Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Difficulty Of Loving Our Neighbor

This weeks scriptures are Deuteronomy 6:1-9 and Mark 12:28-34.

The big temptation with these scriptures for many of us, and especially for me as a therapist, is to focus on the 'love your neighber as you love yourself' in a way that stresses learning to love ourselves. For the truth is that many of us have great difficulty loving ourselves. Some of us were told from the time we were very small, in a multitude of ways, that we were either unlovable-or that we had to earn the love of others by bending our lives into something that others would like and accept. A great deal of my work as a therapist is helping folks escape from self hatred. A sermon focused on this would surely be an appropriate approach to these passages. And you might well hear that sermon sometime from me....but not this Sunday.

Jeremy's presentation last week on his visit to Georgia touched me in some powerful ways. His focus on the Inclusion/Exclusion that goes on within the church there was a painful reminder of what happens here in our country, in our churches, in our lives. I was so moved that my benediction was a charge that we reach out during this week to someone we have excluded. Have you got any idea how hard it was for me to respond to my own charge?

Jesus told the scribe that he was "not far from the kingdom." I was reminded of what that means while preparing for Sunday's sermon and reading an article by Maria Teresa Palmer describing a visit she made back to her native Peru. Her article reminded me how difficult it is to get past the 'not far from' into being where the Kingdom is...into being in the place where God's will is truly being done.

Being where the Kingdom is means struggling with the social and political impact of our choices. Being where the Kingdom is means thinking about how our actions and attitudes are experienced by our loved ones, our neighbors, the check out clerk, the woman with AIDS, the immigrant struggling to learn english, and the man returning from prison.

My problem with the "What Would Jesus Do?" stuff that was so popular a while back was that we too often don't take the question seriously enough. What does Jesus' love command us to do: about health care, about prison ministries, about our relationship with our relatives, about ........? How would taking this commandment seriously...and Jesus is crystal clear that these two commandments combine into one which is the greatest, the most important; that everything else is would my life change if I really, truly took this seriously. How would the life of our church change if that was our primary question: "How will this action/decision be an expression of our love for God with our whole being (heart, soul, mind and strength) and our neighbor as ourself?"

I don't have an answer. I have some thoughts. And those thoughts come from what happens when I take this passage and join it to Jesus' statement that "as you do it to the least of these, you do it unto Me." The imperative to love neighbor as an expression of loving God, as the primary expression of love for God, is not ambigious at all. It is a frighteningly clear command. Those thoughts challenge and judge me. I trust that God will also use those thoughts to guide me (and perhaps us as a congregation) as we struggle with how to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and our neighbor as ourself.

Hope to see you Sunday.

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