Summary: A sermon about learning to love.
“When God Becomes Our Neighbor”
When Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa was a young boy, he had a life changing experience because of a display of God’s love flowing through another person.
You see, in South Africa, at that time, if a black person and a white person met while walking on a path, the black person was expected to get off the path and allow the white person to pass by.
And as they were passing by, the black person was supposed to nod their head as a gesture of respect.
One day, Tutu and his mother were walking down the street when they noticed a tall white man, dressed in a black suit, walking toward them.
Before he and his mother could step off the sidewalk, this man stepped off and allowed Tutu and his mother to pass by.
As they passed by, the man tipped his hat in a gesture of respect to Tutu’s mother.
Tutu was shocked and asked his mother, “Why did the white man do that?”
His mother explained that the white man was an Anglican Priest.
That he was a man of God, and that’s why he did what he had done.
Tutu would later say: “I decided there and then that I wanted to be an Anglican Priest too.
And what is more, I wanted to be a man of God.”
If a follower of Christ had not shown young Tutu the love of God, would all that Bishop Tutu has accomplished through his ministry ever have happened?
Love is powerful, to say the least.
Love changes us.
And God is LOVE.
We don’t know the result of the love we allow to flow from God through us to others, but there will be a glorious unfolding of it someday.
Paul says: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.”
Isn’t that cool?
I just love that.
What an amazing way to put it.
Paul has been instructing the Christians in Rome to pay taxes and to have no debts not only because of the possibility of punishment if they don’t pay, but as a matter of conscience…
…because it is the right thing to do.
But then, he says something really, really radical.
He says that if there is anything that followers of Jesus Christ owe to another person, it must be nothing other than love.
And this love, as the Christian mystics put it, “has two feet: Love of God and love of neighbor.”
One can’t go without the other because the love of God is inseparable from the love of neighbor, and this is because God has become our neighbor.
And from this perspective, loving our neighbor means: “If our neighbor is hungry, feed him or her.”
“If our neighbor is thirsty, give him or her something to drink.”
If there are people who are sick, hurting or suffering or alone in the world—do what you can to help alleviate their pain.
As Jesus says, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these…you did for me.”
All this is not rocket science!
But it’s also not easy.
And I think part of the reason is that love has gotten so confused for us that a lot of us are pretty much always thinking of ourselves…
…always in the mode of “what’s in it for me.”
But that’s not Jesus’ kind of love.
That’s not the agape or unconditional and unmerited love of God.
Think about it.
We owe God everything—from the water we drink to the air we breath, but God came to earth in the form of Jesus to prove that He’s not a collection agency.
And the way God proves this is by paying Himself back with the self-sacrifice that He makes through Jesus on the Cross.
Our infinite debt to God is so real that Jesus paid the price.
And if we accept Jesus’ cancellation of our debt and give ourselves to Him, then we can live as people who don’t owe anything to anybody except to love one another.
And loving one another isn’t something we do out of guilt or indebtedness.
It’s not a burden.
It’s done in gratitude for the great love Christ has shown us.
“While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”
I suppose that is why God’s kind of love involves loving—even our enemies!
But in order to love others, we really have to be able to love ourselves.
Not too long ago, I had one of those little “aha” moments.
I had been thinking about how, as a young person, I did a lot of things that I knew I shouldn’t do—just to try and “fit-in.”
And when I thought about my motivation for doing these things, I realized: “Wow. I didn’t think very highly of myself.”