Love is Our Call
The Rev. Robert Pierson, Assisting Priest
The word “gospel” comes from a Greek word that means “good news.” When I begin my process of preparation for preaching, the first question I ask myself is “how is this text 'good news'?” As I reflect on our gospel reading today I am encouraged by Jesus' answer to the lawyer that affirms his statement about what is needed for eternal life: Love God, and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Living a good life is all about love. That's easy to understand, although it's certainly not always easy to do.
That leads the lawyer to ask his second question: “And who is my neighbor?” That's not a stupid question, and as he often does, Jesus tells a story to answer the question. In the end it seems that Jesus is telling us that anyone who needs our help is our neighbor, and we are called to respond in love wherever there is someone in need.
That's a tall order. Now instead of trying to limit who we need to love, Jesus seems to be saying “anyone who needs help, has a claim on our love.” There should be no limits around our love. Is that good news? It is, if we are on the receiving end of that love. What about when we are called to give that kind of love to others in need?
I think about this every time I see a homeless person on the street, and here in the Portland area, we see quite a few of them. What am I called to do? To love them. But how do I do that? Well, certainly I can pray for them. And I can engage as a citizen in the political process to help make policies that are helpful for them. But should I go out of my way to reach out to them personally? I admit, that's too much for me right now. I can't make myself do that, and I really don't like to be reminded of that.
I would guess that many of us today are in that same position, so why am I talking about this? Wouldn't it just be better to ignore this gospel and what it seems to be saying to us? I can't do that either. Just like Amos, in our first reading today, I feel compelled to say what needs to be said, even though it can make me very unpopular. Amos was not a “professional” prophet. He was a farmer, called by God to go to speak to the rulers of Israel because their own prophets were just telling them what they wanted to hear. He was told to “get lost” because the king didn't want to hear what he had to say, but he had to say it anyway. And in the end, because the king and his people ignored God, God sent them into exile.
Where do we go from here? I'd like to turn to the apostle Paul, who in his letter to the Colossians reminds them of who they are and how they have responded to God's call. He says, “we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.” Paul's words remind me of the Collect of the Day that we prayed together a few minutes ago:
“O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have the grace and power to faithfully accomplish them...”
We know what God has called us to do: to love God and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. God, give us the grace and power to faithfully answer your call.