- Up, In, and Out: Out
- Lyndol Loyd February 9, 2020
For the last few weeks, we have been talking about ways that we as a church might be able to assess how we are doing at living into the purposes that God has given to us. We’ve been using three words to help us in this effort – Up, In, and Out.
We started with Up, which we described as living in a transformative relationship with Jesus Christ. Our picture for this was a ladder. The last two weeks, we looked at In, which we described as forming an authentic community for and with one another. This was symbolized by two chairs facing one another representing our need of each other. This morning we are going to talk about Out. We want to look at what it means for us to carry the good news of Jesus Christ beyond the walls of this building and out into our community and even the world. Our image for this is the sole of our shoes which transport us to places we need to go.
What do you think of when I say the word neighbor? When I hear the word neighbor, I think about Tim Comer. He was my childhood next-door neighbor. I’m a couple of years older than Tim, but we were great buddies as children. We used to zip up and down the street on our bikes, and spent endless hours in a tree house in the field behind our houses. When I was in the third grade, Tim’s family moved away, and I cried about as hard as I have ever cried when I watched the moving van pull away from our neighborhood.
When I think about neighbors, I think about Kim Goad. When I was in grade school, and Kim was in high school, her family lived in the house next door to mine. She was a cheerleader, lifeguard, and drove an orange Ford Pinto that I thought was absolutely cool. She taught me how to swim, helped me learn to ride a bike, and gave me the nickname of “Bud.” A few years later, Kim got married, and she and her husband bought the house on the opposite side of my parents. Ironically, I ended up becoming a lifeguard, and taught her kids how to swim and ride a bike. To this day, she still calls me Bud.
When I think about neighbors, I think about Mark and Laura Heuchert. They built a house in Hot Springs Village just across the golf hole we lived near. At the time, they were young with small children, and so were we, which was no small thing when you live in what is primarily a retirement community. He was German. She was Mexican. They could also speak French, and when they answered their telephone you never knew what language was going to come out. The first time we met them, Laura told Joni that she had heard I was a pastor and that they didn’t really do the church thing. Joni told her it was okay, we were just hoping we could be friends. Before you knew it, they joined our church.
I’m sure we all have people that come to mind for us when we hear the word neighbor. Author Dave Runyon wrote a book called The Art of Neighboring. Interesting title. He said the inspiration for it was when a group of pastors got together to think and pray about, “How do we care for our community? How do we make our community a better place? That ought to happen.” They met with the mayor of the city they were in and asked the mayor, “What does our city need the most? What is your dream for it? If you could wave a magic wand and create one change, what would it be?”
The mayor said, “Well, it’s quite interesting and embarrassingly simple, to tell you the truth. The biggest single factor by far that helps a city flourish is when it has a sufficient number of really good neighbors. The biggest difference maker for a city is actually good neighborhoods. When people do something just as simple as caring for their neighbors, all kinds of things begin to happen. When neighbors care, the elderly are watched out for. At-risk young people stop being so at risk. Crime actually goes way down, and volunteering actually goes up. Odd things like people begin to take better care of their homes and better care of their yards. Property values are better. Isolated people are less lonely. Most of the problems we have could be eliminated or greatly reduced if our city just had a sufficient number of really good neighbors. The best thing I think you could do, personal opinion, would be to start a kind of neighboring movement.”
Now this is a mayor talking to a bunch of pastors and church leaders. Isn’t there something in the Bible about neighbors? It seems to me, if I remember it right, that this idea (you ought to love your neighbor) is actually kind of significant to Jesus. It’s not actually a subtle point He makes. It’s not low down on the priority list. It seems to me like he gave it quite a lot of airtime. Let’s take a look at Matthew 22:36-40.
One day, a religious leader asked him, 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” 37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.
Now that would be considered just a really good answer for a rabbi. That was taken from what was considered the most sacred text in all of Israel. It’s an Old Testament book called Deuteronomy, that says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord your God, the Lord is one. Him shall you love with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength.”
Then Jesus does something very unexpected, something actually quite staggering. He adds an amendment to it. He says to the guy, “39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
We miss how much this would have staggered his hearers. Who has the authority to amend the scripture? The best example I could think of in our day is if we gathered to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which you all know. If the words were up to guide us, and we said, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, and especially for people in Lubbock.” We don’t have the power to amend the Pledge. It’s the Pledge. Nobody gets to add words to that. Jesus considers Himself able to amend the scripture.
Why does He do that? What is He up to? Well, there is something terribly important to Him. There is a theme in Judaism (of course, Jesus is Jewish) that is always present, but it’s also in danger of being lost. It is the notion that love for God and love for people are inextricably tied together. In fact, you cannot love God and not love people.
Jesus weds these two together in a way that the world would be revolutionized by and, quite simply, would never be able to forget. Love is what your life is all about.
If you do not love people, then you cannot love God. He quoted this not once, not twice, but eight times in the gospel. Jesus says this so often that it became known as the Great Commandment. It’s known to this day, 2,000 years later, as the Great Commandment. You cannot succeed in life and fail at love, and you cannot fail in life if you succeed at love. Love is what your life is all about.
It’s important to understand what the Bible means when it says to love your neighbor because there is a lot of confusion about what exactly love is. It’s not a sentimental thing. There is nothing soft about it. The best definition of it I know is very, very simple, and is very concrete. To love your neighbor is to intend their good. To love somebody is to intend their good as God wills good, as God defines good.
Paul put it like this, “The commandments (you shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet, whatever other command there may be) are summed up in this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Love does not harm our neighbors. Things like stealing and coveting harm our neighbors. Love doesn’t do that. Love doesn’t harm. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the Law. Love does not harm our neighbors, love seeks good for our neighbors. Love always seeks good as God defines good. Love is to will good.
Love is not desire. Our culture gets quite confused about this, especially around romantic love. Love is not the same thing as desiring somebody. I desire lots of stuff I don’t intend good for.
When I was a college student at Texas Tech, one of my favorite places to eat was Spanky’s because of their world-famous fried cheese sticks. They are incredible. Now that I live in Lubbock again, I have to be careful not to indulge in having them too often.
I would even submit to you that one of the ways I knew that God was calling me to be your pastor was that when I was in the interview process, I had a long three day agenda full of activities and no free time. I looked at the schedule, and I said to Joni, “I cannot believe that I’m going to be in Lubbock, TX, and I’m not going to get to eat fried cheese at Spanky’s.” After a long day of interviews and meetings, a small group of people from the church took us to eat dinner at the Double Nickel Steakhouse. When the waiter placed my steak in front of me, I immediately noticed a cheese stick on top of it. Courtney Myers saw the look of shock on my face and said, “Yes, it’s Spanky’s.” I would submit to you that experience is proof for the existence of God.
I’ll tell people that I love Spanky’s fried cheese sticks, but I don’t will their good. I don’t watch over those logs of mozzarella dipped in buttermilk and flour and will their good. I don’t work for them to realize their potential and to flourish. I don’t safeguard them. I want to eat them. Love is not the same thing as desire. You can desire tremendously and not love at all, and it happens in our world all the time.
Love is not the same thing as doing what somebody else wants me to do. Any parent who has ever had a child clearly understands this. To love somebody is quite simple, and it’s very concrete. It’s not mysterious. It is to will their good as God defines their good. It is to want them to become their best selves as they were made to be. If I really love them, I’m actually willing to expend energy in that direction.
Jesus says, “You are to love” notice this word. “your neighbor.” Not a cause. Not some abstract group of marginalized people who are conveniently located on the other side of the globe, someplace really far away where I’ll never actually have to be put out by coming into contact with them. Love your neighbor. Your neighbor is the real, flesh-and-blood, imperfect, difficult person life brings you into contact with.
It’s a wonderful word, neighbor. It comes from the old word nigh. To be nigh, to draw nigh, is to be close to somebody. Then bur is an old German or Dutch word, which is still used in South Africa, which means to dwell. Nigh-bor.
I want to talk about actually loving that person, because we’re going to get serious about this. I think it’s actually getting harder in our day. I was thinking about how neighborhoods, how neighboring, has changed since Jesus’ day. We live in a really different day.
For one thing, in Jesus’ day, there were no garage door openers. Garage door openers make loving your neighbor harder. I just go into my garage, and it’s like a moat. In Jesus’ day, there was no electricity. People didn’t mostly live inside those walls. They mostly lived outdoors with each other.
Even 100 years ago, architects used to build houses with something called front porches. Places like the Vintage neighborhood here in Lubbock have tried to bring this feature back. They were designed to promote neighboring, neighborliness, neighborhoods.
Around World War II, this feature in homes changed, and we started creating spaces to live in the backyards that were hedged off and fenced off. It makes it harder to actually know your neighbors. I think it takes more intentionality in our day to love your neighbor, and I’m not sure we in churches have actually been teaching on this well.
Dave Runyon mentions another city official who made a comment. He said it was repeated by all the city officials they’ve talked to in the whole journey. It’s kind of haunting for me. An assistant city manager put it to them, “From the city’s perspective, there isn’t a noticeable difference in how Christians and non-Christians neighbor in our community.”
If neighbors are telling us the biggest need of communities is great neighbors, if city planners are telling us they see no difference in the neighboring patterns of Christians versus non-Christians, if Jesus said the Great Commandment is to love God with all you have and then love your neighbor as yourself, who do you think we should work on learning how to love? That would be our neighbors.
Jesus taught us to pray. His central prayer was, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” What would it look like if God’s will were done in your neighborhood? That’s the place where that prayer starts. Your kingdom come. God’s kingdom is the range of God’s effective will, the sphere in which it all is as God wants it to be.
What would it look like if His kingdom came, if His will was done in my neighborhood? Well, it would just be really simple things. The Golden Rule starts to happen. I do unto others what I would like to have other folks do to me. I get to know somebody’s name. I notice their life. I’m just friendly to them. I just acknowledge them. This is not rocket science. You don’t need an impressive résumé or an advanced degree. All of us can do this.
What if we started asking, “God, would you make your kingdom come to my neighborhood and begin with me?” We can all do this. We can all pray. We can all learn names. Then another real simple thing, real practical stuff, is bearing with your neighbor, like forgiving when it is needed.
Did anybody here ever have a neighbor who was hard to get along with? Did you know every neighborhood has a cranky, difficult person in it? If you look around your neighborhood and you can’t identify who that is, it might be you.
My house in Orlando had a rear loading garage, and the alley behind our house took on a greater level of importance in terms of access. We used to have a neighbor who would repeatedly block our driveway just about the time I needed to leave to take the girls to school in the morning.
One day my neighbor’s adult son was blocking my driveway, so I got out of the car to ask him if he could move so I could take my daughter to school. Before I could say anything, he started yelling at me, “You can just wait. It’s not going to take that long. Besides that you’re a preacher and you gave me a dirty look. Why don’t you just go pray while you’re waiting?”
You don’t want to know my initial thoughts. As frustrated as I was, one of the things I quickly realized was I’m not going to be able to deal with him in my own power. I’m going to have to pray for help with love to bear with or forgive or just be gracious or to be wise. I can’t do that on my own power.
This is why Jesus’ Great Commandment ties these two items together. Love God as your greatest treasure, and love your neighbor as yourself. These two are not meant to be detached, because I cannot give what I do not have.
For Jesus, love was not a value. Love is at the core of the person who created the universe. It is no coincidence that there will be these instructions, “Love your neighbor as yourself. I am your God,” because they taught that there was a God who wanted to be loved. There was a God who loved.
This was not widely taught. In the Ancient World, nobody said, “Zeus is your god; therefore, love your neighbor. Molech is god; therefore, love your neighbor.”
I was thinking about this. What if every one of us who considers LakeRidge to be our church home did what Jesus said? We could. It’s not rocket science. It doesn’t take an advanced degree. It doesn’t take an impressive résumé. It just requires us to go out.
“Love your neighbor.” Anybody can do that, and that is great in God’s eyes.