A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Monday, April 15, 2013

Sermon By Rev. Cheryl Foulk (April 14) "Like a Good Neighbor"

Like a good neighbor.... 
It has been said that “a bad neighbor is a misfortune, as much as a good one is a great blessing.”  

Neighbors come in all shapes and sizes and stripes.

A man was concerned about the condition of his neighbor's house which was run down. The garage door was coming off its' hinges. Two old cars sat out front.

Obvious that things were not being taken care of.  He called code enforcement ,reported his neighbor and she was ticketed.  He was talking about this with another neighbor who said “Yes she  has been having a rough time. She had to quit work to care for her mom who has cancer. For the last several months, she has been with her mom 24/7.”   The guy had a moment of truth; he had no idea what was going on with his struggling neighbor.

He  is not alone in being out of touch with his neighborhood. For many of us, we are gone to work all day, and then we come home to  retreat behind our front doors and fences in our back yards. 

Let's take a quiz.  Take out your block map. Can you identify the 8 households nearest you? 

In each of the 8 squares on the block map write down their names.  How did you do? 

Generally 10% of people are able to write in all eight names.

If you went on to write down something about your 8 neighbors ( where they work, ages of the kids, for example) only 3% can do that.  And if you are able to write down some deeper  info (dreams, the hopes of said neighbors) less than 1% can do that.   I fail miserably at this exercise. I have lived on Marne Rd in Newark for almost 2 years. I know the full name of 1 neighbor and partial names of two other households. I don't know who the other folks are. But I have my suspicions...

In Jesus teaching  ( called the  Great Commandment) he said to love God  with everything we have and to love our neighbors. What if he meant our actual neighbors ? ( the ones with the barking dogs, the loud music, the odd habits, the ones who return borrowed items broken)    Yes, those neighbors.   Loving our neighbor can be a vague concept until we  really knock on the door and meet face to face. Like  Linus (from “Peanuts” )  we can say we love all humanity, it is people that we can't stand. Jesus' teaching speaks of building relationships with those that we live next door to.  Uniquely, our neighbors are in our path on a daily basis; they don't go away.

This concept of the art of neighboring is being presented  in a variety of churches  here in Lancaster during the month of April. It is a  national initiative as many churches across the U.S. are taking part.

The art of neighboring project began in  the Denver Colorado area where city officials had met with church leaders. In response to the pastors' question as to what churches could do to improve their communities,  the mayor said: “The majority of the issues that our city is facing could be drastically impacted if we could just become a community of great neighbors.”    

He was saying that there would be positive changes if we  actually live out the great commandment.

First challenge is to learn the names of those who live around us. It is not easy  to love someone if you don't even know their name.  I encourage you to start learning names this week.  Put the block map on your refrigerator as a reminder.

Take a walk in your neighbor hood, and speak to folks that you see outside. Introduce yourself. These are basic steps in neighboring that we take for granted.

A young family  (Tom and Angela)made one change that helped them in getting to know their neighbors. They moved their lawn chairs and the swing from the backyard to the front yard.  This action helped them to became more visible to their neighbors. Children and then adults began to stop by. These interactions led to barbecues and potlucks and deeper friendships. Angela said “Many of our neighbors still tend to hibernate during the winter months. But by spending time together every summer, we've developed a level of trust and respect for each other.”

One person that I visit looks forward to warmer weather so that she can sit on her porch and  can visit with her neighbors. She is in her 90's.  Is her expectation of neighboring becoming  a lost art?

What prevents us from reaching out to our neighbors?

Time and priorities- The reality is our schedules are busy. Are we willing to take advantage of an opportunity to relate? A man saw his neighbor working on his car; he decided to leave his computer game and go out and spent time with his neighbor.  They talked about cars and family and got to know each other better.

Are we willing to be available and to let our lives be interrupted?   Young mom felt uneasy when people dropped in because her house was usually in a mess with three small children. She is working on her attitude and said  “If I wait for my house or my life to be perfect before ever inviting someone into it, I just might never let anyone in.”

Lack of trust and misunderstanding:  who are these people, am I safe ?

A new family wanted to meet their neighbors and so they practiced reverse hospitality. They took pies to those around them. Most folks appreciated their gift. However  one neighbor would not answer the door, and shouted that they did not want to buy anything. Even with further contact, it  took awhile before that family would even  return a friendly wave.  Later that family  told them that the only people that ever came to their house were salesmen,and  that is why they didn't respond positively.

Value.  We may wonder : what's in it for me? Why ask for trouble?  I'm content with my own family and friends.

Basically, Jesus has asked us to.

Our attitudes toward our neighbors reveals things about our own faith.  The Gospel passage

(Luke 6:27-38) speaks of loving our enemies, those  who are different from ourselves,  and showing compassion and  giving of ourselves.

When we are more aware of what is going on in our neighborhoods, we can reach out when there has been a life change for a neighbor . ( move, birth, death,illness etc.) These are opportunities, doorways for connecting.We can be on the lookout  to see where we can be part of  God's work in the lives of our  neighbors.

Our goal is to move from  Stranger- Acquaintance- Relationship

Remember the  guy that I mentioned  who had reported his neighbor ? When he learned her story, he got a few other neighbors to join with him and they fixed the garage door, hung up her gutters, and got one of the cars working. They let her know that she wasn't alone, that there were people nearby who cared.

We are not going to become best friends with everyone on the block.  Some folks will not want to know us any better. There are some situations that we cannot be involved in. But through our caring,  there  will be someone who  will become a new friend.

Jesus enjoyed gatherings and  was criticized for  being at parties.  He realized the value of just being together and sharing food.

The art of neighboring includes the fun part of getting folks together to meet one another and share a meal.

The weather will be warming up.  In the next months, could you initiate a block party, a neighborhood gathering by Labor Day ?  It could be just a few households getting together.  Think about whom you could partner with to plan a get together.  I believe that there are others nearby who would join with you.  A neighbor of mine surprised us last night with homemade beef and noodles. I told her about my idea of having a neighborhood picnic. She is a not quite sure of the idea  but we will continue to talk about it. Who knows what the summer may hold!

 Diane  was part of the neighboring initiative and felt  compelled to meet her neighbors. She had lived next door to a lady for 10 years whom she had not gotten to know. So she made a point of visiting with her and then  found out that her neighbor was from Germany. She also found out that she was a Holocaust survivor. All this time she had never known.  Diane said  “ I am learning that there are people right around me that have incredible things to share with me and others. Living next door to a gold mine, but I was too busy to know that there was gold right next door.”   

As followers of Jesus we are called to simply love people. In God's eyes it is a powerful and significant thing to do.

Henri Nouwen wrote in one of his books: “We become neighbors when we are willing to cross the road for one another. (...) There is a lot of road crossing to do. We are all very busy in our own circles. We have our own people to go to and our own affairs to take care of. But if we could cross the road once in a while and pay attention to what is happening on the other side, we might indeed become neighbors.”

What investment does God expect you and me to make in our  neighbors? Does it involve love? sacrifice? service?

Let's pray for our neighborhoods and about how we can love our neighbors.

This sermon is based on the content of the book: The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door  by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon.

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