Loving Like Jesus
Loving Like Jesus
Matthew 25 Series
September 12, 2020
Rev. Fritz Nelson
Text: Matthew 22:34-40
This morning we’re going to begin an in-depth look at Matthew 25:31-46, known widely as the parable of the sheep and the goats. In the parable Jesus judges his followers on how they’ve cared for the least of those in their midst. According to Matthew this parable is Jesus’ final teaching. We’ll read parable next week. This week we’re going to revisit the commandment to love our neighbor, the commandment which forms the foundation for the parable.
Jesus reminds his audience of the command to love their neighbor not long before he tells them the parable. As we read Matthew 22:34-40 consider this question: If the eternal state of your soul depended upon you loving your neighbor as yourself how would you fare?
READ MATTHEW 22:34-40
So, how did you fare? Did your reflection leave you satisfied you’d be greeted with the voice if Jesus: “Well done you good and faithful servant?” If not, how would your life have to change in order to fulfill this most basic of commandments?
On January 1, 1953, as the Korean War entered its third year, a woman in Los Angeles put her toothbrush in her pocket, christened herself Peace Pilgrim and begin walking to Washington DC to protest the war and the world’s embrace of nuclear weapons. Peace Pilgrim would spend the next twenty-eight years walking across the United States, Canada and Mexico, possessing only what she could carry in her pockets, relying completely on the freely offered kindness of strangers and sharing her simple message: peace, whether personal or universal, can only come when we love our neighbors as ourselves.
Peace Pilgrim’s journey actually began long before she left Los Angeles, for the journey of her body was but an extension of her journey of soul. What would her life look like, she asked, if she actually lived what she believed? What if she actually obeyed the guidance she sensed from God? What if she dedicated every moment of her life to be of service to others? What if, instead of being governed by wants, she brought her life down to the need level? What if her primary motive became love of neighbor without regard for self? If her only desire became the wellbeing of others could she achieve the peace and hope promised by Christ?
Peace Pilgrim died in 1981. During her life she became a minor celebrity, an object of fascination to some, a guru to others. As I discovered her, I became awed by her seeming to have done all those things we read about in the gospels and claim we cannot do. She literally gave up all she had. She literally did not store away treasures here on earth. She claimed to worry very little about what she would eat, or drink, or wear; to base every decision on what was morally and ethically pure; to approach everyone she met with open hands, open arms and an open heart; to harbor enmity against none. Like Jesus she was voluntarily homeless, but was able to feel safe, secure and at peace wherever her day’s walk took her.
Loving his neighbor led Jesus to leave behind the heavenly throne room and take the form of a slave. Loving his neighbor led Jesus to a stable instead of a palace. Loving his neighbor led Jesus to surround himself with the poor, the hurting, the outcasts, the sinners. Loving his neighbor led Jesus to long days of healing and teaching. Loving his neighbor led Jesus into conflict with political and religious authorities. Loving his neighbor led Jesus to the cross – an unjust death accepted with neither hate, fear nor enmity. Loving his neighbor transformed the brutality of the cross into an act of healing for all creation.
One cold, wet, stormy night, not long after Eric came home from the hospital as a baby, we heard a knock on the door. A man and a woman stood on the step. Could they spend the night? I vaguely knew the man. I clearly knew what Christ would want me to do. We had food in the house, and an extra bedroom. Yet there was no way I was going to let them into the house. Not for a moment to talk out of the rain. Not for the night.
Healthy boundaries suggested my house was not the place for that man and his companion on that night. Yet anger, not healthy boundaries, informed my rejection. I was angry he’d disturbed my quiet evening. I was angry he’d requested my love. I was angry he was challenging me to practice what I preach, to live what I claim to believe. So instead of letting them sleep in the church, or driving them to a shelter, or contacting someone else better able to help, I sent them, cold, wet, hungry, into the night.
We’re afraid to love beyond our immediate circle, and sometimes not even there. Our possessions give us identity. Our money gives us security. Our homes are our sanctuaries. We’re afraid to be vulnerable, to be taken advantage of, to be hurt. But what benefit do we get if we gain the whole world but lose our soul? What benefit do we get if our possessions begin ruling us, if our fears control us, if our world literally groans, and seethes, and rages and burns and dies due to many decisions made out of love for self over love of neighbor? The greatest among you, Jesus says, must become as a servant. Our world can only experience healing when we begin loving as Jesus loves, began loving as if our souls, our lives depended upon it.
Peace Pilgrim suggests we learn to love by loving. Listen to the Spirit, she says. Simply begin doing “all the good things you feel motivated for, even if they are just little good things at first.” Pray about things seemingly too big to handle for “right prayer motivates right action.” Peace Pilgrim started helping her neighbors with simple chores and projects. She visited the sick and elderly. She began working with those who were troubled or hurting. She got involved in advocacy for societal change. As she got deeper in she expected much loss and personal suffering. Instead she experienced only joy, freedom and peace.
In the parable of the sheep and goats, Jesus will tell us our very salvation depends upon us loving our neighbor not only as ourselves but as if they were Christ himself. What would your life look like, what would our world look like, if together we let every decision be governed by love of neighbor. Every decision: how we spend our money, what we eat, how we spend our time, where we live, what we consume, what voices we hear, what we expect from our church, our government, our selves, how we vote. Only by becoming as a slave to our neighbor can we be free.
Is there one thing, one change you can make today, to begin the transformation?