Loving God and the “Least”

[Jesus said], “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ … ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ “ -Matthew 22:37-38

[Jesus said] “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ “ -Matthew 25:34-40

Toward the end of February every year, Lutheran Services in Iowa (LSI) sponsors something called Lutheran Day on the Hill. From 9 to 2:30 in Des Moines, Lutherans from around Iowa meet. We gather first at Capitol Hill Lutheran Church, where we hear a devotion and some presentations about the way upcoming legislation could affect LSI’s work in our communities. Then, we walk three blocks to the Capitol, where we try to meet with our representatives to share with them our hopes and concerns for LSI’s future ministry. A few weeks ago, nearly 300 Lutherans gathered in Des Moines, including several from Cedar County.

The idea of Christian legal advocacy makes some people uncomfortable; “Don’t we have a separation between church and state?” they might ask. Or “I certainly think Christians should help people, but I’m not sure what the government has to do with it.” These are serious questions, ones we need to wrestle with. How should a Christian relate to their government? Should a Christian vote, or say the pledge of allegiance, or run for office? Believe it or not, there are American Christians who come down on each side of those and many more questions.

Here’s where I’ve landed: I’m convinced that when Jesus instructs us to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength, that means that every single thing we do should reflect our love of God: how we spend our time and money, how we relate to other people, and, yes, even how we participate in politics.

So this year at Lutheran Day on the Hill, I went to the presentation about children’s mental health care access. I learned that in 2018, LSI provided 12,138 hours of therapy to children and adults in Iowa, and 138 children successfully completed residential treatment. That’s a lot of children’s mental health care provided by LSI! I learned that Governor Reynolds has been a strong advocate of access to mental health care for children, creating the state’s first ever board to oversee and recommend children’s mental health care policy. Unfortunately, I also learned that no funding has been allocated for children’s mental health care, making the LSI workers wonder how to provide a service no one is paying for. I learned that there is bipartisan support for increasing mental health care access, even while there is disagreement about how to do so.

Most importantly, I saw nearly 300 Lutherans who also care about children’s mental health doing their very best to love God and neighbor by communicating with their senators and representatives about what matters: caring for the ones Jesus calls “the least of these.” Of course, we don’t just do these things to try and make sure Jesus sits us at his right hand in glory- no, we love God and our neighbor as well as we can because Jesus has already promised us a seat with him, and now we want to live out the love so all people’s needs are met.

Jesus, king of heaven and earth, help me live in a way that shows my love for God in every part of life, and teach me to love all the members of your family as dearly as I love you. Amen.

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