I’m going to start this blog with a question: How connected are you in your neighborhood? Like, on a scale of 1 to 10 with one being “I sneak into my house with ninja-like precision and therefore know no one” and 10 being “If I don’t text my neighbor once a day my fingers might fall off because we’re BFFFFFS.” Where would you land?
How about this: When I walk outside my house, can I call everyone that I see by name?
We’re working on a little experiment here at Shift Church over the next several weeks. If you’ve never been to Shift or only hang out with us occasionally, that’s totally fine! The experiment is completely safe and will even add value to the community that we live in.
We are going to commit to building genuine relationships with the people who live right outside your door. We are going to learn how to be great neighbors. Why? Well, we know that in communities where people know each other’s names the crime rate is 60% lower.
We know that when we experience a hurricane or other natural disaster your neighbors are your first response. And guys, it’s August. Hurricane season is upon us. As a Church we know and believe that relationships will always trump the programs we can offer. We are a Church for the Rest of Us and we want to make a difference with our lives every day of the week, not just Sunday morning.
One mayor said it this way, “The majority of the issues that our community is facing would be eliminated or drastically reduced if we could just figure out a way to become a community of great neighbors.”
At Shift, we are a Church for the Rest of Us, and we want to make a difference with our lives, and it all starts with those who are closest to us: our neighbors.
“I thought this was a church…why are we talking about our neighbors…shouldn’t we be talking about Jesus?” Yes, and that is the most important reason for this neighboring experiment. Jesus gives the most strategic and greatest commandment that would change the world if we would actually do what He says.
Today, we’re going to dive into the chapter of Luke, one of the biographies of Jesus’ life in which the author is recording as many words that Jesus said as possible. Luke is named after the author, who was a very detailed oriented doctor who paid very close attention to what people did and said. You might have even heard of one of the interactions highlighted in Luke, known as the story of the good Samaritan. It’s found in Luke chapter 10 starting in verse 25,
Just then an expert in the law stood up to test Him, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (I imagine this law expert was a guy like most of us…he prefers to hang out with people like him…so, Jesus asks him a question) 26 “What is written in the law?” Jesus asked him. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. 28 “You’ve answered correctly,” He told him. “Do this and you will live.” (Now, we get some good insight into the lawyer’s motives as he asks a follow up question) 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
The man wanted to define the word neighbor so that he wouldn’t be guilty. If his neighbor could be anyone he could choose, then he’d be ok. He was looking for a loophole. A way out.
How often do we do this ourselves? How many times do we hear Jesus’s words and then immediately look for a way out? I do this all the time. I make excuses, like I’m too busy or I”m too tired. And that’s what the lawyer was doing when he asked Jesus who, in fact, was his neighbor.
To answer the question, Jesus tells him the story of the good Samaritan. Verse 30,
30 Jesus took up the question and said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him up, and fled, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down that road. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 In the same way, a Levite, when he arrived at the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion. (Samaritans were a culture known for hating Israelites, and the feeling was mutual. This is like a criminal, I mean Seminole helping a Gator) 34 He went over to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on olive oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him. When I come back I’ll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend.’
How’s that for making time to help someone? Then, Jesus points out that the Samaritan was the true neighbor, and then told the lawyer to “go and do the same”.
It’s really tempting to read this and turn the story of the good Samaritan into a metaphor. When we do this — if we are not careful — we can miss the power of the Great Commandment. We can become like the lawyer looking for a loophole. We can turn love your literal neighbor into love your metaphorical neighbor. Jesus assumed that his audience would be able to love those people nearest to them, the people most like them, the people with whom they had lots of things in common.
But, when Jesus told this story, He is stretching their concept of neighbor to include even people for a group that they don’t like. In today’s society, we go straight for loving the neighbor on the side of the road with a sign asking for spare change. We give him a few bucks and pat ourselves on the back. And we end up with a metaphorical neighbor.
I think Jesus meant this literally. To love our actual neighbor. Because as Dave Runyon wrote in the book the Art of Neighboring,
“If we don’t take Jesus’s command literally, then we turn the Great Commandment into nothing more than a metaphor. We have a metaphoric love for our metaphoric neighbors, and our communities are changed—but only metaphorically, of course.” – Dave Runyon
Nothing changes…so, don’t just love your metaphorical neighbor, we also need to apply Jesus’ teaching to our literal neighbors. Real people with real names. With real families.
Love God and Love our literal neighbors.
Try an experiment with me. Draw nine squares and write your name in the middle. This is like a map of your neighborhood, with you in the middle and the closest eight dorms, houses or apartments around you. Write down all the names you know in each of the squares. If you are like me, I realized that I am not the all-star neighbor that I thought I was. This meant for me that I had some work to do and some pride to swallow.
This is our experiment in a nutshell. I have already started this experiment. Our staff and small group leaders have started on this journey too.
Our experiment is that we as Shift Church are going to make a difference by becoming the best neighbors in Gainesville. By really taking what Jesus said — to Love God and to Love our Neighbors –very seriously.
This might mean that we have to be willing to walk across the street and say, “Hey, I know we have lived across the street for a few years…but I can’t remember your name.” Yep, Abby and I had to do this, but we are going to push through the awkward.
On our journey to becoming the best neighbors in Gainesville, our first step is to Learn Our Neighbors Names. We are going to take this Block Map and we are going to fill in the names of the people living in the homes around us. We are going to take is seriously.
School is starting back, and I want to give you homework before they do. And next week…I’m gonna hold us accountable, I’m gonna ask you how you did?
What would it look like to move from “Hey man” to “Hey Mike!” to “Hey Mike, how are you doing?” to “Hey Mike, could you help me move something in my garage” to “Hey, Mike lets get our families together this weekend.”
It’s a simple, life changing no-brainer.
What if we really literally loved our neighbor? What if you are in the place you are for a reason?
I have loved a chapter in Acts — chapter 17– since I gave my life to Christ, and in the about 20 years since that happened, I always missed this.
Paul was teaching on what was known as Mars Hill and addressing a statue that was titled “to an unknown God.” This is what Paul spoke in verse 26,
From one man He has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and boundaries of where they live. He did this so they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him.
God has placed you in your neighborhood for a specific reason. What is God going to do through the people of Shift as we build relationships in our neighborhoods?
As we take this on I believe God is faithful and He is going to convict us and show us what He wants us to do next as we pray for our neighbors.
I can wait to see and hear how God is using you.