What the world needs now is strong, courageous, and potent reminders of what true and real love looks like.
We need to tell the stories of people like Malala Yousafzai, the women who from a young age courageously campaigned for equal education for girls in Pakistan. She was shot by the Taliban at just 15 in an attempt to silence her, but she miraculously survived the attack and at just 17, became the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace prize. More importantly, Yousafzi never let the attack deter her courageous work and continues to use her now global platform to advocate for girls’ education.
We need to tell the stories of people like Eleanor Roosevelt, whose tireless work helped give voice to the poor and disenfranchised in our nation, and paved the way towards giving them an opportunity to build better lives.
And we cannot tell the stories of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr, John Lewis, and countless other contemporary, everyday heroes whose lives seek to bring about equality and justice for those who have been marginalized and mistreated because of the color of their skin.
What the world needs now is strong, courageous, and potent reminders of what true and real love looks like!
With a pandemic that has taken the lives of over 188,000 people in the United States and nearly 900,000 people worldwide; with people dying of hunger and homelessness every day; with men and women, young and old being treated unfairly and even killed because of their skin color or because of who they love and violence being incited by conspiracy groups and people scared and alone and sad and full of uncertainty and with political campaigns being waged that include smearing and flat out falsehoods; this world in which we live is a bubbling pot that is bubbling over!
Yet the efforts of each one of us, and all of us collectively cannot be underestimated. It takes only a very small amount of certain substances in chemistry to effect an enormous change in the composition of the whole.
Perhaps you, like I, have seen signs popping up in front of homes and houses of worship that say “Love your neighbor. No exceptions.” These signs first began to be put up as an affirmation that all people, regardless of their immigration status, are deserving of love and care and welcome in this nation. And that is true to our Christian values and principles.
Yet the words that these signs have turned into a slogan are of course partially from scripture.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Love your neighbor.” In today’s lesson from Romans, Paul is quoting one of the most, if not the most famous commandments from scripture. (Romans 13:8) And Paul is bold to say that if we can fulfill this commandment from Jesus, then all other commandments will also be fulfilled. If we love our neighbors then we won’t steal from them – not even the dignity of their own personhood and right to try and build a better life for themselves and those whom they love. We won’t commit adultery or covet or murder.
Love your neighbor. This commandment - to love our neighbors – it can souns so nice to say that we might even think it is easy to carry out, until we actually try to do it.
Love your neighbor as yourself, Sounds good, right? Until those neighbors have a dog whose barking keeps us awake at night. Until they play music we don’t like too loudly. Until we see those neighbors put up a different political placard on their lawn than the one we have put out on our own lawns. Oh, ho, ho, let’s see how deep the love of neighbor goes now!
And what about loving the neighbor who doesn’t look like us or talk like us? Or who has a different socioeconomic background or immigration status? What about loving the neighbor whose gender identity or sexuality is different than ours? How deep does our capacity to love really go? Deep enough to risk our lives and livelihood like Yousafzi as she battled for equal educational rights for girls? Deep enough to get to know our neighbors who seem to think and believe differently than we do? Deep enough to write letters of protest and to take to the streets in protest until the promise of freedom and justice for all people in the United States actually gets applied to all people in the United States of America?
We live at a time when demonstrating strong, courageous, and potent love is so important for the world. Paul’s admonition to us to remember the Greatest of commandments cannot and should not be taken lightly. And this can feel overwhelming and daunting and hopeless, when we consider taking it on alone.
So, let us not miss Jesus’ promise, coming at the end of the Gospel lesson today; the promise that when two or more are gathered in Christ’s name, Christ will be there.
Jesus is talking here about sorting out differences among church members, but his message about reconciliation with neighbors is too big to apply only to our relationships in church. And Jesus reminds us that when that work gets too big for it to happen for us one on one, then we might need reinforcements; we might need to gather with others to support this reconciliation work. In the church, in our wider communities, in our world, we need to gather and call on Jesus’ name in order to support the work of loving our neighbors in the midst of insurmountable odds and challenges.
Jesus goes on in this passage to remind us that reconciliation work with our neighbors includes deeply listening to each other. The listen Greek verb here is “akouo” (ah-KOO-oh) and it is used four times in just two verses. Deep listening is part of deep loving and deep reconciliation work with the people around us.
And perhaps this leads us back to listening for and telling the stories of others who are courageously loving in this world, or who have done so in the past. Listening to their stories so as to be built up in our own courage. Most of all, being built up in the courage that comes from knowing that the Savior who gave the Greatest Commandment to love one another, is the same Savior Jesus who will make that love of neighbor possible. And who gives us the gift of community to strengthen and amplify this work of love. For all people in all places, all the time.
Love your neighbor. No exceptions.
This just might be the work through which Jesus heals us, and the world.