The Art of Getting Along [The Art of Neighboring #3]
The Art of Neighboring: The Art of Getting Along
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • July 10, 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!
We launched this sermon series, The Art of Neighboring in Luke 10 examining the exchange between Jesus and the expert in Law about “Who is my neighbor?” 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.
Research suggests that building relationships with our literal neighbors can lead to better health, better connection, better communities, resulting in better cities and ultimately a better world. At this point, we are able to recognize the genius of Jesus. His simple invitation, while not easy, allows us to join him and inhabit the space he lives in and start to see our neighbor as someone deserving love, mercy, grace, and welcome. This is easiest when our neighbors are agreeable and easy to relate to and be around. But this becomes difficult, or impossible, when our neighbors treat us with hostility, indifference, or contempt. Hear the invitation from Jesus again: Don’t treat your neighbor as an “other,” treat your neighbor as yourself. Someone who is worthy of love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, and welcome.
This may be why this command, to love your neighbor as yourself, is considered the greatest commandment. At the center of being a good neighbor is learning how to get along with those all around us. When we are surrounded by great neighbors, we are willing to share a key to our house, invite them over for dinner, and spend our previous free-time hanging out with these former strangers. All of this makes us more secure, more comfortable being in our homes, and in our skin. However, when we have neighbors who aren’t like us, or don’t share our interests, we can find it hard to take Jesus at his word and meet him in the face of our neighbors and loving them as ourselves. Until we learn to get along with others, we will always hear the call to love our neighbor as our self, as a metaphor – something that’s fun to quote or post, but not worth following and finding out if Jesus knows what he is talking about.
Wisdom from Above Fuels our Ability to Get Along
After we have accepted Jesus’ invitation to love our literal neighbors as ourselves, the very first thing we should do is ask God for wisdom. Why? Because the key to getting along with our neighbors is wisdom. It’s the very tool we need make the greatest commandment do-able and not just metaphorical.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:13-18)
The events of this past week have been overwhelming to say the least. And I’m not just talking about the national issues of race, policing, and violence that we are wrestling with in our country right now. My struggle started locally with the news that a little 2 year old girl was killed in a hit-and-run at a 4th of July party. The news of Mia Isabella was devastating, my daughter Alyvia is almost two. I was overcome by grief and pain thinking about this loss as a parent. Then I learned that two of our congregants, who are Sheriff deputies, were on the scene of this tragedy.
And if that wasn’t enough, the bad news continued with the report of the Skyline teacher who drowned while on vacation with his family. That was Monday. I usually write my sermon manuscripts at Starbucks on Tuesday evenings, so after I finished up my sermon writing, I started to see news on my timeline that in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Alton Sterling was killed by law enforcement. On Wednesdays I usually host a BBQ in my backyard, so I was grateful for the respite, then after everyone left and I was heading to bed, more news of another incident started to full my timeline, another black man, Philando Castile, was killed by law enforcement in Falcon Heights outside of Minneapolis.
By Thursday morning, I was wrecked. (This was before the news of what happened in Dallas.)
It was hard to function, breathe, move, hopelessness was starting to take root and set in. The very present trauma of being a black man in America is overwhelming, especially realizing that I could be next.
But God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear,
7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
(2 Timothy 1:7)
James reflection on “wisdom from above” is timely. I’m grateful for his words as we continue to try to follow God and navigate an unstable world. Because wisdom from above is the only way forward. More than ever we need to accept the wisdom from Jesus and learn to trust God and love others. And I think our current sermon series is helpful, especially as we start with learning to love our literal physical neighbors by getting wisdom from above.
So, exactly how do we get what we need? We do exactly what James, the brother of Jesus, tells us to do. We ask for it.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:15, NIV)
We need wisdom because it helps us understand the difference between actually loving our neighbors and just tolerating them. James tells us that every day in every relationship, we’re planting seeds. Seeds of anger, jealousy, peace, confidence, insecurity, or joy. At some point, these seeds will produce a harvest in our relationships. James tells us that the first thing we need to do to get along with our neighbors is ask God for wisdom. He compares wisdom from “below” and wisdom from “above,” and explains that the wisdom we need is considerate, full of mercy, bears good fruits, is impartial and sincere. When we operate in this wisdom, it puts us in the right frame of mind and makes us good neighbors.
There are four immediate benefits to operating in the wisdom from above as we attempt to get along with our neighbors.
Wisdom from Above Creates Integrity.
When we operate in the wisdom that God gives, we will learn how to interact with people in a way that doesn’t compromise our integrity and prevents us from manipulating, controlling, and lying to others. We can be our authentic selves and acknowledge that we have been wounded or hurt in our connections with others.
Whoever walks in integrity walks securely,
but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out. (Proverbs 10:9)
Wisdom from Above Creates Peace.
When we operate in the wisdom that God gives, we will not antagonize others. It’s really easy to use the tools of disdain to resolve our conflicts. But hear the proverbs:
Any fool can start arguments;
the honorable thing is to stay out of them. (Proverbs 20:3; GNT)
When we take up the tools of disdain, comparison, condemnation, and contempt, and use them to resolve our conflicts, we operate in the wisdom from below creating barriers for reconciliation and preventing love from ruling the day.
If you stay calm, you are wise, but if you have a hot temper,
you only show how stupid you are. (Proverbs 14:29)
Wisdom from Above Creates Compassion.
When we operate in wisdom from above, we become mindful of the feelings of others. There’s a common misunderstanding that says, “If I don’t feel the same way you feel, then your feelings must be invalid, illogical, irrational, or silly.”
James says, wise people are considerate; they don’t minimize the feelings of others. If I’m operating in wisdom from above, I can acknowledge that you have them and they affect you. I may be willing to lean in to try and better understand them.
Kind words bring life,
but cruel words crush your spirit. (Proverbs 15:4)
Typically when we react to people’s emotions we often belittle their emotional pain. James says if I’m wise in relationships, I will not minimize your feelings. I’ll be considerate.
Wisdom from Above Creates Acceptance.
When we allow the wisdom from above to operate fully in our lives, we become less defensive. We become open to reason. We are flexible. We are willing to listen and learn from anyone.
A fool thinks he needs no advice,
but a wise man listens to others. (Proverbs 12:15)
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser;
teach a just man, and he will increase in learning. (Proverbs 9:9)
When we allow the wisdom from above to rule in our hearts, we aren’t overly critical or defensive, and we don’t antagonize others or minimize their feelings.
Continue to get to know physical literal neighbors by completing our neighborhood maps and catching our neighbors being neighborly.
How do we get wisdom? We ask for for it (James 1:15).
Wisdom is how we become salt and light as a community in the midst of darkness that is surrounding us. Wisdom helps us to become willing and useful partners to the King of Glory as he establishes his kingdom of peace and self-giving love in the war-torn and loveless world.
Commit ourselves to action by loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Rally Against Violence - Tuesday, July 12th @ 5:30pm in Liberty Plaza
As followers of Jesus, we are responsible...
to one another and
to the disconnected and discounted and disfavored.
We are responsible to love.
To create breathing room.
To announce good news. To proclaim the message of salvation. To forgive. To heal. To cast out demons. To serve. To make disciples. To baptize. To encourage, exhort, correct. To speak truth in love.
All of this under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
Which brings us back to ourselves. We are responsible for ourselves. To bring ourselves under the rule and reign of God’s kingdom. To be trained in the way of love and to be set free from the enslavement of sin. So our hearts beat as God’s heart beats. So that we listen and hear and obey the Spirit of God. So that we will what God wills. Jesus, would you give us everything we need to follow you where are you are? Jesus, would you overwhelm our fears and anxiety with your life-affirming presence and allow us to meet you in the faces of our literal neighbors.
Let us pray: Our Father in Heaven...