Sermon: August 3rd, 2008

4 08 2008

Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  ‘This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:37-40

Well, here we are – we have come to the third sermon in this series of sermons.  For the past three weeks, I have been talking about Relationships.  Our Relationship with God.  Our Relationship with Fellow Christians.  We have looked at the words of our Lord in the Gospel of Matthew.  There we heard him define what those Relationships should be.  We learned that we are to love God with all of our heart and with all of our soul and with all of our mind.  We learned that we are to love God in the same way that God has loved us.  We learned that that love is an unconditional love – a no strings attached love – a no prerequisites love.  That we are to love God in the same way that God has loved us.

Last week we learned that we are to love each other – our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We learned that that love is to be the same as the love that we have for God.  We are to love each other with the same – no conditions – no strings attached – no requirements.  We are to love and care for each other.

Now this morning I would like to focus on another word in this Gospel Lesson.  The word neighbor.  What does that mean?  Who exactly is my neighbor?  Now you know, that really isn’t a new question.  In the Gospel of St. Luke we are told the story of another Pharisee who came and asked Jesus that very question.  Who is my neighbor?  In answer to that question Jesus told one of His most famous parables – the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  Remember how that story goes?  A Jew was on his way to Jerusalem and got mugged and left for dead.  A priest came by and saw the man lying there and kept right on going.  Then a Levite came by.  He too saw this man lying on the side of the road, and he too kept right on going.  Finally a Samaritan – one of those people with whom no good Jew would have anything to do.  They were considered beneath a good Jew.  Well this Samaritan sees the man – stops and helps him – takes him to a place where he can get additional medical help – and even agrees to pay the bill.

What Jesus is doing here is not just telling a nice story.  He is redefining what a neighbor is.  You see at the time of Jesus the Pharisees and the Priests would have defined a neighbor as somebody who is just like us.  A neighbor was another Jew – another one of the children of God.  And so when the law says in Leviticus that we should love our neighbor, they interpreted that to mean other Jews.  Certainly not Samaritans.  Certainly not Gentiles.  Not people like those Romans.  Not people who weren’t just like us.

But in this story Jesus is defining a neighbor as anyone who crosses your path.  People who are just like you.  People who aren’t.  People who think like you.  People who don’t.  People who look just like you.  People who don’t.  We are to love others – not just the ones who come to church at Zion.  Not just the ones who live in our neighborhoods.  We are to love all of those who cross our path, because anyone who crosses our path is our neighbor.

And what Jesus is saying is that we are to AGAPE them – we are to love unconditionally – all those other people who cross our path.  We are to love everyone who crosses our path, and we are to give them the same love – the same AGAPE – that God gives us.  We are to love them as God loves us.  We are to love them as we would like to be loved.  We are to care for them as God cares for us.  We are to care for them as we would like to be cared for.

OK I guess we got that, but you know as I said last week, I am a kind of bottom line kind of guy.  Tell me what is the bottom line?  Tell me exactly what God wants me to do?

OK I will try to answer that question.  In Wooster there are many organizations that do great things.  There is the Red Cross, People to People Ministry, Habitat for Humanity, Family Services, Relay for Life.  There are places that are always looking for volunteers – places like Wooster Community Hospital, the Library, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.  There are things like CAMO, Lutheran World Relief.  Lots of others – too many to mention.

Now you know what I think.  I think that if we really want to keep the Lord’s Commandments that each and every one of us ought to figure out what we like to do and then get involved in something outside of this church – something that touches the lives of others – something that allows you to love your neighbor as yourself.

I know that Suzanne Miller – as an example – volunteers over at People to People Ministry.  I know that Jeff volunteers with Meals on Wheels and the Viola Startzman Free Clinic.  If you are one of those who are already volunteering somewhere in the city or at work.  If you are involved in the lives of others.  Well, then I applaud you.  You are one of those who realize what is really important in life.  You are living out the command of our Lord to love our neighbor as our self.

If you are not, then I challenge you to find something that you are passionate about and get involved.  Let the love of God that fills you spill out and touch the lives of those who cross your path.  Make a difference in the life of someone else by letting the love of God that fills you touch and change the life of your neighbors.  If you do that then you will be loving the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  And you will be loving your neighbor – all those who cross your path – with the same love that God loves you.

And angels celebrate and God smiles.

Amen!

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