Loving Our Neighbor Pt. 3

Parts one, and two.

We have a God-given longing for the harvest but at the same time, we don’t always love our neighbor as we ought.  We’re not always working for their good.

But God’s grace can and does change us: The love of Christ compels us to love our neighbors.

Why?  Christ calls us by demonstrating the need, and then he commissions us for the task.

One of the contributions that Martin Luther and the other Reformers made was to overturn the idea that there are distinctions between Christians; that some are elite and advanced before God while others are simply ordinary, lesser believers.  This idea was spurred on by communities of monasteries, who believed being a monk was a higher calling that being an ordinary baptized Christian.  

Nevertheless, the contribution the Reformers made is to help us understand that all Christians in all walks of life have a vocation, and that vocation involves the fulfilling of our baptism. What matters in life? “(1) That we are baptized into Christ, united to him by grace through faith, and (2) that we embrace the callings God gives us in life as opportunities to live out our baptism by living with faith toward God and active love toward our neighbors.”

Immediately after telling his disciples to “pray for laborers for the harvest,” he answers the prayer.  “And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.” (Matthew 10:1) Jesus is doing exactly what the reformers had discovered: summoning the ordinary to himself, and sending them out in his name.  

But there’s something else he does besides summoning them to himself.  We see Jesus supplying them with authority and ability.  It says Jesus, “gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.”  These people were given the very same authority and ability that we see Jesus himself exercising.

To be perfectly honest, this is a little perplexing.  Jesus clearly is giving the disciples the same authority and abilities he has.  But it’s not been my experience to see these exact kinds of things happening on a regular basis with all Christians.  What are we to make of this?  Are these exorcisms and healings something we should expect to frequently see as we labor for the harvest?  I think this text pushes us to think about this a little deeper than we’re accustomed to and challenges our faith a little more than what is comfortable.  Should we really expect to see the same kinds of things happening in our lives?  Yes.  We should.  We should be praying for them to happen.  That we would have authority over unclean spirits to cast them out, and to heal every disease and affliction, in the same ways we see in the passage.  

But at the very least this is what it means for us: that through the gifts of the Gospel in our lives, we have authority over what is spiritually untrue, false, impure, dishonorable, and unjust.  It is the gospel that is true–that Jesus Christ, son of God, born of the virgin Mary, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  On the third day he rose again from the dead.  This is true.  Though lost and condemned, he has redeemed us.  He has purchased us and won us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.  It is in this truth, we have authority.  And in this truth we have been supplied with the weapons that break down strongholds, and authority to cast out what is spiritually unclean.  Through the gifts of the gospel, in Christ, we are supplied with authority.  

And secondly, with ability to heal every disease and every affliction.

In Matthew B. Redmond’s book, The God of the Mundane he tells the story of Candace, his dental hygienist.  Matt is a writer and one day in the middle of a writing assignment, he was abruptly reminded by his phone of a dental appointment he had scheduled but forgotten.  Matt raced across town to make his appointment.   Arriving at the dentist office just in time, Matt takes a seat in the waiting room in front of a coffee table with months old editions of Sports Illustrated and Motor Trend.  Billy Joel plays softly in the background.  It’s only a few moments before Candace comes to get Matt.  “Are you ready?” she says and takes him back to the treatment room  Once in the dental chair, Candace gets to work poking and prodding about Matt’s mouth, all the while making friendly, but very one-sided conversation.  All Matt can do is nod.  Finally getting moment to say something, Matt asks Candace a question: “How did you decide to become a hygienist?”

“I don’t know,” Candace says, “when I was a little girl, I was terrified of the dentist and threw up every time I had to go.  The whole experience scared me.  When I graduated from high school, I figured I had to do something.  So I studied to do this…And then I used to have this little boy who came to me.  And he would throw up every single time he came.  And I would never finish cleaning his teeth.  One day I decided along with his mom, that we were gonna just clean him up and sit him right back down in this chair and finish.  So we did.  And he never threw up again.  I suppose I’m doing this cause I know what it feels like to be scared of the dentist.”

As Matt states, “When sin and death came into the world through Adam’s fall, along with it came death and pain.  Also, it ushered in plaque and tartar, cavities and abscesses, root canals and gums that get damaged.  And children full of fear to the point their stomachs do violence to the whole room.  Candace’s hospitality, smiles, digital picture frames, and skills are pushing back Adam’s Fall, day-in, and day-out.  When she wields the weapons of mouth destruction she is not just fighting gum disease and the need for a filling, she is fighting against the effects of sin.  As a follower of the King, she is taking on all that wars against His rule and reign.”

In the same way, we are sent out into our vocations, supplied with authority and ability to push back the effects of Adam’s Fall through the gifts of the Gospel.  At the intersection of the world’s need and our desire to meet it, God summons us to himself, supplies us with authority and ability, and sends as laborers into the harvest.

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