Would you be my neighbor? Neighbor is a powerful word. It is a wonderful word – neighbor. It comes from the old word nigh. To be nigh or draw nigh is to be close to someone. The second part of neighbor is from the old German or Dutch word, bur. Bur means to dwell. So, Nigh – bur is to draw near, be close to and dwell with another. That’s what neighboring is about – simply being with people. It’s actually getting harder in our day. The world around us is lonelier than we know and it is harming the children around us.
About 100 years ago, architects used to build houses with something called front porches. Have you ever seen a front porch? There is something beautiful about a porch and a porch swing. I’m told there are even homes with porches that wrap all the way around to make room and welcome folks from every direction. Then, after World War II, the world got a little scarier and a little scarier and fences went up and hedges got taller. Porches went away and garage doors open and close with remote precision. It was meant to keep the bad away, but now it keeps the good away too.
In our sermon series, The Art of Neighboring, we are asking ourselves, “How do we care for our community? How do we make our community a better place?” The catalyst for the book by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon came from the mayor of their city. The mayor said, “Well, it’s quite interesting and embarrassingly simple, to tell you the truth. The biggest single factor by far that helps a city flourish is when it has a sufficient number of really good neighbors.” Isn’t there something in the Bible about neighbors? When Jesus said, “Love your neighbor…” is it possible he had actually thought this through?
If I remember correctly, this idea of loving our neighbor is quite significant to Jesus. Neighboring is not a subtle point or one Jesus skims over. One day a religious leader asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is a great answer from a rabbi. It comes from an Old Testament book called Deuteronomy where it says, “Hear, Israel. The Lord your God, the Lord is one. There is one God, and he made everything. You ought to love him for everything you’re worth.”
But then, Jesus does something completely unexpected. Jesus adds to it! Jesus says to the religious leader, “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” This was shocking, staggering, on the verge of heresy within Judaism. It would be like someone adding to the pledge of allegiance on the fly. Why would Jesus dare mess with this sacred understanding?
Jesus as God was stating plainly something religious people often forget. And that is that love for God and love for people are inextricably tied together. In fact, you cannot love God and not love people. Jesus shows us that love is what your life is all about…not money, not fame, not power, not ease of life, but love. John Ortberg writes, “You cannot succeed at life and fail at love, and you cannot fail at life if you succeed at love. Love is what your life is all about.”
That being said, there is a lot of confusion on what love is these days. What the Bible means when it says, “love your neighbor” is to intend their good. To love someone is to intend his or her good as God does. Love does no harm to neighbor. (By the way, “Do no harm” is the first rule of Methodism.) Rather, love seeks good for the neighbor.
Love is not desire. Love is not the same as doing what others want us to do. If you’ve ever had a child you understand this. To love our neighbor is to want them to become their best selves as they were made to be. If we really love them, we are actually willing to expend energy in that direction.
The good news is that God cherishes you AND God also cherishes your neighbor. Every human being matters equally, not because we are equally smart, equally attractive, or equally able or anything else. We are equal because we are all equally loved and cherished by a gracious and loving God as proven by Jesus’ death and resurrection. So, as the Bible says, “We love because he first loved us.”
Proverbs makes this idea of love concrete, “Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow,’ – when you now have it with you.” If you have it, lend it. Give it. The Bible says neighbors care about what belongs to one another in really concrete ways.
Now, let me get down to the important details of where we are. What we do “4 the Kids” in the next few days will speak louder to one another and to those living around us than perhaps we would like to admit. Will we continue to be a church that reaches out in concern and service to those around us? Today, when young families on the west side of town call and ask if we have before school care, we say no. When they ask if we have after school care, we say no. When they ask if we have a full-day option to watch their little ones while they are at work, we say no. We can change this.
When youth ask if we have designated space for them, the real answer is not enough. When funerals happen and families want to know if we have space to help their grieving family eat together at a funeral dinner, we reply, “We hope so. How many are you expecting?” We can change that.
When people asked me over the past few months, “How’s it going?” I’m thrilled to answer truthfully that the sacrifices and commitments made by Acts 2 and One Church members who have been here from day one, and others who have been baptized for only a few weeks, are participating in ways that have moved me to tears. We have received our largest commitments ever in the life of the church in the past few weeks, both individually and collectively. It is also true that we still have members who have not made a commitment “4 the Kids.” Only a few days remain.
Together, we get to choose what kind of neighbor Acts 2 UMC will be in our corner of the world. I get that some of us, at times, can feel like the little boy in the feeding of the 5,000 story found in the Bible in Luke chapter 9. With so many thousands of hungry adults around him, what possible good could come out of a few pieces of bread and two fish? What he found out was that his little was God’s much! When you give what you have, God can make a miracle. If you don’t give, you don’t get a chance to see God do a miracle.
Now, why do we do all this? There is a reason and his name is Jesus. At nearly every service of death and resurrection, I repeat the words Jesus spoke 2,000 years ago when he said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I’m going there to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, that you also may be where I am.”
One day we are going to end up in Jesus’ neighborhood. When we move in, Jesus will not say, “There goes the neighborhood.” I bet he’ll say, “Hi, neighbor. Welcome!”
We can do the same today. Let’s prepare a place “4 the Kids.” It’s the neighborly thing to do.