From the Rector

By the Rev. Eric LongEric Long color

This is an excerpt from, followed by an addendum to, my February 5, 2017, sermon:

 Three years ago for Christmas, after a six-year hiatus, Shelley and I decided to get our girls another dog. Perhaps it was amnesia from our exceedingly wild thirteen-year ride with beagles that made us do this.  Perhaps it was the holiday season that turns even the cold heart of Scrooge warm.  Perhaps it was my redneck friend who told me, “Every kid deserves to have a dawg, Eric!”  But whatever it was, it all colluded against me in a weak moment, and the Long family once again decided it was time to go canine.

We decided to save a life and adopt a dog.  But before you think too highly of us, we were still quite picky about the dog we would be willing to adopt.  We didn’t want a barker, a chewer, a stealer, a jumper, a yapper, a pooper, or a beggar.  As I said before, those beagles did quite a number on us.  They gave us PBSD: Post Beagle Stressed-out-of-our-minds Disorder.

Well, we searched far and near for the right dog and finally found a rescue dog that seemed a good fit. In fact, he seemed perfect.  He was calm, loving, and potty-trained.  He didn’t bark and wasn’t a thief.  He was laid back, so he wouldn’t add more mayhem to our lives already so full of mayhem.  In short, he seemed like Goldilocks finally getting her porridge: just right.

We surprised the girls and had the dog’s foster family met us at the park where the girls could play with him, without knowing he would be theirs. We got a great video of Abigail and Madalene finding out they could take him home as their own.  It was a moment of pure delight, full of squeals and jumping around.

Then, we had the great fun of naming the dog.  We narrowed it down to “Johnny” for Johnny Cash – the dog in black (he had black fur) – or “Otis” for Otis Redding. 

We settled on “Otis” for the dog.  And the world seemed great.  And Otis seemed perfect.  He wasn’t a barker, a chewer, a stealer, a jumper, a yapper, a pooper, or a beggar. Unfortunately, I forgot to add “biter” to that list, because two days after Otis came to live with us, he bit the stew out of my hand. 

At first, everyone thought: “Oh, that’s okay, it’s just Eric.  Otis is a good judge of character.”  Plus, he had been through a lot, and it happened as I was trying to take some scotch-tape off of his paw.  So, maybe my fault?  Although, my Lord, it hurt! And, as you can imagine, I was very concerned.  

            However, over the next month, my concern dissipated, as Otis acted perfectly fine and slipped back into his perfect ways…until one Sunday night, when Otis viciously bit Shelley, absolutely out of nowhere and for no reason we could discern.  When I tried to break it up, Otis attacked me.  It was then we knew that this Otis Redding wasn’t going to just sit quietly on the dock of the bay. 

            Not surprisingly, that evening I got the mayhem I was trying to avoid.  Everybody in the whole house was either literally wounded by Otis or sobbing because of the obvious fact that Otis was going to have to go.

Of course, we wondered what we did wrong.  Yet the truth is it almost certainly wasn’t about what did at all that made Otis bite, but about what was previously done to Otis that made Otis bite. Otis bit because his former life taught him he had to bite in order to survive around people – in his mind, even people like us.

 

Many of us have been wounded in life.  All of us live in a “bite-first, ask questions later” world.  It is the hallmark of social media.  It is the scourge of our politics.  It is the legacy of terrorism. Yet as followers of Jesus, as disciples attempting to model his ways, we can choose healing.  We do not have to live out of our woundedness or give in to our fears.

The scripture lesson that inspired the sermon quoted above was Isaiah 58:9b-12.  Isaiah preached his message to people who had suffered through the conquest of their homeland and subsequent exile into Babylon.  They had every reason to be bitter.  They had every reason to fear.  They had every reason to bite back.  However, Isaiah gave them an alternative way to act, even in a vicious age:

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,

then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;

and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.

Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;

You shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in (emphasis added).

 

Two weeks after Otis went back to his foster family, Shelley and I got a call from a family with two dogs they could no longer care for because of their very sick child. We cautiously decided to take one of the dogs, Emily, into our home.  And in our home Emily remains.  Two weeks later, they called back and asked if the other dog, Coco, could live with us as well.  Coco now does.  And we couldn’t imagine life without them.

At first, we would look at their teeth and fear the possibility of their bite.  Yet we decided that no bite was going to change who we were. We knew that love makes us vulnerable to hurt, but it still must win the day.  Therefore, we chose healing, and I hope we always will, not only when it comes to dogs, but more important, when it comes to the rest of life.

 

Blessings,

Eric

 

From the Rector

By the Rev. Eric LongEric Long color

The administrative demands of work flooded in with a fury at St. John’s since 2017 began. This is always the case at the beginning of the year with changes in vestry leadership, a new budget, Diocesan Convention, the Winter/Spring programming season, the liturgical calendar that says Lent and Holy Week/Easter will be here before we know it, plus the bishop’s annual visitation, and a million other small details, each of which is easy to lose in the shuffle. Yet this year’s beginning has been especially intense for a multitude of reasons. When such a flood comes, the fear is that we will drown in it. However, I take heart in having felt this way countless times before, only to find that through us pulling together as a staff alongside parish volunteers, and through old-fashioned hard work, it somehow all comes together in the end.

The feeling of being overwhelmed is not a good feeling though. None of us relishes it. At best, we endure it. Yet when we make our way to the other side of it, a sense of accomplishment awaits us, along with much gratitude that we proved once again to have the wherewithal and fortitude to see it to completion.

But does it have to be this way?

Churches, sadly, too often mimic the frantic busyness of the world about us. Your clergy and vestries at St. John’s have talked about this often. While there will always be a great deal of administrative work to do at a church the size of St. John’s, much of the pace at which it comes and the programming volume are surely self-induced. There are no easy solutions, but we are having extensive conversations about how to give our members not just countless activities to add to their already-burdened calendars, but chances to retreat from the intense pace of their overwrought lives in order to allow enough space to be still and get to know God better. We want chances to go deep and not just skim along the surface like a rock tossed fast across the pond. If God is in the depths, somehow we must find a way to meet him there. However, that will require slowing down enough to sink into his life.

There are several ways we are trying to carve out this space in our life together. You will notice in the weeks ahead some new small group opportunities that purposefully set aside time for reflection. In fact, the major component of our Lenten Wednesday evening program will be given to small group sessions together. As well, we are going to have a Women’s Retreat this spring (April 28 – 30) in order to get away from the hustle of life so that God can work restoration in our lives. These are but a few of the new ways we are trying to forge a new path as a congregation in order to move us out of the flood of never-ending busyness and into those places where we can dwell with God and each other.

Revelation tells us that “God has made his home with mortals” (21:3). This is the huge takeaway of the Jesus-event. Although its immensity will never fully be understood on this side of heaven, its reality can surely be missed by those not paying attention. Knowing it is difficult to pay attention in our distracted, stressed world, the Church needs to intentionally offer occasions dedicated solely to paying attention to what God is doing in our midst. My New Year’s resolution to you as your pastor is to provide these holy spaces so that you might find deeper communion with the God who has come your way.

Blessings,

The Reverend Eric Long, Rector

From the Rector

By the Rev. Eric LongEric Long color

It was particularly difficult to be a priest during Christmas in 2012. It was dreadfully tough to be a parent that holiday too. Being both was almost overwhelming.

I had never heard of Sandy Hook Elementary before December 14 of that year. Like thousands of other schools, it simply existed, nameless, because after all, why would I ever need to know that school’s name? Yet on that day, its anonymity died, along with far more precious things.

Back then, I walked to pick my girls up from school each day, unless it was Shelley’s turn. Generally, pick-up was a one-parent job, mom or dad, never both, whoever could fit it in or just lost the coin toss. But not that Friday. That Friday every mom and dad went to pick-up: Shelley and I, and a multitude of others. We all walked together with knowing looks and shaking heads, red eyes and anguished concern that hung thick in the air like some funeral dirge no one could have ever imagined needing to sing. We walked without our faces buried in phones for once, but rather, looking up in expectation of our children coming home from school in a world where, without warning, all children do not.

We forced smiles for the sake of Abigail and Madalene that Christmas, and our deceits grew far larger than normal. That year it wasn’t only that reindeer could fly, or Santa really could do all that in one night. No, that year we also said that monsters weren’t real, even though we now knew they sometimes came. And we pulled it off. Abigail and Madalene never knew a thing – a hiatus for them from a new reality in which they had unknowingly come to live.

The people at my church knew the truth though. As they painfully sang “Joy to the World,” they knew, and looked at me with eyes that begged to know if that story still held, or if it was just another fantasy we tell, to hide away from a world sometimes just too sad to bear. To be honest, that Christmas I wondered a bit too, for how could a world into which God would come, be the same world where that could come too?

Jesus was born into the real world, not a Renaissance painting. Jesus’ world had it all: senseless violence, political strife, and even another true story about the slaughter of innocents, itself too dreadful to tell. Yet that was the world God came to visit, rather than some idealized version of it, as pretty as it is on Christmas cards. The world into which Jesus was born is one that can know fathomless sorrow, with depths unknown, and yet into which God willingly dove headfirst.

It is in this world’s sorrows, and ours in it, that Christmas shows its hand, disclosing whether it was just bluffing all along, or not. In this world — the real world, our world — we see how much we need the Jesus who comes… into our hurts and pains, and into the hurts and pains of people about whom we’ve never heard, until we hear more of them than our hearts can take… into sorrows so deep that only God could possibly fill them up. And so God did. And so God does.

That is what I told my parishioners gathered that Christmas Eve night, singing songs they hoped still held. It’s what I proclaimed that night and have never stopped proclaiming since — and never will: our faith is a load-bearing wall. It can endure the worst, because it says God so loved the world, even as it really is, that he gave his only son, so that this real world can be whole in a way no idealized world ever could.

Some stories we tell because they are fun even though we know they aren’t true. Some stories are too true to bear. Some stories are so true and joyous all at once that they have the power to change every other story because they matter just that much.

Christmas is such a story. A story that heals all others. A story of the God who visited the stories of a world such as ours.

Christmas matters that much.

Christmas Blessings,

Eric

From the Rector

By the Rev. Eric LongEric Long color

As a pilot in the Navy and then for Fed Ex, my father was gone for large portions of my childhood.  This was the price that came with Dad’s service to our country, and then his job.  The longest separation started when I was nine years old.  Dad was assigned to sea duty for two years on an aircraft carrier, and my family decided to remain in Memphis, TN, as that is where Dad’s future employment would be.  Two years is a dreadfully long time for such absolute separation, and it stands out as a particularly sad time in my life.  Yet what floods in right behind those lonely memories are the people of my church, mostly older, who rushed into that void and were there for me and my family in tangible, powerful ways.  Although we had no blood relatives in Memphis, I grew up with countless surrogate aunts and uncles, grandparents, and even father-like figures.  They filled my life through Calvary Church of the Nazarene.  I still remember their names and continue to feel their love.  I wonder at times what I would be without them, what different path my life would have taken without that church.  I’m glad that is a version of myself I will never know.

One fall when my dad was at sea, our church was holding a Father-Son banquet of some sort.  I will never forget the number of men who called me up to ask if I would come with them to that event.  They cared enough about me that they stepped into that empty place and transformed what would otherwise have been a painful memory into one of the most powerful testimonies I have about the goodness of the Church for our lives.

This way of being there for one another is one of the most enduring gifts of life in Christian community. I don’t suppose we notice it so much, except at those times when we need it the most.  Recognizing this has indelibly shaped my ministry.  At St. John’s, this is the chief reason we have tried to introduce chances for our church to be together across generational lines at gatherings such as our Fellowship on the Fourth events.  We have also endeavored to allow for community to be built with people in similar stages of life.  Yet the one group the clergy have longed to see brought into being is one offering friendship and fellowship for parishioners of retirement age.  This eluded us in the first stage of my ministry as we sought to rejuvenate waning children and youth programs, but we always circled back to it as a priority that had not been met.  We worried over this potential hole in our community life through which someone might fall.  Meeting this need has been regarded not only as the right thing to do, but, for me, as a way to give back.

It is, therefore, my great joy to announce that we now have this long-awaited group for our older members.  The Fine Wines is a community of retirement age parishioners who will gather to share life with one another while having fun.  If you have not heard about this group, or could not attend their first event on November 29th, please look at the full schedule of outings and events they have planned for the months ahead provided in this newsletter. What they have put together is fantastic.

Togetherness is the point of it all, and a great point it is.  For what was taught to me as a child forever remains: we really do need each other.  Indeed we do, and this is why God has given us to one another.

With you,

The Reverend Eric Long, Rector

From the Rector

By the Rev. Eric LongEric Long color

Last night at our vestry meeting, we did all the normal things vestries do: we discussed new and lingering issues with our facilities; reviewed the financial statements for the month, while trying to use your gifts in the most judicious ways possible; discussed strategies to meet the broad needs of our people across all generational lines; and celebrated new endeavors on which God is calling us to embark. Believe it or not, our meetings are always uplifting, mostly because our leaders know that we are not simply having a business meeting, but prayerfully making decisions about how to be the church that Jesus says we are to be.

Last night offered something more. Ann Marie Wood made a report to the vestry about one of our nine Outreach ministries, Temporary Relief for Unexpected Emergencies, or T.R.U.E., as it is generally called. T.R.U.E. helps our neighbors in the Roanoke Valley who find themselves in extreme circumstances pay for housing costs so that their basic need for shelter is preserved. Many of you know all about this work because you have volunteered to help on Tuesday mornings. All of us, however, should be aware of just how significant an impact our parish is making on our community. While other area charitable organizations have reduced the assistance they offer, St. John’s has increased its commitment to provide basic dignity to all people in Jesus’ name. This year, St. John’s will provide almost $62,000 worth of assistance through T.R.U.E. alone. In 2016, we have already helped well over 900 families and individuals, an overwhelming proportion of whom have children in their homes. In doing so, we are literally fighting homelessness before it occurs.

When Ann Marie gave us her report, I welled with pride for our church and you as her people. If you consider that on a good Sunday, 500 people are in attendance in worship at St. John’s, and yet we are annually helping over twice that number of families and individuals keep their houses, who could not rejoice in such faithfulness? What’s more, it is clear to me that behind every decision our vestry makes about budgets and facilities, those people are at the forefront of our leaders’ hearts and minds.

St. John’s is a model of Christian generosity. In absolute sincerity, I know of no other church our size which comes close to doing good at the level this parish does. It is beyond any church I have ever served, or ever been associated with. As I mentioned above, T.R.U.E. is but one of nine Outreach ministries of St. John’s which also include everything from an after school tutoring program (CYP), to assistance to families transitioning out of homelessness (Family Promise), medical missions in Ghana (Kimoyo), blood drives for the Red Cross, once in a lifetime gifts to change the course of a family’s future (Crossroads), and home repairs for needy families in Appalachia (Grace Rebuilding). If you’re counting, my list is not exhaustive because we also partner with area agencies to give hope in Jesus’ name. In fact, I write this article having just walked an extra block to my office because there was nowhere to park at church: St. John’s is hosting the Total Action for Progress (TAP) luncheon today, just another one of our many outreach efforts.

I look forward to many such long walks from my car into this church, not only because I need the exercise, but because the world needs St. John’s to be St. John’s. If you’ve wondered what happens around this place when we aren’t at worship, this is it. If you’ve wondered what our vestries do, it is making sure this continues.

St. John’s, this is who we are and each of us should have a heart that sings with joy, knowing that when Jesus asks us what we have done for those in extreme need, we will join hands and say, “Together, Lord, we did quite a lot.”

St. John’s Gives. Celebrate all the ways.

Blessings,

The Reverend Eric Long, Rector

From the Rector

Eric Long colorBy the Rev. Eric Long

“Money is the root of all evil” is a famous adage erroneously attributed to the Bible.  People ceaselessly believe it to be scriptural, although it is not.  And it’s not for good reason: the comment is untrue.  Money, while capable of being dreadfully misused, has, in the right hands, accomplished tremendous good.  Habitat for Humanity houses, emergency relief for families on the verge of homelessness, mission trips to Ghana, and churches all cost money.  These examples could easily be partnered with millions more, both small and large, to demonstrate how money has been utilized to achieve profoundly good ends.

The actual biblical statement that is misquoted comes from I Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil.”  No doubt you immediately notice the obvious difference between the accurate quotation and the false.  The issue at hand is where your heart is with regard to money.  When money becomes the desire of our hearts, the center of our affections, or an end to itself, evil easily creeps into the scene.

Which begs the question: what is the place of money in our lives?  Is it something we voraciously chase no matter the cost?  Is it something we look at in a utilitarian way simply to get what we need to make it from one week to the next?  Or is our money viewed as a gift that God has entrusted to our care, and thus a gift on which God has a claim?  If you have never asked yourself these questions, I challenge you to do so.  How do you tend to view money in your life?

Of course, many roll their eyes when the pastor starts talking about money.  Ulterior motives are never far from such discussions, even in the Church.  Yet far from having base motivations for bringing this up, I am mindful of my call as a priest, especially in a world where the love of money has caused great pain (just consider recent years) and in which money matters have wreaked tremendous havoc within marriages and families.  Simply put, I would fail in my vocation if I never raised such questions.

Churches must talk about money, not simply so that the parish light bill is paid, but because the state of our very souls depends on such conversations.  Jesus spoke about the place of money in our lives more than any other moral issue.  Think about that, and then realize how little, by comparison, we actually think or talk about money as a spiritual and moral issue at all.  As followers of Jesus, we must guard our hearts ferociously in financial matters.  The stakes are too great to leave to chance.  Being deliberate about money as a spiritual concern is a calling that is inseparable from all of our calls as disciples of Jesus.

I hope you have noticed postcards coming to your house which demonstrate different ways that “St. John’s Gives.”  Take a moment and look at the cheerful pictures of us doing our work.  Read the encouraging testimonies given by our people, and then, consider how St. John’s gives to and through your life.  Yes, we are talking about this because it is stewardship season, but that’s not the only reason.  Stewardship season is a gift, because it offers us an all too often rare chance to measure our hearts with regard to the things of our lives, and to bear tangible witness through our gifts of what it is we value.  Of course, this parish is not the only worthwhile place to give – although it is worthy beyond measure!  The point is giving, cheerfully and generously.  Show me a life that is lived without giving, and I will show you a life diminished; a life not worthy of being called “life.”

The end result of God’s people being intentional and faithful in this area is a renewed focus on money as a powerful occasion to accomplish God’s good ends through the gifts that fill our lives.  Indeed, Jesus will use our gifts in powerful ways as long as the treasure of our lives is not what we treasure most.

Giving with you,

The Reverend Eric Long, Rector

From the Rector

Eric Long colorBy the Rev. Eric Long

On July 10th I preached on Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. That was our first Sunday together after the shooting deaths of two African American men by police followed by the assassinations of five police officers in Dallas. Many of you have been kind enough to ask for a copy of that sermon, while others were out of town given the busyness of the summer months. Therefore, below is an adaptation of my sermon notes from that day so that it can be read.

I pray this inspires us all toward greater empathy and understanding of each other.

Our neighbors are everyone and our neighborhood is the world.

Sermon: Luke 10: 25- 37

In Mary Gordon’s novel, “Pearl,” the main character decides that her life should be forfeited as a testimony against a terrible thing she’s done. Actually, a terrible thing she’s said. Now I know that sounds crazy, but that’s the premise of the novel. In this young woman’s mind, she believes this is the only just way forward: her words have caused tremendous pain; therefore she needs to end her life because human life can cause so much pain.
As you can tell, “Pearl” is a cheery novel!
One compelling thing about it is how vividly it speaks about the careless ways we do inflict pain on each other. For Pearl, it was on a young man named Stevie, who was naïve, awkward, illiterate, and just not as quick-witted as others. And Stevie was keenly aware of these weaknesses in himself and highly sensitive about them, particularly when it came to Pearl: a beautiful, smart woman who had shown him some attention. That is, until he did something reckless, and Pearl responded with the terrible words: “How could you be so stupid!”
These terrible words tore into Stevie’s soul. They were perhaps the worst of all possible words for him, from the worst possible person. And they ultimately led to his death because Stevie was not able to face a world where the one person’s words he cared about most were cruelly flung at him in the most painful sentence ever. And so Stevie ended his life.
As I said, “Pearl” is a cheery novel.
Pearl decides she has to end her life by starving herself to death as some sort of atonement for Stevie’s life and as a testimony against human pain. She wants the ending of her life to be a statement. She says, in fact, that she wants to turn her whole life into one sentence – something that speaks against pain. And so she decides to go down this extreme path.
By choosing this horrible path, she does, in fact, reduce her life to a single sentence, but not the one she intended. Instead of making her life a sentence against the pain we casually cause, she made her whole life about the pain she casually caused in the one sentence: “How could you be so stupid!” Through her actions, she was making that one sentence the measure of her entire life. And because she reduced her entire life to that one terrible sentence, that one terrible sentence became a death sentence for her.
There’s a great chance that the whole premise of the story I just described seems ludicrous to you. Who in the world would sacrifice their life because of one thoughtless sentence? But when you turn the story around just a bit, it starts to connect with our lives – particularly this week – way more than it should, for just consider how easily we judge one another and sum up each other in a sentence. How we make judgments about another human being and reduce them down to one terrible sentence: “He’s nothing but a thug.”…a refugee.” “…a criminal.” “…a junkie.” Or this week in Dallas, “…a cop.” Or the old standards: “There’s that guy who ruined his business, had the affair.” “That’s the woman who had the DUI, whose kids are always causing problems at school.”
While we could not imagine making Pearl’s decision to sum up our own existence in one sentence because we know that we are much more than the worst things we have done or any summary judgments hurled our way, we casually do this to one another. And in so doing, we kill the full dimension of each other’s humanity – by reducing each other’s humanity to one terrible sentence: “You are only the worst thing you’ve ever done, or the worst thing I believe you’ve done.” And this itself is its own sort of death sentence because in so doing we assassinate each other’s full human worth.
I’d like to hold this up before us right now, after this week of both careless and thought-through violence and the flurry of words surrounding it all. I’d like to hold this up before us during this election season, where this great reduction of human beings is being done with abandon, and even with joy, glee, and uncaring regard for how it further divides us and prevents us from fully considering each other in all of our many dimensions. This is because our politics have devolved into a public demonstration of the viciousness of our age, with our casual, easy indictments of others. The candidates act as if the other candidate or members of the other party can be summed up by the worst sentence or two ever constructed about them. More insidiously, they do this to whole groups of people and, in fact, they will rely on us to do the same in order for them to win. “That person is only… That group is only….” “They’re all only…” We will hear it over and over and over again. “That person is only….only….only.” Only none of it is true because none of us is ever only one thing.
I pray you believe that — and believe it enough to fight this ugliness — because nobody’s life can be reduced to a sentence, particularly the most uncharitable one that could be written. For when it is, we can also see that it can literally become a death sentence.
Today Jesus tells a famous story. So famous, in fact, that if I said, “What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word, ‘Samaritan,’” many of you would answer, “good.” But if you asked that question in Jesus’ day, I can assure you “good” would not be the answer. For no one in Jesus’ day – outside of Samaria – would say there was anything good about a Samaritan. “Samaritans, they’re all terrible. They’re unclean. Defiled. Racially impure. Their ancestors intermarried with the enemy (Assyrians). They collaborate with the Romans today. They worship wrong. Heretics all. They’re worthless and hostile and dirty and other and not us. Samaritans are anything but good.” Except to Jesus who tells the story of the Good Samaritan. Because no one’s life can be reduced to a sentence, particularly the worst sentence that could be told.
Now this is a great story. A lawyer wants to test Jesus. And being a lawyer, he’s great with sentences. Sentences that test. But after the great sentence that says that the way to true life is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself, everything comes down to one final sentence: “Who, then, is my neighbor?”
Who is your neighbor?
Politicians will tell you few people are. Your fears will do the same. Few people are your neighbors – only those who think like you, vote like you, maybe even look like you.
But who does Jesus say is your neighbor?
If your life were to tell a sentence that answered that question, what would it say? Who is your neighbor?
The priest’s life in Jesus’ story told a sentence: My neighbor is not as important as my ritual obligations and religious worldview. I’m too much better and more important than my neighbor.
The Levite’s life told a sentence: My neighbor is not as valued as my ceremonial cleanliness before God. I can’t risk being sullied in my normal community for the sake of my neighbor. He’s not a member of my tribe.
And the “loathsome” Samaritan’s life told a sentence: My neighbor is everyone, particularly everyone in need, even those nothing like me, who even hate me. Therefore I will give all that I have, no matter the personal cost to me, for the sake of my neighbor.
Who is your neighbor?
Jesus says your neighbor is everyone in this world. And right now, in this world, we need Christians who really believe that. My Facebook feed certainly says we need Christians today who really believe that. Our newspapers shout we need Christians today who really believe that. For the literal love of God, we need Christians today who really believe that. And act on that.
Everyone is our neighbor. And our neighborhood is the world. For Jesus says our neighbors are all people, everywhere, particularly those whom we could find great reasons not to consider our neighbors. All those Samaritans in our lives. And even though we could put together a lot of sentences with a lot of reasons to justify not helping them; although we could come up with all kinds of death sentences against each other’s humanity, it doesn’t change the fact that they still remain our neighbors according to the neighborhood rules of God.
We are our brother’s keeper. We are our sister’s keeper. There will never be enough words to write any of them off from the human family.
Jesus picks a Samaritan as his example of what a good neighbor looks like and then turns to us and says, “Go and do likewise.” Because our lives are making a sentence. They are speaking of not only who we are but how we prize the God-given humanity of those around us. But it is not the tsunami of words we utter that form that sentence at all, but rather how we live our lives with whomever “the other” is in our lives that speaks the most.
Who, then, is your neighbor?

~

Sharing with you the neighborhood of God,
The Reverend Eric Long, Rector