Sermon: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Rev. Susan Brecht
Mark 6: 1-13
He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honor, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
It’s a neighborly day in this beauty wood,
A neighborly day for a beauty.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you.
I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.
So, let’s make the most of this beautiful day.
Since we’re together we might as well say:
Would you be mine?
could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?
Won’t you please,
Won’t you please?
Please won’t you be my neighbor?
Well, it wasn’t exactly a beautiful day in the neighborhood when Jesus returned to his home town of Nazareth after one of his many road trips around Galilee. Back then Nazareth was a small backwater village of perhaps 120 to 150 people, many of them members of Jesus’ extended birth family.
My dad grew up in Norway, Iowa, a town of about 300, and believe me, everybody knows everybody and everybody’s business in a town that size. News of Jesus’ spectacular healings had probably proceeded his arrival. His visit started out all right, when he did what most men of his time did - went to the synagogue, opened the scriptures, and began teaching those who had gathered.
But this wasn’t ordinary teaching. At first they were astounded by his knowledge and power to heal. Where did it come from? Wasn’t this that kid down the street who played with my kid growing up? And wasn’t there that gossip about his questionable parentage? He was raised to be a carpenter like his father, wasn’t he?
Maybe a little jealousy crept in, along with suspicion: Who do you think you are? - mister too big for your britches. Funny how, sometimes we tend to dismiss rather than rejoice at another’s abilities and knowledge, even someone in our own community. Maybe they make us feel a little less successful? - a little less important?
Sometimes it’s hard to take advice from someone you know well. Right after graduating from high school, my brother left Iowa with four friends and moved to California - not the best of decisions. My father was visiting on a business trip and arranged for himself and a friend to take Rob out for a nice steak dinner where my dad’s friend asked about Robs’ plans for the future. How was working 60 hours a week at Kinney Shoe Store going? Was he considering college? It worked. Advice that my brother might have dismissed from my father, he listened to from his friend.
Jesus was amazed, and I would imagine a little disappointed, by his reception back in his old neighborhood. He realized he couldn’t do much there. You can’t help people when they reject you and your message, so he healed a few and left to take his message and his powers to a more receptive audience.
Interesting, that Mark inserted this story here, after the ones of Jesus’ amazing healings, even restoring a young girl to life. Here, after being rejected in his own hometown, his powers are diminished. Isn’t he supposed to be all powerful? I don’t see that as a judgement on God’s power. I think it says more about us.
Could this story contain a message, about our willingness to accept God’s grace, and in turn be a vessel for God’s love and healing in our own lives, and in the lives of our neighbors? Jesus was actively enlisting us in God’s work - inviting us into a partnership with God. David Lose, in his reflection on this story asks, “Do we, from day to day, have a desire to participate in God’s world to bless and care for our neighbors, or do we resist that? And do those decisions make a difference in how God’s power to heal and care takes expression?”
This message is reinforced in the next story where Jesus equips and commissions his disciples to go out in twos, knocking on doors, healing and spreading the good news to all who are willing to listen. He tells them to travel lightly. You only need yourself - your loving message and compassion. I will provide the rest.
Depend on the hospitality of those you meet. Some will welcome you. Others will slam the door in your face, if they even open it in the first place. Move on from those. Acknowledge the limitations of your ministry. You can’t force your beliefs on others. Even Jesus didn’t have that power.
These stories made me think about neighbors. Who are our neighbors? I looked up the word in the dictionary. There were two definitions that are relevant here. The first: “A person living near or next door to the speaker or person referred to.” And the second: “Any person in need of one’s help or kindness.” They designated this as ‘biblical use’. This was how Jesus referred to neighbors - not just those next door, or in his own hometown, or even a mile down the road.
Remember in Luke, when the lawyer asked him what he had to do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus told him to love God and his neighbor. Then the lawyer, probably with a smirk on his face, asked, “And who is my neighbor?” And Jesus told him the parable of the Good Samaritan. Your neighbor is anyone who has a need.
In October we will be taking up our Neighbor’s In Need special collection. The UCC uses it to support ministries of justice and compassion throughout the U.S., funding grants for direct service projects and advocacy efforts. It is one of many ways we reach out to our neighbors in need.
The word neighbor is used often in various contexts. Who are you talking about when you use the word “neighbor”? (solicit answers)
When I was living in wine country, I referred to the Mexican laborers working in the vineyards as “our invisible neighbors.” We rarely saw them in town, only when we were driving in the countryside. Judging from the conditions they worked and lived in, they were in need of our help too.
I’m joining Nadja and others this Tuesday when, like the disciples, we’re going to canvas our neighborhoods talking to our neighbors about the transgender bill on the ballot in November. (ask Nadja to say a few words)
At the ‘Families Belong Together Prayer Vigil’ at City Hall last week there was an amazing sense of community, of neighbors coming together to pray and be in solidarity with refugees across the country.
How many of you know your neighbors? - those living on your street, or in the house behind yours?
Do you know their names?
Have you had an extended visit with them?
been invited into each other’s homes or back yards?
reached out when they were in need?
even knew they were in need?
When I think about neighbors, I’m taken back to growing up in the mid-west in the 50s and 60s. In high school we lived on a cul-de-sac where everyone knew everyone who lived at least a block or two away - where we had summer barbecues in the circle - where neighborhood children sled down our back hill in the winter and played pool in our basement - where women held a tea for the wife of a new family moving into the neighborhood - where food arrived on the doorstep when there was a death or illness in a family - where our neighbor next door invited some of our family to sleep at their house when we all came back for our mother’s funeral.
To me, these are real neighbors, people we had a relationship with. I hope it’s not a bygone era because neighbors should not be just people in need living across town or across the country, people we might not know but those living next door too.
I’ve thought about neighbors a lot this week. I only know my neighbor upstairs in my two-family house, and he’s my landlord. We have friendly conversations when our paths cross, but we’ve never socialized. I’ve spoken, out on the lawn, to the couple who moved in next door. They were going to have a wine and cheese party for the neighbors, but that never happened. I know no one else on my block, so I’ve decided this summer to send invitations to a wine and cheese gathering at my home to my unknown neighbors. I hope some will reply. I want to know who they are.
On the 4th of July I took myself back to the 50s and 60s, to Mr. Roger’s neighborhood. It was a beautiful neighborhood and a beautiful experience.
How many of you have seen the documentary about his life? It’s called “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” It’s playing at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline. You will laugh, and you will cry, and you will leave feeling inspired and filled with hope, and wishing that we had more Fred Rogers in the world to show us how to be neighbors.
I will leave you with a few of his inspiring words:
“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things on the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are so may helpers - so many caring people in the world.”
“Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person… One kind word has a wonderful way of turning into many.”
“I think everybody longs to be loved and longs to know that he or she is lovable, and consequently, the greatest thing we can do is to help somebody know that they are loved and capable of loving.
Thank you, Mr. Rogers.