-Rev Rebecca Yowler-
“You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.
Mathew 5:43-48 CEB
I do NOT love my neighbor. Not “my neighbor” as in the global sense, or as in loving all of humanity. I mean the person who lives next door to me right now. I do not love her. I don’t even like her. I border on feelings of hate, anger, and complete abhorrence of her, to be quite honest. I’m not usually a hateful person— I tend to look for the good in everyone and find the essence of the divine in them. But not this woman. She has been a thorn in my side since my wife moved into the house we now share. She’s called our landlord to complain (we don’t share the same landlord), she sabotaged our wedding reception, she even bought an extra-loud speaker to blast at our house in an admitted attempt to run us out of the neighborhood. But none of these things is the reasons I don’t like her. I really don’t like her because of the way she treats her elderly dog. This poor dog is forced to live outside 24/7 regardless of how hot it gets (over 100) or how cold it gets (sometimes below freezing). His fur is matted to his body, and we can hear him crying in pain. I don’t even understand the level of cruelty this poor dog endures. So there, I said it. I don’t like my dog abusing, stereo blasting, wedding reception sabotaging neighbor.
And I’m sorry for it. Truly and deeply sorry. We’ve tried conversation. We’ve tried being nice. We’ve tried ignoring her. We’ve never stooped to any level of retribution. We’ve “turned the other cheek.” But we don’t love her and we certainly don’t pray for her. For her dog? Yes. For her? NO.
Today, this scripture reminds me that I am called to love my neighbor, not just in the global sense, but even in the sense of the woman next door. I am called to love her, pray for her, and ask God to give her good things. This scripture reminds us that love means looking past all of the reasons we hate someone. This is difficult. I mean this is REALLY difficult. What does this kind of radical love even look like? How can you love a neighbor that won’t even make eye contact? How can you love a neighbor during a 3am heavy metal blasting session? How can you love a neighbor that abuses an animal?
I don’t know, but I’m going to try harder.
Is there a neighbor you don’t love? Maybe they don’t live right next door, but is there someone in your life that you don’t love? Even if you have a good reason, what would loving them anyway look like? Are you willing to try harder?
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God, please remind me that loving my neighbor includes the one that lives next door (or down the street, or across town). Please help me to be a better neighbor and a more loving neighbor. Help me to learn to love even those who are hardest to love, and if I can’t love them, help me to at least be nicer. Amen.
Rev Rebecca Ann Yowler is an ordained Disciples minister and an academic librarian. She is currently adjunct faculty at Valparaiso University. She is passionate about pugs, knitting, and figure skating. You can read her occasional sermons and devotions at www.beccassermons.livejournal.com