Pastor Adam, Pastor Joy, and I got to hang out with Bishop Hope Morgan Ward last week. We spent time together with the other men and women who are journeying toward ordination as Elders and Deacons in our United Methodist Conference. Community building and support was the focus of our week. We heard from pastors in our Conference who are nurturing deep ties within their communities – from new church plants to established churches, from campus ministry to mission and outreach. These pastors and church communities shared what it meant to be good neighbors.
This week I was reminded of one of my favorite scripture passages from the Gospel of John. The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible translates John 1:14a in this way: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” That simple phrase is anything but simple theologically. It has deep meaning about the Incarnation of Christ and for Christology (or, simply, who Jesus is). Important as these theological understandings are, all of this can be a bit erudite and overwhelming – especially when you consider the way that the late Eugene Peterson translates this passage in The Message: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”
That language is incredibly rich and imaginative. It opens up our understanding of who Jesus was and is – and of who God is and how the Holy Spirit works. Take a second and re-read that phrase: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” God put on human flesh and blood in Jesus Christ, and then Jesus came to live with us – to be our neighbor. What does it mean to live in a world where God dwells among us – not only high above on some lofty, cherub-bedecked throne, but also in the house next door or in the apartment up the street? If God truly lives in our neighborhood, what difference does that make for what you believe and for the way that you live?
What does it mean to live in a world where God dwells among us – not only high above on some lofty, cherub-bedecked throne, but also in the house next door or in the apartment up the street? If God truly lives in our neighborhood, what difference does that make for what you believe and for the way that you live?
Our lives today are becoming increasingly individualistic and lonely. It is possible to live entirely on our own in the confines of our houses with food and medicine delivered, work performed remotely, and virtual “friendships” and “community” online. But, social media is not true community. Certainly, there may be bright spots in the social media world that do a better job at impersonating community, but nothing replaces being bound up in real life with one another through joys and struggles, through fights and reconciliations, through love and friendship. Nothing beats sitting on the porch with your neighbors.
We make choices to engage or disengage from our communities. We make choices about the ways we spend our time and our money. We make choices about whom we want as neighbors. When Jesus told the parable about the Good Samaritan, Jesus taught us about who our neighbors are and about how we treat one another. We are called as Christians to choose to be good neighbors in the most profoundly biblical sense of what that means. In the flesh and blood body of Jesus Christ, God came to be our neighbor, to live in our neighborhood, to share our joys and sorrows, to live with us and among us. How would it change your life if you could drink sweet tea on a summer evening sitting on Jesus’ front porch and watching the children run around the yard chasing fireflies?