James 2:8 - If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well.
This devotion is elaboration on this weekend's Lutheran Hour message. It's titled "Who Is My Neighbor?" and can be found at lutheranhour.org.
A new family just moved in next door to us, to the east side of our house. I haven't met them yet. We had gotten to be close with the other person who had lived there for the last five years. And I'm not sure I have the energy to start all over again with new neighbors.
I remember sitting in eighth-grade religion class, listening to the teacher talk about this great commandment from the Bible, "Love your neighbor as yourself." My friend, David, raised his hand and said, "So, if I'm supposed to love my neighbor as myself, does that mean I only have to love the people who live next door?" "No, David," the teacher explained, "your neighbor isn't just the person who lives next door. Everyone is your neighbor." Now if you've ever been in a religion class, you know that's the standard answer to the question, "Who is my neighbor?" Everyone. We're supposed to love everyone. But to be fair to David, the Bible passage didn't say "love everyone." It said, "love your neighbor."
Maybe there's something to that. Because loving everyone all at once is a God-sized job. So, maybe God starts us off with something smaller. Love your neighbor—love the person near you, he says. Walk down the street. Knock on the door. Welcome the stranger into your life. If all God said was "love everyone," I might think that means "have warm feelings toward everyone as I imagine them, virtually." Then, telling myself, "I love everyone," makes it easier for my attention to be someplace else when there are difficult people with real issues right in front of me. And much of our car-driving, air-conditioned, on-demand, internet-streaming lifestyle encourages us to do just that-to be elsewhere, rather than with the people in our neighborhood.
For Christians, we've come to learn that God loves everyone, not virtually, but in-person. Jesus—who is God's eternal, personal Word—went the distance to become our neighbor. He became human. He crossed the street and knocked on our door. He didn't ignore the difficulty that sharing an address with us would entail. His death on the cross is proof. And He rose from the dead so He could go on being our neighbor—so that He could welcome you and me into His eternal life.
Jesus shows us that physical closeness, that geographic proximity—that neighbors matter to God. To be a next-door neighbor is a high calling. This new family that moved in next to us only has one west-side next door neighbor in the world—me, and my family. What about you? Whose your neighbor?
THE PRAYER: Jesus, thank You for becoming my neighbor. Live in me, so that I can be a true neighbor, starting with the person next door. Amen.
This Daily Devotion was written by Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Speaker of The Lutheran Hour.
1. Do you have any "crazy neighbor" stories? What made them difficult to love?
2. Who might tell "crazy neighbor" stories about you?
3. How can you expand your practice of loving a person who lives near you?
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