Follow Me – Biblical Practices for Faithful Living
Love God, Neighbor, Enemy: Love Extravagantly
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Annual Report Sunday, February 26, 2023
On this first Sunday in Lent, we begin a series titled “Love God, Neighbor, Enemy”. Our text is from Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain in the Gospel of Luke. The text is about Loving Extravagantly, about loving others without typical human restraints.
When we follow Jesus, we are called to act on our love in ways that will seem absurd to those outside the church. The self-giving, sacrificial love of Jesus could be seen as expensive, exorbitant, unreasonable, even outrageous.
As we turn to Holy Scripture, listen for the verbs in this text. Listen for what Jesus calls us to do and notice what Jesus calls us not to do.
Hear the Word of God from Luke 6:27-42.
‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’
He also told them a parable: ‘Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher.
Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye”, when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Someone once said that God loves us just as we are, but God loves us too much to let us stay just as we are. We all have a long way to go when it comes to loving as God has loved us. As human beings, we will always be imperfect in our love. Our most self-giving love, even in our closest relationships, will always fall short. We will struggle to act in truly loving ways towards our neighbors.
We will struggle to forgive.
And when it comes to enemies…especially with all of the divisiveness in the air, we tend to really miss the mark.
We are only able to love because God first loved us.
Love comes from God, pours into us as human beings, and out to others.
If our hearts have been closed to God, or if we have found ourselves at a distance from God,or if we have not been worshiping or not reading God’s Word or not listening for God’s voice, then we will find ourselves struggling that much harder to love.
We will find it more of a struggle to love even those closest to us, and especially to love our enemies. Apart from God, we may even struggle to love ourselves. Martin Luther King, Jr. repeatedly addressed the call to love everyone, particularly our enemies. In his sermons, he would make the distinction between liking people and loving them. When he mentioned all the things people had said and done to him and others, including physical abuse and murderous threats, he readily admitted that he did not like these persons at all.
Yet, he said, Jesus commanded that we must love them, which is different than liking. We love them not because they are likable, but because they too are children of God, and as difficult as they may be, God still loves them.
Hatred is destructive and only breeds more hate, but love… love has the power to transform people.
Love changes people from the inside out. As Dr. King wrote, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”
The extravagant love of Jesus has never been about how we feel about another person. We are called to choose love, even in the face of malice or disappointment or undeserving, not because of what the other has done or not done, but because of who we are in Jesus Christ.
(From Follow Me Foundational Essay – LOVE GOD, NEIGHBOR, ENEMY, by Maryann, McKibben Dana and from Adult Reflection Guide, written by Julie Hester)
I John 4: God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them…We love because he first loved us… the commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must also love their brothers and sisters.
In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul writes, “And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2–3).
As followers of Jesus and members of his body, the Church, we are called to breathe deeply of the extravagant love God offers to us, and then to breathe out that love and mercy to the world around us.
We do not love because we seek to get something out of it, whether in this world or the next.
We love because we have been loved.
We love because of who we are, because of Whose we are.
We love because we recognize that other persons ultimately belong to God also.
We love because we know in our hearts that love is the only force powerful enough to mend broken hearts, to give hope to the hopeless, to reconcile divided families, to heal a hurting world.
Last weekend, George Dannunzio was our host on the disaster relief trip to Florida. George is tall, dark-skinned man with a New Jersey accent. He graduated from Chiropractic college and works as a professional expert witness in large fraud cases. George has made some good money in his life, so he does not have to work full time, and he chooses to spend several months a year volunteering for disaster relief. George has been in Ft Myers, Florida since early October, helping, hosting, cooking meals, cleaning up, listening patiently, organizing efficiently. Because of George’s efforts, along with many others like him, people from all over the country are able to meet in Ft Myers and offer help to those who desperately need assistance. They don’t pick and choose based on religion or denomination or political party. They love because of who they are and because there are people who need love. The whole scene of disaster relief is truly inspiring. And those folks will be there, a year from now, 18 months from now, continuing to love extravagantly, to give extravagantly.
We see this same sort of extravagant love every week at DPC.
-Dona Cucich giving most of her day to drive someone to the doctor’s office.
-RG and Joel Drew offering hours of backbreaking work to help a single mother and her children move all their worldly belongings to a new apartment.
-Brian Beaubien and other advisors showing up regularly on Sunday evenings to nurture and encourage the youth of our church at the Sycamore House.
-Sunday morning chapel leaders, like Jan Bedol, step out of worship in order to help young children learn the Bible stories and how to be reverent and full of praise.
-Did you know that Dudley Larus shows up every single Friday, in addition to everything else he does at church, in order to set up the slides for the worship service?
-Our Memorial Reception hosts, Sue Bingeman and Kim Campbell and others, set aside their own plans and responsibilities and recreations in order to spend hours preparing for and hosting a memorial reception, sometimes for a family they do not even know.
-Our flower guild volunteers, led by Lynn Evans, break down these flowers, meticulously arrange them, and then deliver them, sometimes miles away, just so someone will know that they are remembered and loved
-Teachers like Dave Williams, who steadfastly prepares a lesson almost every single week for his Sunday School class.
-Our Threshold volunteers, many of whom are not members of the church, show up every week to offer hope and a bit of help to those in desperate circumstances. And the list goes on and on…
As I look around this sanctuary, I am inspired by the love and generosity I see.
At our presbytery meeting two weeks ago, an African American preacher introduced the offering. He spoke about how in his congregation, he talks about ridiculous generosity. He talks about the kind of giving of time, talent, and resources that just might seem ridiculous to those outside the church.
A few weeks ago, our church received an unexpected gift of $100,000 – simply because this generous giver is aware of the debt we carry from the 2016 renovations and wants to help bring that down. And this extravagant gift is in addition to a very generous gift they gave to the operating budget. There is sacrificial love in giving like that, because that money could have gone to some other purpose, but it was given in love for God and in gratitude for you, for what you do as a congregation on behalf of the community and world.
In our text from the gospel of Luke, Jesus makes clear that extravagant love is not simply about how we feel, or whether the other person is deserving, but about on-the-ground action that changes hearts, that changes the world.
Jesus compels us to act on our love, to do good, to bless, to offer, to give, to lend, and to forgive even when forgiveness is undeserved. And Jesus reminds us what not to do…not to withhold, not to judge, not to condemn. We all have a long way to go in loving extravagantly, but in Jesus Christ we have been connected to the source of extravagant love, and we have even been given specific instructions about how to love extravagantly.
Yes, God loves us just as we are, but God loves us too much to let us stay just as we are. In this Lenten season, my prayer is that we may be refreshed in our love, in our love for God, and for neighbor, and even for enemy, whomever that may be.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church