The pastor asked an earnest question: “Why don’t we do this?”
The teaching had been compelling. He was stirred, convicted, convinced. Of course, love of neighbour is central to what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Of course, care for the communities where God has placed us is a reflection of God’s Kingdom’s desire—human flourishing, the redemption of all things. It all made perfect sense and fit with his understanding of his faith and the text.
But he was disturbed as the striking disconnect between knowing and doing sank in.
Even in our postmodern context many North Americans are familiar with the commandment to love your neighbour. They know something about Jesus.
Many Christians claim to know a lot about Jesus, at least intellectually. And maybe that’s part of the answer, but knowing, according to Scripture, is much more than adhering to certain belief statements; it’s about relational intimacy. It’s about actions that speak louder than words and thoughts.
[Tweet “Knowing is much more than adhering to certain belief statements; it’s about relational intimacy.”] Thus, in the prologue of his gospel account, John the Apostle tells us that Jesus has come to make the Father known through Him—His being among and with, his coming along side, his coming to know and be known.
The first way that the people were to know was through the signs: a virgin birth, a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes in Bethlehem, and so on. When they saw and/or experienced the signs, it wasn’t just about belief. It was about recognizing that to which the signs pointed. The Christmas story, for example, includes many signs, but they are only the signs, not the destination or goal.
John wants us to know that even the best of signs, miracles, are not what really count (See John 6:26, 12:37). When we default and try to rely on our signs—flashy programs, catchy titles, entertaining events—could we be falling into the same trap that Jesus’ brothers did when they wanted to be a sensation and make a public demonstration (7:5), or the crowds did by wanting to parade Jesus around as king (6:15)? I wonder if we are beginning to realize that many of us are following merely because we “ate the loaves and had [our] fill” (6:26).
But what if our fullness still leaves us empty because we have failed to see what the sign was pointing to—the bread of life, the living water, the branch sprouting in the wilderness?
Moreover, what if our neighbours need more than ‘a sign’—more than a seeker sensitive Sunday service or an outreach on the park? What if they’re sick of our signs and long for the real thing? What if they actually long to know, not just know about?
What does the Gospel teach us about how people come to know Jesus? What does the incarnation that we’re celebrating now really require of us?
[Tweet “What does the Gospel teach us about how people come to know Jesus?”] It’s an invitation into relationship with God through His faithful presence in our midst, through His servant life and sacrificial death. It’s about the love and grace of the Triune One entering our world, our homes, our neighbourhoods and changing everything.
Know Can’t Do
Back to that pastor’s question: Why don’t we do what we know?
We had a conversation. There was nothing earth-shattering in the responses around the room. Because we’re so involved in our Christian community and just don’t have time (read: We don’t need another community). We’re so busy. There’s so much to do with ‘the church’ (aka the commuter congregation of people like us). We never have enough volunteers. We don’t know any of our neighbours. We’re never really there.
Another set of responses reveals the unspoken perception that our neighbours are bad and that’s why we don’t do. It seems many in the church assume that those outside the church can’t be their friends, can’t be friendly, or do good or right things. Of course, they wouldn’t come out and say it that way—but they live that way. If we hang out with neighbours, we might feel uncomfortable, or be compromising our beliefs, or, worse still, we might be influenced (contaminated?) by them.
How has this happened? I have heard of the long, historical analyses in response to such why and how questions, but I don’t want to focus on those here. Instead, I just want to lament.
I believe that underneath the how/why questions there is a lament. I also believe that if we allow it, lament can lead us to confession, and confession to repentance.
I lament and repent:
I turn from ‘living apart’ to ‘living among’;
I turn from neighbourhood neglect to neighbourhood participation;
…from fear to faith
…from avoidance to attentiveness;
…from prejudice and judgement to welcome and acceptance;
…from assumption and presumption to giving and receiving;
…from ‘it’s all about us’ to it’s all about you, my neighbour, loved by God and made in Creator’s Image;
…from knowing about…to knowing…
Knowing You, Lord, and my neighbour.
You know us.
I turn from indifference to love.
That’s the bottom line, isn’t it? Turning to love.
From over sentimentalized love to love that takes responsibility for, is of use to;
To love that is WITH; full of Your glory, made flesh and blood, right next door.
And to love is a relational move to…
From being servants to being friends.
That’s what You did and do, Jesus.
You stop for ‘interruptions.’
You slow down for little men in trees and little children being shooed away.
You take time to listen; to eat and drink at the sinner’s/neighbour’s table.
You change the world from the inside out because You are on the inside;
Not the outside or the other side, looking down or standing above; making pronouncements or drawing boundaries.
You were ‘just’ a neighbour—a true, real, good, fully human neighbour.
I wonder what it means for Your people to be true, real, good, fully human neighbours today.
The lawyer knew the law, the right answer, didn’t he? So do we.
And Jesus said, now go and do likewise.
Ready to do? Ready to plant a church?
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