Pastors often struggle with preaching on very common bible passages. You’ve probably heard our gospel text yesterday before–we should love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbor as ourself. Christians have usually heard these commandments before, since it is such a basic tenet of our faith. So how can we hear the words of Jesus anew? How can we avoid cliches and thinking we already understand this message?
One practice I have to solve this potential issue is to read commentaries on the bible. Theologians, pastors, or experts in biblical languages write these texts to help shine new light on scripture.
This week in my studies, I was drawn to the writing of Rev. Gemechis Desta Buba, a Lutheran pastor from Ethiopia. My wife and I had volunteered in Ethiopia after college for a couple of months, so his words really resonated with me and they hit close to home. Here’s what Buba had to say about Jesus’ “greatest commandment” teaching:
I was born and brought up in a country called Ethiopia in the eastern part of Africa. This is a country which claims to have a history of 3,000 years…This country has never seen a single day without war until today. War has been the national trademark, part of the national news, and it is always included in daily talks on the streets of the nation. [I’ve witnessed that…]
- Hatred breeds hatred.
- Bloodshed breeds bloodshed.
- Violence produces violence.
- Injustice begets misery and lawlessness.
When children are born and brought up in such a place, they tend to believe that this is just something to be seen as a viable option and as a normal pattern of relationship for people to engage in. Violence seems to be a way to go, even a justifiable way of settling differences by securing superior status over the one on the other side of the fence. This is the way I was brought up into mature manhood.
Today millions of children across the continent of Africa, the Middle Eastern region, across Eastern Europe and within the inner cities of western Metropolitan cities of western nations are being brought up into becoming mature men and women under the direct influence of cultures of violence and dysfunctional social structures. These environments are populating our world with citizens characterized by embedded hostility and innate inclinations towards invoking violence as a viable means of resolving differences.
His point is that we live in a world that does not promote love.
I’ve preached before on this deep cultural belief that violence saves. We tell ourselves so many twisted things, like “Just hit back harder” and to “Just show someone you’re tougher.” We think violence gives us salvation instead of love. From war-torn countries like Ethiopia, to down the road from Concord Church here in America, we often believe that hostility, isolation, and hate are legitimate values.
We think we can solve our problems by avoiding God and ignoring our neighbor in need. We are taught by the forces of sin in our life and society that we should do the opposite of what we read in scripture.
We often disobey God. We view love as a sign of weakness. To show vulnerability to someone means we risk our personal pride. To make time for God goes against all those messages of our culture. To show love to other people who aren’t your kin just becomes a hassle. Even to show love to family can be frowned upon—family feuds and disagreements are so common.
So ask yourself this as you reflect on Sunday’s message… is love you solution? Is loving God and loving neighbor the focus of your life?
It is important to hear Jesus’ words afresh. When Jesus talks about loving God and loving neighbor, this is some radical stuff. It goes against our human intuition and what we often want to do.