Who is my neighbor?

In the Forum on Sunday (9/4) we considered Paul’s wisdom “The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Romans 8:9

In a previous post I shared a “spiritual exercise” with you and invited you to, well . . . exercise. In the Forum we discussed the notion of “neighbor.” Of course, “Who is my neighbor?” was the question put to Jesus who answered by telling the story of the Good Samaritan and then asked the questioner (at the conclusion of the story) “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” Luke 10:36 “The one who showed mercy” was the (correct) answer and Jesus instructed his questioner (a lawyer) to go and do likewise.

Within the Forum as we wrestled with the question ourselves some began with the “neighbor” they could see and touch and interact with—beginning in their own families. To love this flesh and blood neighbor was their challenge. Others looked into the immediate community—the homeless, the hungry, even the violent—as the neighbor they were called to love. Still others looked into the “whole world” and included “enemies” in their neighborhood. All this to say that there are many answers to this question and that the best place to start to answer is the place you find yourself in right now.

Jesus through his stories, through his teaching, in his life and in his death opened his heart and opened his arms wide enough to embrace all who came to be in his presence, beginning with the flesh and blood family into which he was born, the flesh and blood group of disciples he gathered around him, and then he kept expanding his embrace until he opened his arms wide upon the cross and embraced us all. He sent his apostles and disciples into the whole world. Over the centuries, at our best, we the church have understood our mission as being an inclusive mission. At our worst we have drawn boundaries and counted some in and some out (and sadly this practice continues into our own day).

Let’s behave well, be on our best, as we answer the question, “Who is my neighbor” for ourselves. We have lots of information, now we need to match that with our actions.

How do you love a “neighbor” who is unlovable?

On Sunday we heard from the Apostle Paul (talking plain enough to understand for a change)

++from Sunday 9/4: Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.  Romans 8:9-10

As a way to extend the Sunday (9/4) lesson this week I invite you to try this “spiritual exercise” during the “other 6 days.”

  1. Go through the newspaper, or magazines you have lying around, photo albums, internet images whatever you have or can find and. . .
  2. . . . PICTURE (at least) 3 “NEIGHBORS” YOU HAVE DIFFICULTY LOVING. Folks or groups of folks you may even find “unlovable” period.
  3. Post the images someplace you can find so that you can see them every day, maybe even in a place you see them throughout the day.
  4. Day be day read the passage(s), that grab your attention, look at the images you have clipped, speak a short prayer in response. (See below)
  5. Write down (or not) your prayer (or anything else) as the Spirit leads you. Bring your insights (even your prayers) with you on 9/11 (to church) or share them here on our blog.

One way to begin to love your neighbor (especially the neighbor you find unlovable) is to take that neighbor with you into your prayer time with God (the exercise I have just suggested).

Complain to God (if you must, or if it just “feels” good to complain). Express your exasperation with this neighbor, detail the many shortcomings you have discovered with this neighbor, God is a good listener. Perhaps, if you listen closely, you’ll be able to hear the complaints about you made by your neighbor. Perhaps, even if you don’t want to hear it, you’ll hear the detailing to God of your shortcomings made by this neighbor you have brought with you. The two of you, or the group of you, sitting with God for a spell; sitting with the same God who loves you all equally (see Matthew 5:43ff below) — it promises to be quite an experience. And, yes, I’m doing this all week myself. More later.

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++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. Leviticus 19:18

++“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48

+ + [The lawyer asked] “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 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.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:36-40

+ + But wanting to justify himself, [the lawyer] asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers . . . .  Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The Parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37

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