Agape: February 28, 2020

Agape: The 2020 Lenten Devotional for St. Paul's Episcopal Church

“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” -Leviticus 19:18

Leviticus 19:18 states “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

When I choose this verse, I did not realize that we would be renewing our baptismal vows on the first Sunday after the Epiphany, January 12. The presider read “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” We responded with, “I will, with God’s help,” and I had a flashback to one of Father Paul’s 2019 Inquirer classes when the question was asked, “who is our neighbor?” There were quite a few responses: the nice folks next door who wave and say “hi”, or the church lady delivering chicken soup after you have had surgery; but what about the neighbor with the obnoxious barking dog? The smelly homeless person with their whole world in a shopping cart begging for money? Those who committed the horrors of September 11th? A parent starving their child to death? Races of humans persecuted because of the color of their skin or their religion? The answer is that they are all our neighbors.

Last Monday, we celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister and scholar who led the civil rights movement, and was “deeply committed to achieving social justice through nonviolent means.” In one of his sermons, he wrote “in the 5th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, verses 42 and 43, we find these pressing words flowing from the lips of our Lord and Master: ‘ye have heard that it hath been said, thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy.’ But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who spitefully use you and persecute you.”

I’ve used the word “neighbor” several times, which reminds me of Mr. Fred Rogers, the gentle person whose quotes are the perfect antidote to the hate and helplessness that seems to be all around us:

“Forgiveness is a strange thing. It can sometimes be easier to forgive our enemies than our friends. It can be hardest of all to forgive people we love. Like all of life’s important coping skills, the ability to forgive and the capacity to let go of resentments most likely take root very early in our lives”

Thank you Mr. Rogers for always starting your show with a song with the famous line. “Won’t you be my neighbor.” I will, with God’s help.

Heavenly Father, we pray that different cultures will be able to care for one another and that we all could be loving and compassionate to all our neighbors. Amen.
-Mary Ann Taylor