Wednesday, December 12, 2007

HOPE STARTS WITH NEIGHBORLINESS

FABRIC OF THE FUTURE. Yesterday, I highlighted what Walter Brueggemann insists about the future and the present: “God’s future is enacted as present neighborliness.” We just cannot separate what God intends to do in the future from how we relate to our neighbors today. Neighborliness is woven into the very fabric of the future the Bible describes.

COSTLY CARE. Neighborliness is not some mild emotion of goodwill we occasionally feel about the folks who live next door or those who like us and who are very much like us. Neighborliness is not warm fuzzies. Neighborliness is an active love, a sometimes costly commitment, a responsiveness to others that emerges from being so loved by God. “Christ loved us, and we ought also to love one another.” And who is my neighbor? Jesus forever radicalizes neighborliness with the story of the Samaritan.

NO HO-HUM MATTER. So, to say that “God’s future is enacted as present neighborliness” is no “been there, done that” proposition. If you’ve loved your neighbors and moved on to so-called “more important” or “more spiritual” things, you’ve missed the point entirely. If being an authentic neighbor doesn’t challenge you to the core, strain your closest relationships, unsettle your sense of social ease, cut in to your TV-watching and hobby time, and disrupt typical patterns of American consumerism, then you haven’t yet really grasped what Jesus is talking about or begun to understand how important this connection is to the past and future.

WORSHIP & NEIGHBORING. It’s so much easier to go to church and sing about heaven and the future than to be a neighbor. Being a neighbor can get messy. It can make claims on you. It can take you places you really didn’t intend to go. But being a neighbor brings as much praise to God as engaging passionately in public worship. By the way, it’s not a matter of either singing praise or being a neighbor. It’s both/and!

FROM A NAZI PRISON. I came across a sermon written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer from a Nazi prison in 1944, not long before the German theologian was killed by the Nazis for sympathizing with Jews and attempting to remove Hitler. Bonhoeffer eloquently equates neighbor with Christ and challenges us to respond. He writes:

WILL YOU OPEN THE DOOR? “We are faced with the shocking reality: Jesus stands at the door and knocks, in complete reality. He asks you for help in the form of a beggar, in the form of a ruined human being in torn clothing. He confronts you in every person that you meet. Christ walks on the earth as your neighbor as long as there are people. He walks on the earth as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you and makes his demands. That is the greatest seriousness and the greatest blessedness of the Advent message. Christ stands at the door. He lives in the form of the person in our midst. Will you keep the door locked or open it to him?"

WHERE WE BEGIN. The question lingers. Will we keep the door locked or open it? As we respond or do not respond to neighbor, we do so or do not do so to Christ. Hope begins when we begin to be a neighbor. Neighborliness brings hope for us: it releases us from failing patterns of behavior that exclude people based on worldly values. We recover long-lost principles of Biblical community. We also lean into the future God desires. Neighborliness brings hope for others: a distorted sense of being is healed, estrangement is negated, and gifts are mutually given and received. Neighborliness brings God’s future near. Without small and consistent acts of neighborliness, hope may as well be a pipe dream.

START TODAY. Where can you and I begin anew to be a neighbor today?

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