“Won’t You Be My Neighbor” Sermon Series Begins

Date:  February 5, 2017

Title:  “Welcome to the Neighborhood!”

Preaching:  The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard

Scripture:  Luke 10:25-37

            This morning we begin a four-week sermon series entitled “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”.  Can you hear it?  Doesn’t your mind immediately go to that catchy little theme song…

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,

            A beautiful day for a neighbor

            Would you be mine – could you be mine?

            Won’t you be my neighbor?

             That, of course, is the theme song from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, public television’s longest running children’s program.  Say what you will about Fred Rogers, with his nerdy zip-up cardigans and his sweet, gentle persona, he had a profound impact on the lives of countless children.  And he made a significant contribution to American culture with a simple message of individual worth and community compassion.

Much like the impact of Jesus’ parable we read this morning, the story we know as “The Good Samaritan.”  When Jesus first told this tale it was a scandalous one.  It sounded to the original audience much like this might sound to us…imagine if we started a story like this:

An Israeli Jewish man is robbed, and a “Good Hamas member” saves his life.

            Or, we could say:

A liberal Democrat is robbed, and a “Good conservative Republican” saves her life.  Or, how about A white supremacist is robbed, and a “Good Black teenager” (wearing a hoodie, no less!) saves his life.

             We could write a story which starts:

A transgender woman is robbed, and a “Good anti-LGBTQ activist” saves her life; or a Muslim refugee is robbed, and a “Good American” saves his life.

             I would like to think that last one is not so scandalous, or so unbelievable after all.  And yet, in recent weeks, the height and depth of our xenophobia – our fear of foreigners – has been starkly revealed.  It has been revealed not just in President Trump’s controversial Executive order stopping the resettlement of refugees and prohibiting the admission into the US of persons from seven majority-Muslim countries.

Our fear has also been revealed in our response, or our lack of response.  For some the fear has surfaced as annoyance with protestors who inconvenienced air travelers.  For others it was found in discomfort with those who loudly and persistently called for compassion and justice for the marginalized.  For still others the fear was felt in discomfort with those – even your preacher this morning – who insist on making our treatment of others an ethical, and even a religious concern.

Last Sunday Pastor Jeremy printed out 50 or so Bible verses which deal with our care for immigrants and refugees.  You will find them posted on the windows overlooking Beckham Courtyard.  I encourage you to take a few moments on your way to coffee hour this morning to read a few of them.  Because it is important for us to be reminded who we are in these contentious days.  As people grounded in God’s love and guided by Scripture, we need to remember that we are Americans, yes – but that we are also Christians.

We are people who cannot separate the love of God, self and other in the dynamic movement of our spiritual lives.  We are people who know it is not possible to fully love God while turning our backs on our neighbors, without betraying ourselves and giving up our essential identity.  Our own United Methodist Social Principles, found in the Book of Discipline, put it this way:

As people of Christian faith we condemn all overt and covert forms of religious intolerance.  We deplore acts of hate or violence against groups or persons based on race, color, national origin, ethnicity, age, gender, disability, status, economic condition, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious affiliation.

             We oppose immigration policies that separate family members from each other.  We recognize, embrace, and affirm all persons, regardless of country of origin, as members of the family of God.

             In essence, we United Methodists are asking each other, and asking the stranger among us, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

When the lawyer sidles up to Jesus, hoping to test him and trap him by first asking “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”, Jesus tells him he already knows the answer, to love God with heart, mind, soul, and strength… and to love the neighbor as yourself.  So the lawyer follows up the query asking for details, “Who is my neighbor?”

And Jesus says your neighbor is not just the person living next door, in a house you never have to enter.  Your neighbor is not the one who happens to be convenient for you to help.  Your neighbors are not those you can easily keep in their place, or those who meet all the qualifications you set for keeping company with you.

Rather, Jesus suggests your neighbor is someone who is experiencing pain.   Your neighbor is someone who struggles in life, someone who has challenges and knows sorrow.  You neighbor is someone who clearly has needs, and is someone you choose to help.  Jesus lifts up the Good Samaritan and then tells us to “Go and do likewise.”

Go and see the ones in need.  Don’t cross the street to walk on by, to ignore them or pretend they are not there.  But see them as human beings, see them as neighbors, see them as children of God, just like us.

Go and see the ones in need.  Then, go and draw near to them.  Be open to their needs and get close enough to help.  Go and see the ones in need; go and draw near to them.

And then, go and have compassion on them.  Do something about their pain, and take action that welcomes and heals not only the neighbor, but also the neighborhood in which we all dwell.

St. Augustine of Hippo once wrote:

The love of God is first in the order of commandment.  But the love of neighbor is first in the order of action.  In loving your neighbor, and in being concerned about your neighbor, you act – you get going.  And where are you going, except into the presence of the Lord God!

             And theologian Eberhard Arnold maintains that when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, asking “Your kingdom come”, the purpose of the prayer is to bring us to the point where its meaning is lived out, where God’s kingdom actually does come, where it happens and becomes a part of history.

My friends, we can make history today.  We can make history that is consistent with God’s preferred reality, if we will “go and do likewise”.  As Mr. Rogers wraps up his song:

Let’s make the most of this beautiful day

            Since we’re together, we might as well say

            Would you be mine, could you be mine…

            Won’t you be my neighbor?

             Please, let us be neighbors at last.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

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