September 10, 2007

Monday Morning Message - Welcome to the Neighborhood

(Sing along if you like!)

It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

It's a neighborly day in this beauty wood,
A neighborly day for a beauty.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

I've always wanted to have a neighbor just like you.
I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.So,

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?
Won't you please,
Won't you please?
Please won't you be my neighbor?

I can't tell you how many times I watched Mr. Rogers walk through his front door and change his sweater and shoes while singing this memorable tune. I find myself humming or singing these lines at various and unexpected moments in my life. They always bring a smile to my face. You are likely to be singing them today as well (you can thank me later ;-)). (For my international readers who may not be familiar with this piece of Americana you can listen here)

The final plea of Mr. Rogers' little ditty has turned poignant for me. I think everyone desperately wants a neighbor. So, just who is my neighbor? It's a good question, but not a new question. Jesus was once asked this very question by a well educated and well to do man. The story Jesus told in response to the question is among the most famous stories ever told. We even have laws in our country based on this story called "Good Samaritan" laws. (You can find the story in Luke 10:25-37)

The question the man asked was, "Who is my neighbor?". Jesus never answers this question! I know, it astounded me too when I finally realized the impact of what Jesus does here. I am very much like the man asking the question. I want to identify who it is I'm supposed to treat nicely and in so doing I can exclude everyone else without my conscience bothering me. Jesus doesn't give us that luxury. Rather than identifying who is and who is not a neighbor, Jesus, in essence, tells the man (and us) to be a neighbor.

Glandion Carney tells a moving story of his return to the inner city neighborhood where he grew up. There he met a middle aged woman whose personal and family life was in a terrible mess. After listening to this woman share her story Glandion asked her, "What is your greatest need? Glandion says, "In labored but clear words she said, 'I need someone to tell me that I am worth something. I need someone to look me in the eye and say that I am a a person of dignity, that I have worth, that I have value in this world.'"

It strikes me that this is exactly what Jesus has done for us. In Eugene Peterson's wonderful rendering of John 1:14 it says, "And the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood."

Jesus says to the man asking the question, "Who is my neighbor?", "Spend less time determining who your neighbor is and more time loving them." After all, my friends, the commandment is to love our neighbor, not to identify them.

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