Tuesday, March 9, 2010

40 day Journey with Martin Luther (Augsburg Books) Day 12: Won't you be my neighbor? The 7th Commandment and Merciful Leadership

Nowhere do I remember reading in this book that I was supposed to spend forty consecutive days with Martin Luther. Did Jesus spend 40 consecutive days in the wilderness? Did it rain for 40 consecutive days and nights for Noah and the Zoo on the Ark? Maybe the consecutive is implied in the original biblical languages--but I am going to keep working on this book, even though my Lenten discipline has been discombobulated.

"...we are commanded to promote and further our neighbors' interests, and when they suffer any want, we are to help, share, and lend to both friends and foes." --Martin Luther

I deeply appreciate how Martin Luther uses the word neighbor. Though some words can be put away because their lack of usage, loss in meaning, or that a word's meaning is altered, some words are worth exploring. Neighbor is one of those words. In some ways, neighbor is a value-neutral term, because in his writing on the Seventh Commandment, Christians are called to look out for the welfare of both friend and foe, not merely not take their stuff. Though Luther's application of this commandment has far reaching economic implications, I find this point particularly interesting for Lutheran Christians, considering that some Lutherans want to do as much damage as possible to the welfare of other Lutherans. I admire the work of my colleagues who have taken on reconciliation work in their fractured congregations over issues related to homosexuality and clergy. I have seen good leaders who are not merely trying to make peace in their congregations by saying "can't we just get along?" Or ignoring the situation. I am not that patient. I know that looking out for our neighbor's welfare means keeping in contact and listening to the neighbor--looking out for their interests. I believe this kind of action is modeling "further" our neighbor's interest. Another important component of examining this commandment is reflecting on Jesus' definition of "neighbor" in the parable of the Good Samaritan: a good neighbor shows mercy, regardless of being friend or foe. I immediately thought of a colleague (whom I do not know personally) Pastor Eric Lemonholm in Minnesota. I find some merciful and courageous leadership in that congregation. I'm sure the leadership or the congregation is not perfect, but it is merciful.

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