Tag Archives: neighbor

Growing in Unusual Places

Christians should disagree.  Churches should have conflict.  Being of one Spirit does not mean we are called to all think, act, give, vote, and look the same when we gather to worship our Lord.  Because of who God is and who the Lord created, we shouldn’t be surprised about this.  But we are.

I’m not used to being surprised when I do yard work.  Recently, I was clearing out some overgrown brush and trimming some trees.  As I was working on one tree, a startling revelation occurred.  It wasn’t one tree.  Sure the roots were one, and even the base was one.  But four distinct trunks were growing out of the base.  The pairs were different in bark, leaf, and density (remember I was cutting some of them).  Somehow, long before I lived here, two trees grew out of the same spot and self-grafted into one another.

The spectacle caused me to share it with my neighbor who was also doing yard work.  We talked about the struggle that these trees must have endured together.  We marveled at how nature finds a way for life to survive in even the most unusual places.  At first we talked about cutting one tree away from the other, but determining which was the original tree was now impossible.  So I trimmed back the dead branches, pruned back the ones that were not going to grow, and left the two trees growing together.

Christianity is a faith that calls us to grow in unusual places.  Faith should surprise us even when we’re not used to it doing so anymore.  In a world that seeks to have manicured monoculture lawns, nature reminds us that diversity is the norm with dandelions and crab grass.  Romans 11:17 gives us the image of a wild olive shoot being grafted into the stump of Jesse.  Paul is using this image to support the reality of his day; Christianity was spreading to Jews and Gentiles ~ to those who expected to be included and those who didn’t even get an invite.

The spectacle of the early church was not how uniform it was but how utterly diverse they were.  Rich and poor broke bread together.  The ethnic backgrounds represented three continents.  People of power were washing their slaves feet.  Former prostitutes were sitting with the wives of Senators.  They struggled and endured together.  At first there was talk of trying to cut them away from one another, but in the end the various branches grew together as community.  No wonder the neighbors gawked.

Christians should disagree – on lifestyles, on politics, on economic development, and even on theology.  Churches should have conflict.  Living things are always in flux and chemically unbalanced.  They do, however, reach a point when all is at homeostasis and there is no more conflict: it’s when they die.  The Living Spirit calls us not to be of one opinion or one vote.  Our faith is a faith of multiple branches growing from the same stump.  Sure, there are times when we’d like to cut away from one another, but our job isn’t to cut or to prune.  We’re supposed to leave that to the Master.  Sure there are easy places to grow, but that’s not where we were planted.  Our calling is to grow together in mutual love and respect for one another’s differences in belief, background, and practice.   After all, it’s what Jesus would do.

 

Originally published in the Tidewater News, August 2016.

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Love is Particular

 

Jesus never said “Love everybody.”  I’ve checked.  It’s not in the Bible.  Now before you begin writing letters to the editor or perhaps to my Bishop, hear me out.  I’m glad Jesus never told me I had to love everybody.  I can’t.  It’s not humanly possible.  Loving the whole world is something divine, and even God struggled to do it on the cross.  Instead of commanding us to love everyone, Jesus commanded us to “love God,” “love your neighbor,” and “love one another.”  I’m glad he said it this way.  Loving our neighbor is much more particular and scandalous than loving everyone.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus describes our neighbor by telling the story of the “Good Samaritan.”  Neighbors are not simply the people who sleep in houses in close proximity to our homes.  Jesus defined neighbors as the people we encounter on the way.  At first this may seem like an easy command, but what if we loved each person we interact with along the way?  Sure, family and friends are pretty much assumed, but what about the others?  The cashier at the store who was slower than grandma’s two step shuffle?  The coworker that tells the annoying overused joke for the thousandth insult?  That loud-mouth who disagrees with us about politics?

And what about the people we interact with through our purchasing power?  We are a global economy.  Each swipe of our plastic is impacting someone’s life.  The child sweating in the factory putting buttons on our shirts?  The underpaid and overworked woman sewing brand names into our tagless underwear?  And let’s not forget closer to home – migrant workers picking vegetables amid the fog of carcinogenic insecticide.  God, this is difficult!

Loving everyone actually might be simpler.  Why not reword the command into the golden rule?  Instead of “Love thy neighbor” let’s use “Love everyone the same way you want to be loved”?  Some people don’t have self-love, self-respect, etc.  Using the golden rule, I could mistreat and disrespect everyone equally in the same manner I expected to be mistreated and disrespected.  God is smart.  Even the Lord ‘chose’ a people to be particularly loved among all humanity through whom the rest of the world would encounter the divine love.  This is the scandal of the particular in the universal.

God doesn’t simply love everyone; God loves you.  All of the you’s who there are out there in the cosmos.  You are a unique human who has very particular needs; your experience of God’s universal love will be particular.  I think this is why the Bible uses Father as a metaphor for God and God’s love.  I love my two children.  I do not love them equally.  They know it, too.  They’ve asked.  I’ve told them each and every time that they ask the same answer.  I love them as much as they need me to love them.  I love them equitably.  I love them particularly.  The Lord’s love is enough.  God doesn’t love one more or less than the other.  God loves us as much as we need to be loved.

Jesus taught us to love like he loved.  When we encounter one another in any way we become neighbors.  We’re called to love our neighbors in the same way that God loves us.  Love is particular.  Don’t try to love everybody.  You’ll fail.  Instead of going global, go local.  Love your neighbor.  After all, it’s what Jesus would do.

 

Originally published in the Tidewater News, July 2016.

Love (Call to Worship from Matthew 22:34-40)

Love.

A small word, should be easy to be and do.

Love God.

Oh, that’s easy.  I’ll pray to you to ask you what I need.

I may even show up once in a while in Church to worship you.

Love.

You keep saying that, am I getting it wrong?

Love Neighbor.

I love all my neighbors. 

We get along great as long as we all stay within our property lines.

Love.

I don’t think that is such a small word.

Not easy to be.  Not easy to do.

Love God.

I’m trying Lord, forgive my distractions and idols.

Love Neighbor.

Help me see the invisible, those in pain, those in need.

Love.

Love with all our Heart and Soul and Mind.

Love.

Love.  Amen.

-©2014 Nathan Decker, www.worshipswake.wordpress.com

Who is my Neighbor? (Call to Worship 2009)

Who is my neighbor?

Is she rich or poor?  Do they look like me, talk like me, act like me?

Who is my neighbor?

Is he a Christian?  Do they have the same values as I do?

What team do they cheer for?  What God do they pray to?

Who is my neighbor?  The lawyer asked the question.

We want to ask the question.  We want to justify ourselves.

Who is my neighbor?             -Nathan Decker 2009