Who Is My Neighbor?
June 11, 2017
The lawyer asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”
I’m not a great neighbor.
I’m probably a better neighbor to those around the world
than neighbors on my block.
I’m a good neighbor to Syrian refugees and
I respond to needs inplaces served by Lutheran World Relief.
But to those who live on my street
and who live physically around the church?
I’m a nice neighbor –
I say “Hi!” and smile and pick up after my dog and keep the grass cut.
But I’m not a good neighbor to the neighbors in my own neighborhood.
Why is this important?
A leader in the community asks Jesus,
“Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?”
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment.
And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
He says everything in the Old Testament can be summed up here.
The apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians,
Compacted it even more…
He says, “The entire law is summed up in a single commandment,
‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Travel back with me to the neighborhood I grew up in…
Preston Avenue – a street with about 20 houses –
in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
To this day,
I could probably tell you the names of most of the people on that street.
I could tell you what they did for work,
Their kids’ names,
And for many of them,
I knew things about them that we would consider quite personal.
I knew my neighbors.
The elementary school principal Mr. McKenna lived in the gray house down the street;
Mr Decelles, the barber lived next door;
The Delormes were across the street and Al and my dad carpooled to work each day.
(Al was a terrible bowler.)
Across the street were the Cookes and my best friend in the neighborhood, Sue.
When her mother had a long hospital stay,
My mother and Mrs. Delorme together took care of Sue,
Making meals, getting her off to school.
Some of my formative spiritual experiences
Came from growing up in that neighborhood.
Sue’s family was Roman Catholic
And I was Protestant…
So when I was at their house for dinner
(of course it was just taken for granted that if you
Were at one of the neighbors’ houses and it was dinnertime,
they fed you)…
When I was at their house for dinner,
they asked me things about my church;
I learned things from watching them.
I learned that they said a prayer before meals
And that they didn’t eat breakfast before going to church on Sunday mornings;
I learned that Sue got a new white dress for her first communion
And lots of presents and a cake…
When Sue’s mother got home from that hospital stay,
She didn’t go out of the house much as I recall.
She spent most of the day on the sofa in the family room.
When I’d go over to play with Sue,
she’d ask me to sing a song from church that she liked,
“Let There Be Peace On Earth.”
I was surprised that she knew it too –
She was Catholic!
Spiritual formation happened with my neighbors.
Neighbors looked out for one another.
(Of course that wasn’t always welcomed.
My sister Joanne is still annoyed that Mrs DeLorme called my mother
when she saw my two sisters in the front yard
holding my father’s axe,
trying to chop down the maple tree.)
Fast forward with me to my current neighborhood.
It’s a street with about 20 houses.
I don’t know everyone’s name.
We’re nice – we see each other coming and going,
And we say ‘hello.’
But being nice isn’t what Jesus had in mind when he said,
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Think of the houses here around our church…
As you walk or drive in,
I’m sure you’re nice – you wave and say ‘hello.’
But how many names do you know?
I’ve been thinking about this topic of ‘neighboring’
For a couple of months now.
Six weeks ago, I saw my neighbor across the street.
He moved in about the same time I did.
He’s an older man with a cane.
I walked over to him and introduced myself…his name is George.
We had a brief conversation and I walked back home
Feeling very self-righteous of course.
Well a couple of days later I’m mowing the lawn in the back yard,
And I see George in my driveway.
He wants to talk.
He says, that he wanted to say that I have a nice house….
And that his wife died last year and he needed to downsize,
So he sold his business he’d owned for 50 years and moved here to be closer to his children who don’t come around as much as he thought they would.
And he just wanted me to know that.
He was reaching out.
The same thing happened with the neighbor on one side of me.
What are the odds of this – but his name is George too!
I introduced myself as we were putting our trash cans out.
A couple of days later my door bell rings.
George comes in and says he just wanted to thank me for talking to him.
He just wanted to thank me for talking to him!
There are many people in our neighborhoods,
Including our church neighborhood,
Looking for someone who is interested in them,
Who cares who it is who lives in these houses we pass every day.
Our neighbors are dealing with the same things we are:
Divorce, addictions, illness, loneliness.
Jesus’ ministry was by and large a neighborhood ministry…
It wasn’t a temple ministry.
He didn’t attract followers from the synagogue.
It was a neighborhood ministry.
In the gospel of Luke,
When Zacchaeus the cheating tax collector
Jesus syas I’m coming to your house for dinner.
That’s where the relationship builds.
In the gospel of John,
Jesus’ first miracle is at a wedding in Cana.
It’s with family and friends who are gathered
In a neighborhood celebration.
In the gospel of Matthew,
When Jesus calls his disciples and says, “Follow me,”
Where do they go?
They go to his house to eat.
Jesus gathers a following because he’s interested in people.
He goes into their homes and eats and drinks
And learns about their lives.
He’s probably a ‘nice’ neighbor;
But what makes him different is that he’s also a “good” neighbor.
So who is our neighbor?
We’re going to talk more about this in the next couple of weeks…
In your bulletins you have something called a block diagram…
I want you to take it out.
In the middle is your house – write your address in the center…
Now as you think of your house in the center…
Look at the houses around your house.
Write the names of the 8 closest neighbors.
(Last night when we had dinner at Ezher Mosque,
We learned that Mohammad said your neighbors
Include people live 40 houses in each direction!
We’re only asking for 8.)
Under their names,
Write something you know about them…
Dan likes golf;
Daughter Alisha is in college;
Things like that.
The third space write something more personal – deeper that you know about them;
Relationship difficulties; an illness.
keep this block map on your refrigerator,
And make it your intention to find out one or two more neighbors’ names this week;
Or learn something more about one neighbor.
Pray for the opportunity to talk to them.
Guaranteed that if you’re looking – your George will show up at the end of the driveway.
“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.”
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’