Who is my neighbor? That is the question the lawyer asked Jesus. Jesus then tells the story of someone who was beaten and left for dead. Two religious people passed him by with lots more important things to do. It was a Samaritan who helped him out. A foreigner, an enemy, someone we have learned not to trust. The implication is that we’re supposed to love our neighbor, and here’s the rub: not like religious people do. We’re supposed to do it surprisingly, the way even our enemies have the capacity to do—with exuberance, without hope of return, without hope of repayment. Jesus is being rather uppity here. And he’s trying to make a point. We show God’s love, God’s real love, by loving our enemies—by remembering that all people are our neighbors, even those who drive us nuts are our neighbors and deserve our respect.
Friendship to Jesus means helping people. It means helping with no thought of payback. The UBC Community Garden is a perfect example of this. Many people have commented on its beauty and its plentiful harvest. But what really surprises and warms the hearts of the people is the fact that we expect strangers to eat from the garden. It’s a community garden in that sense. I love the sign that’s in the garden now, “Help yourself”. This is sharing God’s love by loving your neighbor. We plant it, tend it and you eat from it. That sounds like grace to me.
Tai Shigaki’s sale this weekend yielded funds for people to go to and from the mission field. The excess items that didn’t sell, will help families coming here as refugees. Tai could have kept the money from the sale, but she knew that the sharing God’s love is what she is about. Helping out a neighbor in need is a testament to the power of the Gospel.
Paul Carter went on a mission trip to China this past spring. He was there with a Christian team of basketball players. They went around and played at several different sites throughout the country. But since it was China, they could not openly evangelize. The coach told them to let their play be their gospel. Now how do you do that? Well, Paul told me that the officials often made calls that favored the home teams. Sometimes it was so flagrant that everyone saw the favoritism. But the team had been instructed not to react in a verbally violent or disrespectful manner. Imagine how hard that could be. The fans noticed this too. When asked why they didn’t react, their response was “because we’re Christians. We forgive and we want to be treated with respect. We do that best when we give respect back, being good neighbors.” I told him it sounded like advice given by St. Francis of Assisi who said, “preach every day. And only use words if it’s absolutely necessary.”
The other thing I thought about this past week was the ultimate good neighbor.
(Kim plays the theme from Mister Rogers Neighborhood while I put on a blue cardigan sweater and red hightops. We all sing along)
Most of you know the song and can sing it along with all of us. The show was sappy and appealed to generations of people. What people don’t know about Fred Rogers is that he was an ordained Presbyterian Minister.
That he was a member of a More Light church which is the Presbyterian way of saying Welcoming and Affirming of all people regardless of sexual orientation.
That he spoke out against the war in Iraq.
That he composed all of the music for his shows. I had a member of my last church who said he fell in love with the piano by watching Mister Rogers and hearing the great stylings of Johnny Costa.
That he was very concerned about making sure that everyone knew that they were loved. His neighborhood dealt with real problems. He did all of this without animation, without anything blowing up. He encouraged children of all ages to make believe and imagine a better world—where we were all neighbors, and a non-threatening adult male not only told them they loved them, but showed it by his compassion.
During the 1997 Daytime Emmys, the Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Rogers. The following is an excerpt from Esquire Magazine's coverage of the gala, written by Tom Junod:
“Mister Rogers went onstage to accept the award — and there, in front of all the soap opera stars and talk show sinceratrons, in front of all the jutting man-tanned jaws and jutting saltwater bosoms, he made his small bow and said into the microphone, "All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you just take, along with me, ten seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are. Ten seconds of silence."
And then he lifted his wrist, looked at the audience, looked at his watch, and said, 'I'll watch the time." There was, at first, a small whoop from the crowd, a giddy, strangled hiccup of laughter, as people realized that he wasn't kidding, that Mister Rogers was not some convenient eunuch, but rather a man, an authority figure who actually expected them to do what he asked. And so they did. One second, two seconds, seven seconds — and now the jaws clenched, and the bosoms heaved, and the mascara ran, and the tears fell upon the beglittered gathering like rain leaking down a crystal chandelier. And Mister Rogers finally looked up from his watch and said softly "May God be with you," to all his vanquished children.”
Think about your friends. When you make friends with people, you enter into a giving and receiving relationship. You give love, your receive love back. You give time, energy, passion, you receive it back. And when you do that then you unleash the power of the spirit of God. This spirit is the one that makes you want to do more than receive the gifts from someone else or fend for yourself. You realize that loving your neighbor is why we’re here. It’s hard work sometimes, but it’s blessed work.
Let me close with a song. I’m no Fred Rogers, but a good friend taught this to me and I think it fits.
Choose your friends for their power trade your love for your gold.
It seems like a sign of the times.
But some folks remember what neighbors are for
and some of them are neighbors of mine.
I have lived among some good and gentle people
I have walked in a strong growing land.
I have sung the songs I know I will sing once again Being sung by some heavenly band.
I hear talk everyday of a world going wrong.
I hear talk of the time left behind.
But a long summer’s night filled with friendship and song
Is the time that I hold in my mind.
Driving cities of steel riding highways of stone
we’ve forgotten what this good earth is for.
But somewhere there’s land that’s still held in God’s hand
and some of it lies near my door.