37 “‘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 neighbor as yourself.’
It was a humbling experience to the say the least. It wasn’t my first rodeo, as they say. I traveled to India in 2012 and again in 2014. This most recent trip, however, was different ... I was different. My understanding of God, how God works, coupled with a deeper love of people had grown significantly. But more important than what I think I know about God and people, my appreciation of the mystery, which I call God’s presence and work among his people, continues to develop. How is God present? What work is he doing? Who is he using to accomplish that work? How does he make lemonade out of lemons?.....all of this is a mystery to me, yet, there are foundational aspects of the mystery that serve as building blocks of what it means to meet the mystery in His work. While God is an enigma of sorts, he has made God’s self known in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This is fundamental Christianity, yet we often miss it. In talking with others struggling to see God at work in their lives, I simply ask how are you following Jesus? For this writer, to meet and experience the mystery of God’s presence is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus as closely as we can. By following Jesus we are bound to run into our neighbor. Jesus said, to experience God is to love God with our full heart and one way we love God is to love our neighbor as ourselves. The Greek for neighbor is plesion, which according to Jesus includes any person irrespective of race, gender, orientation, or religion with whom we live or whom we meet.
So there I was, after a quick 5K on the tread mill, feeling lonely and distant I decided to go on the roof of the hotel to take a quick dip in the infinity pool. The water was crystal clear, with a slight ripple from the filter. After a few laps my body cooled down so I decided to hop out, dry off, and get ready for work. Before going down to my room I approached the balcony and gazed across the city. For a quick moment I felt as if I were on top of the world...literally, as the hotel was one of the tallest buildings in the city. The view was magnificent, not the kind of magnificent that I was accustom to, but beautiful in its own right. But it wasn’t just the view that made me feel as if I were on top of the world, for 30 days I was treated like a king – waited on and served hand and foot. As I continued to look out from the rooftop my attention turned toward a foundation that was being laid adjacent to the hotel. I am not sure why I took the picture, but I did.
My roof top experience was over, so I thought. After cleaning up I decided to take a further look at the huge trench that I took a picture of. To my amazement I discovered a group of kids that somehow managed to fill a small portion of the trench with about 3 feet of water, swimming around having the grandest time. Their pool was quite different than mine. My trip to India also taught me that their life experience was also quite different. Their lives along with many that I encountered was one of deep poverty, most of which my circle of family and friends could never fully understand. After speaking with a few of the workers I also learned that the trenches were dug by hand. No backhoes, no heavy machinery...about 20 or so people with shovels and pails. In that space and time God spoke profoundly. I was convicted. God filled me with humility which caused a little rain to fall from my eyes. I was broken, yet filled with love at the same time. My life was so different than theirs, yet it was so similar.
Here is what I understood God to be speaking to me in that moment.
Learning to love our neighbor requires that we identify with how they live, what’s important to them, understanding their goals and vision for their lives. Loving our neighbor means that we begin to identify with their poverty, identify with their suffering, meeting them in it and working together with them to change it. Meeting people where they are is the fundamental requirement on how we love our neighbor as ourselves. On that day I hear God say, that if I wanted to experience more of his presence I had to come out from the comfort of my hotel with all its wonderful amenities and meet him sloshing around in a mud puddle turned into a pool. As I thought on these words it became more and more clear because that’s what Jesus did in the incarnation, he descended from his infinity pool and sloshed around in the mud so that love might be fully realized here on earth. Paul said it this way, “Jesus Christ, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave, being born in human likeness and being found in human form, he humbled himself” (Philippians 2:5-7). Love’s requirement is one of humility and it’s first step is always down, out, and in. We must step down from our pedestal, out from our comfort and into the lives of others. It is then and only then can we begin to know and love our neighbor in the same way that Jesus came to know and love us!
What about you? Are you willing to step down, out, and in?
Grace and Peace, Pastor Danny