Won’t you be my neighbor 3: Intentional Neighboring
Passage: Mark 5:21–5:34, Luke 10:38–10:42
Won’t you be my neighbor 3: Intentional Neighboring
Scriptures: Mark 5:21-34, Luke 10: 38-42
Next Steps: Reread Mark 5: 21-34 and/or Luke 10: 38-42 this week; Contribute to propane drive; Adopt the ALWAYS rule; Find a way to fit neighboring into my weekly rhythm.
So baseball is an odd sport. In baseball, everything is measured, every single action. In baseball they count everything. They have all these bizarre stats. If you wanted to know which second basemen has been a part of turning the most double plays in baseball history, you can find out. If you want to know which left fielder has walked the most in outdoor ballparks north of the Mason Dixon line, you can find out. Because everything in baseball is captured. There isn’t a better sport for the stats obsessive than baseball and there isn’t a sport more obsessed with data than baseball.
And yet. Baseball is the only area in life where if you fail 6 times out of 10 to do the most basic thing, they’ll put you in the Hall of Fame. At its core, baseball is about a guy trying to hit a ball, right? That’s the most fundamental part of the game. But the very best baseball players of all time, the ones who are in the Hall of Fame, fail to do that most basic, most fundamental thing six times out of 10. Trivia time: anyone know who holds the record for best batting average in a career? (Ty Cobb .3662). Anyone know the record for best batting average in a single season? (Hugh Duffy .4397)
Last week we handed out these sheets that had boxes corresponding to our 8 closest homes and we went through and saw if we could identify names of the people closes to our home. Could we identify a basic fact about them. And could we identity a deep fact about them. I think for most of us it made us realize we do not know our neighbors.
Did anyone go home this week on fire to get this sheet completely filled out?
Did anyone go home this week meaning to talk to at least one new neighbor? Were you successful? Or did it slip your mind when the busyness of the week took over?
Fear not my friends because this is a place of grace. Neighboring isn’t a pass/fail course where you either get it all right or you fail. Our goal in this isn’t to go from zero to perfection. Rather our goal is to get a little more intentional, to get a little better at seeing our neighbors, to maybe fill in one more square or one more line week after week.
Because as we go about our daily lives the day in day out busyness we can lose track of things. We come home from church on Sunday thinking we should be a better neighbor and we will as soon as we clean the house up a bit. And then it’s time to cook dinner. And then the kid’s lunches need to be packed for tomorrow. And we need to get ourselves set up for the week, but it’s ok we’ll make sure to say hi to our neighbors tomorrow when we all get home from work. And then Monday comes and the emails come in and the meetings run over and someone is grumpy. And we go home after a long, tired day and we just want to relax. The neighbors will still be there tomorrow. Before we know it its Thursday afternoon and we are starting to think about weekend plans. Saturday the kids have sports. Friday night we have a club meeting or a thing with friends. Saturday evening the family just needs some time together. And here it is Sunday morning and we are back where we were last week.
The only way to break into this cycle is with intentionality.
The Gospel of Mark moves at a frenetic pace. The most used word in Mark’s Gospel is the word “immediately.” Jesus is constantly on the move, always going from place to place. And in Mark Jesus bursts onto the scene at age 30, pretty much from out of no where, and he’s only doing his public ministry for three years. Think about that: God incarnate has 3 years to teach humanity everything they need to know before he’s killed on a cross and you think you’re busy. Mark’s gospel is the shortest of all the gospels. All this is to say is that if there’s ever a gospel that doesn’t have time for distractions, its Mark’s. And yet, even in Mark’s gospel we get this story.
When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ” But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
Jesus is going about his teachings, and again this is God incarnate trying to teach us how to be good loving people, the people God made us to be. And this guy Jairus interrupts him. Honestly I can’t blame Jairus. He has a real problem that he needs Jesus to solve. And Jesus stops what he’s doing and goes with him.
And in the middle of all this a woman comes up to touch Jesus. She, too, has a real problem she needs Jesus to solve. But Jesus is literally on a mission to save someone’s life. Surely he can’t stop what he’s doing to help her. What if he stops and in that time he spends with this other woman the daughter dies? And at some point shouldn’t he get back to his teachings? There’s a lot of competing demands on Jesus’ time in these first few verses.
But the woman touches Jesus and Jesus feels something. He felt power go out of him. Which if that’s true, the woman’s problem has probably been solved, she’s probably been healed, so Jesus just continues down the road on his mission to save the life of Jairus’ baby girl. But no, that’s not what happened. Jesus stops. He said who touched me. He wanted to see this woman. He wanted to talk with her.
In this short story we see Jesus literally time and again making time for people. Prioritizing human connection over tasks. He wanted to hear Jairus’ problem. He wanted to connect with the woman who needed healing. He sought out the personal.
And on some level don’t you think Jesus had to be intentional about it? He had to stop and take notice of Jairus, give him the opportunity to be heard. He had to notice power had left him and literally stop in his tracks to connect with that woman. With so many competing demands on his time, on his person, Jesus intentionally stops to connect.
And as followers of Christ Jesus calls us to do the same thing.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
We transition from a story about Jesus taking notice of people, even in the midst of intense busyness to a story that juxtaposes two ways of being when attempting to show hospitality. Jesus goes to the house of Mary and Martha, a common occurrence through the Gospels. Mary hangs out with Jesus while Martha is doing all the tasks that need to be done. And who hasn’t been there. You’re hosting a party or a dinner and someone is making sure all the food is being replenished, all the guests have drinks, trash is getting thrown away, empty dishes are taken back to the kitchen. And the other [airquotes] host is doing nothing helpful, simply talking to people, probably even watching the game.
In this case, however, Jesus does something surprising. Rather than tell Mary that she really ought to help out because hosting is kind of a big job and if you haven’t noticed Mary, Peter’s glass is empty and Martha is busy refreshing the crudités, Jesus tells Martha that Mary is in the right. Mary is focusing on people, on the relationship. Peter can get his own drink, I gave him legs. Get it. Because through Jesus everything was created. Even and especially Peter’s legs.
There will always be tasks. There will always be more and more and more tasks. The trash will always have to go out, the sink will always be full of dishes, there will always be a dozen emails to answer. There will always be more and more and more to do. Perhaps Mary was simply oblivious. Jesus doesn’t seem to think she was. In his reply Jesus seems to say that Mary is being intentional. She is taking notice of the people in her midst and is tending to the relationships. She is making time, making space for people.
There are some of you here who might say “yeah she gets to do that because Martha is taking care of everything else.” I’m a task person, so I get it. What I hear Jesus saying to Martha is that she needs som intentionality in her life. She needs to be intentional about prioritizing the relationship. She needs to see the people. She needs to make time to be with people.
How quickly in our lives as we try to be Mary, making time to get to know our neighbors, can we become Martha worrying after many things? And all of those things are important. All of those things need to get done. Those tasks are never going to stop and if we are waiting for the tasks to stop before we connect and interact with our neighbor, we will never do it.
The only way we are ever going to do it is through being intentional. The only way we are going to begin to put the one needful thing first is through intentionality. And I have four strategies for you to make neighboring, to make building relationships with those closest to you, a priority.
The ALWAYS Rule is simply what it implies: anytime you’re outside and see one of your neighbors outside you always say hello and attempt a bit of conversation. Always. Every single time.
Why always? Because here’s what happens. Or at least what happens to me. I mean to talk to my neighbors, ask them how they’re doing, ask how the spouse or the kids are doing, etc. And I’m getting in my car in the morning to leave for work and I see someone doing the same. And I think I should say hi, ask a few questions, but I’m running late. And I really need to get going to work pronto. They’ll be out later I’m sure.
Or I’m coming home. And there they are again. But it’s been such a long day. I just want to get in, change into some comfy clothes, and relax a bit. Or get dinner started because I’m hungry. And tomorrow, yes tomorrow, that’ll be the day I say hi.
And then three years go by and you don’t know one distinctive thing about your neighbors.
The ALWAYS rule is in place to prevent that. The ALWAYS Rule is in place to overcome the inertia of business and I can do it later that so quickly overtakes us. So put in place the ALWAYS rule, whenever you’re out and you see a neighbor always say hi. Because if you endeavor to do something ALWAYS you’ll do it at least a few times.
InThe Neighboring Church, Rick Russ’s and Brian Mavis talk about a concept they picked up from missionaries serving in the Middle East. They were frustrated that their work was not turning into a rash of conversions, the difficult part of measuring your ministry against the Book of Acts. Another missionary told them to envision every person as walking a journey from not knowing Christ to knowing Christ. And that journey was put onto a number line. Zero represents someone acknowledging Jesus as Lord and Savior, folks in the negative are those who don’t know Christ, and those in the positive are ones who are growing in grace and discipleship. There are lots of people for whom a step towards Jesus would not result in their conversion. But it’s a step in the journey. It might be moving from -98 to -97. But that’s still a plus one.
When it comes to your neighboring, it’s going to be a process. You won’t go from not knowing your neighbors to being best friends. The goal for us ought to be to focus on and claim the plus ones. Helping a neighbor shovel her sidewalk is a plus one. Having a conversation at the playground is a plus one. Being present in your neighborhood enough to know who and what to pray for is a plus one. I’m not asking you to go from zero to hosting a block party every Friday. But I am asking you to think about the plus ones you could try to make a priority and claim this week.
Fit neighboring into your normal rhythms
None of us has enough time to add more into our lives. Let’s admit that. The goal of this series isn’t to overwhelm you with all the things you should be doing and if you just loved Jesus enough you’d already be doing and aren’t you awful for not doing. I get that no one sits around being like “I’m so bored, I could go say hi to my neighbors but I just don’t want to.” I get that its not a desire thing, it’s a time thing. And I also get that we could plan and execute the best party the world has ever seen and none of our neighbors would come because they’re busy too!
I don’t want to disrupt your rhythm and we know disrupting our neighbor’s rhythm won’t work. But here’s what might: looking at your normal rhythms, your weekly, monthly, and yearly rhythms, and seeing how neighboring might fit into them.
For instance, say your family does a monthly taco night. How would it be to triple the taco recipe and invite some families from the neighborhood over? Taco Tuesday.
Or say you live close to an elementary school and families pass your house when walking to school. On the first Friday of the month could you brew some extra coffee and invite families to take a coffee break with you on their way to school?
Do you love to play games? Could you host a regular game night? Does your family do puzzles together? Could you invite others into that? Do you block out every Tuesday evening to watch This is Us, or Monday night to watch the Bachelor, or Thursday night to watch Survivor? How about seeing if anyone else in your neighborhood does the same and hosting a weekly watch party? That goes even more for sports!
The opportunities are endless. But the key is looking at the things you make time for and seeing if you can’t make space for others to join you.
Go slow; just go; Go big
This last idea is where we’ll end. And its not so much an idea as it is a simple encouragement on how to move forward. Oftentimes in our world and our society we live by the unspoken rule “Go big or Go home.” Either do it all right and perfect and be a model or don’t even try. So many of us are novices when it comes to neighboring and if the options are go big or go home, we’re more apt to go home. Going big is beyond intimidating.
Rather I offer this mantra: Go slow. Just go. Go big.
Go slow. If you’re just getting started, if you really struggled with the neighborhood grid exercise, start by trying to make a few more acquaintances in your neighborhood. Start by practicing the always rule and force yourself to have some conversations. Don’t try to host a board game party. Go slow and learn some more people’s names.
Once you’ve gotten going, just go for a bit. Don’t think you’re going to have to host all the holiday parties. But maybe try one. What’s your favorite holiday? Maybe that’s a place to start. Leverage the relationships you have built to do something that connects people in your neighborhood. Maybe it’s a morning coffee break. Maybe it’s a game night. Maybe its neighborhood fireworks.
And once you’ve gotten things going, think of a way to go big. Maybe that’s when you start a neighborhood small group or book club or running group. Maybe that’s when you start to organize routine neighborhood get together.
All of this is a process. A process that begins with intentionality. A process that begins with seeing the people that are around you. Let us pray.