We Are Losing Our Neighborliness

Pastoral Messages | April 20, 2023

Kansas City, the city I called home for four years, made headlines this week because of a tragedy. Ralph Yarl, a 16-year-old boy, was sent to pick up his younger brothers from a friend’s house. He mistakenly rang the doorbell at Northeast 115th Street instead of Northeast 115th Terrace. The man who answered the door at this wrong address scaredly fired two shots into Ralph. One bullet entered his head, throwing him to the ground, only to be hit again in the arm as he lay there. Somehow Ralph made it to a neighbor’s house, where the neighbor had him lie on the ground while they called 911. Thankfully, he survived, but what caused this to happen also continues.

We have a problem in this country. Like the man who shot Ralph, we struggle to trust that the divine spark is inside each unexpecting person we encounter daily.

Think back to the last time you received a phone call from a number you didn’t recognize. Do you remember feeling apprehensive about answering? Or remember when you last had a stranger ring your doorbell? Do you recall feeling a sense of unease? Did you step around the corner or slouch into your couch to get out of view, anxiously checking your Ring doorbell app to get a clear look at the scary boogeyman on your porch?

These increased levels of worry we have about others in our community are concerning. Until recently, when the home phone rang, at least in our household, we raced to see who could get to the phone first. Similarly, when our doorbell rang, all three kids and the dog dropped everything they were doing and sprinted to the front door, eager to discover who wanted to visit us. Now things are different; our reactions to others trying to reach us, whether at our front doors or through our phones, have shifted 180 degrees.

When we lose the ability to see the divine spark in the other, we lose our sense of neighborliness. Jesus not only talks about neighborliness, but he also lists it as the most important commandment.

One day an expert in religious law challenges Jesus, asking him how one inherits eternal life. Jesus and the law expert agree, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27).’ Yet, the expert raises an essential question, he asks, “Who is my neighbor?” What comes after isn’t a bullet-pointed list from Jesus. He tells the story of the Good Samaritan, who exemplifies what being a good neighbor is all about.

As you may know, the Samaritans and the Jewish people were threatened by each other. They were neighbors but held competing religious claims. They were rivals, so alike in so many ways, yet they saw each other as threats. Jesus tells this story to challenge the expert of the law, and us, to adopt a form of radical neighborliness, where we recognize everyone, even those that others have identified as strange or different, as worthy of our love and care.

We can practice neighborliness daily at the grocery store, bank, or work. There’s a low supply of it, and the demand, I think, is high right now for radical neighborliness. Trust that the divine spark is within that person bagging your groceries, and share yours, and you might experience God’s presence and the joy Jesus promises when we love our neighbors as ourselves.

-Max Franks, pastor in residency

2 Comments on “We Are Losing Our Neighborliness”

  • Jeanne Olsen

    April 21, 2023 at 1:30 pm

    I am touched by your lovely phase “ the divine spark in everyone”! And now to remember to look for it and see it.

  • Kathy Schutman

    April 20, 2023 at 1:46 pm

    What a great reminder of the lessons Jesus taught us about neighborliness, Pastor Max!

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