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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Love Your Neighbor

2008-09-07 “Love Your Neighbor As Yourself”
Romans 13:8-14
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Love your neighbor as yourself.
What could be simpler?

Do you want to fulfill all 10 commandments at once?
Love your neighbor.

Do you want to keep all the Bible and all the scriptures and live your life as right as you possibly can?
Love your neighbor.

What could be simpler?

Let's do it.
Turn to your neighbor and say, “I love you.”

Now, in some pews that works better than others.
In some pews, your neighbor is someone you've been married to for fifty years.
You figure, you must love them.
Because you haven't killed them.
Of course you love your neighbor.

In some pews, your neighbor is your child, or your parent.
It's easy to tell them you love them... when you're in church.
When you're in church and everybody's behaving, and nobody's fighting, nobody's yelling, nobody's taking away your privileges, nobody's grounding you, nobody's on an eighteen year-long mission to drive you insane.
Of course you love your neighbor.

In some pews, your neighbor is your neighbor.
Someone who lives next door.
Someone whose backyard butts up against yours.
Sure, they don't cut their grass as often as they should.
Sure, they borrowed some stuff last November and haven't brought it back yet.
Sure, they owe you money for that tree that fell down.
But it's Sunday.
And Jesus loves them.
So you do, too.
Then again, Jesus loves everybody.
Of course you love your neighbor.

In some pews, in some churches, it's hard to love your neighbor.
Because you look all the way down the other end of the pew and it's empty.
You worry.
You worry, “Does anybody love me?”
“Does nobody want to sit next to me?”
“Why am I all alone?”
It's hard to love your neighbor if you don't have any neighbors.

In some pews, it's hard to love your neighbor.
Maybe it's your first time sitting in that particular pew.
They aren't assigned seating, although sometimes it feels that way.
Maybe you've never met your neighbor before.
Maybe you can't remember her name.
“I love you... buddy.”
It's awkward to say, “I love you” to a neighbor you've only known for the last 20 minutes.

So maybe it's easy to turn to that neighbor beside you, or behind you, or in front of you and say, “I love you.”
Maybe you say it to each other all the time.
It's easy.
But you don't want to get carried away.
Maybe saying, “I love you” to too many neighbors will make the neighbor of the first party angry.
You have to be careful with this love business.

So, when the Bible tells you to “love your neighbor as yourself,” it sounds easy, right?
Love your neighbor as yourself.
What could be simpler?
And that's the problem with so much of the Bible.
It sounds great on paper.
It sounds so good on Sunday morning.
It sounds so good when you're sitting still, when you're dressed nice, when you're on your best churchy behavior.
God is so great on paper.
But then you start actually trying to say what the Bible says to say, you start trying to do what it says to do, and then... things get complicated.
Of course we all love all our neighbors.
In theory.
Hypothetically speaking, we love all our hypothetical neighbors.
We Republicans can say we love the Democrats.
We Democrats can say we love those Republicans.
We Americans can say we love all God's children in every country of the world.
And we do.
And if we ever meet one of them, we'll show them how much we love them.
When we make the move from hypothetical to actual, when we make the move from paper to practice, it's not quite as simple as it sounds. Is it?

Paul, the writer of Romans, wants to come bursting through the paper.
Paul wants to blow through the wall of hypotheticals.
Paul wants to rip apart the barrier between theory and practice, between pleasant dreams and honest reality.
He says, “It is NOW the moment – NOW – for you to wake up!
“Now is the moment – THE moment, NOW – for you to wake from sleep.”
NOW is the moment for you to burst through the complications.
NOW is the time to plow through the problems.
NOW is the time to put away the hesitation, the awkwardness, the fear.
NOW is the time for you to love your neighbor, NOW.
DO you love your neighbor?
Do you WANT to love your neighbor?
That's a start.
Hypothetically speaking.

It would be so much simpler if you could have a moment to take Jesus aside and talk to him a little.
We'd say, “Now, Jesus. I know what you mean about all that 'love your neighbor' talk.
“But if you just knew my neighbor.
“You'd understand my hesitation.”

Do you think Jesus would buy that for one second?
You know why?
Because Jesus does know your neighbor.
And he also knows your neighbor's neighbor.
You know who your neighbor's neighbor is?
You're your neighbor's neighbor and your neighbor's supposed to love her neighbor, but Jesus know you're not always that neighborly.
So when you tell Jesus it's hard to love your neighbor, Jesus says, “Funny, that's what your neighbor said about you.”

And Paul says, “Hey neighbors! Wake up!”
“Salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone the day is near.”
In other words, there are no hypothetical neighbors.
There are no conditions.
God says, “Love!”
Love your neighbor as yourself.
God doesn't say, “Tomorrow.”
God doesn't say, “When your neighbor shapes up.”
Paul says God says, “NOW.”
Now is the time to love that neighbor.
Now is the time to wake up and know that every reservation you have about your neighbor, your neighbor has about you, and you know what?
You're supposed to love him anyway.
Love her anyway.
Don't love him or her as soon as he or she has done unto you as you would have them;
love him, love her as you would have him or her do unto you.
Love right now.

Love your neighbor as yourself.
It's so simple.
Can you do it?
Do you think you can?
For a while.
Until some complication sets in.
And you start loving your neighbor with reservation.
Or you start loving yourself a little too much, or even a little too little.
You can get on a roll with this loving your neighbor stuff, but then it's 12:15 and you're waiting for lunch and someone cuts line.

Now don't go getting all high and mighty about this, but there's one more thing.
As you're trying to figure out all this love your neighbor stuff, you've also got to remember that at the top of all your lists of neighbors, there's one last name.
Jesus is your neighbor, too.
Don't let this go to your head, but guess what?
You're Jesus' neighbor.
And if he follows the Bible, and I think he does, Jesus loves you as he loves himself.
You're Jesus' neighbor.
He knows you, neighbor.
And he loves you.
Not hypothetically.
Jesus really, really loves you.
How does that make you feel?
How does that make you want to be?
However that makes you feel, however that makes you want to be, if you think, if you feel, if you are no other way, think and feel and be... like a neighbor.
Love your neighbor.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
And you will think, and feel, and be like Jesus.
Not on paper, but in real life.

It's that simple.