Bible Readings: Acts 28:28-31 & Luke 10:25-37

Neighbours

Neighbours,
Everybody needs good neighbours
Just a friendly wave each morning
Helps to make a better day
Neighbours,
Need to get to know each other
Next door is only a footstep away
Neighbours,
Everybody needs good neighbours
With a little understanding
You can find the perfect blend
Neighbours,
Should be there for one another
That’s when good neighbours become good friends

Now, I have to say that it is some time since I last saw an episode of Neighbours. In fact I’m not even sure it’s on terrestrial TV any more. Those lyrics are a little on the cheesy side, but they are not a bad summary of what we’re looking at this morning.

We’re continuing our exploration of our church values. Over the last few weeks we’ve been thinking about loving God with all our mind, soul, and strength. Today we’re looking at one of the values that flows out of our love for God, that is an expression of our love for God – our love for our neighbours.

As part of obeying Jesus’ command to us to love our neighbours, we value: being accepting, being welcoming, hospitality, sharing faith, reconciling people to God and to each other, and making disciples.

I wonder if you noticed a progression in those lyrics of the Neighbours theme tune. It goes from a wave in the morning, to getting to know, to taking the step to next door, to understanding, to good friendship.

There is a similar progression in what we say we value, from the welcoming and accepting, through to the active sharing of faith, working for reconciliation, and making disciples. And this progression is one that is far more important than the setting of a soap opera, and actually also goes much deeper. We do want to be good friends with our neighbours, but it doesn’t end there, we also want to introduce them to Jesus and give them the opportunity to get to know him, and to be saved by him.

In our reading from Luke’s eyewitness account of Jesus’ life, we overhear a conversation about what it means to love our neighbour. In the course of that conversation, the expert in the law asks a question, “Who is my neighbour.” Now, in this case, Jesus knew that this question had only been asked so that the man could justify himself. But, actually, I’m not sure that it isn’t quite a useful question to ask ourselves.

Who is my neighbour?

You see, it seems to me that the risk of our familiarity with the story of the Good Samaritan is that we end up going to an extreme and thinking that our neighbour has to be someone exotic, foreign, different from us, maybe even an enemy. And whilst it is true that those people are our neighbours in Jesus’ eyes, it is also true that so are the people who actually live in the houses next to ours, on the road that we live on. Our neighbours are the people we sit next to at work or at school.

So, let’s just take a moment. I would like you to think for a moment of a neighbour of yours. An actual person who lives next door to you, or that you work with, or whose life goes on in some way near you. Hold that person in your mind. And as you do, I’m going to ask some questions for us to ponder. Do you love this person? What would it look like to love them? How could you get from where you are in your relationship with them to a place of loving them?

Perhaps we could do worse than applying our values.

Being accepting, being welcoming, hospitality, sharing faith, reconciling people to God and to each other, and making disciples.

This might take some thinking about. What does it mean to be accepting of the people we live among. And what do we mean by accepting? It seems to me that it is about seeing people as God sees them, beloved and created in God’s image. It may be that some of their behaviour isn’t acceptable – they may play loud music late at night or eat egg mayo sandwiches at their desk, stinking the office out. You may disagree with them on things that are important to both of you. Accepting a person doesn’t mean condoning their actions, or agreeing with them on things. It does mean accepting them as fellow human beings, of equal worth and value in the eyes of our Creator.

If acceptance is somewhat passive, welcoming is active. This is linked to hospitality and is about making someone feel at home, comfortable, valued in the place where they are. This might be about popping round with a cake when someone moves into the area, it might be inviting a new colleague to join you for lunch. If you’ve lived somewhere for a while it might be about hosting or helping to organise a tea party, a coffee morning, a street party.

This might feel impossible if you have a difficult history with your neighbours. If you’re in that situation, then don’t be discouraged. Follow Jesus’ command and begin by praying for your enemies and see what God does.

All this is about getting to know people, encountering each other, forming friendships. As we get to know people, and begin to see them as God sees them, so we begin to love them as God loves them. God loves all of us so much that Jesus came to rescue us from sin and death. God loves us just as we are, but loves us too much to leave us that way. All human beings are sinners in need of a Saviour. That means us, and it means our neighbours. This is what Jesus did with tax collectors and sinners. He saw them as worthy of time and attention and love – accepted them, shared meals them, and called them to repentance and changed lives.

If we truly love our neighbours, we will want them to be saved, and this is where the next steps come in – sharing faith, reconciling people to God and each other, and making disciples.

There are as many different ways of doing this as there are neighbours. We are all individuals, in different circumstances, with different neighbours. God has given us all different gifts. There are some things we have in common though. We can all choose to talk positively about church, and about our experience of walking with Jesus. We can all invite people to things – Oasis, Toddler Group, Oasis film afternoon, youth group, Alpha, home group.

As I was sat writing this I was faced with a dilemma. A choice.

The safe option would be for me to say that as we go along this process, it does get more challenging and that’s why we have church services and Alpha and small groups so that we can do the disciple making bit on behalf of the members of the church. That somehow, the further along this process you go, the more difficult it gets, and so we have some experts to take on the end stages.

The trouble is, that might be safer, but I’m not sure it’s what Jesus taught. He told his disciples, “go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Now, one of the things Jesus commanded his disciples to do was to make more disciples, and so that applies to all of us, not just the experts.

So, visualise again for me your neighbour, the one you thought of earlier. The first question was, do you love them? The question now is, how are you going to make them a disciple of Jesus? For that is the ultimate expression of love. Our desire and intent for our neighbours to become disciples of Jesus is a measure of our love for our neighbours.

This feels like a much less safe option, a much more challenging option, it may leave us feeling ill-equipped and uncomfortable. It may make us feel guilty.

That’s OK. Where we have failed to obey this command in the past, as we repent and turn away from that failure we are forgiven, that is the good news of our faith. We don’t have to feel guilty, we are freed from guilt, not by our own excuses for disobedience but by the real forgiveness bought for us on the cross.

As for our weakness, as Paul writes in one of his letters to the Christians at Corinth,

“God said to me ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
and again,

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

We do not have to have all the answers, we do not have to feel confident in ourselves, we do not need our own strength. In fact, in some cases these things can get in the way of what God is doing. We need to be obedient, to be loving, to be faithful.

Earlier on I suggested that if we have particularly difficult neighbours we should pray for them. I think that I’d like to borrow one of values from one of the other headings to apply more generally. That of prayerfulness. Prayer has to underpin all that we do in loving all our neighbours, not just those we don’t get on with. We can ask for opportunities to welcome, to show hospitality, to share our faith. We can listen and look for the opportunities when they arise. We can ask for the patience to listen, for the right words to say, for the insight to know when the time is right to offer an invitation, for the courage to do so. We can intercede and pray for our neighbours, when they’re facing troubles and difficulties, but more importantly that they become disciples of Jesus.

As a church we love our neighbours. We value being accepting, being welcoming, hospitality, sharing faith, reconciling people to God and to each other, and making disciples. We will do this in our daily lives and when we gather together. That is the command that we have been given, and the call that we will obey.

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