“As Yourself”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

April 2, 2017

Luke 10:25-37

 

We have been engaging with this story for several weeks now.  We’ve considered the genre of the parable and the way Jesus used stories as teaching tools.  We’ve tried on the perspectives of different characters, helped by a dramatic presentation worthy of the Academy Awards.  We’ve proclaimed that both our brilliance and our brokenness are blessed, and that sometimes our experiences of being broken can help us to bring healing to others.  We’ve considered the ways in which our actions can be loving, no matter what emotions might reside in the depths of our hearts.

Most of what we have said about this story has been outward-focused, emphasizing the ways in which we treat our neighbors, even the ones we don’t necessarily like, and especially the ones who are vulnerable or hurting, afraid or in need.  This is as it should be, for this is a story about how we are called to be in the world—to love God and to love our neighbors, to extend ourselves for the good of others, to pour ourselves out in lives of mercy and justice and service.

But today I want to focus on something else.  Today I want to go back to beginning of the story, to the original encounter between the lawyer and Jesus.  The lawyer comes to Jesus and asks him, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus responds with a question of his own.  “What is written in the law?  How do you interpret it?”  And the lawyer answers with those famous lines, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

This was a teaching embedded deep in the roots of Jesus’ Jewish faith.  It comes from the Hebrew scriptures, from the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus.  It would have been familiar to any observant Jew at that time; it remains a profoundly important part of the faith of our Jewish siblings today.  And, of course, it is at the center of our Christian faith, too.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

And your neighbor as yourself.

Often, we read this verse as a corrective against our all-too-human tendency to put ourselves and our own welfare at the center of our priorities.  When we get too fixated on our own needs, too bogged down in our own problems, too tangled up in our own drama, too focused on our own desires, we hear Jesus saying, “Hey, remember—it’s actually not all about you!”

If you’re like me, you need that reminder from time to time.  But that’s not all you need, and it’s not all that this verse has to teach us.  Because to love your neighbor as yourself means that you have to know that you, too, are loved.

 

You have to know that when God knit you together in your mother’s womb, God looked at you, and God smiled, and God declared you good.  You have to know that you are cherished beyond your wildest imagining, that the maker of heaven and earth is head-over-heels in love with you, that just by the mere fact of your existence, you bring God joy.

You have to know that you have enormous gifts to offer.  Your way with words, your skill with a wrench or hammer or soldering iron, your kindness and compassion, your scientific knowledge, your ability to explain things, your strong sense of justice, your knack for crafting, your green thumb, your intellect, your culinary genius, your singing or playing, your dancing or painting, your organization, your technological prowess, whatever it might be—your God-given talents are part of the great interweaving of humankind that makes this world beautiful.

You have to know that you matter.  That if you were not here, there would be a hole in the fabric, a gap in the foundation, a hiccup in the rhythm.  That even the most mundane day in the most ordinary life is extraordinarily precious in the eyes of the One who knows every hair of your head, who counts every tear that you shed, who accompanies your standing up and your lying down, your going out and your coming in.

You have to know that even when you are at your lowest, you are not alone.  That even when you make the worst mistake of your life, there is forgiveness already granted.  That even when you think you are beyond help, there is mercy that can yet find you.  That even when hope seems impossible, there is a love that will carry you until you can carry yourself again.  That even when you feel powerless, the world will turn toward morning, and the universe will bend toward justice, and God’s realm will come, on earth as it is in heaven.

You have to know that when you are lying wounded in the ditch at the side of the road—when the world has knocked you down, when grief has taken your breath away, when pain has paralyzed you, when sorrow has squashed your face into the dirt until all you can taste is dust—there is One who will come to you with eyes full of tenderness, with hands full of gentleness, with strong arms to gather you up, and carry you to safety, and bring you healing.

It is the love of God, poured out freely and extravagantly on every one of us, that enables us to love our neighbors.  It is the mercy of Christ, given as pure gift and expecting nothing in return, that makes possible the kind of generosity to which this story calls us.  It is the movement of the Spirit, compelling and irresistible, that carries us to the places where our presence, and God’s love, are most needed.

 

“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the law?  How do you interpret it?”

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

May we go and do likewise.

 


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