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Who Is My Neighbor?

In just a few days, we will gather at the “Urban Ministry in the 21st Century: Understanding the Times” Conference. This gathering seeks to give voice to cutting edge prophetic voices coming together to encourage and remind the Church to fulfill our calling as disciples of Christ who follow him into the mission field and seek justice for the poor, the needy and the oppressed. We are called to serve, and to advocate for, all people, without regard to race, religion, culture, or gender identification. Isaiah 58:6-12 teaches that eradicating injustice is the way to demonstrate genuine worship and obedience to God’s commands:“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them . . . “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. . . Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”In I John 4:21 we are confronted with this enigmatic question: how can we say we love God whom we have never seen and not our brother and sister whom we see every day? The People of God in Isaiah’s time were faced with a similar challenge. In the passage cited above, God makes it abundantly clear that worship without concern for suffering humanity is unacceptable and worthless in God’s sight. Walter Brueggemann’s analysis of these verses is instructive. Brueggemann reminds us that the new worship that is recommended in these verses “concerns the construction and practices of neighborliness of the most elemental kind. The new worship looks advantage and disadvantage square in the face, and urges economic gestures that bind haves and have-nots together. . . Knowledge of God is acknowledgment of neighbor. Love of God is love of neighbor (I John 4:201-21)” (Brueggemann 2010, 110-111). Indeed, how can we love God and not show love and compassion toward our suffering brother, sister, and neighbor.Mark Labberton says the church lies to God when there is discrepancy betweenthe language of worship and the actions of worship. He warns: We “sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19) expressing our desire to know Jesus, but the Jesus we want to know is the sanitized Jesus that looks a lot like us when we think we are at our best. Despite God’s Word to the contrary, we think we can say we love God and yet hate our neighbor, neglect the widow, forget the orphan, fail to visit the prisoner, ignore the oppressed. It’s the sign of disordered love. When we do this, our worship becomes a lie to God (Labberton 2007,71).Marvin A. McMickle states the issue succinctly when he indicts this generation as “a generation when more and more believers seem to be content with praise and worship to the exclusion of justice and righteousness . . .” (McMickle 2006,97)The words of Micah 6:8 also remind us that true worship requires justice. “What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” These words follow God’s indictment of Israel for failing to live out their faith, rather, offering sacrifices in meaningless rituals. As Brueggemann points out: “Micah 6:8 is commonly recognized as a very peculiar and precious summary of the demands of God . . . they are specific expectations placed on God’s covenant partner . . . it is no doubt important that the first element is to do justice. In biblical faith, the doing of justice is the primary expectation of God . . . for God is a ‘lover of justice’ (Ps.99:4)As a community of Christian disciples, the leaders and congregants of CBA churches have a definitive biblical mandate to practice acts of love, charity, and justice toward each other and toward persons in our communities and society who are like us and those who are not. Through collaborative missional outreach, the churches have the opportunity to fulfill the justice agenda of Jesus, and to show through acts of love toward our neighbors a reflection of our genuine love for God.

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