I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good things, therefore, that I can do, any good kindness that I can show a fellow being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.
-- Stephen Grellet
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Sermon "Neighborly Love"
This is the second sermon that I preached last Sunday at Princeton United Methodist Church as part of my summer internship. (You can read the first one "Have We Crossed the Line?" here and my last one will be on August 5th on the Gospel of Luke.) Since the first one went so well, I asked to preach one additional time. I have wondered a lot about the contradiction between God giving land to the Israelites and Jesus' command to love our neighbors, so I decided to preach on it.
Also I had an elder in attendance for this sermon, following Friends tradition.
have been thinking a lot about that question in the last few weeks
since Scott sent out the link to the video of Mister Rogers remixed
in the church e-newsletter. I do not remember watching Mister Rogers
a lot growing up. What I know about the show is very little. I think
I learned his famous question from one of the few times that I did
watch the show.
Anyway I absolutely love this question. Won't you be my neighbor? It was a
leading question when Mister Rogers asked it. How could anyone say no
to a kind man, like Mister Rogers? How could anyone respond with No I
don't want to be your neighbor. Leave me alone! That question is like
the command that Jesus gives His followers about loving their
neighbors. It is an invitation to something greater.
the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus offers to the people two commands: Love
God and Love your neighbor as yourself. Again this sounds so simple,
doesn't it? It is almost a checklist for us to do: Buy Milk check,
mow lawn check, love God check, love your neighbor check. Such simple
words but it is such a hard task, especially loving that nosy
neighbor next door. But at the same time what does loving your
neighbor mean in the larger context outside of just meaning the
people living next to you? How can we love people who live in a
different context than us?
I have struggled with is to put Jesus' simple, yet challenging
command to love our neighbor in Matthew with the proclamation that
God made to the Israelites in Joshua 1. There God promised the land
to the Israelites and led them there. But the land was already
inhabited by other people, the Canaanites. We are told conflicting
stories about the Canaanites, but in the end we never hear about what
finally happened to them. Biblical scholars have several different
theories about what happened to the Canaanites. The theories range
from the Israelites destroying them all to the Canaanites co-existing
with the Israelites peacefully. What is the Canaanites' side of the
story of the Israelites coming into the land? What would that story
week we will celebrate the 236th anniversary of our nation's
independence. A nation that was founded with the claim that God meant
for the Europeans to have this beautiful land that they had
“discovered" by accident a couple centuries before even though
there were already millions of people living here. Even at the time
of the founding of this country, most of the land, that we now know
as the United States, was still inhabited by Native Americans.
country's story is told from the European's side, from the side of
the conquerors. What is the Native American story of the United
States' Independence? What would that story sound look? Unlike the
Canaanites, we actually know the history of the Native Americans. I
will give you a hint: It is not pretty. That story involves lies,
broken treaties, slavery, and massacres. It is still not pretty. Some
of the worst poverty in the nation exists on the Native American
reservations. Also there are high suicide rates among Native American
teens, just to give you a small glimpse into the current situation on
get me wrong! This is not a "Shame on the United States of
America" sermon on the Sunday before Independence Day. I love
this country. I have traveled this country countless times by car,
bus, train, and airplane. Some of the most beautiful places in the
world are within our borders. I love the diversity of our land and
the people who live within the borders. We have a lot to be proud of
about our country and our freedoms. But at the same time, I am not
going to sugarcoat our country's history and ignore the problems we
have had and still have as a nation.
Christians we should not shy away from this history. Because if we
do, we are bound to keep repeating the same history over and over. As
a people yoked together in Christ we commit to be honest about our
sins, both personal and corporate. Let me be honest. We are not a
perfect people. I am definitely not perfect, so let not pretend to be
perfect. In not pretending to be perfect, I mean admitting our sins
that we do to each other and our neighbors out of contempt, jealousy,
and even carelessness. The good news is that we can strive to be
better, strive to something greater especially as a corporate body
gathered together in Christ's name.
is the radical message of Jesus. He called on His followers to break
out of the religious complacency existing in the First Century. Jesus
showed His followers a new path! He advocated for His followers to
hang out with the least of the society, their own neighbors, while at
the same time challenging them to live to a much higher level. And
that challenge is still before us today.
does that mean for us right now? What does loving our neighbor in the
21st century look like? In what ways can we live out Jesus' command
a church, we have started by inviting our neighbors in for meals on
Wednesdays; we help each other during times of need. Right now 51
members of our congregation family are traveling to work with our
neighbors in West Virginia, while another member is in the Democratic
Republic of Congo working with our neighbors there. What more can we
do? Do we know our neighbors of different faiths, our neighbors
around us who believe differently than we do? How do we as a
congregation reach out to them?
think this all starts with an invitation to join us at the table, an
open invitation to sit with us on an equal level to get to know each
other. A little like what will happen when Susan invites us to the
communion table later in the service. Mister Rogers' simple yet
powerful question, "Won't you be my neighbor?" provides a
great way to invite others in for fellowship and learning about each
Isn't that a great way to start relationships with our
neighbors and live out our faithfulness to Jesus' second command in
the book of Matthew?