Message Series: Fresh Start – Sermon – Pastor Marlee Page – 19 September 2021

WELCOME

Good morning First Baptist. We welcome you to worship this morning. Be sure to remember your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the week as you pray for them, and as the Holy Spirit brings their faces to your mind. Be sure to also connect with them in the ways that are possible. And if you have any questions or would like to talk to someone, please don’t hesitate to contact the church through the church telephone and leave a message. (519-733-4144)

Call to Worship

It is good to praise the LORD
and make music to His name,
And we so proclaim Your love in the morning and Your faithfulness at night,
For You make me glad by Your deeds, O LORD; we sing for joy at the works of Your hands.
How great are Your works, O LORD, how profound Your thoughts!
You, O LORD, are exalted forever.

Adapted from Psalms 92

Welcome to worship!

Opening Prayer

CONFESSION/ASSURANCE OF PARDON

Merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved You
with our whole heart and mind and strength.
We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. In Your mercy forgive what we have been, help us amend what we are,
and direct what we shall be,
so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways,
to the glory of Your holy name. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

Hear these comforting words:
If you repent and believe in God’s redeeming mercy, your sins are forgiven.
Trust in God’s promises and begin anew your life with God and all people
in the name of Jesus Christ.

Songs

Message Series Fresh Start Who we are as the Church and what should our neighbours expect from us....

you will have to ask my neighbour

When you think about the word “Neighbour” … does a person or people come to mind? Does this make you smile or grumble?

Better yet, how do you think your neighbours would respond if asked about you as their neighbour?

If you will recall, last week we started into our first series we’ve titled, “Fresh Start”, and we said that for the rest of this month, that along with getting to know more about Dave and I, we want to spend some time looking at the expectations that we have placed upon us, as a church. So, specifically this morning, I want to look at that from the point of view of our neighbours. We are part of a community; we are part of a growing community.

The Town of Kingsville:

The largest population of Kingsville is the age group between 55 and 59 years old. 62.99% of the population are in the working age group between 15 to 64 years old, while 26.95% make up the younger population which will be a part of labour force in less than 2 decades. Our growth rate is an increase average of 2% per year, which equals about 440 new people each year. So, think about this – not only are our neighbours those people we might commonly think about, but God is bringing at least 440 new people into our neighbourhood every year. That’s a really big deal. That’s one of the reasons we’ve chosen to focus on this topic for our message this morning and specifically why we’ve chosen these words of Jesus, because they take us right into the heart of how we should think about neighbours.

Scripture Reading

Our scripture reading today comes from Matthew 22: 34 – 40. It has some very specific words of Jesus as He gives us a command, The Most Important Commandment. You can find this exchange in each of the synoptic gospels; Matthew, Mark & Luke. Please take some time this week to read each of them because each tells the story differently and one of them may touch your heart in a unique way.

The Greatest Commandment

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Our scripture passage today is one of those special ones that most of us could all repeat from memory, almost verbatim.   Jesus intentionally answered the question like this and by answering this question in this way, Jesus gives the Sadducees and Pharisees, and by default us as the church, one command in two parts.

Now, before we go too far into this, I don’t want you to miss the fact that while Jesus answers this statement in Matthew from the scribe, in Luke’s gospel, we see Him commending the Scribe for being able to answer this similar question when Jesus asks it of him. There are very few places where we see Jesus almost giving the Scribe a high five for understanding the 2 parts to this command.   This shows us that we need to pay extra attention here. 

Today I want to specifically focus on the second part of Jesus’ answer and in particular, I’d like us to focus on these two words:

Neighbour & Yourself

These are interesting words in our Canadian contemporary context today. They are words that can bring us great joy and great distress both at the same time.

Here’s a story I’m sure all of you have heard from one time or another but it so completely reflects today:

“This is the story of two couples that met a new couple at church one Sunday, they stopped to introduce themselves and to exchange pleasantries. This first couple described the friendly neighbourhood that they lived in and listened sympathetically as the other couple lamented that theirs was just the opposite, not friendly at all.

Saying their good-byes, they got in their cars and drove home. As the 1st couple approached their house, they were horrified to see that their new-found friends who’d been lamenting over the unfriendly neighbourhood they lived in, were pulling into the driveway next to theirs.”

Relationships among neighbours can be difficult at times.

So can our relationship with ourselves. Do you know a harsher critic of you, than you? Be honest with me, would you speak to most people as harshly as you do to yourself? Of course not. You see, I think this second part of Jesus’ command is quite important for the context of many of our lives today.

While commonly the focus in this part of the passage is on the neighbour, and we’ll get to that, I want to propose to you an hypothesis that says:

We can’t begin to love others until we can love ourselves.

Some of you need to do that. Honestly, I need to do that! And Jesus Himself gives us some words to contemplate on this in the Gospel of John. On the night of Jesus’ arrest, He says this: 

I in them and you in me — so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

— John 17:23 (NIV)

This passage helps to demonstrate that for Jesus followers, our relationship with God and Christ and ourselves, those relationships are all intertwined. 

God the Father is in the Son and so by extension, if Christ is in us then so is God the Father in us.

The first part of Jesus’ answer to the Scribe tells us that we are called to love God with everything we have; with our heart, our mind, our strength and our soul. Well then that means loving ourselves too!

The truth is, we can only love our neighbour as ourselves if we love God with all that is in us and allow Him to work in our hearts.

Too often, the work that He needs to do in our hearts is the work of internal healing. We’ve only been here for a few weeks and already you’ve shared stories with us of how some of you are struggling with this. God loves you and cherishes you and He is God! So, He’s not wrong or mistaken or doesn’t know the real you. He does know the real you and He loves you in spite of whatever keeps you from doing the same. And, if He thinks you’re worth loving, my friends, who are we to say He’s wrong.

God has never looked in your mirror and wished that He saw someone else
Quoted by Bob Goff

This is one of my favourite quotes from Bob Goff. I believe this is from his “Love Does” book:

“God’s never looked in your mirror and wished He saw someone else. You are enough; You are loved; You are His. “

Pull out your smart phone, get it into selfie mode, but don’t take a picture. Can you see the person looking back at you?   Jesus loves and forgives this person. You must too!

I felt it was important to start here today because unfortunately for some, the idea of loving yourself is foreign.

We can’t begin to love others until we can love ourselves!

Then, when we are healthy and understand that our love of God includes love of ourselves, only then can we turn to the love of our neighbour.

You know, love for others, or the lack of it, reveals a lot about what we think on this matter.   From a faith perspective, our love for people is even more revealing because it actually indicates the authenticity and health of our relationship with God.

Think back to the Ten Commandments. There are two divisions of the Ten Commandments that teach this explicitly. The first division, the first four commandments, all demand and enhance our love for God:

Have no other Gods before me…do not misuse the name of the Lord…and so on.

These commands are summed up in the Shema. Found in Deuteronomy 6:4, 5:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength”

And then the concluding six commandments:

Thou shalt not kill…thou shalt not commit adultery…and so on. These all demand that we love others and are capsulized in the words of Leviticus 19:18:

“Love your neighbour as yourself.”

The spiritual logic is clear: you must first love God with all that is in you, including yourself. And if you do, you will be able to love others as you love yourself.

Love for God produces love for people.

At another time, Jesus was again being questioned by a Scribe and he asks Jesus an impulsive question:

29 The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

— Luke 10:29 (NLT)

The lawyer was flustered and wanted to save face. “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (v. 29). 

The way he asks Jesus this question is deeply telling of his feelings “We can’t love everyone! Where do you draw the line? What about tyrants? What about blasphemers? Really, Jesus, who is my neighbour?” 

His questioning was reasonable enough. But it also shows that “wise and learned” as he was, he was not completely tracking with Jesus.

So, Jesus tells him and the crowd the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan; where a Jewish man had been beaten and left on the road for dead and both a Jewish Pharisee and a Levite passes by and did nothing to help the beaten man. But a Samaritan, who would historically hate any Jewish person, stopped and helped this man and actually pays to have him nursed back to health.

The power of Jesus’ parable here can only be felt in light of the command to love God with the totality of one’s being, the Jewish faith calls this the Shema. It was recited every morning and every night by every faithful Israelite. 

In this parable, the priest and the Levite in the story had intoned it that morning before they bypassed the half-dead fellow Jew, and they said it again at sunset. Their neglect of their neighbour was sandwiched between these pious and religious declarations of their love for God. 

Do we ever do the same? Unfortunately, we do. The immortality of this parable roars in the ears of the lawyer here. Remember, he knew the Mosaic Law, the Torah. He knew the required obedience to the scriptures immediately following the Shema. 

“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.”

— Deuteronomy 6:6–8

This lawyer’s very being was a statement that he was devoted to loving God and fulfilling his Law, at least the first half of it. So, he could feel the trouble welling up in the parable. Jesus’ radical teaching, which included loving one’s neighbor as oneself (Leviticus 19:18), made perfect sense since such neighbor-love fulfilled the second half of the Law. But Jesus’ parable made it painfully clear that the lawyer fell short and that at times, we fall short.

At the end of the parable of the Good Samaritan, do you remember what He tells the Lawyer to do? 

“…now go and do the same.”

— Luke 10:37

The parable of the Good Samaritan points out 3 things to consider in how we are to love our neighbour:

We must help someone even when they have brought trouble on themselves. The man who was beat did this by travelling when it was not safe to do so.

Any person of any nation who is in need is our neighbour. Our help must be as wide as the love of God. As far as the east to west!

The help must be practical and must not consist of merely feeling sorry for a person’s plight. For compassion to be real, compassion must result in action.

To Jesus, God opened up the possibility for relationship & friendship, where others saw only reason to condemn. His capacity to see a friend in a stranger is humbling, isn’t it? 

I often wonder how He managed it on a day-to-day, practical basis. Can you really go through life thinking the whole world is your neighbour?

Remember the two words I said I wanted us to focus on this morning:

Neighbour and Yourself – write those down or lock them into your memory bank for the journey ahead.

We can’t begin to love others until we can love ourselves and we get that right by understanding that the command to love God includes the love of ourselves, as God does.

Then, and only then, we are called to love our neighbours as ourselves.

C.S. Lewis knew this and proclaimed:

“Next to the Blessed Sacrament, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses”

My neighbour, Holy? Jesus says yes.

And that’s my prayer for this Church, in fact one of the things that has brought Dave and I great peace in coming here is that this is already a big part of the legacy and mission of First Baptist Kingsville. We want to see that legacy, not just continue, but to truly flourish. 

As we discern more of what God’s calling for us is and how He wants us to reach out to our neighbour and love our neighbour, our prayer is that in obedience and an outpouring of love, we’ll just go and love our neighbour together!

What do our neighbours expect of us as the Church?

To just get out there and LOVE them. Right where they are, wherever that is, however messy that might be. 

Will you add that to your prayer list this week, that as Jesus said to the Pharisee, that we also will, “go and do the same.”

Let us go before our Lord and thank Him for this most important commandment and invite the Holy Spirit to continue to guide us in this work.

Prayer

Patient God, we find it so easy to give lip service to the commandment to love.
We can say we know of Your love and that we always respond in kind, but the truth is too much of the time we do not respond in love toward others.
We give money to support ministries of compassion without ever truly feeling the deep compassion that true service in You demands.
Father, help us to dig deeper into our souls. Expose all of the selfishness and the fear that seem to block true discipleship.
Free us and inspire us to love all persons, those who the world might see as unlovable, and those who we find easy to love.
Father, help us love ourselves, move us toward a true understanding of gratitude for the gifts You have given to us; then move us to use these gifts in service to You.
Father, this morning we pray for: (what concerns do you want to surrender to God?)
We ask these things in the name of Jesus the Christ.

Song

Benediction

Go in confidence and peace, joyfully serving the Lord who walks with you.
Bring hope to the hopeless, joy to those who sorrow.
Be true witnesses to the love of God through Jesus Christ.

Have a Great week.