I drove by a sign today on the way from work, and had a rather strong momentary reaction that led to some deeper reflection. The sign said, "Because God loves you, we love you." Simply enough, profound if true. The problem is that while Christians across the board profess to love their neighbors, far too many of them only love the acceptable ones. Funny, having been a pastor for over 30 years, I don't recall reading where Jesus ever allowed for that condition. The command was very clear, very succinct - Love your neighbor as yourself. Period. No qualifiers. So, why do those who claim to follow the Master have such a hard time with it?
Perhaps the real problem is that we'd have to let go of our cherished prejudices if we honored that command. We'd have to love and accept the presence of druggies, drunks, violent people, prostitutes; give up our homophobia, our racism, our religious bigotry toward Jews, Muslims, Liberals, and drop our deep-seated political prejudices as well. Horrors! Imagine it! A church were all are welcome to come, pray, and worship God as they felt led to do - not forced into our own little mold.
Hm, maybe Jesus was on to something more profound in that little command than in nearly anything else he taught. And recall that in his story to illustrate the neighbor, he chose a hated Samaritan - a mixed-blood who descended from those who refused the Jewish leadership's command to send foreign spouses and children away following the return of the Jews from Exile. Hated, because they heard a deeper call from God, perhaps? Imagine the "stuck in the craw" feeling of those who tried to trap Jesus, only to have him slip that little tidbit in on them.
Perhaps the church would find itself relevant, desirable, important and influential - if only they would listen to that command and act on it as presented. Love your neighbor - all of them -as you love yourself.
Uh-oh! There's another cherished belief challenged! I grew up hearing the church say, you should love God first and foremost, others second and yourself last and least. So, how do we love our neighbor as ourselves, if we don't love ourselves? Does loving self mean we don't try to improve? No, but it gives us the right motivation, and allows us to accept that if we aren't perfect, God still loves us. Ow! Two powerful lessons that just might start to transform the whole image and concept of church if actually accepted and practiced!
Think about it!