Scripture: Matthew 22:34-40
In the past couple of weeks, several tv stations have been running the original Indiana Jones trilogy. Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, and the Last Crusade. The Last Crusade has Sean Connery, Nazi chases, and that famous scene with the Templar knight. The whole movie is about searching for the holy grail, the supposed cup Christ used at the last supper. And in this one scene, Indiana Jones and the bad guy make into a room filled with cups protected by a knight. They have to choose which one they think is the grail and then drink from it. The knight gives them the advice to choose wisely, because the wrong cup would lead to death. So the bad guy picks first, drinks from the cup, and he crumbles to dust, it was not the grail. And the knight looks around and says he chose, poorly.
I was thinking about that scene this week along with our mission statement. Our mission statement is three fold, to embrace people as they are, to share God’s love in word and deed, and to grow in faith together. Embrace, Share, Grow. And I was thinking about how embrace comes first, embracing people as they are comes first. To me that resonates, that makes sense. In our scripture today when Christ is asked, what is the greatest commandment, he replies, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” What is “embracing people as they are” if not a form of love, a form of loving our neighbor? Welcoming the stranger, caring for others, loving your neighbor, those are all foundational concepts in our faith and those are all forms of embracing people as they are. But then I thought, what if it being first also helps us love wisely and well? Embracing people as they are is a foundational concept connected to different scripture in both the OT and the NT. And it is easy to forget, it is easy to not do. What if we need the reminder, not to take embracing all people for granted? What if our mission statement helps us avoid the trap of embracing people, poorly?
Think about it like this. When I do premarital coaching with couples, I go through the five love languages. Now, those languages are not perfect and that author can be problematic, but when taught alongside other communication skills and concepts, the five love languages can be really helpful. The five love languages were designed to help you recognize how you most naturally feel and experience love. Through quizzes and conversation, each person identifies the things that make them feel loved the most. Quality time, Acts of Service, Physical Touch, Words of Affirmation, and Receiving Gifts. People identify which of those they feel loved through, what their love language is. And I tell couples, whether you have the exact same love language or a different love language, expressing love to your partner involves intention. If you have different love languages, that is pretty obvious. If you feel most loved with quality time and your partner feels most loved through words of affirmation, something that isn’t your natural language, you’re going to have to be intentional, you’re going to have to remember to express your love in the ways they need to hear. What isn’t as obvious, is that even when your love language is the same, it still takes intention. Because when you’re love language is the same, it’s easy to fall into complacency, it is easy take things for granted. Which is the same thing happens with embracing people as they are.
It’s a part of the greatest commandments.
The Old Testament and New Testament remind us over and over and over again, welcome the stranger, love your neighbor, care for everyone, remember the people on the edges and margins of society.
It’s a basic foundational concept. Of course, we embrace people.
But, it is so easy to do poorly. Even without intending to.
There is so much going on in life. The cost of gas is bonkers, the cost of food is bonkers. Driving is frustrating. Our parents are aging, we’re aging. We feel tired. We feel raw. If we’re honest with ourselves, I don’t know how many of us would say we’re in the best ever emotional, physical, mental, or spiritual health. Life is hard, and when life gets hard, things slip. We maybe aren’t as patient or caring or compassionate. And you’re only human, you’re allowed to have bad days. You are not expected to be some unrealistic super disciple. And because we have rough days and weeks, because we are human, we need reminders to keep us loving wisely and loving well. We need reminders to keep us connected to the greatest commandments. We need reminders to do what may come naturally and easy one day, but feels harder and more difficult the next. We need reminders to do even foundational things like show other people care, compassion, and love.
I wonder, what could that kind of reminder look like for you? What could a reminder to embrace people wisely and well look like for you? For our church, I think having “Embrace” come first in our mission statement serves as that reminder. It anchors us in God’s call to welcome the stranger, love our neighbor, and care for one another. And it reminds us when we get off track. When we get off track, not if. Our mission statement invites us back to spaces of compassion and empathy. What could serve that purpose for you this week? Is it a sticky note with scripture on your mirror or in your wallet? Is it a note on your steering wheel that simply says, spread kindness? Is it an index card that says, breathe? Is it an alarm on your phone, an email you send to yourself, or a specific song you listen to?
It is easy to embrace people, poorly, even without intending to. This week, what can help you show love, care, and compassion? What can help you embrace people wisely and well?