Tag Archive | matthew 22:39

“EVERYONE is Our Neighbor

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, (Galatians 3:28)

This teaching of Jesus that was central to his life and work, was not only revolutionary in His day, but continues to form the core of the work for social justice by Christians and non-Christians today.

The idea that we are all created equal children of God, and must treat each other as friends and neighbors, regardless of their personal endowments or social situation lies at the heart of what we ‘say’ we stand for as followers of Jesus. Just as the New Testament teaches us that God created all of us as his children, so did the Old Testament teach us that God created us to be stewards (Genesis 2:15) of His Kingdom – not only the land, but all resources AND all living things that live upon the earth.

This means all people of the earth! It means all of us: ourselves, our families, our friends, those we do not yet know, those who we will meet in the future, and those who are our enemies or want to do us harm.

EVERYONE!

Yet now, we seem to be, increasingly, a nation and a world divided. After 75 years of working to build one world through peaceful liaisons, disarmament, and sharing of resources, once again we see a rapid push towards nationalism and regional sectarianism. Many people are turning their backs on their neighbors and wishing to build a ‘cocoon’ to ensure that those who are ‘different’ are shut out, demonized, marginalized, and in some cases, criminalized.

Regardless for the reasons for this drift to isolationism – be they religious beliefs, geographical separation, social mores, elitism, racism, or prejudice, they all stem from fear. There is a tendency to define some people as ‘others’, ones to be avoided, excluded, demonized and denigrated. Whether because of personal fear or cultural upbringing, each group feels the right to protect their world and their future by doing everything in their power to ensure that no one who is ‘not one of them’ thrives in their world. In some cases, laws are written to exclude ‘those people’ from the basic rights all people should enjoy.

But God did not put us on this earth to build societies that segregate and alienate. Scripture tells us

let us love one another, for love comes from God. (1 John 4:7)

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)

The topic of this edition of Connection centers on ‘neighbors’. But what is a ‘neighbor’? Does it mean only those that live on the block we do, or go to our church, or are members of our social clubs, or as in the Old Testament, all Israelites, no matter where they lived. In the New Testament, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus expanded ‘neighbor’ to be those who were enemies or considered ‘unclean’. This is made clear in Matthew 5:44-45:

“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

There was no distinction between the righteous (Hebrews) and anyone else (unrighteous) living on the earth. The second Commandment

‘Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:39)

expanded the definition of ‘neighbor’ to the whole world.

Our planet is shrinking. With 24-hour news service and the internet we can immediately see the needs of other people around the world as if they were right next door. With faster modes of travel, we can reach far off places in hours, not days. Whether we like it or not everyone is our ‘neighbor’.

If we are to follow Jesus’ teaching about our neighbors, it is incumbent upon us to expand our vocabulary from ‘us and them’ to ‘we’. We are all in this together; whatever affects someone in Somalia, Afghanistan or Orlando, affects each one of us. If there is injustice anywhere in the world, sooner or later we are all affected by it. We have been given a Biblical imperative to

to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8)

Notice that it says ‘your God’, not ‘our God’. One of the great dividers is the concept that Christianity is the only true religion, all others are false. We must remember that we all worship the same God, no matter what name we give him, . . . and that we are ALL children of that same Creator. Therefore, it is commanded that we ‘do justice’ for all people.

The real and imagined walls we seek to build to keep ‘the other’ out must be dismantled – brick-by-brick, lie-by-lie, prejudice-by-prejudice. And when injustice exists, we must speak out in love, not in violence, we must be persistent and unflagging in working for justice for all, or there can be justice for none. To remain silent, to say “this is not my business”, is to aid and support forces of evil in our neighborhoods and our world. We have become so accustomed to daily shootings and violence that we hardly take note of it, or simply say ‘another one’. We hide in our living rooms watching 24-hour news and observe ‘what a shame’ or at least ‘we don’t have that here’, or have no reaction at all. To quote a recent protest poster: ‘Silence = Violence ‘.

If we are willing to accept God’s mercy, we must show that mercy to others. We must welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the suffering, and defend the weak (Matthew 25:42-46). All of these people are our ‘neighbors’.

It is time for us to come out of our safe, secure homes and go into the world, living into the commandments and teaching of Jesus to live among and care for our neighbors. They are not so different from us, and when we get to know them, and eat with them, we will be able to build a better world for everyone. But first, like the Good Samaritan, we must cross the road.

To quote Henri Nouwen:

“We become neighbours when we are willing to cross the road for one another. There is so much separation and segregation: between black people and white people, between gay people and straight people, between young people and old people, between sick people and healthy people, between prisoners and free people, between Jews and Gentiles, Muslims and Christians, Protestants and Catholics, Greek Catholics and Latin Catholics.

There is a lot of road crossing to do. We are all very busy in our own circles. We have our own people to go to and our own affairs to take care of. But if we could cross the street once in a while and pay attention to what is happening on the other side, we might become neighbours.”[1]

 

[1]      Henri Nouwen Society, “Crossing the Road for One Another”, http://www.henrinouwen.org
 
 
written for Connections, Diocese of Southern Ohio, 28 July 2016

Getting Ready for Holy Week

Next week we begin the observance of Holy Week, one of the most sacred times in the Christian faith. With the arrival of Palm Sunday, we finally end the season of Lent, a time of reflection and repentance readying us for the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.

We all have lots of things in our lives that impede us from fully embracing the salvation the Jesus gave us through His death and resurrection. Greed and hatred are in our hearts; we have not rid ourselves of other impediments to let us fully know Jesus. But we have one more week to take a look at ourselves.

As the Apostle Paul said:

    “I want to know Christ–yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,” (Philippians 3:10)

We all want to live a life that is guided by Jesus. And we know that it is not going to be easy. And no matter how hard we work, we are never going to be as perfect as Jesus. But all He asks of us is to try.

    “I want to know Christ” (Philippians 3:10)

Said the apostle Paul. Did he mean that we ‘know’ Jesus in our head or in our hearts?

There is a big difference from knowing a fact or ‘head knowledge’; all our brains are full of facts, things we have learned throughout our life. Some we remember immediately and some take a while to remember. We know important dates, names of people who are close to us. These are stored in our brain.

But there is another type of knowledge; knowledge that exists in our hearts: things that tug at our soul, making us feel warm and fuzzy. That is the ‘know’ that Paul was talking about. It is intimate; a personal knowledge of God, of God’s love and our place in His world.

When we have that deep love of God and Christ, we have the desire and determination to follow Jesus. We want to live a life that shows others the love of God and Jesus. Each and every day we try to treat others as we are commanded in Matthew 7:12:

    “do unto others are you would have them do unto you”

And in Matthew 22:39:

    “love thy neighbor as thyself’.

This is the way to gain that inner knowledge of God and Jesus. And with that knowledge, we are assured of eternal life through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. We are assured by Jesus that He has

    “gone to prepare a place for us” (John 14:3)

So in this last week of Lent, we have one more chance

    • to draw nearer to Jesus,
    • to embrace the unconditional love that God offers us,
    • to prepare ourselves to be fully ready to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

We can do this through identifying those things that we want to change about ourselves. We can do this by

    • spending time in personal reflection of where we want our lives to go.
    • feeding our spiritual needs.
    • trying to fully live into the Golden Rule.

We have one more week. Just one more week.

Please join me in spending the remainder of this holy season of Lent in prayer, asking God to prepare our hearts to share and to receive the stories and truths that challenge each of us most. And celebrate the gift of eternal life.

Amen
 
 
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 13 March 2016

From a Helpless, Little Baby to the Savior of the World

Luke 2:10-11

Today is the last Sunday of Advent, the season when we’re supposed to prepare for Christmas and the birth of Jesus. In a few short days, we will celebrate another Christmas. We sing of joy to the world. We give presents to people we love. We smile and wish each other a ‘Merry Christmas’.

If you know about Christmas at all, you know about Mary and the angel Gabriel, about the dangerous journey to Bethlehem, about Caesar’s decree, about Herod’s insane jealousy, about the inn with a “No Vacancy” sign, about the angels and the shepherds, and about the mysterious Wise Men from the east, and the last-second flight into Egypt. All of these stories are so well known that when we hear them again, we don’t really hear them at all because we’ve heard them all before. We hear, but we don’t hear.

The Christmas story tells the most amazing story: that God came down to earth in the form of a tiny, helpless baby.

Let’s hear again the ‘good news’ from the Christmas story:

    “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11)

That little baby was born for all of us!

And we put a lot of stock in that little baby, born in a strange place in a far off country. Yet, this little baby came to change the world. . . came to teach us about the love of God and how we are to treat each other.

What a terrible burden for such a little boy. But this little boy, hunted down by Herod the Great, exiled to Egypt – a refugee in a foreign land – taught us how to live.

From the humble beginnings in a stable, Jesus grew into a man that today 2-3 billion people in the world worship and look to for how to live a good life. From such humble beginnings came a great man – born as a human, as we all are. Died and rose again as the Savior of the world. Jesus lived in the real world, at a real time, with real people dealing with real problems. He did not live in isolation; he walked among the prostitutes, the misfits, the rejected, the tax collectors, and the murderers. He sometimes riled the feathers of the temple and Roman officials, throwing the money changers out of the temples and teaching that the Kingdom of God was greater than any earthly rulers.

But, He started as a helpless, tiny baby born in a stable.

Do you know that there are 365,000 babies born each day in the world? – 365,000 babies a day! And each one of those babies has the potential to grow up into an adult that makes a difference in the world. Probably not with the same impact as Jesus, but each one of us can make this world a better place.
Throughout the Bible are teachings given to us by prophets and disciples and Jesus that are the foundation of how we should live:

    “do to others what you would have them do to you,” (Matthew 7:12)
    “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:36)
    “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:39)

Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, we tend to forget the little things, although not religious, that remind us of the true meaning of Christmas:

    LOVE!

The more we learn to love… the more we act like God.

  • The love that God showed us when He sent his Son
  • The love people show to each other in little, insignificant ways that reflects that love of God.

God does not want us to live our lives isolated and separated from Him. He understands our limitations, our struggles, our hopes and dreams., God entered our real world as Jesus to draw us nearer to Him! The real question is whether we will let him into our lives.

For those of us who acknowledge that Love is the defining message of Jesus and of God, and for those who believe that God’s love is everywhere for every human being without restriction or condition, then, the task of life, the purpose of life, is to let as much of that Love in – love for self, love for God, love for neighbor and, above all, love for the enemy (Matthew 5:44)

We hear in the Christmas carol, In The Bleak Midwinter: (sung)

    What can I give Him, Poor as I am?
    If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb,
    If I were a wise man I would do my part,
    Yet what I can I give Him, Give my heart.

So, let us remember that tiny baby who came into the world just like the rest of us and asks only one thing:

    To love and serve him.

Amen.
 
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 20 December 2015

Let’s Drop the ‘Us vs. Them”

Although we still have four months until the presidential politicking ‘officially’ gets started with the New Hampshire primary, we are already seeing a growing disparity of opinion and a predominance of the ‘us vs. them’ mentality. It often appears that those candidates and supporters who frequently proclaim themselves ‘Christians’, are also the loudest factions displaying argumentative and adversarial behavior. Civil discourse in the public arena is too often not ‘civil’; it has become a shouting match, each faction calling the other derogatory names and demeaning one other.

While we acknowledge that for those whose faith is important and a core of who they are, their actions are driven by their beliefs. Yet, it seems that those who proclaim their religion repeatedly are also the ones who are most suspicious of anyone who disagrees with them. They are intolerant and negative about any ethnicity, skin color, social or financial position or political leanings that do not mirror their own. They see the public as easily-labeled groups or factions each of whom represents ‘the others’ or ‘them’. If one studies the teachings of Jesus, this tendency to emphasize the differences in people is contrary to everything He taught us. One could say that turning others into ‘thems’ is the complete opposite of the core message of the Christian faith.

    ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:39)

Somehow, in this time of political and social polarization, both sides seem to have forgotten this second Great Commandment from Jesus. They display a lack of caring about the stranger, the brother, the sister, the mother, the father, the children, the unborn that do not join lockstep in their political philosophy. Rather than rejoice in any commonalities, both physical and emotional, that all human beings share, they emphasize differences, no matter how small.

Have we forgotten that we are all created in the image of God?

    So God created humankind in his own image; in the image of God he created him: male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27),

and we are all beloved by God?

    “We know, dear brothers and sisters, that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people.” (1 Thessalonians 1:4)

We have to hope that all people want to do the right thing, and that most people strive to do the right thing. Yet, when people begin to believe that what is good for all of us (healthcare, public education, food security, job security, affordable housing) is in fact sinister, and only approve of things that are good for ‘them’ and their perceived group, we have come a long way from the teachings of Jesus. There becomes a gap between how we live our daily lives and how we talk about our common life.

After at least three decades of this ‘us vs. them’ mentality, there is extreme stress on our democracy. Legislatures at both the state and federal level are non-productive, seemingly going out of their way to make sure that either nothing is accomplished or that laws are passed that marginalize and limit the inclusion of everyone in our society. This has left the American people feeling that they are lost and ‘no one is minding the store’. Daily we are bombarded by alarming events in the global economy, endless wars that no one really wanted, famine and misery for millions, racial and legal injustices, and great income disparity. Levers of government and social action are paralyzed. There seems to be no one who is willing to stretch out their hand and try to work together for the common good of us all.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. . . we, as individuals, and collectively, as followers of Jesus can and need to change this.

There is no actual ‘us vs. them’. This is a fiction created by organizations with a narrow self-interest to put roadblocks in the functioning of our society. All political parties, liberals, conservatives, libertarians, progressives, and tea party-er share the blame. If we are to be the United States of America – people living and striving to maintain a nation where all people are created equal, where all have the same rights, and all can pursue life, liberty and happiness, ‘us vs. them’ mentality must be exchanged for ‘all for one and one for all’!

It is time for those of us who follow Jesus to stop this madness of ‘us vs. them’. We must work to overcome the prejudice and animosity rampant in our lives that is dividing our country. We must talk civilly with each other, listen to disparate opinions, use compromise and common sense to develop consensus in a loving and Christ-like way.

The next time we think about ‘them’, we must remember the many ways we are alike as human beings; we must realize we share the same hopes, dreams, fears and yearnings. Look for the similarities, not the differences. Have a conversation to build understanding and you’ll will probably find that you are not so different from us.

We must begin. . .

    we must start the conversation.

If WE don’t do it, who will?
 
 
Written for The Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Worthington, OH, 19 October 2015

Love Yourself

    The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:39)

“Love your neighbor as yourself,” is a pretty radical command -that we think of our love and concern for others in the same way as we regard our love for ourselves.

In this day of wars and conflicts and alienation, loving your neighbor is not a very easy thing to do. . . and those who do usually get vilified by the press and people around them. But, Jesus tells us that this is the second greatest commandment, one we should follow after loving God.

But I think the more radical commandment is in the second part of that verse:

    “as yourself”.

This speaks of the other important – often overlooked type of love—that of self-love.

We all have an innate instinct for self-preservation. We all want to be happy. We all want to live, satisfied with our lives. We all want:

    • food 
    • clothes 
    • a place to live 
    • protection from violence 
    • meaningful or pleasant activity to fill our days. 
    • friends to like us and spend time with us.

We want our life to count for something. All this is self-love.

Self-love is the deep longing to minimize pain and increase happiness.

Everyone, without exception, has this human need for love. We spend much of our time waiting to be loved, hoping to be loved, searching and yearning for that special love, wanting someone to give us love and fill us up.

We feel empty and lost without it.

Unfortunately, that’s not usually how life works. You attract to you exactly what you send out into the world, and what you believe you are worthy of. So loving yourself can create love in your life.

No scripture in any holy book states that God created anyone undeserving of love. At the end of creation, you will remember that God said ‘And it was good’. Jesus taught that every person has value to God.

Self-love should naturally grow out of the knowledge that we are all precious to Him.

But how do we love ourselves when the world tells us loving ourselves is selfish – not a good character trait?

  1. Fall in love with yourself. Think about what makes you ‘You’. Love yourself for all the good that you see and accept your flaws and the fact that you are imperfect. Look in the mirror and fall in
    love with the reflection that is You.
  2.  

  3. Be honest with yourself about how valuable you believe you are. The way you see yourself and
    treat yourself is the same way others will see you and treat you. Do you see yourself as valuable and worthy of love? Do you treat yourself lovingly? And most importantly, do you treat others with love? That’s the first step to feeling better about yourself.
  4.  

  5. Think about what you need. What specifically are you lacking? Find the answer and give it to
    yourself. No one is more capable of loving you and giving you exactly what you need than you are! When you learn to love yourself, you stop searching for it on the outside and you suddenly begin attracting it to you. You change yourself from a sponge to a magnet!
  6.  

  7. FORGIVE yourself if you believe you aren’t worthy of love. No matter what you may have been told as a child or hear now, It SIMPLY IS NOT TRUE. Say to yourself “I forgive myself for believing that I am not worthy of love.” Go look in a mirror and say it out loud to yourself, look yourself right in the eyes and say it like you mean it.
  8.  

  9. Start sharing. Share yourself with others. Everybody has something to share. Share your happiness, sadness, and most importantly your life. By sharing, you will start feeling better about yourself and start loving yourself.
  10.  

  11. Remember that love is not a feeling, it is a choice! Make the choice to love yourself and the
    feeling will come. After all, who deserves it more? The more loving you are to yourself, the more loving you will be able to be to everyone around you. Make a choice to love yourself and everyone who is important in your life

And last, but not least:

  1. Hug yourself. Don’t worry what others think, it’s about how you feel about you. Try to accept yourself as fully as you can.

Loving yourself is not being self-centered or selfish. We must care for our body, mind, and soul as treasured possessions given by a God who loves us.

Let us pray:

Dear Lord, help us to accept ourselves just the way we are. Help us to recognize that we are beloved creatures of your creation and that we deserve to be loved, honored and cherished. Clean our minds of emotional poison and self-judgment so we can live in complete peace and love. Give us the power to love ourselves, our family and friends unconditionally. Today is a new beginning. Help us to start our life over beginning today with the power of self-love.

Amen.

 
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church, 6 March 2011

Whoever Welcomes Us

Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 10:40

    Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.

He is telling us that when you are welcomed by someone else, they are also welcoming Christ.

You see, I believe, and Jesus tells us frequently that each and every one of us is a presence of God and Christ.

Sometimes you will hear someone say, in greeting another:

    “The Christ in me sees the Christ in you.”

Deep within each of us, sometimes hidden very deeply, is the presence of Christ. And with that presence of Christ is the presence of God. We may just have to dig deep enough to find it.

I want you to do something. Turn to the person on your left and say:

    “The Christ in me sees the Christ in you”

You might even try it with a smile on your face, as if you meant it.

Now, turn to your right and say:

    “The Christ in me sees the Christ in you”

Doesn’t that make you feel better; doesn’t that lift your spirits? Aren’t you warmed by the response from the person you just greeted?

We are representing Christ to the world.

In Matthew 25 we often concentrate on when Jesus is hungry, and thirsty, and naked – and we feed, offer drink, and clothe him. But, there is also this line:

    When I was a stranger you welcomed me. (Matthew 25:35)

Hospitality is a basic Christian principle. We welcome others into our homes, around our tables, at In The Garden, and into our lives. We are following Jesus’ commandment to

    love your neighbor. (Matthew 22:39)

And, by welcoming them we are also welcoming God in Christ, loving God with our hearts, souls, and lives.

This is one things that we ought to go out of our way to do.

And not just with the strangers who show up on our door. It’s easy to extend hospitality to someone we’ve never met before, or someone we just barely know, or someone we think we will never see again… but at the same time forget those who are always around us.

We must welcome and honor Christ in everyone:

    Christ in the stranger;
    Christ in our enemy;
    Christ in the friend;
    Christ in the partner;
    Christ in our siblings;
    Christ in our family, no matter how fragmented;
    Christ in the politician who makes our blood boil;
    Christ in the one who believes differently or look different.

Christ in everyone.

For when we welcome everyone as Christ. . .

    then, just maybe. . .
    they will see the Christ in us.

And where Christ is welcome all things are possible.

Amen.
 
 
Delivered at In The Garden Community Ministry, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH, 29 June 2014