Who is our neighbor?
Jesus makes it pretty clear that everyone is our neighbor.
Somewhere in the history of the church of Jesus Christ
(and I haven’t been able to put my finger on exactly when and where it happened)
The church lost track of that notion.
The church became the people who…
told women what they could and couldn’t do in the church—and with lives,
told people who they could and couldn’t love,
condemned people who didn’t agree with them to eternal damnation,
told people who didn’t look and or act a certain way that they didn’t belong.
Somehow, the church of Jesus Christ morphed into the morality police
Which is really bizarre
Since moralism has no place in the church of Jesus Christ.
Moralism involves judging yourself and others based on a set of rules that you or someone else has decided are important. It’s about how good you can be and, all too often, about how bad you can make others feel for not being as good as you.
Moralism is downright un-graceful. It is the anti-Gospel.
Morality is all about being good enough.
The Gospel forces us to admit that we can’t be good enough.
To try and act like we can is downright blasphemous.
All those who do not at all times trust God and . . . trust in his favor, grace and good-will, but seek his favor in other things or in themselves, do not keep the [First] Commandment, and practice real idolatry, even if they were to do the works of all the other Commandments . . . combined.Martin Luther
In other words…
when we trust more in our ability to earn God’s love more than we trust God’s ability to love us unconditionally, we are idolizing our own righteousness.
Our need to police the morality of others may have turned us in to idolators of our own righteousness. Who saw that coming?
Because who were the people Jesus got crossed up with?
not the prostitutes
not the lepers
not the tax collectors
nor the other various and sundry sinners of the day.
It was the Pharisees.
How did the church of Jesus Christ become so much like the very people that Jesus argued with in his time on earth?
We claim to follow the man whose most famous stories involve:
The prodigal being welcomed home
The outcast rescuing the assaulted traveler
Commanding people who are without sin to go ahead and throw the stone
And demanding that before you pull the speck out of your brother’s eye, pull the log out of your own
Ours is not a savior who is out to get us for not being good enough.
But what happens when we start to believe something other than the Gospel of love and grace and redemption/
We become a people desperate to be good enough, ready to shame, bully and force others into trying to be good enough, too.
And they will never be good enough.
We will never be good enough,
but we can simply be enough.
We were never commissioned to demand that secular culture reflect biblical principles. We were commissioned to reflect biblical principles in the middle of secular culture, pointing to God’s redemptive story.Cara Joyner
I like that. A life that points others towards God’s redemptive story.
As Christians, we are called not to condemn people for the way they are living, but to offer them a better way to live.
Not to judge the path they are on, but to offer them a different path…and to walk in away that makes them want to follow.
To live not as people who feel they have to earn the love and grace of God, but as people who live in grateful response to the love and grace they have already been received because of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. That is a very different way of being.
May we always remember who our neighbor is
May we never fail to love our neighbors
And may our lives point everyone we meet toward God’s redemptive story.
Rev. Anne Russ is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), currently based in New York City. Doubting Believer provides tools and encouragement for the rollercoaster ride of your faith journey. Follow me on Facebook , Instagram and YouTube. You can also follow on TikTok. Get emails to keep up with all that is happening.