Monday, July 4, 2016

Year C, Proper 10, Luke 10:25-37, And who is my neighbor?

To your neighbor as you love yourself is easy enough in theory, more challenging in reality.

Who is my neighbor?  That the young lawyer in today's Gospel lesson asked this question in an effort to justify himself is a clear indication that there were those who he determined were not his neighbors and hence not covered by this commandment.  Which of course, makes keeping the commandment so much easier.  It is one thing to love everyone in theory, another thing to love one person in particular.

A young woman who was a member of my former parish, a recovering alcoholic, and who also was transitioning into being a man, approached me one day.  "People are always saying they'd like to grow and attract more young people as a congregation.  Why not become a Reconciled in Christ congregation and openly state our welcome to the GLBT community?  Or why not reach out to all the folks meeting at our Church in AA programs?  These are both groups of people that are actively seeking spiritual growth.  Why not offer them a place to be part of the Church?"  That was the essence of the conversation.

Mostly out of curiosity, I posed her/his two questions to the council.  I knew that it would take a miracle for the council to say "Yes", but I wanted to hear what the response would be.

"Of course, all people are welcome here, but if we have to specifically say gays are welcome, then we will leave the congregation."

And who is my neighbor?

AA groups are an interesting mix of people.  They gather in our churches as they seek to further their sobriety.  With one foot already in the door, you would think that they might be prime candidates for inclusion in the Church.  Sometimes they are, drawn to the Church as they grow in their own spirituality through the 12 Step program.  But often they are not.

One of the things that would be offensive to many in the Church, is how often the "F word" is part of the conversation in AA.  Do we even want that word spoken in our Churches?  Let alone welcome those who are so 'vulgar and crude'.  We are quick to make judgments based on the perceptions we have of alcoholics.  All are welcome, yes, so we say.  But it is difficult to love one, particularly if they are still going in and out of the program.

And who is my neighbor?

And the list goes on.  What about the Muslim.  Or the undocumented?  What about the poor?  What about people of color?  Does it make a difference to us whether one is perceived as a liberal or conservative?  What about people with a checkered past, perhaps a criminal record?  Can we love one who is on the sexual offenders list?  And if there is no possibility of love, what chance is there of grace happening?

And who is my neighbor?

The problem for us is that though, in our best moments, we may realize that we are called to love all people, the painful truth is that there are many we'd rather not associate with. Either that, or we are inclined to limit who we consider to be our neighbor, so that we might be justified in our own inability to love some people.

"Do this, and you will live."

Interesting that Jesus doesn't reference eternal life, as the lawyer did.  He simply says "Do this, and you will live.

Perhaps what he is saying to us is simply this.  That as we learn to love, more and more people, we will discover what 'living' is all about.

Here is the secret:  Love graces the life of both the lover and the beloved.  And in the act of loving and being loved, we are made whole.

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