Series: Sabbath as Resistance

Sermon #4: Preserve, Honor, Enhance Your Neighbor

By: Donnell Wyche

How can I love My Neighbor When I Want What They Have?
Waiting to trap Jesus, the experts in the law ask Jesus a question,

36″Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus answers by putting together two scriptures, one that is a part of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) and then he combines it with a scripture he plucks from Leviticus 19 to answer,

37Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

How can I love my neighbor as myself when my neighbor has everything that I want?

This is a very real question for us as we consider our journey to trust God by remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy.

One observation that has struck a repeating cord with both Pastor Anna and me during this sermon series is just where the commandment to “remember the Sabbath and keep holy” is located in the ten commandments. It’s the fourth command. As we have previously noted, the first three commands are about God, the fourth, the command to Sabbath becomes the hinge on which we are able to obey and enact the remaining six commands, which are all about how we treat our neighbor.

The Sabbath reminds us that:

We do not have to do more.
We do not have to sell more.
We do not have to control more.
We do not have to know more.
We do not have to have our kids in ballet, dance, swim, or soccer.
We do not need to be younger or more beautiful.
We do not need to have more.

Sabbath invites us to consider our time, how we use it, and what we are pursuing. It’s an interruption in a non-stopping culture to consume, to work, to produce, to desire.

So when Jesus says that the greatest commandment is our love of neighbor, we have to consider how we trust God and how we consider and practice Sabbath. If it is true that the Sabbath enables us to keep the remaining six commands, which all have to do with neighboring, then Jesus isn’t just inviting us to some ill-defined view of love, Jesus is invoking the 10 commandments. Understand who God is, understand the role of Sabbath in your relationship with God, yourself, and others, which will enable you to love your neighbor as yourself.

But, how can I love my neighbor as myself when my neighbor has everything that I want?

How do I love my neighbor when my response to them is jealousy–at their job, which seems more fulfilling and probably pays better; at their well-behaved children; at their flawless relationship; their perfect organic veggie garden; their beautiful vacations; their ability to always remember to take out the trash. We so often see only the Instagram versions of our neighbors lives and believe them–and long to have the lives that are curated, beautiful and effortless.

37Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Thou Shall Not Covet
It starts with the 10th commandment.

17″You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Exodus 20:17

Covet. What an odd word.

What does this word, “covet” actually mean? We can define it as desire or wanting, as an attitude of craving, but it may be more helpful to see it in a larger communal light. Covet is at the destruction of the peace of the neighborhood because more than craving what your neighbor has, covet calls you to forcefully take what is craved.

Whoa, Donnell. Hold your horses!

How could my desire to keep up with the Jones call for me to destroy my neighborhood and the peace of my neighborhood? Isn’t that quite a slippery slope you’re on there, buddy?

I don’t think so.

There is a reason why coveting finds itself on the list of prohibited actions. Covet is both a posture, and it is an enacted practice of acquiring–the act of taking what doesn’t belong to us.

Let’s break this down for a moment, I’ll need a little leeway as I make my way forward. You are prohibited from coveting your neighbor’s house and wife. (Let me note that in this case the wife is not considered property along with the house, she “belongs to” and “belongs with” the male head of the house. ) Why are these coupled? Because much like today, the home and the person who runs it represents entire socioeconomic wealth of that family. When you realize that the home was considered an engine of wealth creation this may began to feel familiar to any of us who might own a home, and especially a home that may be appreciating in value because we begin to see this home as a tool of wealth creation.

Let me try to explain the power of ones home as an economic engine of wealth creation by using one of the effects of the GI Bill and the availability of subsidized mortgages. The 4.3 million mortgages that were granted representing $33 billion dollars were credited as the engine that created the middle class in America. But the benefits of this bill were not available to all of those who served. Black veterans were excluded from participating in subsidized mortgage part of the bill’s benefits because bank wouldn’t make loans form mortgages in black neighborhoods, and Blacks were excluded from suburbs because of red-lining, deed covenants, and other forms of racism. White veterans were able to use the bill to to purchase affordable homes for their families, many of these home grew in value, which then allowed these veterans to later mortgage these properties to send their children to college allowing their children to live safer, securer, and more economically prosperous lives than the veterans themselves had experienced. These homes continued to generate wealth when they were later bequeathed as inheritances to the next generation increasing the family’s economic security. You can begin to see why someone’s house and wife might be coveted.

The combination of house, spouse, servant, and animals were the totality of family’s economic viability. God says it is prohibited to infringe economically on the well-being of others.

Sabbath As the Means to Love My Neighbor
Three times neighbor is mentioned in the commandment, this is about preserving, honoring, and enhancing the neighborhood, so when Jesus says love your neighbor as yourself, this isn’t some abstract, pie-in-the-sky call, this is the real, rough and tumble way of enacting love of neighbor. You preserve, honor, and enhance your neighbor’s life.

But let me tell you something. If you don’t trust God, and if you don’t trust God’s ability to provide for you and your needs, you won’t just ignore the call to Sabbath. You will ignore the commands to preserve, honor, and enhance your neighbor because you will see your neighbor as a modern-day gladiator, someone you fight to the death over limited resources.

Now, I know I’ve said something like this before and I think many of us check out here because we can’t believe that keeping up with the Jones is tantamount to taking up arms against our neighbors. More than anything, we will just treat our neighbors with indifference or maybe contempt at worst. But consider the ways that you seek greater security and greater happiness, both of which leaves us unsatisfied because we will never get enough or get enough done. Consider how keeping up with the Jones pushes you to greater dissatisfaction, comparison, and discontent.

Enter the Sabbath. A break from the grind. A break from the constant striving. An invitation to rest. An invitation to trust. An invitation to do good.

Jesus had a way of seeing the Sabbath as a place to do good. The Sabbath as Jesus says “was made for us, not for the Sabbath.” Jesus invites us to consider the Sabbath as a place to love our neighbor, to heal our neighbor, to enhance, preserve, and honor our neighbor. Have you ever thought, I don’t know my neighbors. I don’t know their stories, who they are. Consider the Sabbath as an opportunity to get to know your neighbors. What if you took time out of the week and dedicated some of your time to preserve, honor, and enhance your neighbors and the peace of your neighborhood. This could look like a meal, a conversation, an act of service for a neighbor. This is an act of intentional blessing. This is a way of practicing Sabbath.

Consider this, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” That’s what happens when we ignore the call to Sabbath. We end up using up everything that’s in our cup as we pursue more advantages over others–this leads to our striving, and when our cups are empty, and we ignore the call to Sabbath, we covet.

We won’t be able to love, let alone see our neighbors as someone deserving of love if we operate from an empty cup. This is why the coveting is so dangerous, why it moves from just a craving to an action.

When we aren’t willing to do the work with God, learning to be in the presence of God, learning to rest, learning to worship, learning to rely on God, learning to trust God, we take shortcuts. That’s what coveting becomes, it becomes a way of securing our fears by taking what we think we need from others.

Working this metaphor a little more, Sabbath creates space for us to have our cups replenished in the presence of the Creator God who has everything we need. We learn that we aren’t the sum of our production. We learn that value isn’t tied to what we have. We learn that our striving doesn’t actually get us anywhere because in the end our worth isn’t tied to what he acquired, it’s tied to who we are and to whom we belong.

Life is More than Possessions

Consider what Jesus says in Luke 12 in the parable of the rich fool:

20″But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 21″This is how it will be with those who store up things for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:13-21)

As we become secure in God’s love and provision for us, it becomes easier for us live in community with others. We won’t be threatened by them or what they have that we might lack. Coveting and greed cut us off from the blessing and the joy of preserving, honoring, and enhancing the peace of our neighbors and the neighborhood.

Sabbath is one day that breaks the pattern of coercion, production, and consumption. It invites to see ourselves, to see God, and to see ourselves more clearly. Sabbath allows us to become more secure in God’s love, provision, and care for us. It teaches us that life is more than possessions.