What does it look like to build relationships with those who live in your neighborhood? Going into the summer, Jeff Ward breaks down three helpful descriptions of good neighbors and three obstacles that can keep us from becoming good neighbors.
Church At Home
Citizens of Heaven
Love Your Neighbor
Three Things That Never Change
Making Room for Kids | Luke 18:15-17
Oh, But God
Oh, But God
Evening with the Elders
What does it look like to build relationships with those who live in your neighborhood? Going into the summer, Jeff Ward breaks down three helpful descriptions of good neighbors and three obstacles that can keep us from becoming good neighbors.
Good morning. My name is Jeff Ward. I get to serve here at Watermark on staff on the External Focus Team, and we're so excited that you're with us this morning. When I was growing up, I had this routine. I'd come home from school, grab a snack, plop down in front of the television set, and there was a series of programs I loved. There was The Brady Bunch. There was Gilligan's Island (I know I'm dating myself here) and Land of the Lost, which was amazing.
But it was when that jazzy piano sound came on and the guy with the cardigan came out and started taking his shoes off I knew something was special. I would see this picture, and I would hear, "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine?" Y'all know the show. Right? Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Mister Rogers would have all kinds of conversations with his neighbors. He'd introduce us to his neighbors. He would take us on tours of factories.
It was pretty groundbreaking even at that time, but he would have conversations with children about hard topics, things like divorce and death and even racial tensions. Years later, I was just thinking about this show and why it was called Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Mister Rogers didn't own the neighborhood, but he owned responsibility for connecting people inside his neighborhood. He was always engaging us. It was who he was, and he was always asking, "Would you be my neighbor?" and connecting us inside of his neighborhood.
Today, as you've heard, we're kicking off our Summer Serve initiative, and we're talking about the simple act of engaging our neighbors, our actual, physical, proximate neighbors. It's something we know God wants for us, and it's something we can all grow in. So, today, we're going to talk about that. We're going to give you some practical ways you can do that this summer.
While we're called to be missionally engaged everywhere, there's something special about being missionally engaged with those God has placed right around us. In fact, nine times in the Bible, the Bible says there is one law that sums up all of the laws, and it is to love your neighbor as yourself. It uses neighbor a lot in Scripture to denote a number of different people, but it means, primarily, those who are in close proximity to us. Sometimes it's easier to love our neighbors elsewhere.
Sometimes it's easier to love our coworkers in the workplace. Sometimes it's easier to love people when we're up here, honestly, when we're parking cars or handing out Watermark News or even in our midweek ministries or even in our Community Groups. We're great at loving our neighbors there, but how well are we loving our neighbors God has placed around us? For me, it took an international trip with Watermark a number of years ago to really give me glasses to see that I could do a better job of connecting with the folks here who God has put around me.
There is this principle in scriptural application that says the indicative often precedes the imperative. That just means that before Scripture tells us how we are to act, it tells us who we are…who we are in Christ, who we need to embrace so we can then be empowered to be who God wants us to be. For those of us who have placed our faith in Jesus, our very identity is in Christ. We're going to be in different parts of Scripture this morning, but turn with me first to 2 Corinthians 5:17-21.
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
Here is the big idea for this morning, the walking-away point: the more we embrace and understand who we are in Christ as his ambassador, God making his appeal through us, we can be better neighbors. Scripture reminds us of who we were without Christ…sinners and divisive and adulterers and idolaters and far from him…yet we know who we are in Christ once we've placed our faith and trust in Jesus.
We are forgiven. We are redeemed. We are restored in relationship with the Father. We are ministers of reconciliation. We are ambassadors. We are salt, and we are light. Scripture talks about this transfer of identities, that we were once that and now we are this. Even though we continue to sin, this new identity is what shapes us. It's what determines our priorities. It is the engine that allows us to be what God wants us to be, what he calls us to be.
So, this morning, I'm going to talk about three ways we can be good neighbors. Fences are what separate neighbors, so we're going to talk about three fences that can keep us from being the kind of good neighbors God intends. We're going to talk about first responders, we're going to talk about building bridges with unlikely friends, and we're going to talk about being great hosts. So, buckle up. Jump in with me.
In one of the most famous stories of neighboring in the Bible, Jesus tells us about the man who was beaten, robbed, and left for dead, and he also tells us about three people who came by and the kindness of a neighbor who made time to bind up the wounds and who had compassion and didn't look the other way. We're going to Luke 10:25-37.
"And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him [Jesus] to the test, saying, 'Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?' He said to him, 'What is written in the Law? How do you read it?' And he answered, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.' And he said to him, 'You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.'
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?' Jesus replied, 'A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.
So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.
And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, "Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back." Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?' He said, 'The one who showed him mercy.' And Jesus said to him, 'You go, and do likewise.'"
A lot of people don't realize Jesus was picking a fight with this story. He took two levels of people in their community who were the most revered, the priest and the Levite, and he said they saw the need and then went out of their way to go around the need and move on. The worst of the worst for Jesus' audience would be to make a Samaritan the hero of this story, yet he is the one who saw the need and had compassion.
It was this man who took time to treat the wounds, to put him on his donkey, to take him to the inn. To make the point even more emphatic, Jesus says he returned the next day to pay the innkeeper and, to put an exclamation point on the point, noted that the Samaritan even promised to return a third time. He says, "And when I come back…"
Jesus is always going to the heart issues. He is making the point that to be a great neighbor, we have to be attentive and thoughtful and intentional and compassionate. Yet there's another point that I believe Jesus is making that we don't want to pass by, because we can have all of those things, and if we're missing this next thing, we can not be a good neighbor and not be a great first responder.
The fence keeping us from being a first responder is time. Our lives are jam-packed. I don't have to spend time convincing you of that. We're overworked. We're overscheduled. We're eating. We're working. Add to that parenting and school sports and activities and hobbies and church and serving, and technology doesn't help…all of the apps and the calendars and the to-do lists and the reminder apps that are supposed to help us create more time. It seems like all that does is create time that we then fill with more things and more stuff. It actually makes things worse.
Interestingly, in the New Testament, there are different words for time, and there are a couple that are really relevant to us this morning. One is chronos and one is kairos. In the Greek, chronos means a space of time. It refers to the days, the hours, the weeks, the months, the years of the calendar. It's familiar to us because it's the root word for chronic and chronicle and chronology. It is time of clock and calendar.
Yet there's this other word, kairos, which is time marked for a purpose and filled with meaning. While chronos emphasizes the length and quantity of time, kairos emphasizes the characteristics and quality. This is time as a gift, as an opportunity, and as a season. When we're thinking about kairos, we don't ask, "What time is it?" We ask, "What is this time for?" Kairos is the servant of holy purpose.
Colossians 4:5 is an example of this. "Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time." In other translations that's opportunity. This is one of my greatest challenges: just taking time, slowing down and knowing myself and knowing my family and, yes, even knowing God. It's no accident that our African friends often refer to us Westerners as mzungu, which in Swahili means somebody spinning around and around and around and going nowhere. That kind of resonates with us. Right?
My problem, again, is that I'm preaching to myself. I have this wiring in me. I love to make the checklists. I'm a Three on the Enneagram, so I like to check things off and get things done and to-dos. My wife Kristie often jokes that I'm the guy who thinks I'm the guy who wants to lie on the beach all day, but I'm there, and in 15 minutes I'm thinking about the things I want to do, the places I want to eat. (I'm seeing some head nods, so there are some other Threes out there.)
While this can be a good thing in certain contexts, the shadow side of it is I can often see people as an interruption. I've learned a lot about this from my African friends. I've been on staff about 13 years, and when we would start planning conferences with our friends in Africa… They invited us to come do pastoral training.
So, I would start. I'd have the agenda. At 8:30 we're going to have a welcome and an opening and a prayer, and then at 9:00 we're going to have a speaker, and then at 10:00 we'll have another speaker, and then at 11:30 we'll do a little interactive thing, and then we'll have lunch. At 9:00, nobody is there. At 10:00, there are a few folks who have straggled and are coming in. Around lunchtime, people show up.
I mean, my head was exploding. I was like, "What is going on? We have to now redo our agenda." My friends there were so kind to me, and they just said, "Hey, Jeff, listen. These folks are traveling. They're walking miles and miles to be here at this conference, and along the way, they're interacting with family, extended family that they haven't seen. They're making some detours. They're interacting with friends, and they're catching up with people. Jeff, that's all part of the conference experience." They just naturally viewed time as kairos.
Same partner. Fast-forward several months. I stopped by their office here in Dallas to drop off some things, and I was going to say "Hi" to the ministry leader. I dropped off the things. I ran down the hall to his office, and I could tell… I looked in, and he was surrounded by other country leaders. They had their heads down. They were in the middle of this conversation, brainstorming, or doing whatever they were. It looked important.
I was pivoting to walk back out of the office, and our eyes met briefly. I said, "Oh! I'm so sorry to interrupt. It looks like you're super busy. I was just dropping off some things. I was going to say hi, but I'll catch you next time." Before I could even move, the ministry leader throws his chair back and jumps up, and he says, "Brother Jeff, I'm from Africa. There are no interruptions." And he ran over and gave me this giant bear hug. I learned so much about time that day, not as something to be managed, but something to be invested in others.
At the end of his life, theologian and author Henri Nouwen said, "My whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted until I discovered that the interruptions were my work." God has a sense of humor. Even as I was preparing this message… We've had a busy week. We're doing budgets. So I carved out some time to do a little run-through. I found an empty room over there in the other building. I got my notes, and I got my little timer.
I was about three minutes in when the door opens and a guy walks in. I could tell he wanted to have a conversation, like, "Who are you?" and all of that. He was new to the city, new to Watermark, and he just wanted some alone time and was reading his Bible. I immediately thought, "Okay. God has a sense of humor, and secondly, am I going to practice what I'm about to preach?" We had a great conversation, but it was just funny how when you say, "Hey, I'd like to take ground in this area," God gives you opportunities to do it.
As believers in Christ, all of life is a divine interruption. Interruptions are our work. As Christians, we've always been one to be first responders. We've always been one to move to the need. Practically, it's very easy to find neighbors who are in need around you. I don't know about you guys, but we use the Nextdoor app a lot in our community. That's where people post when they're in need.
I'm often posting on there, because I'm rebuilding my garbage disposal and I have extra parts, so I snap a picture and say, "Help!" Or a leaky faucet I can't wrangle, or I have an ant problem in the garage. I'm often posting. We often have strangers show up at our door who are first responders for us, and we get to be first responders when we see people on there. It's a really practical way of connecting with those around us who need help. When we think of time as an opportunity to invest in others, we can be great first responders.
Here in Dallas, we have some of the most culturally diverse and socioeconomically diverse neighborhoods in the country. Forty percent of Dallas County where we're sitting right now is Hispanic and growing. By 2050, they forecast that 88 percent of our county will be non-white. My own neighborhood is a melting pot of different cultures and people who have moved here from other countries. In fact, my wife and I talk often about how the most missional thing we can do is walk our dog, which we try to do often to connect with our neighbors.
We also have very socioeconomically diverse neighborhoods. We have, as you know, deep pockets of concentrated poverty adjacent to deep concentrated pockets of wealth. So, there are a lot of opportunities to engage folks who don't necessarily look like us or have the same wiring or backgrounds. The story of Zacchaeus is a brief but important account of how we should approach others who are different than us. Turn with me to Luke 19:1-10.
"He [Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, 'Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.'
So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they [the crowd] saw it, they all grumbled, 'He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.' And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, 'Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.' And Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.'"
We're told Zacchaeus was a rich tax collector. He would have been Jewish, yet he had pledged allegiance to Rome. His job was to collect taxes from his own people and send those to Caesar, and then he could add on his own fees. He was getting wealthy on the backs of his countrymen, so he would have been hated…despised, really…as a traitor and a turncoat, but Jesus didn't hesitate to make that first step, to make that connection.
He saw Zacchaeus in the tree, and he called him by name and said, "Zacchaeus, I want to spend time with you." The response of the crowd was telling. They grumbled about Jesus. They said, "Listen. Zacchaeus has made his choices. He is unlovable. He has lost his way and is not worth saving." Yet Jesus reached out to him. Jesus breaks these barriers, these preconceptions, all the time. He reminded them many times, often, that he had come to seek and to save. These were the very folks he had come to minister to.
So, the fence that keeps us from making an unlikely friend is our fear of the unknown. We run into this fence of being afraid. If we engage with someone who doesn't look like us or who is not like us, we don't know what might happen. You might say, "Well, what if I don't have anything in common with that person?" or "What if they don't speak English?" or "What if they do speak English, but I still struggle to understand them?" "What if I say something wrong? What if they point out that I've lived here for five years and I've never engaged with them? What if they invite me over?"
My personal confession right here is that I have psyched myself out of way more conversations than I want to admit because of this fear of the unknown, this fear of awkwardness about what might happen when I do that. You know how we fight fear like that. Right? We think of the worst possible case scenario. Think with me. What's the worst possible thing, as you think about an unlikely neighbor, that might happen in that interaction?
It would be awkward. There might be a pause. You might stumble on each other or over words. But at the end of that time, there will be a personal connection. From this story of Zacchaeus, we can see that Jesus leaned into the awkwardness. So, the next time we think someone is unlovable or too different from us, let's just remember Jesus' example of leaning in, of building bridges with unlikely friends.
When Kristie and I were married, our first house… We bought our first house in Lake Highlands. We were always outside. We had two young boys, so we'd be outside often. There were some elderly neighbors who lived next door. To my shame, I saw Henry outside a lot, but we didn't really interact. It was mainly just small talk. "How are you doing today?" and that sort of thing.
But over time, we got to know each other, and he started telling me about his wife and his family and his history and the fact that he had served in the navy for many years, so I got to thank him for his service. Then he shared with me some of the battles he had been in, and then my ears perked up, because I'm a history buff. I love history. I'm the nerd who watches the History channel. If that's on your channel guide, it's for people like me. I love that stuff.
He was telling me, for example, that he had served in one of the largest naval battles of US history, which was so interesting. I said, "I've just read this book called The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors." He said, "Well, I wrote a book about that battle." So, he brings over the manuscript of his detailed journal and notes about that battle and what had happened and what had transpired.
Anyway, we got to be great friends with Henry and his wife, and we got to know them, and we found common ground. It was all there all the time. We just didn't take the time to figure out that common ground. We remained friends for years and years. I'm not sure who you're thinking of right now, your unlikely friend. Maybe it's that neighbor who moved in who looks different than you or who speaks a different language or has been hard to get to know or that person who ignores you or the person who does the opposite and is over all the time.
Maybe it's somebody who doesn't like the way your kids kick the ball over the fence, or they don't like your dog, the way your dog barks or is out in the yard or not in the yard. Maybe they're older or way younger. Maybe they have more money than you or maybe they have less. I don't know who that person is for you, but you do, and God has made no accident by putting them next to you. The reality is that you have something in common with everyone. It just takes time to find it. Jesus gave us the example of building bridges with unlikely friends.
As I think about being on mission and being God's ambassador, a big part of what we're called to do is just to host people. It's that simple. Simply share God's amazing stories of what he's doing in our lives. I'm reminded of the story of Jethro and Moses. Jethro was Moses' father-in-law. Moses had a wife and kids, and he had left them in Midian. Moses was from Midian. He had left them there to go do what God had called him to do to bring God's people out of captivity in Egypt.
So, he has brought the people out. They are camped, and they are stabilized, and here comes Jethro to bring Moses' family back and to reunite them together. What we know elsewhere in Scripture… We don't know a lot about Jethro, but he was a Midianite, so he would have been a Gentile. He was also called a priest of Midian, so likely a pagan and not a follower of God at this point. Let's dive into the rest of the story at Exodus 18:7-11.
"So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law. He bowed low and kissed him. They asked about each other's welfare and then went into Moses' tent. Moses told his father-in-law everything the Lord had done to Pharaoh and Egypt on behalf of Israel. He also told about all the hardships they had experienced along the way and how the Lord had rescued his people from all their troubles.
Jethro was delighted when he heard about all the good things the Lord had done for Israel as he rescued them from the hand of the Egyptians. 'Praise the Lord ,' Jethro said, 'for he has rescued you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh. Yes, he has rescued Israel from the powerful hand of Egypt! I know now that the Lord is greater than all other gods, because he rescued his people from the oppression of the proud Egyptians.'"
So, Moses is the host here. He's just simply catching up with Jethro. That's probably a lot of small talk. Then he invites him into the tent. Put yourself into that tent. As they're talking, naturally Moses starts talking about the journey God has had them on and all of the ways God has shown up in their lives and been faithful. And how does Jethro respond? He has a big perspective of God. He says, "Now I know that the Lord is the God above all gods." He blesses the Lord, and they feast, and they end up sacrificing together.
The fence that keeps us from hosting well and being great hosts is overthinking. Specifically, in our minds, we can sometimes replace this word neighboring with evangelism, and that can tend to shut us down. I know we should always be ready to share the hope of the gospel with those around us. We should always be ready to have those conversations and to talk and to connect people to their Savior. It is so true that the eternities of the people around us are in the balance and we should feel the urgency to have those conversations.
I also know there are some times when we only have one conversation to really have the conversation, period. That is true. But I also know that when we replace that word neighboring with evangelism, it can keep us from taking a plate of cookies across the street and engaging with a neighbor, or across the stairwell to a neighbor across the way if you're in an apartment, or across the hall if you're in a dorm room. It can be a barrier to the simple act of engaging with our neighbor.
This is not a pass to never share the gospel. If that's you, your best next step coming out of this message might be to sign up for Unashamed. It's there on the back of your Watermark News. It is our weekend experience where we equip you to have spiritual conversations, to not be awkward, to be winsome in how you do that. You can do that with your family, and you can do that with others. So, that might be your best next step.
But with our neighbors, it's generally a long play. Our idea is to have a conversation that opens the door for another conversation that opens the door for a third conversation, as you deepen that relationship and deepen that trust. Remember, we are simply sharing, not selling. Nobody likes to be sold. You don't like to be told, "Buy this book. Buy this product. Go see this movie." What I can do is say, "Let me tell you about this book that was awesome. Let me tell you about this movie that was terrific." Then you lean in and you want to know more. Right?
Moses was not selling God to Jethro. He was just sharing. It's that simple. Hosting. Don't overthink this. Our job is not to convert people. In fact, our theology says we can't do that. We can be faithful to demonstrate the gospel, and as we talk with our neighbors, the things we love naturally come up. If you love football, it's going to come up. If you are a Baylor basketball fan (and there are many of them), it's going to come up. It will come up naturally.
So, as followers of Christ, if we are his ambassadors and he is working in our lives, it is naturally going to come up as part of our conversations with our neighbors. We don't have to sell. We just share. Everyone has a story, so share yours and invite them to share theirs. All we mean by hosting is simply inviting folks to your tent, welcoming people, like Moses did. You can do this, and it doesn't take a lot of thought or planning.
We have a lot of holidays coming up this summer to do this, where people naturally get together. We have Memorial Day coming up, so do something in the park. Invite neighbors to join you there or your apartment common areas. We have Fourth of July, Independence Day. It's a great time to invite especially our international neighbors who may not understand why we celebrate that holiday. Invite them over. Watch fireworks.
We have National Hot Dog Day. I just found this one. July 21st. Seriously. As if we needed another day, another reason to cook out. The summer Olympics have been rescheduled, so invite people over for a watch party. Pick one of the obscure sports like judo and just say, "Hey, come over, and let's watch judo together." Birthday parties, life events… Our neighbor's son just achieved the rank of Eagle Scout, so they invited us to a celebration. What a great way to connect.
We're making this really easy for you guys. Our team gathered ideas, real ideas from real people like you. Here is a smattering of those: grocery delivery for an elderly person in your neighborhood; cooking meals for people who are quarantining. Annette on our team is pregnant and just leaving staff this week and reminded that new parents also like meals. There you go, Annette. Connecting with neighbors to clean up your park or your neighborhood. Those are easy.
Taco Tuesday. There was a Watermark family during COVID with three young girls. They said, "How can we connect with other neighbors? I know. Let's put our lawn chairs out on Tuesdays and eat tacos together." Invite others over to make cookies, eat watermelon, eat ice cream. I have to say "Blue Bell." Blue Bell ice cream. Pancake breakfasts. We were in community for a number of years with a couple whose ministry was to make pancakes on Saturdays in their apartment. We got to go over and connect with them.
These ideas are all on our website for you guys this summer: watermark.org/loveyourneighbor. There's "Block Party in a Box." There's "98 Ideas for Serving in Your Neighborhood." Backyard Bible club kit. My son came to faith through another young boy in our neighborhood who was just faithful and said, "I'm going to do a backyard Bible club."
The tool in your Watermark News is also a really practical thing for you to take to keep on your kitchen counter this summer as you're thinking about engaging with neighbors and just that simple progression of moving from stranger to acquaintance and from acquaintance to relationship. You'll see that first column: "Names." Just write first names if you don't know first and last names. Move from that awkward "Hey, you" or "Hey, man" to "Hey, Mike." Filling out that chart can help us with this progression.
Fun facts that could be gleaned from conversations, not something you notice from your driveway into theirs. "Hey, they have two kids. Where do they go to school?" Hobbies, where they grew up… There are conversation prompts on there for you too, or use your own. Thirdly, ways to pray, things that would surface from a deeper conversation…career plans, dreams of starting a family. Maybe they have aging parents who are ill. Maybe they have a prodigal child you could be praying for. All of those are examples.
Dave Runyon in his book The Art of Neighboring surveyed Christians, and only 10 percent could actually list the names of their immediate neighbors. Only 3 percent could fill out facts about the folks around them, and less than 1 percent could actually identify prayer needs of those around them. We have to flip those stats on their heads this summer, gang. Let's hold each other accountable. Let's bring these cards to Community Group and talk about how we're doing at engaging our neighbors.
Lastly, while we hope that missional engagement starts in your neighborhood, we hope it doesn't end there, because we have a big city. We have a lot of ministry partners and a lot of ways for you to serve this summer with your family, with your Community Group, and with others. They're in your Watermark News. They're on that website for you guys. We're taking away the barriers.
As I wrap up, we are coming out of a season that has been really, really hard, and it's not over yet. Folks are still quarantining. Folks are still a little bit hesitant to move far from their homes, and loneliness is everywhere, but imagine if we were all doing this, if we saw life as one long divine interruption as we see ourselves as Christ's ambassadors, as we're on mission everywhere, but especially with those God has placed around us.
We have said here for decades that we are one church and multiple campuses and thousands of locations, and you are the church in your community. I started today talking about Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. You know, he didn't own the neighborhood, but he owned the connections in his neighborhood. They called it Mister Rogers' Neighborhood because he was the connector. In preparation for this message, I did some digging.
I thought, "Surely, in 30 years of this show, there has to be some evidence out there that the Fred Rogers I saw on screen was probably different than the Fred Rogers who was off screen." So I read interviews of Fred Rogers. I read interviews of people who interviewed Fred Rogers, folks who worked on the set, friends and family, and here is the summary of what I found. There was a quote by Tom Hanks, who played Fred Rogers in a recent movie that you guys may know.
He said when you were talking with Fred, you felt you were the only person not just in the room but in the world that mattered to him. Part of that was his practice, but the other part was that he viewed that as his ministry. By all accounts, this is how he lived. This is who he was. And that is who we are, as a redeemed people who have experienced God's grace and God's kindness. Could it be that simple, that when Jesus was asked, "What is the great commandment?" he said, "Love God and love your neighbor as yourself."
He didn't just give us the command; he was the model for it. I was the bad neighbor. I was the neighbor who didn't want anything to do with him, yet he came. He was intentional to build bridges with me. He came, and he lived the life I couldn't live and died the death I deserved. He was raised three days later, and he desperately wanted a relationship with me. When we've experienced that, when we embrace who we are, it will be easier for us to be who God wants us to be: engaging our neighbors.
It's only because of what Christ has done for me that I can actually love my neighbor, to take time for my neighbor, to build bridges with unlikely friends, to host people well. It is the indicative that drives the imperative. Because we understand this, then we can love, and we can choose to live our lives as though all of life is one divine interruption, one long mission trip with short-term mission opportunities each day. That is how we are called to love. That's how we're called to live. Pray with me.
Lord, there is nothing in our hearts that desires to reach out and to be great neighbors. It is only by your model, by your demonstration of that kindness to us, Lord, the transformation that has happened in our hearts when we have placed our trust and our faith in you that enables us to do that. Father, would you help us this summer just to be intentional and thoughtful? Would you give us opportunities?
Father, would you help us to create margin so we can be great first responders, that we can see need and not move to the other side of the street but lean in and show compassion? Father, would you just help us to build bridges with unlikely friends and get over that awkwardness and just help us to lean in with people who might be different than us?
Father, would you help us to be great hosts, showing that kindness, and not underthinking that and not creating comfort for ourselves, but, Father, just inviting people into our tent to share a meal and share what you've done in our lives. Father, help us to do that. We need you, and there is a world that needs you around us. We love you. In Jesus' name, amen.