Keith Backhaus

Keith Backhaus

Today as we look at our country and the world, we are in the middle of an epidemic of despair, an era of rage. People do not know where to turn.

It is now reported that for the first time there are more nonbelievers than believers. People have left the Christian faith in droves. Outsiders have looked at the faith and turned away. Why?

Over 47,000 Americans kill themselves every year, and over 72,000 die from drug addiction. Our life expectancy has dropped for the last three years running.

Daily, we hear of some person or group assaulted or stereotyped as an outsider of one type or another. Immigrants. Different races. Different cultures. Different religions. We shoot our children and each other. Why?

It has become so common we don’t even pay attention to it any more. It smothers our society like a thick, gray fog.

In Mark 12: 29-31 we read, “Jesus said, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength …. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus called this the most important, foremost commandment. This means that the love we are called to do must be wholehearted, life-encompassing and community-impacting, and an exclusive commitment to our God.

The very last time Jesus was with the Disciples he gave them a new commandment. He said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

D.A. Carson, a New Testament scholar, observed: “This new command is simple enough for a toddler to memorize and appreciate, and it is profound enough that most mature believers are repeatedly embarrassed at how poorly they comprehend it and put it into practice.”

This new commandment was not a suggestion or a recommendation. It was Jesus’ last instruction. This is the bottom line of Christianity — what Christians do.

Why do we so-called Christians avoid the one thing Jesus gave us to focus on to identify ourselves, and instead focus on so many other ways to identify a Christian believer.

This one thing most important to Jesus is often lost as Christians wrestle with power and orthodoxy. We have a hard time putting his simple command into practice, in the church, in our world, in our close family ties.

Jesus ate with sinners and the socially marginalized, as well as the ritually unclean and those considered economic traitors. Jesus overturned cultural norms, challenged the authorities and undermined the establishment.

Have we missed the point and gotten it all wrong?

His command is about how we live. This love is a love that endures all things, a love that forgives, heals and renews. Like Jesus, this is a love that embraces outcasts, heals the suffering and eats with the broken.

We as the church are called to be an example of the healing power of love. And we must reclaim love as a public ethic for all to see.

It will not come from those in public office. Nor from the political parties. Nor from Hollywood. Nor from Wall Street. It must start here. From our churches, flinging wide the doors and proclaiming love to all the world. Having Jesus as our model removes all the limits.

Jesus said that “by your love for one another, people will know you are my disciples.” Are we inside the church loving one another? Does the world see that love?

The early Church turned the all-powerful Roman Empire upside down by this visible love for each other and their neighbors, no matter what group they were in. They kept following Jesus and his teaching, and turned the empire on its head.

Love is action, not emotion. There is no middle ground according to the Bible. Either you are loving or you are hating.

I am convinced we the church are called to heal ourselves and our neighbors. We are called to start a love revolution.

Love is what Christians do.

Keith Backhaus is a deacon at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Venice.

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