The command of love is meant to be inclusive, not exclusive.
Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise. (Luke 10:36-37 KJV)
A lawyer, legal scholar, or law teacher, depending on the translation, wanted to test Jesus about the Scripture. He and Jesus agreed that the ultimate interpretation of all the Scriptures is summed up in these two verses from Leviticus and Deuteronomy:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself (Luke 10:27 KJV).
The issue raised in the question, “Who is my neighbor?” is similar to what Cain asked God after killing Able, “am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9 KJV) The more narrowly we can categorize people -- neighbors or family members or friends or community or race or gender or orientation, or any other ways of dividing people into groups who are like or unlike us – the more easily we can justify neglecting and even mistreating whoever we want, just by arguing that they belong to “them” rather than to “us.”
The parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates that we are all neighbors in a sense God’s commandments presuppose. We are all the keepers of our brothers and sisters. We are all each other’s neighbors in a way that transcends any distinctions we may fabricate.
Manuscript of the sermon preached on July 10, 2022, at Briensburg UMC | [Audio Podcast]
5th Sunday after Pentecost
God’s love encompasses all people.
We heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints (Colossians 1:4 KJV).
There’s that word “all” again… “All means all y’all.” Most people love somebody, though some people seem to put even that thought to the test. Jesus preached in the Sermon on the Mount that we should love everyone, friend and foe alike, just like God loves everyone, “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven… Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:45-48 KJV). It isn’t enough to only love those who are easy to love, whether it is they or us who are hard-hearted. The perfect love to which the Bible calls us is to love our neighbor as ourselves, according to Moses, and then according to Jesus, to ratchet it up by loving everyone as Christ loves everyone.
Paul’s ministry took him through a variety of countries, cultures, races, religions, lifestyles, philosophies, and socio-economic conditions. In our Bible study on Romans 15 this week, we discussed this full rainbow spectrum of people with whom Paul adapted the teachings of Jesus in his missionary journeys to establish fellowships of believers among every demographic.
The narrowness of his love for neighbor at the beginning of his ministry was transformed over the course of his lifetime to the broadest possible vision and experience of love for all people. Perhaps we can see something of ourselves in his spiritual growth journey. This is the experience we want to share more bountifully and enjoy more perfectly: to know how it feels to love everyone everywhere the way God in Christ has already loved them, and us, and me. We want to mature with Paul to the point we like him can say, as he wrote to the Corinthians in the Good News Translation,
So I become all things to all people, that I may save some of them by whatever means are possible. All this I do for the gospel's sake, in order to share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:22-23 GNT).
We are able to love if we are willing to love.
The word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it. (Deuteronomy 30:14 KJV)
The point of the Good Samaritan parable is summarized in the final instruction of Jesus at the close of the parable, “Go and do likewise.” In John 13, the same chapter where Jesus says his commandment is for us to love as we have been loved, Jesus said, “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” (John 13:17 KJV). The expectation of Jesus in all his teachings is that we would implement them, not just memorize them or argue about whatever hairsplitting nuances we may be able to identify to water them down.
The reading from Deuteronomy reminds us that everything about God and love and heaven is not just somewhere in outer space or for another life than this one we are living today. It is all as much for here and now as it is for then and there.
Just as Jesus told Thomas, “whither I go ye know, and the way ye know” (John 14:4 KJV), so also do we know this word of love because it is already a part of our conversation and thinking and feeling. The issue for us is not whether we know it but whether we do it. We are fully capable of loving God and loving our neighbor if only we will. We may not be as good at it as we should be, and we may need more practice and encouragement and training and experience to get better at it, but we can do what God’s word teaches. We can be living into the love that is already living in us by virtue of the breath of life we share in our creation.
All truth leads to perfect love.
All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies. (Psalm 25:10 KJV)
This verse in the Revised Standard Versions reads: All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees. (Psalm 25:10 RSV)
We acknowledge in our Communion ritual this very idea expressed by the psalmist that even though we have rebelled against God’s love, yet God’s love for us has always remained steadfast and sure.
The Bible repeatedly affirms that love is the entirety of everything God is teaching us and the ultimate final destination of everywhere God is leading us. The covenant we share with each other is a relationship filled with growing knowledge of the grace and love of God. The teachings we are working to apply in our relationships are the technical instructions on how to love the way God loves.
For those who are trying to learn of love and truth, all spiritual paths lead to Christ. The Holy Spirit will empower and guide them and us from where we are to where we need to be. We are all each other’s neighbors, learning to love and encourage and support each other.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.
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