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Evan Earwicker: Love for Our Neighbors, Mark 12:30-31

May 29, 2024

Audio Recording

Loving our neighbors is central to our identity as followers of Jesus. When we express genuine love and compassion to those around us, it shows true devotion and alignment with Jesus’s teachings.

Westside Church Podcast
Westside Church Podcast
Evan Earwicker: Love for Our Neighbors, Mark 12:30-31

Sermon Transcript:

You're listening to a live recording from Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us.

This really forms the core of who we are as a community that we believe we live life in community together. We have and express love for our neighbors, and we keep Jesus at the center. And rather than just three random things stacked next to each other, I think of this as well. My grandma Dorothy had a nesting doll that was given to her. And so we would always go over there and our kids would play with this little nesting doll. And as you know, you've seen a nesting doll, right? I don't have to explain this. As you take off layer after layer, you get down to what is the core of that, and at the core of who we are is Jesus. It's his life. It's his way, it's who he modeled for us. And so, week after week in these three weeks, we're kind of taking off layer after layer to figure out who is Westside Church and who we are as a community. So I want to talk to you today about what it is to love our neighbors, what it is to have this as what we do, right. If last week we talked about life and community, and the thing that we are to the world around us today is, why are we doing this? What is our point? What are we called to be as followers of Jesus? And today we're going to talk about loving our neighbors. I'm aware of something about myself, hopefully more than one thing. I'm aware about myself. Self awareness is a gift these days, but I'm aware every time my name bar comes up. Do you have my name bar up there? Marcy, do you have that? Can you put my name bar up? I'm aware of this, especially when it comes to new folks that maybe are here for the first time. When I introduce myself and say, I'm Evan, I'm one of your senior pastors, and they see this right here, and they think, that's a strange name, right? You've thought it? Yeah, it's a little strange. And I'm always a little conscious of that, right? Maybe a little self conscious of, like, the first thing they're thinking when they're meeting me is a lot of things, but they're like, that's a weird name, and it's a little strange, and I've come to terms with it. Okay, I'm okay with it. But here's the thing.

As children in elementary school, oftentimes a name like that gets unwanted attention, right? So we picked up our son from school last week. And came home, and somebody was teasing somebody in the house, and Jack's name came up, and he got kind of quiet, and then he kind of walked off into a different room, and he was in there. So I'm like, what's going on? So I followed him in the room, and I look, and he's like, really quiet, and he's crying a little bit. And I said, buddy, what's going on? And he said, well, today at school, and he named one of the kids in his class. They called me ear licker.

How dare you laugh?

Room full of bullies in here. Oh, my.

Call me. And immediately what I think when I hear my son telling me that is it's been more than 30 years since I was Jack's age, and kids have not come up with a new one. I mean, come on.

Like, that is exactly what we heard growing up. Like, come on. Teachers help them be more creative and original.

But he made fun of his name. And immediately, here's my response to that. I don't know this kid. I don't know who this kid is. I don't know who these kid's parents are. But immediately that kid goes on my bad list.

And is this because I'm so sensitive about my name? No. If that kid showed up and maybe I'm picking up Jack from school and he shows up and says, I'm so sorry, sir. I think your name is really cool. I think you got the best name. You know? What a beautiful name it is. What a beautiful name it is, right?

This kid could do all of that and say, that's not the point. That's not why you're on my bad list. Why are you on my bad list? Because you hurt my kid.

That's why.

See, you said something about my family name, whatever. That's fine. But when you hurt my kid, you get on my bad list.

And so it is, I think, as we read the gospels, and we're gonna read it today, so it is with God that we have this assumption that he's so insecure about his name and his greatness and his glory, that that is what hurts the heart of God, that that's what makes God in his wrath, turn towards us, is that somehow we've offended his sense of morality or greatness or glory. And so we come and say, what a beautiful name it is. And I feel like sometimes God is like, you don't understand. That's not what I care about the most. What I care about the most is how you treat my kids.

Some of you aren't sure. You're not sure if this is good theology. Let's walk through this, because this, according to Jesus, is the whole thing.

This is the whole way of understanding who God is, is how we treat one another forever. Religious systems have been in place going even back, you know, pre Christian, all the way back to like, the Egyptians and the Babylonians. And in every kind of religious system, there are some very standard ways of getting on the deity's good side.

There are some really standard ways of, if you feel like God is mad at you, here's how you get God happy at you or pleased with you, right? And they look like sacred spaces, temples, sometimes rudimentary and primitive, sometimes huge and over the top cathedrals. And so there's sacred spaces and there's these religious rituals that you must perform in order to please God and get on his good side. And often there's a priest or a pastor or a holy man who is the mediator? Who is the mediator. That's a long word between you and God.

And if you walk through all these rituals and processes in the right sacred space, then God will be pleased with you.

Jesus shows up in this nowhere town called Nazareth in the first century in the roman empire, born to a jewish family, and he begins to talk and teach and preach, and he says what is very subversive, and this actually is what ends up getting Jesus killed. It's the final straw. Where the religious folks of his day said he's gone too far, is that Jesus said, this has all been great, this temple system of getting on God's good side, of accessing forgiveness, of receiving the love of God again, even once you've offended him. That whole temple system has worked okay, but now we're done with that.

Because now God doesn't dwell in a temple.

God's presence is not behind a curtain in a building that sits over there on that hill. Because now God very presence, the Holy Spirit, dwells in me.

And because I'm the temple, we don't need that one.

And this was very offensive, that he would say that the spirit of God doesn't dwell in the temple, where everyone knows that's always where it's dwelled. Instead he's saying, it dwells in me. I'm the temple now.

And then he goes further. He sits with his disciples around the table at the last Supper, and he says, here's what's going to happen. The spirit that dwells in me is now going to dwell in you.

And now everywhere you go, you are the temple. Of God in you is that place where people are going to access the love and the forgiveness and the acceptance of God. Because the Holy Spirit that has been in me, that once dwelt in the temple, now dwells in me, is going to dwell in you.

And now everywhere you go, you are going to be a representation of what always was intended to happen in the temple, which is hurting broken people, finding wholeness, healing and forgiveness. It's not going to happen amongst stones and curtains and rituals. Instead, it's going to happen wherever you go.

And ever since then, we've been trying to get God back in the temple.

We've been building big, beautiful temples, and we've been looking up and upholding holy men and pastors and priests, and we've been saying, this is the way we get onto God's good side. And we hear the voice of Jesus saying again today, I'm the temple and you're the temple. And we want, and we must lean into the way of Jesus. That invites people who would follow after him to be that place where people experience the love of God.

And to miss this is to miss the whole point of why Jesus came.

Jesus was born into a society, and they had a lot of commands and rituals and rules that had to be followed in order to please God, according to the Old Testament, 613 rules in the Old Testament about what makes someone acceptable to God. And so a teacher of the law came to Jesus one day in Mark chapter twelve, and he said, teacher, what's the greatest command? We've got 613 of these things. What is the greatest commandment? And here's what Jesus said. Mark 1230. Love the Lord your God. Jesus said, with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. And he said, the second is this, love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.

At the top of Jesus list on what matters in how we act and live and think in the world are these two very seemingly simple commands. Love God and love people. That's it.

And Paul goes even further. Check this out. Galatians 5614. The apostle Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, is writing to the church in Galatia. And he says the only thing that counts, the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping these. 613. Nope.

The entire law is fulfilled in having the right ideological, political st. No, the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Oh, man, those are bold words, Paul, that you're saying that all of the commands that God has given his people, all the things that make God feel good about us, all those things that make us right with God, you're saying they all can be boiled down to one command, to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Oh, that seems lightweight, Paul.

That seems impossibly simple.

As one of my pastor friends said, he was sitting in a board meeting with leaders in his church, and one stood up, exasperated, and he said loudly, love, love. I'm sick of it.

And he stormed out of the room.

And I get it. Just like that guy. Sometimes we think this love stuff, this sentimentality, this lightweight, bubblegum, hippie, van driving kind of Jesus stuff, like, what is this?

Give us the good. Give us the difficult stuff. I will tell you what the difficult stuff is. The difficult stuff is Jesus kneeling in the garden and saying, I don't want to walk through what I have to walk through for love, but not my will be done, yours be done, God. I'll tell you what love looks like. It looks like Jesus on the cross.

The love of God has been expressed fully and perfectly, and it is soaked in sacrifice. It is unconditional to the point of tears. It is a love that costs something. So I have no patience. When we think of love in the context of what Jesus has called us to and modeled, that, we would think of some lightweight sentimentality. This is something deeper.

This is the love of God expressed in Christ.

So is it simple? Yeah, it's simple, but it's not easy.

And all throughout Jesus ministry, we see this. People are coming to Jesus, and they're saying, like, you know, how much do I need to forgive someone? Like, what's the bare minimum forgiveness that will still allow me to be cool with God? Or so you say, I need to love my neighbor. So who technically qualifies as my neighbor? Surely not him, right? You let me off the hook there.

Or this one. What's the minimum I must do to be saved? Jesus, give me the checklist.

And if we are asking Jesus these questions, we're actually asking Jesus for where the loopholes are, right?

And when you have 613 rules, you know what that represents? If you've ever worked in HR or had employees, you know what 613 rules means? It means you had a loophole guy on your team, and so you had to keep adding to the handbook to cover all the loopholes, right?

Because you got that one person that's like, oh, but check it out. If I take all my vacation on December 31, then, okay, you're a loophole. Guy, stop it. Nobody likes the loophole, Guy.

And what's required if that happens is you gotta write rule after rule after rule. Jesus comes on the scene and says, listen, I'm sick of a religion that is always looking for a loophole to do the bare minimum, to be cool with God. Here's a new way. Put everything through the process and the lens of love. And if it doesn't hold up under the weight of love, it's not me.

And people are like, ah, I'm not comfortable with that. Some of you in the room are like, I'm not comfortable with that. Well, this is what we've been given as the christian faith. And if it's something different than that, I would propose to us that it's actually not the faith that Jesus handed down to us.

Because the faith in Jesus has an expression, faith has an action. We don't perform works to earn salvation or earn God's approval. But once we have God's approval, it will create in us something that looks like feet on the ground.

This is faith in action, and it changes our motivation when we ask the question, what does love require?

What does love drive us to do? What does love make us say and think and how we act and listen? If today we stand in this place and we sing these wonderful worship songs, last week we sang I surrender all. I surrender all. I surrender all to you, my blessed savior. I surrender all. It's very moving.

And if we do that as a community in this room, and then we walk out of here and we are jerks to the person that lives next to us, and we're rude to our server because we felt like we deserved better attention. And we quit tipping because tipping has gotten out of control.

And it has. But that's. We'll talk about that later.

It'll be a separate class.

We got reign in the tipping culture anyway, neither here nor there.

But listen, if our worship is pure and true and good, but it doesn't equate to us treating those made in the image of God with love and the way that Jesus has expressed his love to humanity, we've missed something. The disconnect is obvious.

And maybe more than anything else, the issue we have with how Christianity is or isn't being well received by western culture in our moment in our society is because there has been a disconnect between the way of Jesus and the way of us.

And the invitation for us is to step back into the way of Jesus, not just thinking the right thoughts about who Jesus is, but actually feet to the ground walking on the path that he walked before us.

Author was doing research for a book and he surveyed a group of people who identified themselves as strong followers of Jesus. And he asked them, did Jesus spend time with the poor?

Around 80% replied, yes, of course, which is great. But that leaves a disturbing 20% of so called strong followers of Jesus who think Jesus didn't spend any time with the poor.

Now that should be shocking. It probably isn't.

But here's maybe what's more sad, also not shocking. When he asked them, do you spend time with the poor? Only 2% replied that they did, leaving 98% of strong followers of Jesus who never in any meaningful way encounter or engage with the very people that Jesus came to preach good news to.

And we wonder what it looks like when communities of faith get disconnected from our founder. This is what it looks like when we've lost sight of love for our neighbor. We've actually lost sight of Jesus.

And this is nothing new.

John would write this to a church in first John 316. This is the other John 316.

It's just as good as the John 316 you might be familiar with. But he says, we know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So that's our model.

That's the picture of this kind of love. Not an empty sentimentality, but a self giving, sacrificial love. So we ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion, how can God's love be in that person? Whoa, easy, John.

Easy, bro. We're trying to be secret sensitive here.

How can God's love be in that person? Dear children, let's not merely say that we love each other. Let's show the truth by our actions.

Our actions will show what? That we belong to the truth. So we'll be confident when we stand before God.

John doesn't mince words.

He says, it's very clear that our actions reveal if what we say we believe about Jesus or what we even think about Jesus has the kind of staying power to play itself out in real life. That is the test of our faith and our devotion to Jesus.

And so we get to this place, right? And we sit in these spaces and we talk about who Jesus is and we worship him. And here's the thing that oftentimes our church communities like this one can lull us into a sense that Jesus is the one that we worship, but it's too hard to actually follow him we can worship him, but following him is like, that's crazy. That's too hard.

And so we withdraw from the following, and we sit firmly in the worshiping. And Jesus and Paul and John, they would all remind us today that if we worship sincerely, it's going to do something in the way that we live and how we treat those that Jesus so desperately loves.

As James would write in James 217, he says, so you see, faith by itself isn't enough unless it produces good deeds. It is dead and useless.

Just yesterday, my wife was getting dinner ready and took out some salad tongs out of the drawer, and the spring broke. Have you ever tried to use tongs with no spring?

You're manually opening, manually closing. You're just better off with your bare hands. That's all I'm going to say, you know?

And so the question is, when something no longer can function in its primary function, is it useful? And some of you are like, yeah, just, you know, you just need some time. Just. I can fix that right up. I'm the spring guy. I'm the tong guy. Whatever.

No one says that, but in the world that Jesus was teaching in, there was not this strong connection that we feel today, where the essence of something is what it really is. Right. Well, it's still a salad tongs. It's still that. It just isn't working right. Give us some time. In the world Jesus was teaching in the essence of something wasn't enough. The function mattered. So that if you had a tool that no longer could function because it's broken, that actually loses something of its identity and isn't worth keeping around. And so this is the mindset that these apostles and these writers of the New Testament are writing in that. Listen, if you say you are a Christian, a follower of the way of Jesus, but you actually never set out on that way.

It's incongruent. It doesn't hold up. You're a solid tongue without a spring.

I've never accused you of that directly. I'm just speaking metaphorically.

And so today, we want to invite this kind of scrutiny in our own lives. Are we those things that, in essence, we are those who care and love and express the love of God to the world around us, but in practice, what are we? And I'm really, really proud of you as a community, because in so many ways, we are not just talking about this. We're doing this.

We're caring and loving for people in real ways that look like tangible needs and real conversations in this room and out of it. That matter. What we saw today with west side care is one piece of a hundred different ways that this community is loving. Well, not just thinking the right thoughts or having big conversations about big things, but letting those conversations about the way of Jesus filter out into the real world. And I'm so proud to be a part of this community.

But just because I'm a part of this community doesn't mean I'm off the hook, right?

I pastor, I'm the leader of leaders who walk out the way of Jesus and then I withdraw into my study to pray. You know, Jesus would say, that's not enough. We all, we all own this together. Here's just a few ways that we can maybe start if you're not, if you feel like, I don't feel like I'm doing anything beyond just coming here and worshiping and thinking. But what does it look like to take a step into faith in action?

Couple ideas here. These are not by any means exhaustive.

Grab a and fill an orange bag that's sitting right out here in the lower atrium by the info center. That's a great easy way that today you can get your feet in the waters of loving people in action. You fill it up with non perishable foods.

Non perishable is the key word here. We had someone bless them, brought frozen rice, cauliflower and delivered that and it got stuck in a back shelf in a back room. Took about three weeks to figure out where the smell was coming from. So anyway, non perishable foods. But what an easy way to say, we're not just going to talk about it or think about it. We're going to do something. Volunteer at our monthly free food market.

Every month we gather in the student center a team of wonderful volunteers who provide everything from haircuts and services to free food, of course. And that's an amazing way to get face to face with the people in our community who God loves so desperately and dearly. And then in August, we have our annual school supply giveaway where on average, over 300 kids and their families come out not just for pencils and pencil boxes, but for all kinds of goods and materials and services that they're going to need for the next school year. And what an incredible way to right away jump in on some of this and then donate to the ministry give this is a way, if you have gifts above and beyond your regular giving that you want to go specifically towards things like benevolence, community care, scholarships for kids who can't afford camp to get to camp. All these things happen because of the ministry fund, and even right now you could donate to that as part of our initiative to put our faith into action. I want to close with this. We're going to step into communion in just a few moments as the band comes back. But in the book of Matthew, chapter 25, Jesus is telling a parable about what it is to love our neighbors and the importance of the way that we love and care for those in need around us. And so he tells us this parable about this king as a stand in for himself, who at the end of all things is judging who is on God's bad side and who's on God's good side. And it says in Matthew 25 34 that Jesus turns to those on his good side, on the righteous side of things. And he says, come, you who are blessed by my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.

And the confetti cannons go off, and everyone's happy. And then he says this, for I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you invited me into your home. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you cared for me. I was in prison and you visited me.

And then these righteous will reply, lord, when did we see you?

When did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?

And then the king will say, I tell you the truth. When you did it for one of the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you're doing it for me.

I would ask this question of us today. When do we see Jesus?

Many times I have framed that question as, when in a worship service do I feel the presence of God close to me? When is the music just right and the band is. Is just hitting all those notes in a way that moves me or my favorite preachers on stage that way, that's when I really see Jesus. And Jesus would say, that's wonderful. Worship is so important.

But you know where you're gonna see me? You're gonna see me on the streets. You're gonna see me in that rv that's been parked there for a month. You're gonna see me in the person who seems overwhelmed and a little bit edgy because they're working three jobs to make ends meet. You're going to see me in the faces of the poor and the hurting and those on the outside and in the margins.