From the October issue of the Link:
People often say the reason they are religious has to do with being a part of something bigger than themselves. If they participate in a church, they get to celebrate in its’ histories of holidays and rituals. If they are Christian, they get to read the stories of those who came before them such as Biblical figures and former believers. Even when we celebrate at the Lord’s table each Sunday, it is with the knowledge that millions of other Christians also partake in the same feast. It’s like being a part of one large family stretching the length of the globe and going back in time thousands of years.
At the center of our belonging is the story of Jesus. In the Bible we learn that there were many things that attracted people to His ministry. For the earliest Disciples we can only imagine what was going through their heads. Were they searching for something more? Others we read about came with very specific needs. In Luke 10 lepers approach Jesus asking for assistance. We don’t have to speculate very much about what they were looking for. As he approaches, they yell out “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” In Matthew a similar incident occurs. A woman who has been bleeding for some time seeks out the person she has heard so much about in hopes that He can alleviate her symptoms. She touches just the hem of His cloak and is made well. In Mark, again we read about something seeking help when Jesus rubs saliva on the eyes of a blind man who is looking for a miracle.
There are all sorts of reasons people seek out Jesus. Some want more out of life, a chance to truly be a part of something bigger. Others have hope that a faith in Jesus will bring them relief from their suffering. Whatever it is that brings people into the fold, Jesus welcomes them all. As we each consider our own faith, whatever it is that brings us back day after day, week after day, remember that God loves us no matter our condition or our reasons for following.
From the September 2016 issue of the Link:
“Which is the greatest commandment?” It’s a question Jesus got asked several times in the Gospels, and each time he answered: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. And the other is like it: love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus didn’t inventing anything new; it was long held in the Hebrew faith that among the more than 600 commandments in the Hebrew Scriptures (more than just the ten that get the most attention), love of God and love of neighbor were the most important. “On these two commandments,” Jesus concluded, “hang all the law and the prophets.”
What does it mean to love your neighbor? This is a deceivingly complicated statement. Love seems self-evident; we use the word all the time to talk about our family and friends, our favorite sports teams, and that place we eat at every Friday for lunch. But when Jesus says you shall love your neighbor as yourself I think we can assume he means something different. Love, in this sense, implies an action. And the life of Jesus, his actions and his teachings, point us towards a more active sense of the word “love.” Not “be in love with your neighbor,” but “love your neighbor.” What is that action like?
Anyone who lives in the Portland area knows there are a lot of issues facing our community. Our neighbors struggle with housing, homelessness, jobs prospects, and food deserts (areas without nearby access to fresh food.) It is difficult for me to think about extending love to my neighbor without also being concerned with the state of their well-being. Maybe the church is called to be concerned with people’s souls, but if someone is struggling to get by, I assume their soul is also not doing well; at least I know those times in my own life when I’ve struggled to meet my physical needs my spiritual life also suffers. The two are connected. As church, if we are going to meet the mandate to love our neighbors, we have to be concerned with the issues they are facing in their day to day lives, both spiritually and materially.
In July I introduced the outreach committee to Lore Wintergreen, the advocate for the East Portland Action Plan. Several years ago, the city of Portland commissioned the report based on interviews and research within the community of Portland that resides east of 1-205, the result of which was 268 actions ideas dealing from a broad range of issues from the cost of housing to transportation to parks. Lore has been heading up this program for a few years, leading community members in pursuing support for the projects.
With committees directed towards economic development, bicycles, housing, and more, The East Portland Action Plan engages with a network of city and neighborhood leaders to encourage positive change in East Portland. They are exercising love by concerning themselves with the needs of their neighbors, and as largely East Portlanders themselves, they truly practice “love your neighbor as yourself.” This kind of work, which concerns itself with the well being of the neighborhood, is what Jesus was talking about during his ministry. Not just feeling love, but doing love.
The East Portland Action Plan is always looking for more people to get involved. If you are at all interested in their work in East Portland, let me know. Or you can find out more by visiting http://eastportlandactionplan.org.