“What does God’s call to love our neighbor as ourselves mean for us today?”
How would you respond to this question? How would your congregation?
Given what we’re seeing in the behavior of some folks across our country right now, including Christians, this question does seem a good one for we who name ourselves as followers of Christ to ask. After all, this is God’s second greatest commandment to us: love your neighbor as yourself. And we as Christians are called to live this command to the best of our ability through the power of God’s forgiving grace.
I wonder what would happen if we dedicated a year to studying, exploring and practicing God’s call and command to love one another? I wonder what might that look like in our congregations, our synod, our personal lives, our wider ELCA? Stop and imagine for a moment spending a whole year talking about, praying about, listening for, and discerning new and continuing ways to live Jesus Way of Love in this world today.
I wonder how many of us might dismiss this idea as too boring, too “been there, done that,” too “well, duh.” I also wonder how many of us would think that it was a great idea…for those people over there. “I don’t need to learn anything more about Christian love,” I may find myself thinking, “but ‘they’ do!”
In this world of polarization, judging and blaming as well as the ongoing need for excitement-seeking stimulation, focusing on exploring and living God’s call to love our neighbors in more and healthier ways may not be something we want to do.
…And yet love is the center of Jesus’ way of life. Jesus doesn’t shut up about love. In fact, Jesus talks about love all the time. Loving God and loving our neighbors (all of them) permeates Jesus’ call, his teachings, his actions.
And Paul talks about God’s love and neighbor-love all the time too, teaching us again and again how God’s love for us in Christ calls and commands us to live our lives driven by love for all of God’s people and creation.
And the prophets love talking about God’s steadfast love and mercy while calling us to live out that love, justice and mercy into the world.
Even the Torah – the law found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures -- is centered on God’s command and call to love God and neighbor.
What are the Bible texts that pop into your mind when you think of loving your neighbor as yourself?
For many it may be Paul’s famous love sermon from 1 Cor 13 that is often read at weddings but is actually meant to teach a conflicted community what it means to love one another. “Love is patient and kind, not boastful, arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it’s not irritable or resentful. Love bears, believes, hopes and endures all things.”
Or what about Paul’s exploration of love as the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5? “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faith-fullness, gentleness, self-control.” Or his description of love in Romans 12, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection…”
Jesus too teaches us love, both God’s love for us and how we ought to share that love with others. Often he does so through parables like the story of the Prodigal Sons or the Good Samaritan. Then there is the parable of Kingdom sorting in Matthew 25 in which Jesus declares bluntly what it looks like for the nations to love of both Christ and neighbor: “Come you (plural) that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you all gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
What are your “love” texts from the Bible, the passages that inspire you to love?
Love is the core, the focus and the engine behind everything Christians, including Lutherans, are and do and seek in the world. Love is everything, for God is love.
As I consider the Christian Church today, even us ELCA Lutherans, I wonder if we’ve lost the love. Have we ignored God’s deep, abundant, abiding love for us in Jesus as a cheap gift to shove into the back of our closet so we can keep living as we always have? Have we forgotten what it really means to love our neighbors as ourselves (if our sinful selves ever knew)? I don’t know…I merely wonder.
Maybe if we dedicate a whole year across the Montana Synod to studying, exploring, and living out God’s call to love our neighbors as ourselves, we will discover what Jesus-love really means for us today. I wonder what the Holy Spirit would do with that!
 Birch, Lapsley, Moe-Lobeda, Rassumssen, Bible and Ethics in the Christian Life (2018).
Bishop Laurie Jungling
Elected June 1, 2019, Laurie is the 5th Bishop of the Montana Synod