‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’
He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ (Matthew 22:36-40)
This leaves the question "Who exactly is my neighbour?"
I found this great sermon by Canon Stephen Hance at Southwark Cathedral, exploring this question further.
And telling this wonderful story from Tony Campolo, who is an American preacher and sociologist:
Tony was travelling, jetlagged, and awake in the middle of the night, so he went down to a local diner in the early hours where, it turned out, many of the local prostitutes also went to hang out after their night was over. He overheard a conversation between two of them. One, named Agnes, told her friend, “You know, tomorrow’s my birthday. I’ll be 39.” Her friend snapped back, “So? What do you want? A birthday party?” Agnes replied, “Don’t be mean, of course not. I’ve never had a birthday party before. Why should I expect one now? I’m just saying it’s my birthday tomorrow.”
After they left, Tony had an idea. He asked the diner owner if Agnes came in every night, and when he said that she did, Tony said, “Why don’t we throw Agnes a surprise birthday party tomorrow night?” And that’s exactly what they did. Next morning, 3.30am, Agnes walked in. The diner had been decorated, there was a cake and candles, and all the other prostitutes sang happy birthday. When Agnes saw it she almost bucked. Agnes blew out the candles through streams of tears, and then someone suggested she cut the cake. Agnes didn’t want to do that. She’d never had a birthday cake before. She ended up taking the cake home. After she left, clutching the precious cake, Tony ended up leading everyone left in the diner in a prayer for Agnes.
When the prayer was finished, the diner owner leaned over to Tony and said, “You never told me you were a preacher! What kind of church do you belong to?” Tony says, “In one of those rare moments when just the right words came, I answered ‘I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3.30 in the morning.’” The owner sneered and said, “No you don’t. There’s no church like that. If there was, I’d join it.”
Wouldn’t we all? But that’s the church Jesus came to found. A church that makes all people our neighbours by the simple method of treating them as such, welcoming them, including them, and celebrating with them. May God give us the grace to be such a church.