Why do we baptize babies and children into the church?
We initiate and welcome children because we want them to experience the same love that we have known. We want them to grow up in the church, creating memories of Christmases and Easters and church fairs. We want them to experience God’s love while they discover and explore their own faith.
It’s always been important to me and Sandra that we provide an atmosphere for everyone to develop their own understanding of the Bible. Each week as I offer my meditations, I express my point of view – the way that I believe God is speaking to me. And I hope that it provides an opportunity for you to look at the Bible stories on your own and reflect on God’s call in your own life.
As with all scripture readings, I find that I focus on one part of this reading from Matthew more than other parts. For me, it’s easy to highlight the “love your neighbor” piece. It sums up what I believe it means to follow Jesus. Love your neighbor: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick. Love your neighbor: “all the law and the prophets” hang on this. It’s the filter through which I try to examine my theology and my actions.
When I encounter someone who doesn’t agree with me, I try – and often fail – to meet opposition with love instead of anger. In the face of adversity, I maintain that my beliefs are rooted in love. We should stand up for oppressed communities because of love. We should affirm LGBTQ folks, because of love. Black lives matter, because of love.
So, when I read and reflect on this reading from Matthew, “love your neighbor” stands out for me.
But when I take the time to look a little closer, I realize that “love your neighbor” may be the high point of Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees, but that it also relies on the other statements that surround it.
Jesus is also showing us that we don’t really know how to love our neighbor unless we know how to love God and if we don’t know how to love ourselves.
It all starts with God. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” We’re called to love God the same way that God loves us – with all heart and soul and mind. The way that God loved us when we took our first breath; the way that God will love us when we take our last breath; the way that God has loved us for every breath in between. God loves us with every fiber of God’s being…and we are created in God’s image.
Therefore, I believe we are called to return God’s love the same way – with all our heart and soul and mind.
Jesus calls us to love God with our everything and calls us to love our neighbor with all our heart and soul and mind. But wait… “neighbor” doesn’t come next in Jesus’ answer. It’s not “You shall love your God, and you shall love your neighbor.” Jesus says “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
Maybe loving your neighbor comes easy to you. Maybe, even in the midst of adversity and aversion, you are more successful than I am about loving those with whom you disagree. Maybe you are still able to love them as you love God – with all you heart and soul and mind.
But Jesus put love for yourself right at the heart of his answer. For some of us that may be a little more difficult. Can we really say that we love ourselves with all of our heart and soul and mind?
It’s a triad, a triangle of love. Christ calls us to reflect the love that we receive. God’s love for us, our love for neighbor, our love for ourselves are all supposed to be the most powerful love we can imagine.
In his seemingly simple answer to the Pharisees, Jesus packs in a complicated and sometimes difficult call to action. First we must accept that God loves us and we should strive to return that love completely. Then we are called to take in the God’s love for us and love ourselves just as fiercely. Finally, we are to reach out to our neighbors, every other child of God, whether we agree with them, whether they look like us or talk like us or act like us – and we share God’s love with all of our heart and soul and mind.
Imagine how different our lives would look if we responded to God’s love for us that way. Imagine the person we could be if we accepted that God love us with everything. Imagine the world we could create if all neighbors were filled with such love.
That intense, all-encompassing love is the love that we hope to share with the children we baptize. It’s the love that we hope is experienced by everyone who walks through our doors – no matter how you look or who you love or how old or young.
As you walk out of here today, I pray that you’ll remember that God loves you powerfully and completely. I pray that you will love yourself just as fully. And I pray that we will all be able to share God’s passion as we love our neighbors with all of our heart and soul and mind.