Listen To Article

Twice now I’ve had people ask me to give more examples of how we can love our neighbor. A common theme in my sermons is how loving God and loving neighbor are deeply connected. We can’t love God if we don’t love our neighbor—that’s what John says anyway, and I believe him. So most of my sermons circle back to the law of love. “Love God and do what you want.” Augustine’s right—religion, piety, morality… it’s all meaningless if we can’t love. So, people want me to tell them exactly how to love, which is a bit like telling people how to make love. I’m happy to oblige, but they’ll be sorry they asked.

Some nights I go out on the back deck to find a gaggle of little kids in my daughter’s playhouse. Ever since our neighbors moved in the number has grown. Most of them don’t speak English. A few nights ago I walked over to see what they were up to. One cute four year old started talking my ear off. She talked and pointed, smiled and pointed some more. “Mi amo Jason.” Silence… then laughter. Luckily, one of the older kids spoke some English. I got their names, and they started talking to me in Spanish. It had something to do with the tent we put up in the yard, but I just smiled and nodded. The neighbor kid on the other side is one and half. He’s adorable, he also talks my ear off— I have no idea what’s he saying. I’m sure he’s asking me for candy or soda because that’s what I try to give him when his parents aren’t looking. He wandered over as I tried to speak Spanish, babbling on about something. I think it was the toy truck he was trying to show us. The other kids stopped, looked at him, and all started laughing. So I started laughing too…everyone talking and no one having the slightest clue what anyone was saying. The backyard was full of giggles and high pitched Spanish words as the little guy made panting sounds when he saw my dog. “Just make sure you put the stuff back when you’re done,” I said. The older girl nodded and went back to playing while I sat on the deck watching the little guy use a plaster mixing drill bit as a weed wacker.

Another neighbor girl is 16 and pregnant. She speaks english ok, so I asked her when she was due to have the baby. “Tomorrow.” She said. “Tomorrow?” I gasped. Sure enough, she was overdue and the doctor was going to get things moving. “Are you nervous?” my wife asked? “A little” came the reply. It’s a boy, and by the time you read this hopefully he’s in the world—happy and healthy. “Looks like we get to buy a boy baby present,” my wife said. Both of us smiled. I can’t wait to give it to him.

There are moments when I’m overwhelmed with feelings of love and gratitude. Trying to explain it makes no sense. It comes at strange times, when I’m able to step out of myself and hit pause. Just a few days ago, for example, sitting at Target Field with my friends, eating dollar dogs and drinking beer. A cool breeze blowing in from right field, making fun of each other as the Twins lost another one. The joy of a losing team—cheap tickets and even cheaper hot dogs becoming the conduit for life giving community. These are moments when the world is as it should be. They’re moments when loving my neighbor needs no explanation.

 

 

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

2 Comments

Leave a Reply