At the Crossroads
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Matthew 16:21-28
I don’t think that it’s an overstatement to say that our country is at a crossroads. We as an American people have some choices to make. We as Christians have some choices to make. Choices about how we’ll live a life in Christ in this time—how we’ll live a life in Christ during a pandemic and amidst enormous wildfires and devastating storms.
We have choices to make about how we’ll live a life in Christ during an epidemic of Black lives being destroyed by police, our brother Jacob Blake being the latest. Last Sunday, he was shot in the back seven times by law enforcement. He survived, praise God, but his three children now live with the memory of their father being gunned down right in front of them. His crime? Walking away.
We have choices to make. But we as Christians have a guide when it comes to those choices. We have Jesus.
When asked in Matthew 22, Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Love God and love your neighbor. That is the very center of all the teachings, according to Jesus, our Savior and our guide.
So right now, the biggest choices we have to make are about who is our neighbor and how far we will go to love them.
So first: Who is our neighbor?
Here’s how Jesus went about figuring out who was his neighbor, who he should be loving, who he should be helping:
Are they telling me they’re suffering? Yes? Then that’s my neighbor.
Are they telling me they want to be healed? Yes? Then that’s my neighbor.
Are they telling me they’re hungry? Yes? Then that’s my neighbor.
There was even that time when Jesus decided that the Canaanite woman was most certainly not his neighbor. In fact, he calls this foreign woman a dog not worthy of table scraps. We heard Deacon Laurel preach about it two Sundays ago. But this woman persists, and she stands up in her full humanity. In that moment, she calls Jesus to his highest self, his highest values. She says, I am suffering. My needs are real, too.
And Jesus does something that comes so hard to so many of us: he changes his mind. He decides to let go of the prejudice he was taught, probably from the day he was born. Yes, he says. You’re right. I see your suffering. You are my neighbor.
Even when his idea of who his neighbor was was challenged, Jesus erred on the side of welcoming that stranger, that Samaritan, that Canaanite. And when Jesus called someone his neighbor, he made himself responsible for them. For their safety, for their healing, for their health, for their thriving.
Jesus believed people when they told him they were suffering. I’m going to say that again: Jesus believed people when they told him they were suffering.
When he raised the widow’s son back to life, he didn’t ask what kind of person the son was and whether he deserved to live again. He just saw the widow’s suffering and said, yes, this is within my power and I will help.
When he fed the 5,000, he didn’t do a survey of who had worked hard enough to deserve to eat. He just saw that people were hungry and he fed them.
Jesus believed people, he called them his neighbor, and then he healed them, fed them, protected them—because that’s what loving your neighbor looks like.
And he gave up everything to do it. Comfort. Ease. And ultimately his life.
Which brings us to the second choice: How far will we go to love our neighbor? What are we willing to risk? What are we willing to lose?
I’m going to say something that might be really controversial. So just brace yourself. Ready? “If any want to become followers of Jesus, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow him. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for Jesus’ sake will find it.”
It’s extreme, right? Pretty radical.
Is Jesus really asking us to take up suffering?
Is he actually asking us to lose our lives?
Well, when Peter tried to argue with Jesus about it, when Peter tried to say “No, Lord! You’re a great man, our teacher, our friend! You’re not supposed to suffer!” Jesus does not mince words: “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Jesus gave up his life to love his neighbor and all of his neighbors to come. He gave up his life to love us. I don’t think we’re all called to sacrifice like that. But how many of us are willing to examine the assumptions we make about others in order to love them more fully, as Jesus did with the Canaanite woman? How many of us are willing to sacrifice some of the comfort and ease of our daily life in order to love our neighbor as ourselves?
Because when we seek only for our own life, our own well being, our own comfort, our own safety, we lose our life in Christ. We break the only two commandments Jesus ever gave us.
We are at a crossroads. We have choices to make.
So I ask you again:
Who is your neighbor?
Do you believe them when they tell you they’re suffering?
And how far are you willing to go to love them?