No one ever asks me about love. End times, yes. Abortion, homosexuality, true-love-waits, rated-R movies, cussing, alcohol consumption, eternal salvation, sure. But never, in twenty years of the pastoring profession, has anyone, ever, asked me how I’m doing on that whole actually commanded: “Love God with everything you’ve got” and “love your neighbor as yourself” thing.
But, people did ask Jesus … They asked Him to weigh in on the debate regarding the most important commandment of all. So He quoted text.
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: Hear O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD is One. Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:29-31
Not only was that Jesus’ answer, but it was also His defining command to us:
They will know …
After a week like this, I’m left to wonder, “Will they? Will they ever know us by our love?”
And just in case you’re thinking, “She’s just handpicking the lovey-dovey verses she likes.” Take that argument up with Jesus. And Paul. And Peter, James and John, and the Father Himself. Because I didn’t write the Book. I’m just reading the parts we seem to have forgotten exist. Sadly, these are the parts that identify us as the people of God. (Even if I am handpicking, so is everyone else … but I have chosen the most excellent way … come join me!)
All of this is desperately important because we need to rediscover our core identity as followers of Jesus. We need to demonstrate to ourselves and the world around us that we are His disciples.
How will the world know who we follow? According to Jesus, by our love for one another. Even when we disagree. We show who we follow by our love for our neighbor, the foreigner, the widow, the orphan, the poor, the oppressed, the lost, the broken hearted, the prisoner, the thirsty, the hungry, the enemy.
When we miss this particular command, we have not only lost the identifying aspect of being one of His followers, but according to 1 John 3:15, we can feel free to count ourselves amongst the murderers.
In the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus and Matthew’s account of Jesus’s parable separating the Sheep and the Goats, when Jesus “sends” someone to hell, it is for their lack of love and care for the poor. In these stories, it is not a lack of proper eschatological understanding, or their inability to remember the Roman Road, their bad cursing habit, pitiful prayer life, or pitiful theology. It is because they neglected to love the poor.
This past week, the Church’s debate over the divisive issue of same sex marriage was put on painful display for the world to see. As our brothers and sisters at World Vision wrestled with the intention of bringing greater unity, their decision instead brought forth pain, brokenness, tribalism, judgment, threats, and condemnation, thus the decision was reversed.
We have a sin problem. Our sin was on display this week for the world to see. Our inability to be civil, even when we disagree. Our inability to listen gently and patiently, with a desire to understand – not necessarily to agree, but simply to better understand. This week, His followers neglected to obey His command to love. Our sinfulness, our disobedience, not our love, was on display. When call center employees at World Vision are resigning because they can no longer take the vitriolic, anger-filled phone calls, we have a lot of explaining to do. I don’t care how challenging the subject, how difficult the conversation, how significantly one disagrees, there is absolutely no excuse for our lack of love towards one another. Particularly towards our brothers and sisters who are on the front lines of serving the poor, restoring the Hole in our Gospel.
So let’s make this week better than the last. Let’s try again. Let’s honor our differences as we work out our faith with fear and trembling. Let’s seek for the places where we can agree. May we ALL breathe deep and get grounded when we begin to feel ourselves flare up with anger, hurt, indignation, disappointment and judgment. (This happens on all sides of the debate so everyone needs to get it together here.)
Let’s make up for our nasty, embarrassing, base behavior and let’s take this opportunity to shine a light on the needs of the poor, those in deep poverty, who live too far away from the arm of justice and rescue. Let’s sponsor a child. With World Vision. After a week like this, let’s make certain our faith is not dead.
And whether you personally placed a nasty phone call or not, maybe give the World Vision call center a ring and apologize to whomever answers the phone for the pain and hurt caused by angry callers displaying a lack of civility, claiming to follow Jesus while disobeying His command to love. Or apologize for the angry voices on the other end of the line once the decision was reversed. Give them a reason to want to answer that phone again and make a difference for the poorest of the poor. Let’s put our love on display this week. Our love for Jesus and for one another, for our neighbor, and especially our enemy. May we be as dedicated to following Jesus and as “passionate about serving the poor as we are about issues of sexual morality in the United States.”