At the Limits of Our Love
Pastor Krombholz's Sermon. Saturday, October 30, 2017
Leviticus 19:1-4, 9-18, 33-37
In his explanation to the First Article of the Creed, Martin Luther confesses, “I believe that God created me together with all creatures.” In his book, Martin Luther's Theology, A Contemporary Interpretation, Luther scholar and theological Oswald Bayer notices that this confession of faith is both personal … God created me … and at the same time communal and relational … together with all creatures. From the beginning, God’s gift of life is a gift that is sustained by within a family and a community. Is it any wonder then, that the Ten Commandments begin with faith in God and work out in love toward neighbor.
I think it’s easy to see, at least from this perspective how the command to love your neighbor is meant to be an expansive and dynamic commandment throughout our life. Starting with parents and moving out to family and extended relations ... and with each encounter with the new and diverse people of this planet our understanding of neighbor and neighborhood expands and with it a realization ... a revelation of ourselves as God’s creature, living together with all creatures in God’s good creation.
Yet, at the same time we discover that not everyone loves us and some, even sometimes those closest to us, hurt and harm us, use and exploit us, cheat and oppress us, kill and destroy us. In the Biblical story, the story of human rebellion and turning away from God is followed quickly by the story of envy and murder between the first brothers. When we fail to trust and love God, all kinds of evil works through our life. The wages of sin are death.
Take just a moment ... maybe grab a pen and start with your closest relationships and work out into the world. Who is the neighbor that you love as you love your very self?
We come from different places and we live side-by-side with people who come from all over the world. Neighbors? Yes ... by proximity. But it takes work of listening and learning before we start to see ourselves in the face of a stranger. And it takes the Holy Spirit at work in us to see Christ in the face of a stranger.
Let’s get right up to that fence now ... where our love ends and our defenses begin. Where the command love your neighbor as yourself is a threat to your own sense of security and well being and the axiom good fences make good neighbors seems the wiser guidance. Go to the place place where your ambivalence could just as easily become anger, hate and murder. It is at that point that Jesus tells the parable about a man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.
In this brief story, Jesus weaves together the story of a network of neighbors. Since the national origin of only one character is mentioned, we can assume that every other character shares a common heritage. They’re all kin.
If they met on the street or in church — the man, the priest, the Levite, the innkeeper and even the robbers would recognize their common bonds and neighborly connection ... especially over and against the Samaritan. The Samaritans were beyond the border, an enemy.
So, in this story the man is robbed and beaten by his fellow countrymen, ignored
and abandoned by his religious leaders and left to die in the side of the road. As we think about the story, we can imagine lots of good reasons to not help our neighbor, but simply recognizing the dying man as our neighbor evidently doesn’t necessarily motivate us to action.
That’s the point. We cannot love and trust God in theory, but in practice by actually being the neighbor God has created us to be in the neighbor God created us to be in the beginning. The neighbor then is not the passive recipient of aid but the embodied and active God-lover doing what faith inspires. That’s how Jesus turns the story and makes neighbor an active verb. Who was neighbor to the man. Not, who considered the man a neighbor. Who neighbored!
To really understand this story we must imagine ourselves to be the man who is robbed and naked and dying by the side of the road. That is our true position. Now, what do you expect your neighbor to do for you?
Or imagine all the ways we think a good neighbor ought to act. I think we end up with a description of Jesus. It is Jesus who has worked to save us, and who pays for our care. Go and do likewise is the command at the end. Go and be the neighbor. Go and love like Jesus.
It’s no accident that that very phrase is part of our baptismal promises. Out of our death and resurrection in Christ through baptism a new creature emerges to “love all people following the example of Jesus.” By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are inspired and empowered to "go and do likewise," to go and do like Jesus.
This congregation has formal ways and opportunities for us to be the neighbor God created and redeemed us to be. Jane and Moses will tell you about the work of servant ministries and about our efforts to share the good news. But the Holy Spirit is also at work in you and working through you to respond to your neighbor with the love of Christ.
In your neighborhood, who do you see? In what ways is God calling you love and serve the people you see? May God open each of our eyes to see our neighbors in love and to be the neighbors God intended us to be ... in Jesus' name. Amen.
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