The Drawing: Nearer to Neighbor
This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, May 3, 2015.
Reading: Leviticus 19:1-2, 16-18
What is church?
Two weeks ago you were introduced to the drawing. It’s a drawing Jesus talks about in three of the four gospels; it’s a drawing that sums up all the law and the prophets (see Matthew), it’s a drawing that is better than all the sacrifices and burnt offerings (see Mark), it’s a drawing that will draw us closer to God’s Kingdom (see Luke). The Church at its best is a drawing: a drawing closer to God and closer to neighbor.
Two weeks ago you were introduced to the drawing: at the center of the drawing is God and at various points around God we find ourselves and the people of the world (our neighbors). The drawing depicts an ideal situation—where the church is fulfilling its purpose—where people are drawn closer to God; but notice, as we draw closer to God the distance between the points—the people—is lessened. It could be said another way, note how as the points—the people—draw nearer to one another, they also draw near to God. This simple drawing, depicts well, I think, the church’s purpose—a drawing of our drawing closer to God, closer one another, and closer to those God so loved and came to save.
Last week, Peter Hancock talked with you about what it means and looks like to draw close to God. Today, we will look at how we are called to draw near to our neighbors.
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today. It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray. Amen.
It’s been a busy news week: a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Nepal has claimed over 7,000 dead and over 14,000 injured. The Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments this week on the legality of same-sex marriage; a protestor interrupted the hearing on Tuesday by shouting “It’s an abomination of God!” There were protests in Baltimore after the funeral of Freddie Gray, the 25 year-old black man who was arrested, put in a police van, and emerged later with what turned out to be fatal injuries.
The Freddie Gray incident is just one more tragic chapter in recent violent clashes pitting police officers against protestors following the arrest or death at police hands of a young black male. Decades after the passage of the Civil Rights Agreement, we remain in many ways a deeply divided nation. The divide is not only racial but also socioeconomic. Badly broken systems fuel resentment and feelings of hopelessness…
The news this week reminds us just how desperate our world is for compassion and love. In the words by Burt Bacharach and best sung, I think, by Dionne Warwick:
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
No not just for some but for everyone
One of the scribes in the temple questioned Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?’ 29 Jesus answered, ‘The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:28b-31, New Revised Standard Version). That second commandment, is a direct quote from Leviticus 19:18.
The book of Leviticus isn’t a book we typically spend a lot of time in. Our passage from today is the only reading from Leviticus included in the three year Revised Common Lectionary schedule. It’s a book that is often quoted in defense of those who disapprove of homosexuality, but interestingly enough not quoted for its admonitions against eating from the sea anything that does not “have fins or scales” (see Leviticus 11:9-12) or planting more than one type of seed in a field or wearing more than two kinds of material (i.e. no polyester and cotton blended shirts): commands all found in the verse following our reading for today in Leviticus 19:19. The book of Leviticus was written as an ethical code for the people of Israel—an ancient code that defined the way in which the Israelites were to draw near to God and neighbor and become holy. In fact, “the Hebrew term for holy appears in one form or another more than one hundred times in the book.”
It’s from this book–from this holiness code that Jesus quotes the second greatest command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s an important second command, a reminder that our pursuit of God should not push others away. Our pursuit of God should draw us closer to neighbor (see the drawing). It’s a reminder that our yearning after God should not disparage or demean our neighbors. Our love of God must include the love of neighbor, but don’t draw the circle around your neighborhood too tightly.
The world so often teaches that you are to love the neighbors you agree with and loathe those you don’t understand or disagree with, you are to love those who treat you well and hate those who mistreat you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I say to you [says Jesus], love your enemies and pray for those who harass you 45 so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.
We are called to love our neighbors: all of them.
What does it mean to love our neighbors?
The simplest definition I’ve been able to come up with for love is this: love sees the needs of another and seeks to meet them. This is the witness we have from God. Paul, in his letter to the Romans writes: “God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God saw our brokenness, came in the flesh in Jesus Christ to make us whole and righteous. Love sees another’s need and seeks to meet it. The apostle John put it this way:
16 This is how we know love: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 But if a person has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need and that person doesn’t care—how can the love of God remain in him? (1 John 3:16-17, Common English Bible)
Note: love doesn’t assume a person’s needs. It seeks them out. I think the church can do a lot of harm by assuming people’s needs. What we really need to be doing is creating relationships, hearing people’s stories so that we can begin to better understand what the perceived and real needs are. Love is founded upon a relationship that’s strong enough to shoulder and meet one another’s need. That’s love. It’s not easy building relationships where it’s safe to share and shoulder one another’s needs, but it’s the community God calls us into. It’s a community that demands everything from us and that’s the community we’ll spend time talking about next week.
Jesus said that the second greatest commandment was to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Do just that—grow in relation to others such that you can begin to know their needs and begin to meet them. And, when it seems too difficult to love. Do it anyway. In the words of Dr. Kent M. Keith:
People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.
The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down
by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.
People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Let us pray:
All-loving God, you sent Jesus into the world to show us what love really means. Loving people is hard. You know that. Forsaking the love you sent, we put Jesus on the cross and buried that love in a tomb, sealing it with the biggest rock we could find. And yet, your love never gave up on us. On the third day you rose to show us how persistent your love for the world is. Help us O God, to be ever so faithful in showing love to the world you so love. Help us, O God to be ever so faithful in showing love to others. In the name of Christ—the one who came to show us that love—we pray. Amen.
 “Police: 101-year-old man rescued one week after Nepal quake” by Jethro Mullen and Slma Shelbayah, May 3, 2015, CNN.com <http://www.edition.cnn.com/2015/05/03/asia/nepal-earthquake/index.html> Accessed May 3, 2015.
 “Protester interrupts SupremeCourt hearing as justices listen to arguments in a set of cases that could make same-sex marriage legal across the United States,” by Francesca Chambers for DailyMail.com <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3058680/Supreme-Court-hear-historic-sex-marriage-arguments.html> Accessed April 28, 2015.
 “What the World Needs Now,” sung by Dionne Warwick <http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/d/dionne_warwick/what_the_world_needs_now.html> Accessed May 1, 2015.
 From The Wesley Study Bible (Nashville: Common English Bible, 2012), p127.