The Way of Love
About seven weeks ago I preached the sermon in the Words to Live By titled Being Love. As I was preparing to write this sermon, I thought to myself, Do I want to preach another sermon on love this close to the last one? What could say about love that I haven’t said before or for that matter didn’t say last time? Fortunately, people write entire books about love and how it relates to the Way of Jesus so there’s always material to cover, always something to be reminded of or learn for the first time.
In the previous sermon, I said,
The world of the New Testament was a world of the collective. Where we see the world through the idea of the individual and the needs of the individual (meaning we see ourselves and our immediate needs), they saw the world through a collective lens. We ask, what is best for me? They asked, what is best for those around me, especially with regard to family honor or shame and social standing. Because of this collective mentality, I think we have to tweak the idea of agaph to mean something like group allegiance or group loyalty. It was a way of showing that you supported and cared for those who were socially connected to you.
For those who followed Jesus and the Way of Jesus, this meant they showed complete loyalty or faithfulness—what the Old Testament might call lovingkindness—to those who were part of the Way. When someone was in need, they tried to supply the need. When someone needed to be defended, either in court or the court of public opinion, they defended them.
In the previous sermon, I used 1 Corinthians 13 as a springboard to talk about how we show love to our fellow disciples of Jesus. The sermon talked about using all the various elements of love Paul mentions in that passage as way, means, expressions of love within the Kin-dom of God. In this sermon, I want to talk about how we look at showing love to those not yet on the journey with us. How do we live into this idea of being family—another way of saying allegiance or loyalty—to those who aren’t family, yet.
Jesus was approached with something similar to this question, though the person asking did not really know what they were asking. An expert in the Torah and its instruction came to Jesus and asked a simple question, “What do I have to do to obtain or be offered perpetual life, life lasting for an age?” Jesus having an idea of the man’s motives, turns the question him, “What do you think?” he asks. “What is said in the instructions given to Moses?” The legal expert says, “Be completely loyal to God with every part and aspect of yourself and show this same loyalty and allegiance to your neighbor.” Jesus tells the man, “You’re right. Do that and you will live.”
At this point the legal expert attempts to fine tune the meaning of neighbor. I think he had in mind that neighbor meant only those who were already part of his family and social group, those he already accepted. He asks Jesus, “So, who is my neighbor?” or more literally, “Who am I supposed to consider close enough to me to count as someone worthy of loyalty and allegiance?” Jesus of course goes on from there to tell the story of the Samaritan who acts with lovingkindness toward someone who is in need, someone he does not know and can get nothing in return from. The Samaritan defies the social norm because he represents everything the legal expert—and those listening who are simply poor but Torah abiding Jews—would find repulsive in a neighbor. The Samaritan is considered below the social scale of the Jews, a despised race. Not only that, a Samaritan in that part of Judea would most likely be a traveling trader, someone considered little more than a thief. In the story, this Samaritan thief spends his money to take care of a total stranger, dying, and desperately in need. The Samaritan does everything possible to treat the injured man with the lovingkindness of a kinsman or demonstrating this idea of what we translate in an overly simplified way as love.
So, where does this leave us? What do we do with this command of Jesus to, Go and do likewise?
I think we have to start with a gut check. When I played football in high school, I remember our teams quarterback walking up people at random before the game and punching people in the stomach as he yelled, gut check! It was a way of saying, be ready, you’re going to get hit; it’s going to hurt; be ready to walk it off. In our case, the gut check won’t cause any physical pain, but it might/probably will hurt a bit on the inside. Our gut check is one that asks a really simple question: do we really go and do likewise? Do we really act as the Samaritan, the outcast of the story does? Are we willing to ignore our prejudices, our preferences as we like to tell ourselves, in order to meet the needs of those hurting around us? Are we willing to bring those into our little corner of the kin-dom of God who make us uncomfortable? Do we have the nerve to truly be completely loyal to God with every part and aspect of yourself and show this same loyalty and allegiance to your neighbor, or the ones close by us?
While we might bristle at the thought one way or another the proof is in the doing of it or as I have heard it said, It ain’t braggin’ if you done it. Can we look around this room, look at our community and say we done it? If we can’t, I think it’s time to take a hard look at who we are and be willing to live up to who we are called to be.
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