Benefits of Loving Your Neighbor [The Art of Neighboring #2]
The Art of Neighboring: Benefits of Loving Your Neighbor
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • June 26, 2016 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor
We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. If this is your first time or 100th, we are honored that you are here today in our community.
Whether you arrived here this morning because of an Internet search, because you were invited, or because you already knew the way, we are grateful for you and for the gift of God that you bring with you into this space. Our simple prayer for you is that you would experience welcome, acceptance, peace, and space to have an encounter with the loving presence of the living God during your time with us this morning!
Last week, we opened our current series, The Art of Neighboring in Luke 10. In this chapter, we find the exchange between Jesus and an expert in the law, it opens with a question from the expert to Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
In response, Jesus poses his own questions:
26“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” (Luke 10:26)
The expert replies,
27 The Expert in the Law answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27)
We concluded that as much as Jesus invites us to love our neighbors as ourselves, our love of neighbor has to start somewhere and I suggested that we start with our literal physical neighbors. As we explored the story of the Good Samaritan, we discovered that Jesus expanded the understanding of neighbor to also include our enemies. As Christians, we know that we are supposed to love our enemies, this is the call of our Savior who invites us to follow him through the narrow gate into life, and yet we also realize that we have no hope of loving our enemies as ourselves, when many of us are unable to even name, let alone, love our literal physical neighbors.
The practical tip for last week’s sermon was to complete a neighbor map listing the names of our eight closet neighbors. I’ve heard from some of you that that exercise was challenging on many levels. Some of you knew what your neighbors drove, what time they left for work, or whether they had kids, but few of us could actually complete our entire neighbor map. That’s okay! As we try to follow Jesus and obey the greatest commandment we can take some solace in the fact that Jesus understands our weakness, and has mercy, grace, and forgiveness for us, if we happen to fall short of his expectations.
Learning the names and learning to love our neighbors can be reduced to three basic challenges:
- Isolation - it’s super easy for us to leave our homes every morning with our heads down, focused on the day and the tasks the lie ahead, whether that means we grind it out at work or spend the day trying to find work. At the end of the day we see our homes as a refuge from the harassment of the day.
- Fear - remember the Empire invites us be live in fear and hatred of those unknown to us, which for many of us leads us to be wary of our neighbors. Whatever is unknown is scary, so when we don’t know our neighbors and they don’t know us, it’s easy to imagine the worst.
- Misunderstanding - When we don’t know our neighbors, it’s easy to get the wrong idea about one another.
Surprisingly, I think the same things were at work in the lives of those featured in story of the Good Samaritan.
30In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ (Luke 10:30-35)
As I briefly noted last week, the priest who passed by was probably on his way home from his work in the temple. The temple was served by three classes of people, priests comprised the first class, Levites the second class, and laymen the third and final class. The priest who passed by probably lived in Jericho and was most likely riding by on his way home from his work in the temple. The priest was in a bind. If the man was Jewish, the priest had an obligation under the law to render help. Since the man was unconscious and stripped of clothing, the priest couldn’t know the man’s condition, if the man was actually dead, the priest and his family would become defiled and unclean. In this state, the priest wouldn’t be able to feed and serve his family or his servants. And the tithe that was collected in the temple to be distributed to the people would be impossible. And the Levite is just like the priest in his obligation to remain clean to serve in the temple, since they served as the assistants to the priests. So what we have here friends is a dilemma: render aid or do your job.
Let’s remember that this is a parable, it’s not a real story. Jesus is setting it up to make a point.
How many people do we see stuck on the side of the road in a disabled car and we pass by? What is more important, getting to work on time? Getting the kids to school on time? Getting our errands done, so you can keep our partners and family happy or be home to watch our favorite TV show?
But then the Samaritan explodes on the scene and does the unthinkable. The Samaritan is the hated other, if the expert expected anything, he expected a fellow Jew to offer help and aid, but that’s not where Jesus goes. Watch this... Instead, Jesus has the hated other offering aid and assistance and this hated other does what the others, the priest and the Levite, won’t, which is prioritize the needs of others above their own. In one sense this is the whole point of the law, “Love God and Love Others.”
The Samaritan risks his life by stopping and offering aid and care to this beaten man. In this story the Samaritan overcomes isolation, fear, and misunderstanding and becomes a neighbor to his injured man. So Jesus accomplishes two points in one story, there really isn’t an “Us v. Them” there’s only “Us.” And he invites us to check our priorities and understanding what it means to be the people of God.
And that’s our invitation from Jesus, overcome your isolation (focus on yourself), fear (risk), and misunderstanding and learn to become a neighbor.
Let me offer three immediate benefits of loving your neighbors
When we endeavor to practice the art of neighboring, we can increase our sense of connection. Many of us live lives of relative obscurity, working hard to make ends meet, carving out what little time we have for ourselves, our families, and our, already known to us, friends. But this is an incomplete truth. In fact, we all have these stories, gifts, talents, and experiences that make us who we are. One of things I’ve been trying to practice with great success is asking a simple question when I meet new people, “What brings you joy?” I’ve been blown away by the stories and responses I’ve received.
When we endeavor to practice the art of neighboring, we can increase our sense of community. Recently, a “friend” relocated from her house in the suburbs for greener pastures. After moving and living in the “better” place, she decided to move back to burbs in a neighborhood with four other friends. Here’s her reflection: Parenting, life, friendship, marriage: they are not hard for me because I'm in the wrong place; they're just hard. So I am finally willing to accept that there is no geographic place that offers perfect peace. Because, wherever you go, there you are. Life is uncomfortable. So I might as well get busy loving the people around me. I'm going to stop trying so hard to decide whether they are "the right people" for me and just take deep breaths and love my neighbors. I'm going to take care of my friends. I'm going to find peace in the 'burbs. I'm going to quit chasing happiness long enough to notice it smiling right at me.
When we practice the art of neighboring, we can extend our lives. Study after study report a simple fact, people who know their neighbors live longer. Why? When you believe that your neighbors are generally trustworthy, you're more likely to interact with them. Whether it's a chat by the mailbox, a helping hand with packages, or simply a wave and a smile, this type of interaction can lift your mood, reduce your stress, and instill a sense of belonging. Those benefits, in turn, have been linked to better health, including a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, digestive complaints, and sleep problems.
Here’s a bonus, getting to know you neighbor may prevent your house from burning down. After buying our house, we immediately met our westward neighbors, Jack and Ruth-Ann. After the buying our house, we had some repairs to perform and so didn’t occupy our house for about a month. One evening, we got a call from our neighbor, Ruth Ann informing us that a smoke-detector was alarming. We drove over to discover it was a false alarm, but I’m really glad that we met Jack and Ruth Ann because they potentially prevented our house from burning down.
As I transition into our practical tips for today, let me note this is the art of neighboring, not the science. We do what we can with what we have. Also, I want to offer a few practical tips for the introverts among us. More than anything, I think I want to invite us to be open to the creative God using your creativity and your personality as it is to show you how you can love your neighbor.
1.) Complete a neighbor map.
Last week, we asked that everyone complete a neighbor map as the first step toward loving your neighbor as yourself. They are available at the sermon cart. There are eight boxes to represent your eight immediate neighbors, whether you live in a dorm, apartment, condo, duplex, townhouse, house, or shelter, you should be able to identify your neighbors using this sheet. The instructions for completing the map are included on the map.
2.) Catch your neighbors being neighborly.
One of things we want to encourage is a change in how we might see our literal neighbors. One way to do this is to acknowledge when our neighbors act neighborly, like when your neighbor brings in your trash cans, picks up litter on your block, greets you with a smile or a hello. We want to invite you to use our answered prayer wall over here to write these things down and post them up. We think, we will discover that we can do this, especially, if we do it together.
Here are a few suggestions that I solicited that might be more introvert-friendly:
Gardening - I’ve noticed several neighborhoods around Ann Arbor where flowers are planted in the easement, the grass space between the sidewalk and the street. You could plant some annuals on the corner to spruce up the neighborhood.
Deliver Cheer - It’s been my experience that when we have delivered small tokens of cheer that it has been impactful on our neighbors, whether a door wreath, baked goods, or a gallon of cider when the weather transitions to the very long fall/winter season.
If you are tech leaning, you could setup a private social network for your neighbors using the website http://www.nextdoor.com/