And Who Is My Neighbor?

And wanting to justify himself, the lawyer asked Jesus,
“And Who is My Neighbor?” (Luke 10: 29)

Most of us know at least a little of the Good Samaritan story found in Luke 10. What we might not know is that Jesus tells the story as a response to a question. It all begins with Jesus and a lawyer having a discussion about eternal life living. The lawyer knows that living life fully centers around loving God and loving the neighbor. Maybe it was because he/she was a lawyer, or maybe they just wanted to make sure. But the lawyer then asks Jesus, “and who is my neighbor?”

Often in churches, in Bible studies, during sermons we are invited to consider having an expansive / inclusive understanding of neighbor. When it comes down to it, everyone is our neighbor. Our neighbors are not just the people who live next to us, or down the block. Our neighbors can live in other communities, in other countries. We might even want to consider those who live in Wisconsin our neighbors. I am not suggesting this is wrong. After all, if the Good Samaritan story is Jesus’ way of answering the question, it is hard not to draw a big circle when talking about “and who is my neighbor.” But lately I have been thinking about the question of “and who is my neighbor” from the perspective of the church. Specifically this church ~ who are our neighbors? No really, do we know our neighbors? Not the ones across the river, but the ones who live farther down 5th Street. Do we know any of the new families that have moved in over the past few years on Judd Street or in Jackson Meadow or in the Stugas?

Believe me, I am not asking in the hopes that a few or all of them might someday come and be part of Christ Lutheran (though that would be great if it happens). Rather, I am asking because I am wondering what kind of neighbors we have been. Whether they attend or are members of CLC really doesn’t matter, they are our neighbors. And what does it mean that as a church we don’t know our neighbors anymore. In truth, this isn’t just limited to the new people who have recently moved to Marine. Over the years we seem to have lost touch with the neighbors who have been part of Marine for generations. And my guess is that if asked, most of our neighbors would not see Christ Lutheran as a neighbor either.

So now the question is, what does it look like for Christ Lutheran to simply be a neighbor? Recently I started to read a book titled, The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community. From what I’ve read so far, the authors argue that in the coming years, thriving churches will thrive by re-rooting themselves in their local communities. Thriving churches see themselves and are seen (by members and non-members alike) as an integral part of community/neighborhood life. Thriving churches remember that they too are neighbors. So how do we start? How can we as a congregation become better neighbors? The authors in the book suggest that maybe we start by asking ourselves six questions:

1. Where do you live? Describe the contours of your neighborhood. What narratives or values seem present in the place where you live?

2. How might you describe your current relationship to your place?

3. What might be an intentional and natural next step for you to live even more fully present within and in-with your place?

4. Walk with a friend or two: Invite a neighbor to join you on your walk through your neighborhood. As you walk together share what you see and hope for.

5. Are you a character in your neighborhood? Wonder together about ways of rooting within your congregation so people might come to know of and depend on you.

6. Have a conversation with your community of faith exploring intentional ways of being present as a congregation in the life of your neighborhood.

Or if the six questions seem overwhelming, maybe we should just stick with the one: “and who is my (our) neighbor?”

Pastor Joel

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