Won’t You Be My Neighbor 4
Passage: Mark 2:1–2:12
This morning the word we are going to focus on is tenacity.
Last week our word was intentionality. Acknowledging we are busy people who already live full lives we know that neighboring is not something we naturally have time for. If we are going to make advances in our relationships with our neighbors, we have to be intentional. And we talked about a number of different strategies that teach us intentionality and that we can use in order to begin to get to know your neighbors. We talked about the ALWAYS rule that says whenever you are outside and you see a neighbor you will always talk to them. Because if we endeavor to always talk to our neighbors we will do it most of the time. We talked about celebrating plus ones where any positive step we take in relationship with our neighbors we celebrate it. We look at neighboring as a journey and each relationship will move and improve at its own pace. We talked about fitting neighboring into our normal rhythms so that this doesn’t seem like such a huge change. If we can fit another family into something we are already doing it’s more likely to happen than if we have to add another thing into our schedule. And we talked about how we should start slow, don’t feel the need to go all in right from the jump. And all of these strategies are ways to build up our intentionality around neighboring.
This morning we are going to talk about tenacity. Because there are times when we can use these strategies and we can be intentional and we still won’t feel like we are getting anywhere. We still might feel like we are hitting resistance. We still might not feel like we are getting the results we want. And in those moments what’s required is tenacity. I’ve got a tag team partner for this sermon so I want to tag in Brenda who has lived in her neighborhood for a number of years now and has a lot of experience doing this work but also understands why tenacity is such an important counterpart to our intentionality. Brenda, can you talk about a situation where intentionality hasn’t been enough and you have needed to find some tenacity?
A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
This is one of the first stories in Mark’s gospel, one of the first miracles we see Jesus perform. And it almost doesn’t happen. Because Jesus was in a crowded house. People were swarming to him. And in town there was a paralyzed man. A paralyzed man who must have believed Jesus could help him. Or a paralyzed man that hadn’t given up hope that someone could. Luckily this man had friends. Friends who didn’t give up hope either. Friends who knew if they could get him to Jesus he could be healed.
So they carry him to the house where Jesus is. But they can’t get in. It’s packed. Their plan has hit a snag. This man and his friends, they’re being intentional. When Jesus came to town they were sure to meet up and carry this man to Jesus. But the plan doesn’t quite go according to, um, plan. Intentionality didn’t get them all the way to where they needed to be. But these aren’t any friends, they’re tenacious friends. So they don’t just say oh well we tried. They pick the man up, carry him up to the roof, remove a portion of the roof, and lower the man to the feet of Jesus. Talk about going the extra mile.
Why do we need to be tenacious in our friendships and relationships? Where would this man be if his friends weren’t tenacious. He’d still be paralyzed. He’d have never recovered. But God gave him friends who would take care of him, deliver him to Jesus, and be a part of his healing.
What can tenacity look like in neighboring? What can the fruit of that be? Tag Brenda, you’re in.
God has given us each other. God has given you those closest to you. And God has given those closest to you you. We are meant to care for each other. We are meant to take care of each other. We need to be tenacious in our relationships, in our friendships, we need to be tenacious in turning strangers into acquaintances and acquaintances into friends because friendship is the gift God has given us in order for us to care for one another. Friendships are part of the way God cares through us through other people and the way we let God’s love through us.
There is a continuum we all will have to walk when it comes to the art of neighboring. A couple weeks ago we gave you a sheet with 8 empty blocks on it. And we asked you in each block to put 1) the name of the people who live in the corresponding house, 2) a distinctive fact about that family and 3) a deep fact about them. Those three lines represent movement on the continuum. If there’s someone here who has all three lines filled for all 8 blocks I will give you a prize! But for many of us there are some blocks with all three written, some with one or two, and some with none.
Those blocks where you have nothing written or maybe a name with a question mark, those are the strangers in your neighborhood. If you know a name and an interesting factoid they’re an acquaintance. If you have all three lines filled, chances are they’re a friend.
Stranger – Acquaintance – Friend
That is the continuum we will all walk with those in our neighborhood, with those living closest to us. And walking down that continuum will require us to breakdown barriers, to get out of our comfort zone, to be stretched, changed and transformed. It will also require us to be tenacious. It will require us to keep after it, to never give up, to keep trying, keep saying hi, keep initiating conversation, keep asking questions, keep inviting them over.
And doing so will stretch us. In the journey from going from stranger to acquaintance we might discover some things about our neighbors that cause us to leave our comfort zone. We might have to break down some barriers. There are barriers all around us that subconsciously cause us to separate from each other. Barriers of class, of age, of race, of religion, of life stage. Walking this continuum will mean crossing these barriers. And crossing barriers means stretching ourselves, getting out of our comfort zones.
But more often than not that can be healthy. And helpful. And can enrich our lives. From time to time Emily and I have had friends over that don’t have children. And Patrick will bond with them and as we are putting him to bed will ask if our guests can read him books before bed. In my mind I don’t want to inconvenience our guest by having them read books to my son; but quite often our guests are happy to be included in our pre-bed routine. They love getting to read a kid a book. How can you be a part of breaking down the barriers that might exist between you and your neighbors?
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