This winter I had the opportunity to coordinate a church wide study of The Hole in Our Gospel, written by the CEO of World Vision Richard Sterns. I had no idea what I was getting into when I agreed (later to find out I was volunteered) the coordinate something like this. As a seminary student with a full-time job I saw this as an opportunity to ease myself into a ministry at church outside of my usual participation. The six-week small group study was accompanied by sermons from Dennis & Jason that were designed to challenge our congregation’s idea of what it means to be a Christian. The book calls Christians to serve the poor and this is something that Aldersgate does very well. Aldersgate has mission partners in Cambodia, Guatemala, Ft. Apache, Arizona, Alexandria, and rural Virginia & West Virginia, so as I went through the study I was thinking we have this covered. No problems here. Being the hands and feet of Jesus so something that I find exciting and energizing.
It was not until we began to explore the possibility that there is more to being a Christian than just serving the poor that I began to wiggle in my seat and question what I was doing. Am what I like to call an “independent Christian”, someone who keeps their faith to themselves and only shares it when asked? I am not well versed in expressing my personal faith, something that has been a real challenge for me as I entered into seminary. I cannot tell you the exact place and time I accepted Christ as my personal savior (which is very intimidating for someone entering the theological arena where everyone can pin point every faith milestone they’ve experienced). So here it is, I have found the hole in my gospel. This is not to infer that I need to trace back the history of my faith to the day I said “Yes!” to Jesus; but, to develop the language needed to express the ways in which Christ has worked and is working in my life. This will give me another tool in my tool box for when working with folks whether it be home repair, serving food, or simply talking to someone (which in most cases has more of an impact that any work project). Challenge #1 accepted.
The next question that I was faced with is: “Who is my neighbor?” Is my neighbor the people on my street who offer the awkward “hello, how ya’ doing?”, someone in southern Virginia that I spent a week with on a mission trip that I will never see again, or an impoverished community on the other side of the world? The answer to this question is all of the above.
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37, NRSV)
A few weeks ago my pastor challenged us to rethink this piece of scripture. We were presented the story with a red Jesus and a blue Jesus represented to appeal to each our personal views of Christ (personal salvation and social justice). After presenting two sermons, Jason could have said “Amen” and sat down, but if you have met Jason at any point you would know that this is not his style. Next we were presented with the scandal from the story: the Samaritans. You see the Samaritans despised and hated in their time, and that our personal salvation comes from someone who was hated and despised in His time (and arguably to some level today). From this, the take away was that we are to seek the face of Christ in our enemies.
So, who is my neighbor? After Jason’s sermon and some thought on the question my previous interpretations of this scripture have been turned upside down. My Sunday School theology has been blown out of the water. Love our enemies, how can I love someone hate hates me and is out to do me harm? This does not only apply to our enemies who seek to do physical harm to us but also to those who we believe to have wronged us financially or humiliated us publicly. Love my enemy? My enemy is my neighbor? Challenge #2 accepted.
My challenge to everyone who has participated in Aldersgate’s church wide study or those who have read The Hole in Our Gospel is to continue to grow in your personal faith, seek out the hole in your relationship with Christ. This is not something is accomplished in any particular timeframe. One’s faith and relationship with Jesus Christ should continue to grow; it is a lifelong journey. I hope that you will accept the challenge presented by Sterns.