by John Flowers
Once upon a time, there was a really smart lawyer guy with all of the answers. He was so impressed with Jesus, that he decided to honor him with a quick question: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” I can only imagine the lawyer was ready to pounce upon any misstep with his rehearsed lines about the finer points of Mosaic Law. He’d probably throw in a few “tut tuts” just to emphasize his own authority and reputation.
In typical Jesus fashion, the answer is in the form of a question: “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”
Blank stares fill the crowd as they quickly whip their heads back to the lawyer as if watching a pro-level ping pong match.
Sensing the pressure from witnessing such a swift maneuver, the man now has to prove himself, instead of Jesus. Thankfully, he answers correctly by addressing the Law’s mandate to love the LORD with everything you have, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus signals his approval. Then he doubles down: “do this and you will live.” Mic drop.
The lawyer scrambles to catch the falling microphone and one-up Jesus by means of cross-examination. “And who is my neighbor?” Gotcha, Jesus. Winks to the crowd as he kisses his Star of David necklace and points to heaven. Slowly walks into the Galilean sunset.
Not so fast, buckaroo. Jesus responds with another parable, and this one is a doozy.
Most of us are familiar with this passage from Luke 10 – The Good Samaritan. (STOP: if you haven’t read this before, please go read it now.) (GO) We can either accept or deny the simplicity of the challenge which Jesus put before the lawyer, and before us, as well. Will we see the person in front of us as our neighbor or will we use social conventions and cultural norms to inform our idea of who a neighbor is?
For a lot of us, including me, we tend to allow outside voices to guide us when things look uncomfortable. Like the priest and the Levite in the story, is the cost and risk of stopping too high? Is it more uncomfortable to face our peers than it is to live with our conscience? Have we systematically put people and problems into the same category of inconvenient if it isn’t helping ourselves get the approval of others?
I have spent the last 4 years working with Bridgeway Church to build connection and friendship with our missions partners. A year ago, when I was asked to mobilize the whole body locally, I had a staggering realization: I don’t know our neighbors. Not just the people on my street, but the people on our church’s street. I don’t know the other church leaders, I don’t know the people living in the houses touching our property. I mean our literal neighbors!
It was a missional crisis that I had to address quickly.
The process has been intentionally slow until the last 3 months. Advice that I had received from Mike Thornton and my supervisor Andy Stone helped me realize that connecting with our neighbor churches made the most sense. “Let’s not compete or reinvent the wheel. They have been around for a lot longer, and we should assume that they have connections in the community already.” And they did! Two of the churches were meeting monthly for a men’s breakfast. One of the churches has congregants that live in the houses adjacent to our property. One slowly walked a homeless woman out of the woods behind their property, and back into her family home. I was getting excited!
I began to reach out to the neighboring churches to gather the 4 of us who owned property on our two streets, not sure of what to expect. Several coffees and Cracker Barrel breakfasts later, we began trying to figure out ways to walk hand-in-hand to love our community and neighbors. We planned to create regular patterns of connection to help build bridges and tear down walls.
Starting in February, we began taking the students from The Ascent (www.jointheascent.com) to two locations: NHC Nursing Facility (just around the corner) and prayer walking/visiting the neighbors living in our “neighborhood.” We were able to visit several homes and spend quality time with people living in a skilled nursing facility before the mandated quarantine from the COVID19 outbreak. Because so many of our neighbors and people at NHC are potentially in the higher risk category, we decided to suspend the visits in person. We hope to resume visits soon, but we are waiting until the governing authorities from both the State and NHC give us the go-ahead.
We had planned on doing an open, multi-church event on March 28, to pick up trash and prayer walk the neighborhood. That was also suspended because of the virus.
Things might look bleak for the idea of stopping to love our neighbor if we can’t even get close to them legally, but they aren’t!
We have begun to tape letters on mailboxes to let people know that they are not alone, and to connect those who can help with those who have a need. In an apostolic culture, we can’t just do everything ourselves. We have to connect and empower/build up the community to minister to each other.
We already have responses from people ready to help when the need is expressed. The Lord is so good!
What are ways that you have chosen to reach out during the quarantine? Please comment with ideas, stories, and testimonies from your experiences.