All the Jewish synagogues were talking about it, first in Galilee, and soon in Jerusalem. The rabbis were standing up in the synagogue and informing the people: The troublesome tribe of Jesus followers has finally made themselves known for the heretics they are. They have parted with the Law and the Prophets. No longer can they be called part of our Jewish family. They have taken our law – you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength and you shall love your neighbor as yourself – they have taken it one step too far! Their leader, Simon son of Jonah, who they call Peter, went down to Caesarea to the house of a Gentile! He went into their house, taught them, stayed with them several days, ate with them! Then he came back to say that the Holy Spirit of God – the one who inspires the prophets of God, THAT same Holy Spirit – came upon them. This cannot be. They must be put out of our synagogues, Temple and community. We must be clear that this is not of OUR God.
Love makes the news! Wherever the Spirit is moving, the love of God always, always, always overflows as love for neighbors. And those neighbors are not just the ones we choose, the ones who are like us. Neighbor is the mixed race Samaritan, Neighbor is the Syro-Phoenecian “dog,” who even Jesus had to acknowledge was a neighbor to be loved and healed. Neighbor is the Roman soldier, whose pack one should carry voluntarily an extra mile. Neighbor love is for friend, stranger, AND enemy.
Our human ancestors, millennia ago, lived the standard that “like us” is safe, and “different from us” is dangerous. McLaren points out that this belief probably served our ancestors well at certain points in history. Group survival often depended on maintaining trust in our tribe and fear of other tribes. That was why they used paint, feathers, clothing, language and even religion as markers – so everyone would know who was safe and who was not.
This practice drove human society farther and farther from each other, eventually to fill the earth, each protecting their own territory, and expanding into others’ territory as the desire or need arose.
But now the earth is full. We feel the cramped quarters in Portland. The in-fill housing is burgeoning, changing our neighborhoods forever. People are moving in from all over the U.S. and the world.
The earth is full and our ancestors’ method of dividing up the world in terms of “us and them,” is not working any more. We have even treated the earth itself as “other,” taking whatever it had to give, without giving back.
We need a new way. And we have it, have had it for AGES! It is the way of Jesus, it is the way of the Hebrew people before that, it may have been the way of Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, and the desert people he led, and who knows how many peoples before that. It is the way of ONE. Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Love is the new way. But of course, if love remains a generality, or an idea, it is just a word. Love must be put into practice, or it does not exist; it is just a nice idea. Neighbor love has been all over the news lately. Let’s look at what our own news stories tell us about how neighbor love is being put into practice in our society.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of love when it said that economic status should not determine one’s access to health care. They affirmed that it is the responsibility of the nation to provide health care for the poorest of its people. While there are all sorts of political arguments to be made about HOW the Affordable Care Act works, what the Supreme Court did was to uphold the responsibility to be our brother’s and sister’s keeper. That love acted out in care-giving is the way we will live.
My sister’s pastor is Danny Cortez. He was the pastor of a racially diverse Southern Baptist church in southern California when Danny began to feel the Spirit troubling the waters of his soul about his church’s exclusion of gays and lesbians. Danny began to reflect on Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17. Clearly Jesus wanted his followers to be one. But we in the church tend to divide ourselves according to our beliefs or understandings. Danny began to wonder if there could be a third way – a way where churches could, rather than separate and exclude, agree to stay connected even in their differences. He came to agree with Henri Nouwen who said we need to exchange the word, “believer” for the word, “beloved.” This could make all the difference! He lobbied the denomination eagerly hoping that they would see this way. But his church was still removed from the Southern Baptist Convention. There was no third way for them.
Listen to some of Danny’s words: Every time we think we have made it, figured it out, become inclusive, then a new challenge emerges. There is always a new challenge to our answers. It is impossible for everyone who walks into our church to be comfortable. That is okay. Not everyone will connect with our community for a wide variety of reasons. Still, we must always ask, “Who is not here and why?” And let that question teach and guide us. My calling as pastor is to be a peacemaker, to stay in relationship, no matter what.
Danny spoke at Christianity 21, the conference I attended in February. The humility of Danny’s love was so poignant when he said: Will you receive me as an enemy? As a sinner? I am okay with that. To be connected with you even as enemy or sinner. I am okay with that.
The connection was more important than any judgment, for Danny and his church. They have stood up for love, and have been excluded. Not unlike the first century Jesus followers, when they moved with the Spirit to include Gentiles, like us. Can we show our love by finding a third way, as Danny suggests?
Neighbor love is in the political news. As a country, who do we welcome and who to we exclude? AJ+ Videos published a video of Adriana Almanza speaking out for the heart of immigrants.
I’d like to take a minute to introduce you to my father, Raul Almanza. …He is one of the many that Mexico “sends” to this country. 30-something years ago, Mexico “sent” my father to the United States…. It is no secret that he came here undocumented…. He helped provide for his parents and nine siblings back home…. Raul doesn’t have what you call a formal education. He left high school early on to work and contribute to the household financially. But that doesn’t mean anything. When I was young I would come home where my dad never hesitated to help me with my homework. He instilled in me the importance of education and a degree, even though he didn’t have one…. If my dad is any representation of the type of people Mexico sends, there is no doubt in my mind that this country is getting the best. The problem is that you and I have a different definition of the best…. The best, to me, are those that work hard and still remain humble. That is exactly what my father embodies…. Perhaps you should get to know more people like my dad. There are millions just like him. 
Just last week, Warner Pacific University made the news on neighbor love. “Tell the Rev. Osagyefo Sekou what you think about young black people rioting in Ferguson, and he’ll tell you what you think about Jesus,” the Oregonian article begins. In other words, if we cannot be inclusive, open, loving to those who have been marginalized, then we don’t understand Jesus, who was marginalized and eventually killed by his own nation. The reporter, Melissa Binder, boiled down the talk to five major take-aways for white Christians: 1) Your attitude toward the plight of African-Americans in this country reflects your theology; 2) White churches don’t need to become multi-cultural. They need to show up; 3) The first step toward understanding and justice is friendship; 4) Your opinion of the rioters’ distasteful language and behavior shouldn’t shape your opinion of their message; and 5) Change is going to require sacrifice. 
As I have listened to the “Black Lives Matter” discussions, I have noticed one common theme for white Americans, white Christians: make a friend with someone from another culture or race. Just learn to love one person who we see as different. Putting love into action and changing the racial divisions of our culture can start with that simple step. Children see color, and we shush them. No need to do that. We have different skin colors. But our color doesn’t have to separate us. It can be an open door to curiosity and appreciation.
We tend to be blind to the ways we exclude others. I see it in friends who have served faithfully, and have the wisdom of years to contribute, but at 50, they are being forced out of their jobs because their image is too “old.” Each generation seems to do it. Can we learn instead to work together without having to be the same, or to agree?
Access to education is another act of love. I started an interesting Facebook conversation last week when I posted an article about an entrepreneurial group who is partnering with our nation’s major educational institutions to offer classes free of charge online. The conversation started immediately about certificates, degrees, not trusting the work of those who do education this way. I had not been aware until this happened of the ways we judge the education of another. Is it as good as mine, since it was free?
Our church has opened our doors to our community. In walk our neighbors – of all colors, sexual orientations, physical abilities, religious beliefs and practices. They share our space. Do they share our hearts? Do we love our neighbors as ourselves? Do we even know our neighbors?
Peter got the wind knocked out of him at Cornelius’ house. An Italian – included in the movement of the Spirit of God! How could it be? Peter had to swallow his pride – thank God he did! – and welcome this whole household – slave and free, Jew and Gentile, male and female – into the family of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, with him.
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). This is the oldest baptismal formula of the church, but over the years, inclusion in the church came to be about holding certain beliefs. In the beginning, it was about breaking down all the barriers with love. We are all one in Christ Jesus. Can we find a way back? Lord our God, may it be so. Guide us, we pray.
 Oregon Live, http://www.oregonlive.com/faith/2015/06/what_white_christians_need_to.html
McLaren, Brian, We Make the Road by Walking, chp. 43, pp. 216 ff.