“Love Your Neighbor!”
There is likely no command given by Christ that is more familiar than “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Even the secular world is familiar with the “Golden Rule” which is, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Unfortunately, in the world we live in today, most people tend to apply this as a rule of “reward” or “receiving” rather than one of “sacrifice” or “giving.” We have no problem with being good to those who have been good to us, rewarding them for what we have received from them. But we are far less likely to help those who have not helped us, or give to those whom we don’t expect to receive something in return. Which interpretation do you think Jesus intended?
Even in the earliest law handed down through Moses, God makes it clear that love is forgiving and to be given without conditions or expectation of receiving something in return. In Leviticus 19:18, God declares, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.” Regarding even those we see as enemies, Jesus said in Matthew 5:43-45a, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” Teaching in the presence of people that believed they were righteous and faithful servants of God, Jesus used the story of the “Good Samaritan” found in Luke 10:25-37 to show them it is the person who is willing to care for the needs of someone they don’t even know who is truly the good neighbor. Jesus used a Samaritan, a person the Jews hated and saw as inferior, as the hero and good neighbor. He made it clear that we are to “love our neighbor” rather than “judge our neighbor.”
So, you are thinking, the pastor is telling me things I already know… where is he going with this? The truth is that in following Jesus’ “Great Commission,” to “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Mat. 29:19), we have not obeyed Jesus’ “Great Commandment,” to “love our neighbors as ourselves” (Mat 22:39). I say this because too many churches today are unwilling to give unless they have something to gain. Let me explain.
Most churches believe “welcoming” is enough. They expect people to come to them, to seek them out and want to worship God with them. The same was true in Jesus’ time. The Jews expected people to seek to be like them, to follow their rules in order to be accepted into their synagogues and Temple. Isn’t a worship service a place where people who already know and have a “relationship” with God gather in “response” to God’s love to express their love? So why do we “only invite” people to worship a God they don’t know or have a relationship? Is this the way Jesus taught us to make disciples? No, Jesus said, “Go and make disciples!” Jesus gave us an example in His own life, going to sinners, sick and rejected people to show them God cared for them… loves them, and they are worthy of His love.
Many young people today have no religious affiliation and no previous exposure to a faith community. They will never walk through the doors of a church even if “warmly invited.” Young people today are more likely to wake up early to build a Habitat House than to wake up to attend a worship service. This internet, Instagram, selfie generation value individuality and exclusivity, but they also “long to belong.” They want to be a part of something bigger and better. They want to make a contribution to the world that will make a difference. They want to be known by name, unconditionally loved, and find meaning and hope in life. The Church must reach them where they are, be willing to love them as they are, and show them God’s love by showing them our “faith in action.” Their “point of entry” into the church won’t be the worship service. It will be through our connecting with them in the community. It will be through small groups that provide a safe place to connect, to get involved and begin a relationship with God. We will connect with them by “going” to where they are, showing them Christ’s love, and leading them into a relationship with Him. Then they will respond, wanting to worship the Lord they now know and love. They will want to “belong to God.” So let us reach out to the children and youth of our community and connect them to Christ!!!
Your fellow servant in Christ,