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FALL 2022 PREACHING SERIES 7: Disciples Love and Serve their Neighbor

We continue our Fall preaching series on DISCIPLESHIP, the seventh part entitled: DISCIPLES love and serve their neighbor.

Jesus’s neighbor ethic is built on the Great Commandment that unites love of God and love of neighbor. Jesus expands this teaching to the point of embracing love even for one’s enemies.

Jesus tackles the question of who our neighbor is in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Neighbors are people we know, strangers, and even enemies. By moving out of our comfort zone to include these widening circles of neighbors, strangers and enemies, we enter into discipleship’s view of neighbor-hood as a state of being in which all are drawn together in the household of God. Of course, all of this is easier said than done!

Many of you will remember that for over thirty years, American children grew up watching Mister Rogers. He offered a calm and stable presence, tackling life’s weightiest issues in a simple and direct way. You remember the words of the song – Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood

A beautiful day for a neighbor

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?

It's a neighborly day in this beauty-wood

A neighborly day for a beauty

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?

I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you

I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you

So, let's make the most of this beautiful day

Since we're together, we might as well say

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?

Won't you be my neighbor?

Won't you please

Won't you please

Please won't you be my neighbor?

The theme song to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood introduces the audience to a show that went to great lengths to highlight the concept of kindness towards others. Neighbors are mentioned eight times in this one very short song.

I think the most important thing in the song, is that the focus is not on asking who is my neighbor, in other words, who do I need to take care of to be compliant with Jesus’ command, but rather it’s a repeated invitation to become my neighbor – a welcoming-in of those who live close, those we know, and even those we don’t. That’s the real secret to discipleship … going beyond doing the basic, doing more than the minimum.

Who are our neighbors?

How do we welcome one another as neighbors?

How can we do better?

The Old Testament reading today from the Book of Sirach was penned about 180 years B.C. in Jerusalem. The book acted as a text for young wealthy students instructing them in the ways of wisdom.

Sirach revealed the status of the Jewish capital under Syrian domination. Society was polarized. Rich v poor - Jew v Gentile. The powerful v the weak – sounds a bit like today doesn’t it? Sirach's proverbs and general advice sought to guide the reader's conduct through such tenuous times.

One of the areas where public behavior and private disposition merged was Temple worship. How should one offer sacrifice? This was not a simple matter. Because of the direct intervention of the Syrian overlords in the affairs of the Temple, many people held worship there as suspect, even comprised.

In addition, some of the city's rich and powerful abused their positions, offering worship only for show, while oppressing the poor and helpless. Others used the public arena of Temple worship to advance themselves and their personal agenda. Many of the underclass believed worship at the Temple had become merely a show ritual that paid lip service to Yahweh.

Sirach tried to adjust the view of the rich. He instructed his reader to look at worship through the eyes of God. What sort of sacrifice would please God? A humble heart.

Humility allows one to treat others the way God treats them, without partiality. No bribe or show of piety can replace the humble heart. We are told that God hears the prayer of the humble, those who place him first in life. He will answer despite any delay.

Is there a message in this ancient text for us too? Have we drifted to the ways of worship for show? Is what we do here only lip service? How can we better connect our ways with the ways of God?

The more secular the world becomes, the less pretense we need to worship. But that lack of pretense does not relieve us from the call of humility. Worship demands that we place ourselves fully before God. Not to brag or manipulate God. But to simply be as creature with our Creator.

Today’s Gospel is the familiar story from Luke. It’s a bit about bragging, that is, excessively proud and boastful talk about one's achievements or possessions.

Let's face it, we all brag at times. And we all act humble at other times. Sometimes the brag or the humble voice is justified. Parents brag about children. Leaders exercise direction through quiet service. Both can be appropriate, depending upon the context.

I think that sometimes especially in a community like this we may be prone to brag – sometimes even without words, perhaps in our pregnant silence, or powerful smirks, or in being a bit too showy. Social media has also lured us, at times, into being braggards. You know what I mean!

The Gospel reminds us that we are all called to humility … Humility is about knowing life would not be as it is without the help of God. Acknowledging God and His grace in every aspect of life is the core of Christian humility. When we do this consistently, we will never lose focus, we will become better disciples!

Let’s go back to the beginning … disciples love and serve their neighbor.

This is our work, our challenge this week … to become better neighbors to one another … to become more and more comfortable with others, even and especially those that make us uncomfortable.

Disciples know Jesus. Disciples know the Bible. Disciples know the Christian faith. Disciples make faith a way of life. Disciples worship God. Disciples are witnesses. Disciples love and serve their neighbor.

And perhaps we echo the immortal words of Mr Rogers, in all things … be kind … be kind … be kind!


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