It’s difficult to believe it can be this simple. We try to make it more difficult than it should be. We try to interject our opinions and our ways into it. We don’t allow what is there to speak for itself. It is loud and clear and yet we want to make it quiet and unnoticeable. God has spoken these words over and over and over – and too many times, we just ignore these are his words…or we choose other words we would rather hear or speak or believe. But these words are bold and bright and brilliant. They are challenging and they cause us to change if we take them seriously. We don’t get to live our lives the way we might want to if we follow these teachings. We don’t get to change the words around if we take God seriously. We take them as he says them, as he writes them, and as he shares them.
This morning, I am going to do something a little different. I want to read several scriptures in a row and then bring the message together in a way that I hope will lead us to the teachings of Jesus. So walk with me on this quick journey. It begins early in the Bible…
15 You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.
17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
This is among many laws that God has given his people – these things separate them from all the others in the land. It doesn’t stop here, though. Jesus had some things to clarify for the people:
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
Love your neighbor…there it is again…
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Jesus clarifies this in the parable of the Good Samaritan…a story he teaches about who is our neighbor. He leaves this teaching with his disciples and thus, with us:
34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Paul reiterates this to the church at Galatia which was having some issues:
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
And I think John sums it up well:
1 John 3:11, 14-17
11 For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. 16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
So there are all these teachings about loving our neighbor. We are called, instructed, and directed to love one another. This teaching repeats itself over and over – love being the central theme of the Bible, in my opinion. Yet, this is one of the most challenging teachings we are called to follow. It is much easier to judge. It is easier to dismiss. It is easier to ignore. It is easier to not love. We even try to devise reasons for not loving. We do this by clumping people into groups so that we can just not love a whole group. It is, after all, easier to dismiss a group than it is to dismiss one person we see and know and talk with. But that isn’t the point…that isn’t the teaching…that isn’t the instruction. We are to love others.
Loving others requires us to push past our preconceived notions. Loving others requires us to reach from a place where we realize we are loved. Loving others comes from knowing that Jesus loves us – despite who we are and where we have been. Loving others is more than a command, it must be a part of who we are and how we live. It cannot be something we talk about – it must be something we live. It has to be how we are known. If it is not, we are missing something.
I understand the challenges of loving others, I do. I get why it can be so difficult. I hear how you struggle with this – so do I. I am not saying this is easy. I am not saying we will get this right all the time. But if we never try, how will we ever change? If we never begin to take this teaching seriously, how will we ever love? If we never really listen to God, how can we expect God to change us? We are loved beyond measure. We are loved, even despite the mess we are or the mess we may find ourselves. We are God’s beloved. God is just asking us to carry this love forward. He is asking us to take what we have been given and share it with others. He is asking us to take this amazing love and put it into action. Instead of ignoring this love or denying it, we begin with welcoming in the fact we are loved. It starts here. When we begin to sense how much we are loved, we have a wellspring of love to share. We can only love others when we sense how much we are loved. Maybe that’s where we start today. Maybe it begins with – YOU ARE GOD’S BELOVED. YOU ARE LOVED. Take it in. Live with it. Let it become a part of you. It will change us. And we just may find ourselves loving others. May it begin with me.