Loving Your Neighbor…Now

(Community Worship in the Park)

It is so beautiful out, and all of you look so wonderful gathered here in community.

Although it takes some work to get this service together, this community worship in the park is one of my favorite services of the year.

Just look around – these are our friends and family and neighbors and brothers and sisters in Christ!
And getting together like this, without caring about what church we belong to, without worrying about who is welcome and who isn’t… well, this is an awful lot of what I think the holy banquet of God will be like on Resurrection Day.
On that great gettin’ up morning, we will just pull up a chair and find our place around the table.
Soon and very soon, we’ll be in the presence of the King, in the place of no more dying and no more crying.
Heavenly music will ring out, the sounds of violence will cease, tears will be wiped from every face, the wolf will dwell with the lamb, enemies will learn to love, and peace shall be fulfilled.
All of those images take us to the city of God, the new creation, the heaven that awaits us. We read about them in scriptures, we sing about them in hymns, our hearts are full of hopes and dreams about that reality.
And this community gathered to worship our Lord and to share around his table this morning is a glimpse of that future. It is like the taste that you sneak from the pot simmering on the stove an hour before dinner is ready.
As Paul reminds us here in chapter 13… our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.

That heavenly reality is just. Around. The. corner…

So I want you to close your eyes for a moment.

Imagine walking around through the City of God.

How will you greet your neighbors?

How will you treat the people that on earth were your enemies?

Do you hear anger and shouting? Or joy and laughter?

Ae you spending your days trying to get what is yours? Or sharing in the abundant gifts of God?

In everything that we do, here on earth today, we should live and love in anticipation of this reality.

We are called to live as if that Kingdom of God in which Jesus reigns IS the reality we find ourselves in.

As we open our eyes, yes, we find ourselves back in Marengo, Iowa. We find ourselves in the twenty-first century. We find ourselves in a world that is full of anger and violence, a culture that glorifies partying and licentiousness, a society that says “me-first, and screw the rest.”

But that doesn’t mean that we have to join them.

No, as Christians, we are called to a better way.

We are children of God.

And we are called to love.

But what do we mean by love? It is such a commonly used word that it has lost almost all significance for the Christian faith.

When Paul uses the word love here in Romans, he uses the greek word: agape. Agape is completely self-less love. It is love directed towards others. It has no pre-requisites, no conditions. Agape love doesn’t depend upon any loveable qualities the person you are loving possesses. It is love that expects nothing back in return.

Love is not a feeling.

Love is a choice.

Love is an action. Love is what we do… or do not do… to and for other people.

And Paul reminds us that all of those commandments – like don’t commit adultery, and don’t steal, and don’t be jealous of your neighbors possessions – all of them can be summed up with five words: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Love is what we were created to do. All of the law, all of those commands, are just put in place to help us remember – Oh, yeah, I’m supposed to love you.

The big question is… Why? Why should I love my neighbor when he borrowed my lawnmower last month and broke it? Why should I love that person who always cuts me off as I drive to work? Why should I have any love towards people who seek to do harm to me and my loved ones? Why should I love someone who has done damage beyond repair in my life?

It is a good question.

And Paul responds with one word: salvation.

You have been saved.

Which means the Lord of the Universe took one good look at you – with all of your faults and sins and mistakes and imperfections – and said, “I love you anyways.”

That holy, unconditional act of love that we call the cross, was freely given to anyone who would receive it. Whether we deserved it or not.

We love… because he first loved us.

Our love is an outpouring of the love that we ourselves have received in our salvation.

AND… as Paul reminds us, the fulfillment of that salvation is near. The time is coming when the night will end and the day will dawn. This world will pass away and the reign of Christ will come.

That holy, awesome, heavenly reality that we closed our eyes and imagined is just around the corner.

So why would we want to live in darkness? Why would we ever want to sink down to the ways of this world when right now, we can live in the light.

Right now, we can join together with other believers.

Right now, we can sing the heavenly songs.

Right now, we can laugh together instead of bicker.

Right now, we can seek peace with our enemies.

Right now, we can wipe tears from the eyes of the hurting and the grieving.

Right now, we can care for the sick and feed the hungry and clothe the naked.
Right now, we can love.
As The Message translates our final verse for this morning… get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!
Right now, put on Jesus Christ.
That means that we spend time each morning in prayer – asking for God to guide us in our actions.
It means that we spend time in the scriptures – seeking wisdom for our daily lives.
It means that we break bread with fellow believers in order to remember the unconditional love of Jesus Christ in our lives.

It means that we don’t just wear a cross or wear a t-shirt that says we are Christian, or wear a bracelet that proclaims our faith – but we actually ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” in the situations of our day… and then we do it.

When we put on Christ, when we intentionally “wear” Jesus Christ throughout our day, people can see it.

We become light, shining out in the darkness, reminding people that a new day is coming.

We are the people of God, gathered together in this public place this morning, to proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord and that we want to follow him.

So when you leave this place… will you slip back into the darkness and go back to the ways of this world,
Or will you love your neighbors, like Jesus loved you, and will you be his witness?

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