Friday, April 23, 2021

Saturday, May 8th 2021 at 11am: The Life of the Church During Times of Crisis, Session 2: Who is My Neighbor?

We continue our ongoing conversation on the response of the Church to public, national and societal crises from antiquity to the present time, with particular treatment of the current COVID 19 pandemic on Saturday, May 8th 2021 11am at University Lutheran Chapel, 316 10th Ave SE, Minneapolis MN 55414. Our Chaplain will begin the session with an examination of Luther's Small and Large Catechisms on the duty that we owe to our neighbor. The full outline for the possible topics we might cover over several sessions and background material was presented in session 1. Please note our guidelines for those attending our meetings and events.

  1. Questions from last session
  2. Fear: Matthew 10:28: And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (NKJV)
  3. Authority: The 2 Kingdoms
  4. What is our responsiblity toward our neighbors? How are we to love, help, serve and defend our neighbor?
  5. Public Policy: Is it justifiable to interfere with, hinder, or harm our neighbor's job, livelihood, posessions, property, business, and useful arts in service to others by defining them as essential or non-essential?

Who is my neighbor?

  1. Luke 10:25-37, The Good Samaritan (NKJV)
  2. The quote begins with Deuteronomy 6:5 (NKJV) and finishes with Leviticus 19:18 (NKJV)
  3. You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.
  4. The lawyer must be aware that the question Who is my neighbor? is answered in part by the rest of Leviticus 19:9-18, of which verse 18 is the conclusion.
  5. So is the question just another lawyer looking for another loophole as Luke 10:29 might suggest?
  6. The lawyer is indeed asking (perhaps inadvertently) a genuine and deeper question.
  7. Deutoronomy 6:5 is the 1st Table of the Law. Leviticus 19:9-18 is the 2nd table.
  8. And Christ, Who is the Fulfillment of the Law, fulfills both tables in Luke 10:36-37
  9. The one who showed him mercy is The One who showed mercy to us all.
  10. What does the text in Deutoronmy and Leviticus say?
    1. Leviticus uses a number of terms: poor, stranger, or perhaps sojourner, traveler, brother in verse 17, worker deaf blind (in verse 13).
    2. So what are these? They appear to be vocations, occupations, relations, disabilities (in modern terms).
    3. Neighbor may include all of these, it may not, and it may vary by circumstance.
    4. Note especially verse 15: You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.
    5. This apprently forbids favoring or disfavoring, advantaging or disadvantaging, one individual's vocation, occupation, state in life, over another.
    6. If God has a Preferential Option for the Poor , as Roman Catholic Social Teaching puts it, you don't find it in Leviticus 19:15. When it comes to judgement, or courts, or decisions about what is true, right, proven God demands that rich, poor, high, low, young, old, male, female, all get exactly the same thing: justice. God demands they all get the same impartial due process, and they all get a fair trial, they all get the same right to sworn truthful sworn witnesses and testimony.
    7. Can you find God's Preferential Option for the Poor elsewhere in the Bible? You probably can. The Beatitudes come close to that, but note Poor in Spirit. The psalms as well, and of course, the Magnificat, where God has "Lifted up the Lowly" but the "Rich He has turned empty away".
    8. Are the poor, the lowly, the disfavored, the disadvantaged far less likely to get justice compared to the rich, the exalted, the powerful, and the favored in the kingdom of this world? You bet. But that makes fair and impartial justice more important, not less, for everyone.
    9. One element these categories and terms seem to have in common is proximity: these are people we have some contact with, in distance, vocation, etc.
  11. So how did Luther, and Lutherans, understand the question and the answer to Who is my neighbor?
    1. Small Catechism:
      1. Neighbor is in the biblical text, or part of Luther's explanation, in the 5th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th Commandments: (
      2. The 8th, 9th and 10th commandments are explicitly part of the biblical text. The 5th and the 7th commandments are non-sensical without the obvious reference to our neighbor.
      3. The faithful neighbor is also a blessing to us in the 4th petition of the Lord's Prayer.
    2. Large Catechism
      1. The Large Catechism makes reference to our neighbor at least 68 times in the first part (The Ten Commandments), and at least 6 times in the third part (The Lord's Prayer), and at least once in the 4th (Infant Baptism) and 5th (the Sacrament of the Altar) parts.
  12. So what falls within the biblical definition of neighbor?
    1. Is the neighbor those who live next door, or in some close proximity?
    2. Not exclusively; but that seems to be the obvious and natural definition.
    3. Is neighbor the next thing after family?
    4. Or is my neighbor anyone in need, regardless of proximity?
    5. The question becomes acute in the modern context of public policy and immigration
    6. So is Christ telling us in Luke 10:25-37 that proximity and distance no longer matter?
    7. Could the correct translation of verses 34 and 35 be: "So he ignored him, and immediately demanded of the governor that he import the poor and indigent of other countries and feed and heal them, and take care of them. On the next day he said to the innkeeper, Take the money, jobs and livelihoods of our neighbors living in closer proximity to us and use that to take care of those in need from far away.
    8. Well, not quite. But Christ does seem to enjoin His Church and His Christians to help the poor and the needy where they are.
  13. Other churches, and church organizations, take a very different view. One such organization is Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services.
    1. LIRS takes very specific policy positions, and has a list of specific legislation which they support.
    2. But immigration policy alone is not enough, according to LIRS. They also advocate immediate steps to address mass migration due to Climate Displacement
    3. So how did an organization that began in 1918 resettling Lutheran refugees from Europe after two world wars become a political advocacy group for illegal immigration and climate change activism?
    4. LIRS became the subject of a resolution proposed to the 2019 convention of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod.
    5. Resolution 3.08 made the excellent points that:
      1. WHEREAS, Individual members of The Lutheran Church— Missouri Synod (LCMS), and members of Synod congregations are free to disagree with the political advocacy of the LIRS and in fact advocate for increased immigration enforcement, a border wall, and lowering refugee admissions and may do so without sin, and in fact may do so for the good of their neighbor; therefore be it
      2. Resolved, That the LCMS take no position on the political issues of immigration enforcement, border wall, increase in federal agents and other related issues except to confess that it is the government’s responsibility to “bear the sword” (Rom. 13:4) for the provision and bodily necessities of its own citizens (LC I:169); and be it further
      3. Resolved, That the LCMS sever any agreements with LIRS and cease any financial grants or support to LIRS.
      4. (From Circuit 3, Southern Illinois District; Circuit 4, Southern Illinois District)
      5. Which is a wonderfully freeing observation: individuals can advocate for whatever public policy they like. Our church (LCMS) takes no positiion other than the very limited and obvious one that government bears the sword for the protection of its own citizens. Individuals can advocate for whatever they believe is best.
      6. And another suggestion: Why not us among the immigrants? where the poor and needy are now? How much further, and to what greater effect, would a dollar spent overseas have compared to a dollar spent here to encourage changing the law, or breaking it?
  14. There are at least two wrong answers both of which are wrong by opposite degrees of proximity
    1. The more recent wrong answer is that my neighbors are those in need far away from me, and not so much those closest to me in distance
    2. The obvious example here are those who believe Christ commands the Church and Christians to favor a public policy of unchecked immigration to help those in need outside of our neighbor, state, and country, no matter how detrimental it is to our proximate neighbors in our neighborhoods, state and country.
    3. The older wrong answer is that my neighbor is those in need in closest proximity to me, and not those (or not so much) those who live far away.
    4. The second wrong answer, the "close proximity" answer, is probably less wrong than the first, mostly because the actual text, language and history of the term and concept of neighbor are those with whom we we have some closer proximity, and with whom we come into contact.
    5. So is it possible that Christ's words in Luke 10 refer to a neighbor we have never met, and with whom we have no proximity?
    6. In one sense, yes, in that Christ Himself showed mercy to all by His Atoning Sacrifice on the cross.
    7. But in the moral and ethical sense of the 2nd Table of the Law, it is very difficult to imagine that we should be more of a neighbor to those with whom we have no contact and no proximity, and less of a neighbor to those with whom we have contact and proximity.
    8. Yet, in the case of the Gospel itself, we are indeed commanded to show the greatest and ultimate mercy of Christ to those both far and near.

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