Our Common Ground
Sermon Given on September 7, 2014
I was asked the other day, “What is a Christian response to shootings in places like Ferguson, MO, and Beavercreek, OH?” People are rallying and fundraising to support the police officers involved, while others are doing the same for the victims. The media and internet are filled with people taking sides and making venomous attacks on people representing different points of view. It’s hard to avoid.
I personally have strong feelings about circumstances like these. I know that racism permeates the systems. Powers of this world and prejudice infects us all in many conscious and unconscious ways. It’s also true that police have a difficult job at best, and they fear for their lives as they go into fluid and potentially threatening situations. It also seems to me that all people of good will would like to see our society become more fair and just for everyone.
With that said, what’s at risk as we rush to judgment and the taking of sides is truth. First, there’s the truth of what happened. Public officials do us all well to be as transparent as they can with the evidence that they’ve gathered, without jeopardizing continuing investigations and possible prosecutions. It strikes me that we Christians, if we value truth, then we would withhold judgment until we have all of the evidence. To rush to judgment in any particular case without all of the evidence is to sacrifice truth to prejudice.
But even more importantly, there is a second kind of truth that’s in peril. It’s the affirmation that we all bear the stamp of the image of God. We all have value in the eyes of God. In today’s super-heated environment those who are on the other side of almost any issue are often demeaned, dismissed, and even hated. Once that begins to happen, the very fabric of society begins to unravel. We cease to believe that there’s any good in our neighbor, that he or she is less than human, and that even our enemy is not worthy of our regard. We don’t even try to walk in the other’s shoes in order to understand him or her.
And yet, concern for the other is at the very heart of our faith. It’s in the center of the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament that comprise the holiest writings of the Jewish people. The rabbis point out that these words are the literal center of Torah. Half of the Torah is before them, and half of it follows, which gives them even more weight.
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. Then there’s Paul’s affirmation in today’s reading from the Epistle to the Romans: The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“And any other commandment.” Did you hear that? Paul says that all the commandments (including loving God) are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.
This idea that love of neighbor is the equivalent of love of God is spelled out in the First Epistle of John: Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from Him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
All three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), report Jesus as saying that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, and John has a close cognate when we Jesus said: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
The Single Truth Behind Love
I’ve led you on this tour through the Old and New Testaments with one purpose in mind. And that’s to demonstrate that love of the neighbor is central to our faith. It’s not an idea that appears only once or twice, but is repeated time and again. Love of the other and care for the common good are fundamental to comprehending Jesus. Reconciliation with God and with one another is THE program of the Kingdom of God.
Yes, there is wrong thinking, prejudice, mistaken snap decisions and too many fears that can and do, in the heat of the moment, lead to division and tragedy. But we do not contribute creatively and constructively when we forget to live out our faith.
Listen carefully to these words of Paul, written a number of years before the Epistle to the Romans. This earliest writer in the New Testament, wrote in Galatians: For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-‐indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
Here is the United States we treasure our freedoms; but as Paul warns, freedom that is not used in the service of others becomes a form of self‐service, self- indulgence. Failure to love our neighbors, to affirm their value and their freedom, can lead to the death of our faith, our trust, and our hope.
So, as the Psalmist proclaims, we “sing to the Lord a new song. New in the sense that’s it’s not sung often enough, new in that it’s rarely fulfilled, but old in that it’s been a song to the Lord for a long time.
These are the lyrics of a song that was written a very long time ago. Do you recognize the song?
If I had a song,
I’d sing it in the morning.
I’d sing it in the evening all over this land.
I’d sing out danger, I’d sing out a warning,
I’d sing out love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land.
Romans 13:9 John 4:20‐21
Matthew 22:39 Mark 12:31
Luke 10:27 John 13:34