During Ordinary Time this year, I am reading and meditating on Eugene Peterson’s new book, As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God. This book captures sermons from Peterson’s twenty-nine years as a pastor in Bel Air, Maryland.
Today, Peterson’s sermon focuses on Leviticus 19:18 — “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” — and the Apostle John’s exposition of it in the letter of 1 John. Here is an excerpt.
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Love is the most context-specific act in the entire spectrum of human behavior. There is no other single human act more dependent on and immersed in immediate context. A dictionary is worthless in understanding and practicing love. Acts of love cannot be canned and then used off the shelf. Every act of love requires creative and personal giving, responding, and serving appropriate to — context-specific to — both the person doing the loving and the person being loved. Because of the totally personal, particular, and uniquely contextual community dimensions and inescapably local conditions — there is a sense in which we cannot tell a person how to love, and so our Scriptures for the most part don’t even try.
Instead of explanations or definitions or generalizations, John settles for a name and the story that goes with it: Jesus. “We know love by this, that he [Jesus] laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another” (1 John 3:16, NRSV). Then he lets us find the particular but always personal and relational way to do it in the Jesus way: “We love because he first loved us” (4:19, NRSV).
Friends, we are immersed in great and marvelous realities. Creation! Salvation! Resurrection! But when we come up dripping out of the waters of baptism and look around, we discover to our surprise that the community of the baptized is made up of people just like us: unfinished, immature, neurotic, stumbling, singing out of tune much of the time, forgetful, and boorish. Is it credible that God would put all these matters of eternal significance into the hands of such as we are? Many, having taken a good look at what they see, shake their heads and think not. But this is the perpetual difficulty of living a life of love in the community of the beloved. We had better get used to it.
…Every sentence in this elaborate pastoral exposition of the five-word command in Leviticus comes out more or less the same: God loves you. Christ shows you how love works. Now you love. Love, love, love, love. Just do it.
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Photo by Susanne Nilsson at Flickr. Creative Commons License