Journey: Loving Neighbor

Read: Spirit of Love–Loving Neighbor

McLaren has chosen the right passage to explore the love of neighbor.  The Gentiles epitomized “the other”–racially, religiously, every way.  Even though Peter had rightly interpreted the Day of Pentecost as the outpouring of the Spirit “on all flesh” (Acts 2:17), it took another dramatic act of God for the reality to take effect in the Christian community.

It began with the stoning of Stephen and the ensuing persecution of Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 7:54–8:3), which scattered the believers in ways that shattered the notion that same is safe–the first Christians started out in their accustomed Jewish tribe, but soon fell to the stones and swords leveled at them by those most like them. 

The persecution also skewered the idea that different is dangerous–the experience at Cornelius’ house brought the Christians closer to the Gentile “foreigners” than to the Jewish familiy that had thrust them out.  The new bond was so real and strong that the Christians never returned to being a sub-set of Judaism. 

One divine moment created not the blending of two communities, but an entirely new one where there was no longer Jew and Gentile–all were one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).  From then on, the word ‘Christian’ would be the defining noun, with no adjectives (e.g. Jewish Christians/Gentile Christians) allowed to trump, caricature, or counterfeit their primal identity or hijack their God-intended unity.

Then and now, these outpourings of the Holy Spirit “on all flesh” made and sealed the oneness which McLaren so effectively summarized in his chapter.  By the time we work our way through his list, we are bereft of any words that would permit us to re-construct any future “different is dangerous” brand of faith; that is, unless we stop being guided by the Spirit and return to an egoic version of religion that allows self to reign and sectarianism to prevail.

Instead, it is the oneness brought into existence by the Spirit which gives birth to the love of neighbor. For from the moment the Spirit falls, we can no longer live with a who’s “in” and who’s “out” attitude.  We are all “in”—in need of grace, in need of forgiveness, in Christ, and in the community we call te Church–the Body and Bride of Christ.

From the moment the Spirit falls, we never again meet a “foreigner,” a less-than, or an “other.”  We only meet brothers and sisters who all say, ‘our Father.’  And when that is the formative atmosphere, love flows.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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