come forward for communion and join us on this journey as we pray, read, and reflect on the psalms. I am convinced that when we take proactive steps to grow in our love of God, we will be empowered to love our neighbors. I don’t know about you…but sometimes it’s difficult to love my neighbor.
Before we read this passage of Scripture, let’s set the scene. Jesus is in the midst of his ministry of teaching and healing. The religious leaders of his day did not like the attention Jesus was receiving. So, they were working to find a way to charge him with an offense…to get him out of the way. The religious leaders began questioning Jesus in an attempt to trip him up, to get him to say something that went against the Jewish law. First, the Pharisees asked Jesus a question concerning taxes. Jesus’ answer “astonished” the Pharisees and they departed. Next, the Sadducees came to ask Jesus a question about resurrection. Now, let us remember that the Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection. Jesus gave an answer that again astonished those who were listening and silenced the Sadducees. That’s where we will pick up the story.
Love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself. If we can get these two things right…If we could even come close to getting these two things right…It sounds easy enough…love God and love your neighbor.
I believe that we demonstrate our love for God in the way we love our neighbors.
So, how are we doing with that whole “love your neighbor” thing? Our homeless neighbors? Our rich neighbors? Our Muslim neighbors? Our black neighbors? Our white neighbors? Our Jewish neighbors? Our Muslim neighbors? Our Christian neighbors? Our atheist neighbors? Our racist neighbors? Our neighbors who struggle with addiction? Our gay neighbors? Our anyone who is different than me neighbor? (thanks to the “love thy neighbor t-shirt from The Christian Left). Are we really loving our neighbors?
If we exclude our neighbors are we truly loving God?
If we withhold love from our neighbors are we truly loving God?
Loving God means loving all that God loves. Let us remember…God loves creation. How we treat the creation says a lot about what we think of the Creator. Loving God and loving our neighbors means we will take care of the world in which we live.
Let us also remember…God loves all people (all people may not love God, but God does love all people), so we are called to love all people…which makes many of us uncomfortable.
So, if we exclude our neighbor, if we withhold our love because our neighbor is poor/rich, gay/straight, Republican/Democrat/Libertarian/Green/Socialist, has a different color of skin, is fat/skinny, is an IU/Patriots/Cardinals/Reds fan…if we exclude them and withhold our love for them, are we loving God? Now, loving someone doesn’t mean that we have to agree with everything they say…but it does mean that we should be welcoming, respectful, kind, caring, compassionate, and loving.
I’ll be honest, I fail to love my neighbor all the time.
– When I am jealous of my neighbor because she has a smartphone
– When I am jealous of my neighbor because he has a Harley
– When I gossip about my neighbor
– When I judge my neighbor because they don’t have the same educational level
– When I judge my neighbor because they don’t have the same socio-economic status
– When I judge my neighbor because they don’t have the same parenting style as me
– When I judge my neighbor because they settle for sub-par coffee products
Here’s the deal, I find it easier to love those we often refer to as “the least, the last, and the lost” than it is to love the neighbors that live directly around me because of the way I define “the least, the last, and the lost”. I think of the “least the last and the lost” as “those people”, the “others” who don’t live in my neighborhood…don’t shop at my grocery…don’t go to my church. It’s easy to love my Guatemalan neighbors…It’s sometimes difficult to love my neighbors on Plantation Way.
What does it look like to love our neighbors?
Wesley called these “works of outward mercy” motivated by faith and love. We are called to love our neighbor through practical service. Practical service means you help people in ways that really help them…not just in ways that allow you to check something off of your religious check list. Loving our neighbors should be demonstrated by serving our neighbors through acts of practical service.
Think about how you like to be treated. Now, treat others that way! None of this, “Oh, I don’t use this anymore and I really don’t like it and it’s outdated and kind of broken, but some poor person might be able to use it” stuff anymore. Give your best…because, let’s face it, we want the best for ourselves! When we donate goods for food and clothing drives…ask yourself, would I wear this, eat this, or give it to my children?
John Wesley is credited with challenging us to “do all the good we can, by all the means we can, in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, at all the times we can, to all the people we can, as long as ever we can.” These good works are to be motivated by love and sincerity…a result of our love for God that allows us to love one another.
And, here’s the great part, we all can do it. We all can love our neighbors through practical service…Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that “everyone can be great because everyone can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t even have to make your subject and your verb agree…You only need a heart full of grace…a soul generated by love.”
The more we draw near to God and grow in our love for God…the more our souls will be generated by love and we will not only be enabled to, but will possess a desire to love our neighbors.
Jesus called us to love our neighbors and to respond to the needs around us in practical ways. Let us remember that being in need is not simply an economic issue. There are people living in the biggest homes, in the best neighborhoods, driving the nicest and largest SUV’s, wearing the latest and most fashionable clothes who are in desperate need and simply need a neighbor to say hello, smile, and listen.
We have to view ourselves as missionaries…missionaries in our homes, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our schools, at the pool/ball diamond/soccer field, wherever we find ourselves…our call as followers of Christ is to be missional…to find ways to share the love of God with all through our words and, most importantly, through our actions.
Think about the ways you can love your neighbor…
Pray for your neighbors…when was the last time you prayed for your neighbors? I prayed for my neighbors this past week when they were screaming at each other in the garage…and kept an eye on the situation to see when I needed to intervene in more direct and practical ways. I prayed for my neighbors last night while they were blowing up 5 gallon buckets! Take a prayer walk at least once a week…you may not know names and situations, but pray.
Exchange simple/friendly greetings – smile, wave, say hello, ask how they are doing…and pause long enough to hear the answer. When I smile and wave at my neighbors, some smile and wave back, some look at me like I’m crazy, and some say, “there goes the preacher.”
Stay outside long enough to have encounters with neighbors
Go for a walk at the same time everyday…talk to those you encounter
Buy coffee/meal for the person behind you or at a table on the other side of the restaurant
Buy and deliver donuts! (Jeff Mark)
Compliment your neighbors…yard looks nice, great fireworks, nice truck, whatever
Be nice to the people working at the grocery, gas station, restaurant, customer service for your phone, cable, wireless, internet, healthcare provider…my friends that worked at restaurants hated working the Sunday lunch shift…you know why? That’s when church folks show up. And, my friends would report that Christians are rude and lousy tippers. So, be generous (tip well, even for lousy service…it’s called grace, mercy, compassion, and love)
Smile, say thank you, be kind and courteous, open doors
Welcome the new neighbors
Food- share a meal, deliver cookies, make an extra casserole, have a cookout/pizza/ice cream party.
Mow their yard- I tell you what, I wish my neighbors loved me enough to mow my yard!
Be patient…sometimes being a good and loving neighbor means being patient with your neighbors.
Sponsor a child/adopt a family (story of family at Mayflower)
Donate food/money to backpack programs
We could go on and on…the important thing is this…
Stop waiting to be asked! God doesn’t want us to wait until we’ve been asked to do something or given approval…just do it. Realize we all are called to be missionaries. If your heart is moved to help, just do it. God doesn’t want you to wait to love your neighbor, to feed the hungry, to clothes the naked, to shelter the homeless, to reach out to the least, the last, and the lost. We need to stop having missed opportunities…
God’s great love for us should motivate our great love for God – demonstrated through the way we love one another. I am convinced that if we pray, study, worship, give, serve, and share, we’ll find ourselves growing in love for God and loving our neighbors will begin to get easier and easier.
Now, here’s the deal…we will have wasted our time here this morning if we don’t go and love our neighbors through practical service. What will you do today, tomorrow, and in the days to come to demonstrate your love for your neighbors? Share your stories with us…email the church, send us a message or post your stories on our facebook wall…Whatever you do, do something.
If we hope to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, we can’t just sit back and wait. What will you do to express your love for God and neighbor?