Love Thy Neighbor
Leviticus 19:18 “Love Thy Neighbor”
When we join the church and every time someone new joins the church we recommit to our vows of membership. One of those vows of membership is to support the church through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. Now, prayers, presence, gifts and service are all pretty straightforward. What might seem a little vague is that point about witness. What do you think they meant by supporting your church by your witness? It’s one of those things we promise to do, but don’t really take the time to think about what it means. This morning’s passage sheds some light on this point. Here, let me read the whole passage for you. Leviticus 19:1-18.
Read Leviticus 19:1-18.
Biblical righteousness is about being in right relationship with God and right relationship with one another. This passage helps us to understand what it means to be in a right relationship with other people. When it is time to harvest do not harvest the crop to the very edges of the field. Leave some for the poor and the homeless wanderer. This may sound odd today. Today we have machines to make sure we get every last drop from a crop is harvested. We do that because farming is a business and it is hard for farmers to survive. That being said remember this, back in the early 1900s, what made it possible for this congregation to move out of a school auditorium and into its own church building, right across the street, over there, was the generosity of farmers providing for the orphanage this church helped found. Charity, generosity, and the care of children are the bedrock work on which this congregation was formed.
The next command is easy to carry over to today. “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another.” (Lev. 19:11). Be honest. Be honest about what you know. Be honest about what you don’t know. Do not promise you will do something in God’s name and then not follow through. Let your word be your bond. If you say you are going to do something; do it. Follow through. This isn’t just a Southern value. This is a Biblical command. Lying; disrespecting one another; putting on heirs as if we are better than someone else. These are beneath the children of God. These are not the behavior of the priesthood of believers. We can do better. God has called us to do better. (pause) And when we don’t; when we lie and pretend we are better than the world, the world has one more reason to think God is a joke. A bad joke. The priesthood of believers lives their lives to set a better example. The priesthood of believers lives their lives to show other people just how important God really is, and what kind of impact God has had in our lives.
Lev 19:13-14 says, 13 “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. 14 You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.” My sisters and brothers this is the work of bullies, and cowards. My family and I are going on five years serving here together with you, and I hope you have all learned this about me. I cannot stand a bully. Anyone who would take advantage of the weak for their own gain or to make themselves feel better is a bully. This verse makes it plain God will not have it. If you claim to be a Christian. If you praise God in worship on Sunday morning you cannot treat other people like they do not matter. We cannot attack people for not doing what we want. If you do, we gotta have a talk. When I say we I mean the collective (hold out my hands) “WE” need to have a talk. Why? Because, brother or sister (as the case may be) God loves you. We (hold out my hands) love you like family, but that behavior is NOT okay. Amen? Amen. Com’on. I need a serious Amen for that one. Bullying behavior is NOT okay. Amen?! Amen!
Christians are to seek justice. Justice is about balance. You have heard it said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. That was the Old Testament means of seeking balance. Before this, if there was an accident in the fields while keeping sheep and someone got hurt. The person’s family who was hurt would come and wipe out the other persons wife and children. There was no balance. There was only vengeance. Vengeance is about making ourselves feel better. Justice is about balance. God is a just God. God expects God’s people; God’s priesthood of believers to seek balance or justice in all legal matters. We are not to play favorites. We are to do our very best to do what is right. That does not mean doing what is right according to the world’s standards. It means doing what is right according to God’s standards.
And now we come to it. Verses 17 and 18. 17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
Listen. Life can be really hard. Some people need a handout. Most people just need a hand up. Most people need someone in their life who is doing their best to live in a way that gives the honor, the glory and the praise to God. Nobody wants someone telling them to follow a bunch of rules. No adult and most children do not enjoy being told what to do. That’s not the kind of thing God is asking of us. God is asking us to be a friend to the friendless. God is asking us to offer hope to those who feel like all hope is lost. God is asking us to be the kind of light the world needs – especially during a global pandemic, the social unrest associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, and another tense political election. There is more than enough hate and frustration in the world and in our country right now. God is not asking us to take a side, right or left. God is asking us to stand on God’s side. If we are to represent God we need to do a better job of letting God’s light shine in us and through us to others.
What does that look like? Well, I’ll tell ya. It looks like being an easy going, very helpful friend to new neighbors in your subdivision. It looks like staying out of the gossip and the rumor mill. It looks like being willing to help with just about everything without grumbling or complaint. Being the light of Christ looks like being the kind of trusted person who when they invite you to church you actually go. As I was writing this part of today’s sermon one person in particular came to mind. I won’t embarrass her by calling out her name, but I will give you this hint. This person has brought more people to this church in the last three years than any other single member of this church. Those people did not just come to church because this person is a good friend and neighbor. Those people joined the church and have taken part in the life and ministries of Central United Methodist Church, here in Denton, North Carolina. Now they are working to help prepare the food for the Community food distribution, set up for the Community Dinner (when we were having Community Dinners), and take on leadership positions within the church. The person who invited them is a light for Christ in this church, and in the community. Perhaps we should all strive to be the kind of person who can be trusted to shine for Christ by loving our neighbors as ourselves.
In the Name of Jesus Christ,