A post by lead pastor, Matt Adair:
Jesus loved his neighbors.
Never mind our contemporary concept of neighbor as the person who lives in my cul-de-sac, apartment building or dormitory hall. When Jesus was asked about neighbors, he skewered the first century notion that your neighbors are people who look like you, act like you, think like you, do and love the things that you love (Luke 10:29-36). Your neighbor - the person you are supposed to love - cannot be reduced to geographic proximity or socio-economic status, any more than it can be shrunk down to skin color or political persuasion. Applied to our life in and around Athens, our neighbors are the people we come into contact with day in and day out.
This creates a veneer of randomness as we consider how to love the often nameless faces we come into contact with on a daily basis. Are we supposed to love every person we lay eyeballs on? How in the world do you do that on Saturdays inside Sanford Stadium, while you’re eating lunch at Mama’s Boy on Sundays, or sitting in a PTA meeting at your child’s school?
One of the things I’m learning is that what Jesus is after is not a quota but a posture. Loving our neighbor is a bent towards the people we come into contact with that is marked by intentionality, curiosity and hospitality. Rather than getting overwhelmed by the mass of humanity that we’re sometimes surrounded by, focus instead on the people you have regular contact with. This might be the guy you sit next to in class, the stylist who does your hair, or the widower who lives two houses down from you. Maybe you don’t have the opportunity to love every family in your son’s Scout troop but maybe God has birthed a friendship between your boy and a new buddy that opens a door for you to love that boy’s family. Love is intentional.
Love is also curious. Loving people involves asking questions that allow you to get to know someone. Last Sunday, I had lunch with three men from Jasper, GA who are interested in starting an Acts 29/PCA church in their area. One of those men is a retired drill instructor/intelligence officer who was trained in interrogation. Now before you jump ahead of my story and think that you have to be a drill instructor who interrogates people, check this out. My new friend struck up a conversation with our server and over the course of our lunch we learned that he was a student at Athens Tech who had thought about going into physical therapy but was now interested in social work. There was nothing awkward about the interaction and our server seemed more than willing to talk about himself to four strangers. And as someone who is not good at all with those kind of exchanges, what it did remind me is that regardless of gifting or training, loving people entails a curiosity that sets out to learn this other person’s story.
Love is hospitable. Love involves creating an environment for children to be cared for, for women to be cherished and for men to be respected. In his book, A Meal With Jesus, (http://amzn.to/pwSGbS) Tim Chester walks us through six stories in the life of Jesus that shows us how Jesus used meals to create an environment of hospitality that expressed his love for those sharing that meal with him. So if you’re looking for a practical way to love your neighbor, invite the people God puts you in contact with to share a meal with you. Perhaps this means inviting your child’s teacher and her husband to your house for dinner - or maybe you plan to meet them at Mirko Pasta and pick up the tab. Loving your neighbor might mean coffee with a long-time customer or ordering a pizza and learning more about the people your professor chose for you to work with on your group project in your finance class.
Hospitable. Curious. Intentional. Loving. Not only is this the example Jesus set before us, but it’s the life he has created for us through his life, death and resurrection. He did not simply set out to save a random mass of humanity; he went to the cross to die for your sins and set you free to enjoy him as your favorite thing in the world (Ephesians 1:7-11). He is not an awkward king who waits for you to show interest in him; he took the first step in rewiring your heart and mind and life to his (Romans 5:10). He does not offer us a plot of land in heaven to build upon; he makes promises of mansions and a place at the table of the greatest meal of all time (Revelation 19:6-9).
This is news of the highest quality - the command to love our neighbor is not a demand to simply try harder but an invitation to trust deeper. As the intentional, curious, hospitable love of God does its work on us, watch as your desire to display a love that looks like Jesus grows into action.