On the Starbucks website, you can find the following phrase: “We are at our best when we make a connection with our community.”
What Starbucks have discovered is what God has always known that life is better connected – we are made for community. But which community is “our” community?
Is it our families and friends, the people who live near to us, the people on our team at work, our fellow countrymen, our tribe, our circle of influence? What about the annoying neighbours who play music till 2am every Friday night? What about the manager who keeps scheduling you to work on Sundays, even though they know you’re the only Christian in the office? What about the person who bullied you throughout secondary school? What about your ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend who broke your heart? How are we meant to relate to them? Is that even a reasonable expectation? Or are we meant to love more than others think reasonable?
In Matthew’s account of the life of Jesus, (Matthew 5:43-48) we are told that Jesus said:
43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.”
This was, in all likelihood, a phrase that was used by the religious teachers of Jesus’ day to explain the Old Testament commandment to love your neighbour as yourself. They reasoned that your neighbour couldn’t possibly include your enemies and so they added a clarification onto the end of the commandment. Their reasoning was easy to understand; to mistake an enemy for a friend is to invite disaster because you are lowering your guard and allowing those who would do you harm easy access to do just that.
However, Jesus interpreted the commandment differently. Matthew tells us he said,
44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
It seems clear that Jesus called his disciples to love more than others thought reasonable. Does that make Jesus unreasonable? Well, before you answer that question, consider what Jesus doesn’t say. Jesus doesn’t suggest you abandon wisdom and reason, trust your enemies or expect them to treat you fairly- that’s unreasonable. He doesn’t say you have to like your enemies or feel about them the way you feel about your friends. The love he says we should show towards our enemies is not brotherly love, familial love or romantic love- it’s something entirely different.
The ancient Greeks had a special word for the type of love he’s talking about- “Agape”. It means a selfless, unconditional love; one that persists no matter the circumstance. It’s the kind of love God displays.
It may sound like Jesus is asking a lot from us but Jesus teaches that he actually wants something for us- that we become children of our Father in Heaven, that we display the kind of love God does because we have become like God, having been made perfect by him as a reward for our faith in Jesus and his teachings on radical love.
Starbucks say we are at our best when we are connected to our community but Jesus says we are at our best when we are connected to our heavenly father and learn to love the people in our community like God does!
- Welcome everyone,
- Reach out with an olive branch to those who we do not see eye to eye with,
- Share community with people who are very different from you,
- Serve and love people, no matter who they are or what they have done,
- Tear down walls of hostility and division,
- Be a peacemaker
- Demonstrate the radical love of God in action in the Church and the world.
- Take a NextStep towards someone with whom you have no relationship or a strained one
Small group questions:
- How welcoming are you to people you don’t know?
- Is there anyone that you need to reach out to and be reconciled with?
- What could you do to ensure that our church is the most welcoming place in town?
- Are their any situations you know of in which you might be just the right person to step in and act as a peacemaker?
Discuss these questions and encourage one another in your journey of faith!