Love Your Neighbor: Finding Common Ground

Good Morning Church,

Welcome back to our sermon series on loving your neighbor. Over the past three weeks we have walked through what love looks like, how we love God, how we love each other, and next week we will be talking about vision setting for the world that we can help to build one relationship at a time. This week, I thought it would be important for us to take a moment and speak a moment about finding common ground.

Today we need to ask how we can love the religious other? The beliefs that we hold closet to our heart are the most meaningful parts of our lives. Maybe this is your religious beliefs or maybe it is your social beliefs, either way they are important and when people feel that they are being infringed upon they become very scared. I think we need to recognize that some of the beliefs that we hold most dear are the very things that also stand to divide us the most. If you were to put a group of people into a room together and ask them to talk about some critical issue, I bet you will find that there will be some of these negative reactions that we begin to feel within your body. You may feel your breathing begin to race, your muscles may tense up, you may start getting that little vein that begins to bulge on the side of your head. None of these emotions feel good and often after you come down from that point of high anger and the endorphins begin to subside, you will probably need to go take a nap.

In a few weeks many of us will be getting together with friends, family, or neighbors for a Thanksgiving meal. Many of us have a really hard time agreeing with the people in our own families and ultimately this makes the holidays one of the most stressful times of the year. We go to these gatherings just hoping that nobody points out the giant elephant in the room. The two subjects that we, as polite people, say we should not speak about is religion and politics. Now, for many these conversations end up coming up. Sometimes we just can’t help ourselves. We just can’t wait to put that figurative dagger into the side of Aunt Sue. And it is for that reason that we are doing this sermon series.

As Christians we are called to love Jesus and love people. Love is never about ourselves. We are called to love everyone else in spite of what that means for ourselves personally. I believe that this is the defining characteristic of a follower of the teachings of Jesus Christ. As people of faith, we are being challenged to exude greater love today than we have ever been called to give at any point in our lives. We have rarely been faced with what we could really call enemies. Our nation has had diversity from the signing of the Declaration of Independence, we wouldn’t have signed that document if this was not the case for all of human history, but only at specific moments have we ever seen that diversity embraced by all. Usually this diversity has been a point of contention.

John Wesley once famously said “though we can not think a like, can we not love alike?” I believe that this is an important question for all Christians and Americans to be thinking strongly about over the next week. When we go to the polls on Tuesday, we are going to be standing in line with our friends, neighbors and fellow citizens. We are not all going to vote alike, but can we not leave that space with a heart of love for each other? My worry, as I know is the worry of many, is that there is only going to be more division and angst after this election. I believe that this is probably true, but remember that the only person you can control is yourselves. If each and everyone of us can live for love of the other first, we will be able to continue to walk the journey of life at each others sides. We need to do this.

I am borrowing this example from another minister because I believe it speaks so powerfully to our lesson today. In Matthew 7:1-5 Jesus says “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.”

It is weird to hear Jesus tell the disciples not to judge each other, but I think he was concerned that the moment he was not there with them that they would start in on each other. Jesus wanted to set up his disciples to be successful in sharing the love of God when he was not longer with them. Jesus knew that humanity is notorious for judging each other by a standard that we would never want to be judged by. I love how Jesus uses visuals to represent the log in our own eye and the speck in the eye of the other person. Do we ever pull out the tweezers to look at removing a small speck from someone else’s eye, before we have looked at our own eye?

When someone is caught in a blatant lie, they never want to be called out in it even though they may call out the same thing in another person. We all have done this from time to time, but our self awareness as a society is at an all time low. We can’t see the log jutting from the center of our own eye, even though we can see the speck in our neighbors. Now I don’t believe that Jesus taught this to say that there are never moments where someone lies to a very large extent, but that before we look at the faults of others we must look to our own. We are all flawed and broken people and our job is to offer love and grace because it is exactly what we would want from others.

All through out the early church there were times of uncertainty and division amongst the faithful. They would quarrel with each other on a regular basis and they often found themselves sitting on opposite ends of many conversations. In Acts, the writer reminds that all are created by God and that we are all in him. Jesus created each and every person that walks the Earth. We are all a part of the beloved creation and as Christians we are called to honor the work that Jesus has done by honoring the people that Jesus is working through.

The love of God is evident throughout the scriptures and especially in the life in ministry of Jesus Christ. This lesson was carried forward by the disciples and ultimately by people like Paul who told the people in Corinth, “Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings” (I Corinthians 9:22-23, NLT) Paul understood the importance of finding common ground amongst communities of people. When we don’t find this common ground and try to charge ahead in spite of the other, we do not accomplish much of benefit for anyone.

When we meditate on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, what we find is that he was often teaching his disciples to love, respect, not judge, and be kind to one another. Jesus understood our human condition far better than we do and he was trying to leave us a legacy of living that would make this existence life giving for us. Remember, that Jesus has commanded us to not judge. It is one thing to say you agree or disagree, but when we begin to devalue the individual is when we begin to walk down the path of judgement.

As Christians, we must be able to look beyond the surface level. The church has been notorious for teaching very surface level faith that does not get to the heart of any issue and yet we are surprised that the world that has come out of that level of teaching can’t look beyond the flesh of our neighbor. We need to see who each other is, not just what we think they are. For some of us, we can not look at our Republican family and friends in the same way that we once did. For others, we will never be able to see our Democrat family and friends as the people who we once loved without a thought. I believe that this is truly a shame. Remember friends, we are Christians first, family and friends second, community members and neighbors third, and somewhere way down the line we are Republicans and Democrats. Or at the very least that is the way it really should be.

Friends, we need a revolution of our souls. All the saints that worked so hard to build a beautiful church for us are counting on us to do what Jesus instructed us to do. We have a hurting and ailing world in need of healing. If Christians are not going to be the ones who can reach across the divides and begin to rebuild bridges between communities of people, who can we trust will? It’s important to see each other as the beautifully created children of Jesus Christ that we all are. Each and everyone of you here today are a beautifully created child of God, knitted together with love and grace. It is our job to make sure that the world knows how loved it really is. As we go into a tense and uncertain week, let us not forget how loved we are but also work hard to make sure others feel that love too. Our communities are going to be troubled this week, but we can be the light of Jesus in this world for them. It is so vital and important that we be the light of Jesus this week. Let’s not get distracted by the politics and bring healing and love to the world. Together, we can see our community through a challenging season ahead, knowing that God will give us to wisdom to do so. And all God’s people say. Amen.