Recently I attended a conference where men and women of God were all together to hear one of the greatest evangelists of our time. The air was electric. I wasn’t the only one who thought so. Somewhere up the back, the sermon was being punctuated by regular whoops and amens, some of them at odds with what was actually being said (the way some people click “Like” out of habit, when you’ve just posted “I feel sick today”). I couldn’t see who it was, but I knew he was from my church, because I’d heard the same voice Amenning the previous weekend. Yes, I’m afraid I smirked. Sorry.
It was days before an important question surfaced. What if it was Jesus?
You do hear stories sometimes. Interesting tales of Jesus turning up incognito at a building site (well, He’s a carpenter, why wouldn’t He?), that sort of thing. What if I was sitting in my seat, smirking at my Lord, and thinking how uncool He was? Hey, it was a worship service, why wouldn’t He be there? And of course you know where I’m going with this. On one level, it was. And He was there anyway. And on another level, it shouldn’t have mattered.
The Bible has some pretty stern things to say about the way we treat one another (and even more to say on how we regard one another, whether we act or not). While I’m getting all het up about how some previous leader completely forgot that whatever he did to me, he was figuratively doing to Christ, I’m committing the same crime in the flavour of despising Christ through despising him. I’m truly not sure where accountability and honesty fit into that picture – only sure that I’ll never get it 100% right (and that is what grace is for – the gap!).
So back to my vocal brother. He’s up the back, he’s enthusiastic, he’s doing his bit to support the preaching I guess. Australian preachers like rolling feedback, so long as it’s not too disruptive (New Zealanders, by contrast, think calling out is bad manners!). I feel embarrassed about him – but am I loving my neighbour? The second commandment is “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Even Jesus obeyed this commandment. When He told the parable of the good Samaritan, besides its many obvious meanings, was it also a shadow of His own story? That He arrived as a virtual stranger with a set of beliefs that didn’t quite line up with first-century practical Judaism, but a hunger to see what was broken restored at any cost?
Jesus asks, “Which of the three men was a neighbourto the guy who got mugged?” Not, “Which of the three men was the guy who got mugged a neighbour to?” The hint is that when we step outside our comfort zone, we are creating for ourselves a neighbour; so to then love our neighbour as ourselves, basically, is to not be half-baked about it. (Or, maybe, if three-quarter-baked is all you think you’d need, then that’s good enough for others without killing yourself. Check them into the nearest hotel, not the Hilton.)
Jesus made the decision to cross incredible boundaries to be a neighbour to me, despite my many embarrassing flaws. I should do no less for a stranger, let alone a fellow member of the body of Christ.