A month ago I discussed the foundation of the judeo-christian faith which is to have a relationship with God so intensively that you love God with everything you have. It’s THE cornerstone of discovering any life worth living. Last Thursday, I’d decided to build on that original RENEW concept by taking the conversation to its next logical step by asking, "how do we live this new found love and relationship out in our daily lives?" The word "How" being the critical point?
Love is a very complex. It has as many different forms as there are humans on the planet. The recent viral video of a New York man giving his shirt to a homeless man is touching on so many levels. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GY_MTehXT1c ) It might even be your description of love. I agree that it has has some of the characteristics: giving of oneself unconditionally, lack of judgment, humility, dignity for the needy and even hope for a brighter future for the individual. BUT while I agree the video is inspiring for humanity, is it love? What happens when the train stops? What happens as the elderly man gets off the train? Where does he go? Who helps him with his daily needs of food, water, shelter and clothing? Who helps him get in touch with others who can help him: family, friends social security agencies? Who and what will help this man RENEW His Life?
Real love requires more than 2-3 minute video on on 20-30 minute train ride. The young man on the train provides crisis management. The man had barely any clothes. The young man did clothe the naked. I too am touched by the action. However, the next step is just as critical. It's the process of analyzing why the situation occurred in the first place. Without this, the inevitable will happen again. The old man will be back on the train without any clothes shaking. Real love looks to intervene just enough to insure the situation doesn’t happen again. It requires fostering an environment whereby little by little the individual begins to take ownership for their life. The goal of love is not dependency but independence and freedom. Independence to be of service to God and others. Freedom from the bondage AND freedom to become what God uniquely created us all to be. Can you imagine walking beside this man for as long as it takes to bring him to a place of independence and freedom?
Loving another requires relationship. Relationships where giving of oneself unconditionally, without judgment, in true humility, with dignity, hope and commitment helps the other live as God intended. Anyone who believes another is a project to be solved or corrected is on the wrong path and may be creating a dependence which is both self serving and crippling. Renewing relationships require a community of people willing to become the hands and feet of Jesus.
I believe it was John Wesley who once said something to the effect of, “Baptising a person without providing education is like having a baby and then leaving it to die.” Renewing relationships require an experience, education and kindness. Experience is the walking beside another with others. Education is the process by which we learn what we did not know and begin to use the knowledge for our and society's benefit. Kindness is service with the right intent. It’s an overflow of the love God provides.
For a community to be life giving, it must first be a community with a connection to God. Hence, the reason Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Nazi martyr for the faith, said authentic Christian community represents God’s hand in the world through:
- "The presence of individuals who understand they are the image bearers of God in the world of God’s divine word of forgiveness and grace
- By being God’s expression of God’s nearness to those in need. They’re the mode by which God breaks through the veil of spiritual to the physical
- Through the “familial togetherness is a sign of the unity between the freedom and love that constitutes the true essence of God.” (Bonnhoeffer, Deitrich. Life Together, Prayerbook of the Bible, p.126-127)
More simply said, truly Loving one’s neighbor as oneself requires a commitment to being God’s hands and feet to them for the long run. It requires a relationship of grace, mercy and forgiveness. It requires acceptance of the situation as it is and an unwillingness to leave it that way.
A great internet story shares this inspiration well. One day, Brendan, a young but rising DJ in New York, was coming home to his Brooklyn apartment when a homeless woman named Jackie asked him for money. He said, honestly, that he had no money. By the end of the week, she asked two more times, and each no he answered “no.” Finally she frankly replied, “you better not, because every day you say no.” Inserting some rational thinking into an otherwise awkward conversation, he proposed, “I am on my way to a job interview. If I get the job, I will take you out for Chinese food.” This promise yielded a friendship that neither were prepared for — that changed the trajectory of their lives, both forwards toward each other.
Brendan got the job. But their friendship didn’t just end with Chinese food. They built a friendship of mutual support, spending their birthdays, holidays and tough times together, over a period of eight years. When Brendan’s heater broke, she made him a blanket. Two days later when he told her that he had lost his job, she disappeared, returning minutes later, bringing him groceries, and which continued to do throughout the winter. Even with so little, she never hesitated to give back.
Over these years, Jackie moved from the streets and subway stations, into a halfway house, YMCA, and is now moving into an apartment. To celebrate this occasion, Brendan wanted to do something special for Jackie. He went with her to Target, and helped her to pick out everything she’d need for an apartment, starting a registry. Then, he set up a campaign to raise the money to pay for the registry (now closed), along with an awesome video telling their story. While their original goal was to raise $500, the campaign went viral and they’ve raised more than $6,000, and are now looking to use the extra funding to support other women in need.
Brendan isn’t a Christian, and this isn’t about out-Jesusing each other. It’s not even a challenge to only Christians, but everyone who struggles with the desire to be a stakeholder in their community, yet are overwhelmed by the reality of living out that desire. - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/frank-fredericks/love-your-neighbor-inspiring-story-of-two-friends_b_2127070.html
So how do we love our neighbor? I love how Dallas Willard explains. First, we must define neighbor. “A common usage of the word "neighbor" today locates the neighbor as one who lives "next-door" or close by. But on this understanding my most important neighbor is overlooked: the one who lives with me, my family or others taken in by us. They are the ones most intimately engaged with in my life. They are the ones who first and foremost I am to love as I love myself If simply this were done, nearly every problem in families would be resolved, and the love would spread to others.
So the second step is "very important to understand that the command is not to love everyone. God does. You can't even begin to. Love can only be specific, and love cannot exceed our resources..." We must respect our limitations and prayerfully seek the presence of God in action with us. You have the responsibility to care for yourself under God, though in the rare case that may mean radical sacrifice or even death. But that is not the normal case. You have to make judgments in faith.
The third step requires us to do a little exercise. List the few people you are most "intimately engaged with in life." This should be a pretty small number--though obviously not in the case of a large "family." Now list a "next" circle of degree of engagement. (No more than 8 or 10) And, finally, a third circle. In beginning to love your neighbor as yourself, do think small. Humility is crucial to love, always. The range can grow as you grow….The fourth step, begin with that inner circle as best you can, and devote serious attention, thought, prayer and service to two or three people. Allow time for this to develop (probably a few months, at least) until it becomes a grace-sustained habit, and then you can bring more people into the range of your effective neighbor-love. You will find it necessary to practice a range of standard "disciplines for the spiritual life" in order to receive the compassion, grace and growth required to live a life of neighbor love. You will never feel adequate to such a life, in view of the needs around you. But that is right and good. You aren't adequate! You are to stand with others in the fellowship of disciples and under the presence of the Kingdom of God.
So here are the steps in effectual loving of our neighbor as ourselves:
Decide to receive compassion as a way of life
Decide to be compassionate on the particular people around you,
List those people in terms of degree of closeness, begin to pay attention etc. to them,
Engage in the spiritual disciplines that enable you to operate from a position of Christ within"- Willard, Dallas.http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=147
I've prayed for you will take the time to RENEW your love of others today AND give authentic love a chance.
Hope to see you at the next RENEW on Thursday, October 3rd.