I wrote yesterday about what it looks like to live as citizens of God’s kingdom and how our lives are to be marked by love, compassion and justice. This seems to be contrasted by the story I read this week of a Christian man in our community who put up at large wooden sign in his front yard. It read, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Now I agree wholeheartedly with his sentiment but unfortunately the large sign was against his neighborhood covenants. We understand covenants. They help maintain a set of neighborhood standards. Covenants for his development say signs can’t be more than 2 feet by 2 feet. This one is 6 feet by 3-and-a-half feet. The association says the Jesus message would be welcome on a sign the right size. But he is refusing to take it down; even after repeated requests from the homeowners association. The story made the front page of our local newspaper with the headlines: “Jesus sign raises ire in Pasco neighborhood.” Ire, indeed.
While I don’t question this man’s sincerity or the accuracy of his sign, I wonder how a living faith has been reduced to a belief system defended at all costs and seemingly antithetic to the way of Jesus and his kingdom purposes.
In a world skeptic of empty platitudes, they have grown weary of arguing about who is in and who is out. Richard Rohr wrote, “We must move from a belief-based religion to a practice-based religion, or little will change. We will merely continue to argue about what we are supposed to believe and who the unbelievers are.”
This kind of belief-based religion will always put more emphasis on fortifying our own position rather than on how we treat others. Soon our actions, or inaction, are disconnected from the reality of the kingdom Jesus instituted at his coming we celebrate at Christmas.
The question we must ask ourselves is, “What is most loving to my neighbor?” I don’t know what his neighbor’s thought of his refusal to remove his sign, but I wonder if the kingdom God is better served in a different way. I wonder if the message of Christmas would have a greater impact in their lives if he invited them into his home for a meal or helped them shovel their snow-covered driveway. I wonder how the love of Christ might have been revealed and made real simply through a cup of hot cocoa or hanging some Christmas lights for someone else.
Our faith, rather than based on the strength of our argument, is more about how we move in the world and reflect Jesus. More than a deeply-held belief system, it is a way of living; expressed in love, compassion and mercy to others…the poor, the marginalized, the lonely. Jesus said these are the things that should characterize Kingdom people and if we do not respond to people in this way, our hearts have not been formed as we think we have. We move from the former to the latter, however, through humility, compassion and love; which is a lot harder to come by than espousing sentimental rhetoric. (It may be not be sentimental rhetoric to us, but it is to a world bored with hallow words.)
Loving our neighbor is second only to loving God. Yet Jesus inextricably linked them together and must be the stuff of our everyday lives. Our love for Christ is best expressed in the hard work of loving your neighbor. We live as beneficiaries of God’s saving work, and are called to be bearers of that same grace to the rest of the world.
“I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind” (Luke 6:35-36).