Today’s sermon had a particular idea that struck a chord with me. I write this as a challenge for my brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as myself. Please don’t be offended.
Imagine, if you will, Sunday morning. Your family, finally ready for church, loads up in the SUV. You open the garage door from inside, back out onto the driveway, click the garage door shut and off you go to church. After a nice lunch in a local restaurant, you return home, pull into the driveway, click the door open, pile out of your SUV, walk into the house and click the garage door shut. And for the next eighteen hours, the door remains shut. Until the next morning, when the ritual repeats itself for work and school, and then once everyone returns home for the evening, the garage door shuts once again, and your family remains cloistered inside your comfortable cocoon, safe from the world. Day in and day out, you living a comfortable life inside your comfortable home.
Around you are houses, across the street, next door, behind you, filled with people. They’re called neighbors. Do you know any of them? Can you know them if you live the above routine, hiding inside your safe and comfortable home. I’ve heard people say, “I pray for my neighbors,” and that’s good, but how can you pray, other than a generic prayer, “God, please bless that family who lives in that house over there,” for people you don’t know? And how can you make a difference in the lives of people whom you’ve never met?
As Christians, isn’t that supposed to be our mission? When asked by the Pharisees what is the greatest commandment, Jesus said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ I’ll ask again, how can you love those whom you don’t know?
But what if you knew your neighbors, by name? And you knew that Andy and Jen, across the street, just had a new baby named Eleanor (Nora) June, born at five o’clock this morning. Calvin now has a little sister. And then you found out what kind of food they like to eat, so you can take them a meal. Or what if you knew Tom, across the street? Tom, a Viet Nam vet who is scheduled for another surgery, his fourth or fifth, and who has to get around with a cane. And Crystal his wife, who ministers in a small, local church. You might pray for Tom’s surgery and offer to help in other ways. Or maybe you know Dave next door. Dave is a widower in his 80’s, a military vet, who lives alone with his dog Wally. He likes to read, mainly military history. You make a point to strike up a conversation with him each time you see him. He might be lonely. And then there are Bob and Mary parents of Chris, who lives next door with husband John and their two kids, Morgan and Nicholas. And next to them are Betty and Klaus, in their nineties, but Betty still loves to come out and do yard work. How might you make a difference in Betty’s life? And next door to them, George and Barb. George drives a school bus and he and Barb spend a lot of time in their beautiful flower garden. Barb’s mother lives with them. And the new neighbor, who just moved in next door, someone you will soon make a point to meet. What if you knew all or many of your neighbors? What difference could you make in their lives? And for Christ?
Jesus also said, You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing anymore, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. Your are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on the lamp-stand; and it gives light to all who are in the house.
In the movie, It’s A Wonderful Life, George Bailey feels as if he’s a failure, as if his life doesn’t matter. And Old Man Potter, after finding out George’s life insurance policy exceeds his net worth, tells him, “George, you’re worth more dead than alive!” George concludes he and his family would be better off if “he’d never been born.” And so Clarence, his guardian angel, arranges it. But you know how the story ends. The question for you and for me; if you died today, would your neighbors notice? Without you in the neighborhood, what would it be like?
Here’s my challenge to you as Christians; open your garage door and get to know your neighbors, as many as possible. If you choose to isolate yourself, as in the garage door example above, you may as well become Amish and go live on a farm somewhere. Or become a monk and live on the side of a tall mountain. Jesus prayed this in John 17: “I do not ask you to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” From this prayer we came up with the phrase, “We’re to be in the world, but not of the world.” In the world making a difference. A difference that the world desperately needs.
Knowing your neighbors can be messy, and yes, you’ll be sticking your neck out by getting involved. But what you’ll find is, by knowing your neighbors you learn to love your neighbors and by loving your neighbors you can make a difference in their lives. And if you make a difference in people’s lives, you’ve become salt and light, and when your life is finished, you may hear the phrase, “Well done good and faithful servant.”