Mark 12:28 And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? 29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. 31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
Whenever I think about what pleases God these two scriptures come to mind, to love God and then to love our neighbor, but what does it look like to love our neighbor? Jesus gave us a radical perspective with the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), but oftentimes we forget about the ones who come in through the doors of the church on Sunday.
Several years ago I attended church with a young woman who had serious social anxiety, low self esteem, minimal social skills and desperately wanted to be included in the church young adult youth group. She was overtly awkward and tended to overshare and did not have a car. I thought she was different, but she had a huge heart and a love for God and the word of God. She became one of my close friends for a few years, and eventually a roommate, and I found her at times exasperating, but I was determined to help disciple her in her walk with Jesus. One evening, when she was living in the next town over, she wasn’t able to attend and the group was hanging out afterwards, as it did many times. One of the leaders of this group expressed that she felt a relief that this particular friend of mine did not attend that night and that she hated giving her rides to events. This leader’s comments made me angry and I looked right at her and asked, “if Jesus needed a ride would you exclude Him?” Shortly after that, everyone went home. While the group allowed her to participate in church sanctioned events, she was excluded from interpersonal activities outside of that. When someone would have a tea party, she was not invited. When someone would throw birthday parties for others in the group, hers was forgotten over the course of the year. She would on occasion be invited to others birthday parties, but I do not recall the group celebrating her birthday in particular.
I often think, if Jesus were in her place, how would He feel? Would we treat Him the same way?
There is a certain gentleman, Hank* (*not his real name), who attends the church I attend regularly. He is on the autism spectrum, has a love of airplanes and machines that fly. He loves these things, he also has a love for Jesus, because he attends our church on a fairly regular basis. I know these things because I have taken the time to slowly get to know him better. He wears the same kind of clothes, which are comfortable for him but not overly fashionable. Talking with this man takes a bit of time to understand because he’s translating the pictures in his head into speech and motions with his hands. Several times I have seen people end up in conversation with Hank, only to be desperately looking to get out of chatting with him.
It should not be this way.
The entire church should be looking out for his spiritual development in Christ, someone should be inviting him into their homes for small groups. Several people should be taking the time to listen to his week as he recounts it. What a witness it would be for him to be greeted with excitement and then tell other people how people love him and how he learns about God at the church he attends.
I believe God places the oddballs in growing and thriving churches as a test.
Are we really loving God and His word? If we love God we will do as he asks and all He asks is for us to love Him and love our neighbor as ourself.
This is a recurring theme in churches across the USA. How can we assume that Jesus is pleased with us if we ignore the lowly, the poor, the unwashed, the simple minded, the socially challenged, etc?
There are two commandments, one love God with your entire being and then love your neighbor as yourself.
If we truly believe God loves us, warts and all, we have to include and love others as they are. If God loves us as we are in spite of our sin and imperfections, sending his son for us, should we not in turn love those around us as greatly as God loves us?
This is my challenge to you, make a change as we move forward in this season of lent, meditate on how God so loved us and the world. Then meditate and act on intently loving the people around you, not just the people who look, think, and act like you, but beyond that. Love the person who is rough around the edges, who is socially inept, who is an oddball.
Let’s make America love again.
Love trumps all.