“We make our friends; we make our enemies;
but God makes our next door neighbor.” G. K. Chesterton
Even today there’s something about leaping into a pile of freshly raked pine needles or using a garbage can lid for a shield in a pinecone battle that still has a special place in my heart. Every great neighborhood needs a Hoot, a Jack and a Corky…unless Corky steals your swing from you on YOUR swing set. How was I to know that a swift punch in the nose would cause a gusher? Today someone would call the police, back then we just put ice on it until it finally stopped bleeding.
Mr. Clonts was always puttering around his yard and loved his prize roses, but always had time for the neighborhood kids. We’d pull up in his driveway and like we were valued customers, he’d pump air into our bike’s tires and grease the chains. He’d make sure that our bikes were safe and fast. He was never too busy and there never was a bad time to drop by.
One Christmas I was given some tools and made a stool for the Clontses. Mrs. Clonts made over it and talked about it for years. You’d have thought I’d given her a million dollars. I still remember when they told us that they were moving. I was maybe seven but it was a very, very sad day for me.
Then, there was Dr. and Mrs. Harris who lived next door. The grass in their lawn was like a soft carpet, surrounded by daffodils. Back then, what I lacked in coordination I made up for in daring. Falling from the top of their swing set in their back yard, I cracked the skin on my knee wide open. I still remember Dr. Harris carrying me home in his arms so that my parents could rush me to the hospital for some needed stitches.
Penny Merriman was always fun but as a kid, her Mom scared me. You never got past the front stoop. A couple of houses down from her were the Redwines – their house was always open. Essentially, it was an ongoing playhouse for kids. After my Mom died, they saw the pain of a ten-year-old, taking me with their family to the newly opened Disney World.
My home in the 1960’s was barely inside the Atlanta City limits. The world was changing. All too soon neighborhoods devolved into suburbia. Even back then, socializing was limited – primarily with those who lived a few houses adjacent to yours. Wonderfully, in recent years there’s been an increasing emphasis on healthy neighboring.
Did you know that is supremely biblical? When Jesus was asked, “What’s the greatest commandment?” He replied: “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 first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Love your neighbor – that’s it! How simple, yet how difficult. It’s easy to love the nice ones but every neighborhood has at least one of “those” neighbors. Jesus didn’t qualify it and tell us to only love the nice ones.
The early church rocked their world because they loved their neighbors. While it’s true that they loved the world and loved people across town, but it all started with the neighbor next door. Yet, you can’t love those you don’t know. Even in a small town community like ours, it’s easy for relationships with our neighbors to be little more than a smile and wave.
This morning we’re starting a several week series: Meet the Neighbors – The Great Commandment starts next door. In our time crammed and privacy valued culture, this sermon series is going to mess with your world. It’s going to be uncomfortable for all of us. Yet, to fail to see and apply this is to miss God’s will and best for our lives and for our church.
One of the best examples of neighboring in recent years has been the late Fred Rogers and his program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. He emulated several of the lessons that we all need to learn about neighboring.
Love your neighbor and love yourself. Despite his background as a Presbyterian minister, Mr. Rogers didn’t try to push a specific agenda on his viewers. Instead, he was a glorious example of someone who could be open to hearing other people’s opinions without diverting from his own values. This characteristic is surely something the world could benefit from practicing today. Listening to the other “side” doesn’t mean you have to surrender what you believe, it simply makes your world more diverse.
Be a good listener. Mr. Rogers didn’t preach good listening skills in the typical sense, which to many could mean just being quiet so someone else can share information or speak their peace. Instead, he encouraged truly paying attention to what another person is saying. Listening with not only your ears, but your eyes, heart, and soul. Words mean very little if we’re not open to understanding the feelings and thoughts behind them.
We respond best when there’s an attempt to understand. Mr. Rogers was all about making heartfelt attempts to understand a differing opinion before uttering a response. He felt that the very act of learning what someone’s feelings are grounded in can make others react with an increased sense of care and rationale. In today’s world of social media retorts and arguments, there’s never been a better time to learn and practice this.
Treat everyone with respect. This lesson might feel like a no-brainer, the kind of thing any child learns in kindergarten. But Rogers didn’t only say the words, he illustrated the point visually. During a time when black people weren’t allowed to swim in the same pools as white folks, the Pittsburgh, PA native wanted to make a point against segregation. He invited series regular Officer Clemmons, played by African-American actor Francois Scarborough Clemmons, to cool his feet alongside him in a kiddie pool during a segment.
Love your neighbor as yourself is an outcome of understanding that every person you meet is made in the likeness of God. Then, every person you meet is loved by God and Jesus died for them. When we get a firm handle on those two truths, loving our neighbors becomes very simple.
Can we help you spiritually? Can we help you know Jesus better? Please check out more resources on our church's web page, Gracechurchwi.org. Or, call us at 262.763.3021. If you'd like to know more about how Jesus can change your life, I'd love to mail you a copy of how Jesus changed my life in "My Story." E-mail me at Carson@gracechurchwi.org to request a free copy. Please include your mailing address.