When you think of your neighbors, what comes to mind?
If you’re like me, you probably just think of the people who live in your general vicinity who you never speak to and try to avoid eye contact with if you all happen to be outside at the same time. But that may just be the hardcore introvert in me talking.
Growing up, I don’t remember ever being super close to any of our neighbors. I mean that in a familiar sense, not necessarily geographically. I grew up in a city. Not a big one, but the houses were close together and the apartments were right on top of each other, as they often are.
We lived in an apartment complex for a few years and I was perfectly fine not interacting with the neighbors’ kids. I mean, there weren’t many kids in our building and I was young enough when we lived there that venturing outside of our building to explore more of the complex was forbidden.
I’d be willing to bet that my dad would have been perfectly fine with not interacting with neighbors either. If introversion is genetic, I definitely got it from him. My mom and sister, on the other hand, they talk to everyone. The people across the hall… the noisy couple upstairs… the new people across the hall with the annoying daughter who also went to the same school as me and wouldn’t leave me the heck alone!
It was probably good that we got involved in others’ lives. At least at one point. That noisy couple upstairs? The dude was both verbally and physically abusive toward his girlfriend. It got bad enough that my parents called the police. Eventually, the dude left town and the woman, I’m pretty sure, was angry that my parents had inserted themselves, in spite of the fact that it may have saved her life.
Neighbors, am I right?
We later lived in a house in a real neighborhood. There were other houses. There were fences to delineate whose yard was whose. It wasn’t the suburban type of subdivision where you’d find a group of Desperate Housewives or anything like that. It was a neighborhood without real driveways. People parked their cars on the street. Not the kind of place the kids can really ride their bikes. We did… It just wasn’t ideal.
I know there were kids scattered around the neighborhood. I never really got along with any of them, but my sister did. I remember a trio of old ladies that lived to our right and a pair of ladies my parents’ age to our left. That may have been about the time I learned what a lesbian was.
But I digress…
The whole reason I started talking about neighbors was not so I could reminisce about the neighbors I did or didn’t interact with as I was growing up. I bring up the subject of neighbors because we didn’t have church today.
Hang on a minute. There’s a direct correlation there. It’s gonna make sense by the time we get to the end. I promise.
At Northstar Church, our slogan is, “Don’t go to church. Be the church.” All that simply means is that we expect our members to do more than just show up and fill a seat on Sunday mornings. The desire is that the people of Northstar Church would actively be in their community, sharing the love of Jesus, however that might look in a given situation.
So last year, someone came up with the idea of canceling church once or twice a year and allowing people to literally not go to church, but to be the church. In the fall, we had our first “BE ‘N’ GO” Sunday. On that day, as I said, we didn’t have a worship service like a normal Sunday. Instead, individuals and small groups were encouraged to perform acts of service throughout the community.
It was kind of awesome to see all of the ways that people were able to reach out and help other people.
Time has gone by and it’s time again for another “BE ‘N’ GO” Sunday. Today, actually. But the focus this time around is not on service. It’s on relationships. Specifically, the relationships that we have with our neighbors.
In Mark, chapter 12, we see a conversation between Jesus and a scribe:
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
– Mark 12:28-31
I remember growing up in church and constantly having the question thrown at us, “Who is your neighbor?” Of course, the good Sunday School answer is, “everyone.” Everyone is our neighbor, so we’re supposed to love everyone the same way we love ourselves.
And that looks real good when it’s written down on paper. I love everyone! Yeah… actions speak louder than words.
So I ask again, when you think of your neighbors, what comes to mind?
Are they people who live in your building that you may nod at when you happen to stop at the mailboxes with at the same time? Are they the family next door that you ignore and avoid eye contact with if you both happen to be outside? Are they the people that you spy on so that you can be the source of the latest gossip next time you get together with your friends?
Or, on a more positive note, are they people you genuinely care about? Are they people that you invite into your home? Do you have game nights together? Do you have barbecues in the summer? Do you throw block parties to celebrate the 4th of July each year?
I don’t know any of the people who live within a half mile radius of my house. More than likely, it extends beyond that. I’ve interacted with a family that sort of lives across the street once when my roommate’s dog got loose and made his way to their house. But I couldn’t tell you any of their names. I wouldn’t even be able to tell you how many people are in their family. Nor could I tell you who lives next door to them.
On our side of the street, the next house up is abandoned. The kind of place you’d dare people to spend the night in. Of course, that’s probably what a lot of people say about our house, too. On the other side of us, there’s nothing but an empty field until you get to the elementary school that’s just down the road.
We didn’t have church today at Northstar. Instead, we encouraged our folks to go into their neighborhoods and build relationships with the people who live closest to them. For those who have neighbors close by, I hope it has been a fun time of actually getting to know some new people and putting names with the faces that are seen but rarely spoken to.
What do you think our world would look like if we followed that second commandment that Jesus gave in Mark? What if we literally took the time to love the people around us… and they, in turn, love the people around them… Ripples in a pond, with you at the epicenter.