Being Good Neighbors (2) : Words and Deeds James 3:1-12 & Mark 8:27-38
It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood!
It’s a beautiful day, not because it’s particularly beautiful outside, but because you all are here.
I also think its beautiful because we are able to gather here, instead of being flooded out by Hurricane Florence.
Our prayers go up for our neighbors to the South of us who experienced – and are experiencing – so much devastation from winds and flooding from Hurricane Florence.
Not only can we pray for our neighbors, but if you feel called to support the clean up and rebuilding efforts more tangibly, The Episcopal Relief and Development’s Hurricane Fund will go toward rebuilding efforts. I put a link on our Facebook page, or you can write a check to the church with “Hurricane Relief” in the memo and we can send the funds on to ERD. (or click here)
Taking care of each other is one thing neighbors do. This whole year we have been exploring the theme of Koinonia Community and Christian Fellowship. Today we are in the 2nd part of our 4 week Series entitled, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”. We’re taking the line from Mr. Roger’s song, and the recent documentary about his life and asking the question, “What does it mean for us to be Good Neighbors?” “What does our Christian Faith tell us about being a neighbor?”
As I said last week, we know that neighbors are not Just those people who live on our street. Neighbors can be our brothers and sisters in North and South Carolina, or refugees fleeing war on the other side of the globe, but this series is primarily focusing on our actual neighbor neighbors. Those people who live closest to you.
Last week, I gave you out homework, and I hope you are beginning to work on it. You received a card, (like this) with a grid. The middle house represents your house, and the other squares represent your neighbors next door, across the street and behind you. Obviously, adjust if your neighborhood configuration is different.
The grid is to help you be intentional as you get to know your neighbors – their names, a little bit about them, and eventually, their deeper dreams, hopes, and challenges.
Remember what this exercise is not about:
It’s not about getting your neighbors to St. Michael’s. You might invite them to the Fall fest or to one of our other events coming up, and it would be wonderful if they came. If they decided to make St. Micahel’s their faith community, that would be awesome. But that’s a side benefit. Loving your neighbor as yourself does not have an ulterior motive.
It’s also not, as I said last week, about converting anyone to Jesus. If your neighbor is drawn to Jesus and the Christian Faith, perhaps in part by the example they see in you, then that’s wonderful. But that’s not the reason we are trying to get to know and love our neighbors.
We’re also not asking you to start stalking your neighbors to find out more about them. Talk to them. Get beyond the friendly driveway wave….
You and I are simply trying to follow Jesus’ command to Love our Neighbors just as they are. And to love them in real and tangible ways.
Last week, we talked about the things that can get in the way. We tend to put up barriers between us and others based on race or cultural difference… based on lifestyle or age… based on income or job status… based on politics or religion, but our faith tells us not to show partiality and to reach across borders. We don’t need to be like our neighbors to love our neighbors.
Today, we are going to talk some about the Power of the Words we use, especially the words we use about others.
Many of us have seen some old TV show or illustrations showing two women, or two men, gossiping over the back yard fence, usually about some other person in the neighborhood.
Who doesn’t love a juicy piece of gossip? Even when you know you shouldn’t be interested in all in any kind of speculation, or bad mouthing or rumor sharing, or “news” or whatever other euphemisms you want to use for gossip, there is something in many of us that makes gossip very tempting, and for some, even an art form. But it’s wrong.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, lists the gossiper among other people full of wickedness, “They are [SLOW] full of malice envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness.. they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Rom. 1:29).
You parents can use that “rebellious toward parents” line later…. But watch out, your kids may use “foolish and heartless” line against you. Better yet, let’s not use any accusatory language towards anyone!
Because really, that’s the point. Our words have power. What we say about people often becomes their reality. Taking back the effects of an ill spoken word is nearly impossible. Good words foster good. Bad words sow evil.
In the passage we heard from James,” he says, “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity… With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.”
Our tongues are meant to show our love for God and our love for our neighbor. They are meant to show appropriate love for ourselves as well.
As Paul says elsewhere in his letter to the Thessalonians, “Encourage one another and build each other up.” And our words are meant to spawn us to action as well.
I read a book last spring entitled, “The Neighboring Church” by Rick Rusaw and Brian Mavis, and one story in particular is what made me understand the importance of our church, of any church, being a neighboring church… a church that isn’t just corporately a good neighbor, but one where each person is living out the Jesus command to be a good neighbor in their own neighborhood.
Brian, the pastor of a local church in Colorado, had built up a relationship with his local government, and his church had a reputation as one that served. One day the city called him because they had received multiple complaints about a resident in their neighborhood. The grass in her yard was five feet tall. They had sent the homeowner several letters asking her to take care of her yard, but to no avail. The city was at the point where they were going to have to send out city workers to take care of the yard. They didn’t want to do this and didn’t want to charge the homeowner, because it was going to be very expensive. So, in a last-ditch effort, they called Brian’s church to see if they could help with the woman’s yard. Brian said I would look at the situation.
Well, Brian found the report true. The grass was almost as tall as he was. He knocked on the door and a woman in her young thirties answered. Standing next to her was a little girl. He learned that this woman had recently survived stage-four cancer, and she was taking care of the nine-year-old girl, who was in foster care. This woman was tearful and embarrassed about her yard, but she said her health prevented her from trying to take care of it.
Brian organized folk in his church and they took care of the yard, and prayed with the woman and brought her some meals. Brian felt proud of his church and the fact the city knew they could call on him. He called the woman periodically over the next year to check in on her. After his second phone call, he was silently congratulating himself when he heard the Holy Spirit say, “This is nothing to be proud of. It should have never happened.”
He immediately knew that the gentle rebuke from God was saying that if that woman’s neighbors had been truly neighbors, if his church members and other Christians in the neighborhood had been doing their job loving their neighbor, her grass would have never gotten over 6-8 inches.
Instead, I imagine the gossip in the neighborhood or around the dinner tables was about how lousy that woman was at keeping up their yard. They may have implied awful things about her character or worthiness to even be in the neighborhood. Who knows what rumors spread because people found it easier to wag their tongues about a situation, and make phone calls to the city, rather than take the risk to actually talk to her face to face…
Sure…. Talking to someone fact to face is risky… especially if you don’t already know them and the topic of the conversation might be touchy. You could risk somebody telling you it’s none of your business. You might also risk discovering that you have to follow Jesus’ other command to Deny yourself, to take up the cross, and follow Jesus into paths of self-sacrificing service.
Of course, Christians aren’t the only ones who can show love and care of their neighbors, but shouldn’t the Christians be out front, being the examples of care for the neighbors? Saying things that build up, rather than tear down? I dare say, Everyone here knows the power of positive and encouraging words of affirmation in our lives. Can we do that for our neighbors?
Some of you know the security and joy of living in a neighborhood where neighbors do go out of their way to care for each other… where someone would notice if your grass got to high and find out why instead of gossiping about you. Others of us need to start building neighborhoods like that, through words and deeds. It starts by assuming the best about others rather than the worst.. Its starts by reaching beyond our own front doors.
If we, like Peter, proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, then we also need to follow his command to deny our ourselves. We need to be willing to lose the comfortable, self-focused, life we lead after pulling our cars into our garages, and be willing to gain a life where we are connected with our neighbors in ways that sometimes stretch us.
Mr. Rogers was always so good at using words to affirm each person and their feelings. He always helped his viewers know what it means to life in a neighborhood… both on the good days, and the hard days.
In his obituary, Fred Rogers was quoted as saying,
“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”
So, as we go about this week, may the words we speak to our neighbors, and about our neighbors, reflect that we are denying ourselves to follow Jesus’ command of love and service. Amen.