A neighborly challenge

Jeremiah 22:11-17
Several years ago, the book “The Art of Neighboring” put a lot of us in check.

Among its many insights, the book offered a useful tool: the Block Map. You were to draw a series of boxes representing the six neighbors around your home.

In each box, you had to include your neighbor’s name. Bonus points, maybe, if you could write their full name. Then you had to include a factual detail about your neighbor. It couldn’t be the color of their car or that they had a tree in the yard. You had to identify their career, hobby or something personal about them. As if that didn’t make most people feel bad enough, there was the third assignment. Identify something deeper about your neighbor. What is their faith experience, for example? Something you would only know if you really knew them.

The many times I did this experiment with people, most of us struggled. That whole exercise was worth the price of the book alone. It’s a challenge worth accepting. But there’s something else I remember striking me, too.

The authors of the book write about conversations with city leaders. They wanted to get a sense of what neighboring was like in their communities. I’ll leave the details to your reading of the book. But I will tell you this. City leaders offered an observation. They did not see any difference in how Christians and non-Christians neighbor. In other words, Christians were no better at neighboring than anyone else.

Ouch.

That’s a hard truth to hear about people who proclaim that loving your neighbor as yourself is as important as loving God.

On Sunday mornings, when we talk about loving our neighbors, what do we mean? Do we relegate that to small community projects we can get over with? Donate an item or two to some nice cause and call it a day?

People always want to know if the call to love our neighbor means our actual neighbors. Why not? Oh, I know. They’re some of the people you can’t escape, right? It’s easier to love a neighbor you don’t have to put up with. If that is our take, that makes loving your neighbor a mere Sunday talking point. Surely Christ meant for it to mean much more to us.

In our passage today, God’s judgment is upon a king. This king saw a faithful example in his father, but pursued selfish goals when it was his time to reign. God’s case against him is solid. Unrighteousness and injustice were his calling cards. He was one that made “his neighbors work for nothing.”

Think about that.

The king had neighbors. Sure, he may have thought of them as his subjects. But God sees all our relationships differently. If a king should recognize others as his neighbors, shouldn’t we?

And if we realize we could be better at loving and serving the people God put in front of us, shouldn’t we make the effort? When people ask me who Jesus meant was their neighbor, I say, “Yes!” Yes, whoever you’re thinking of is a neighbor. If they live and breathe, if they’re in front of you, they are your neighbor. And if God thought the king should take care of his neighbors, you should be ready to take care of yours, too. May God help us learn the art of neighboring.

Stay blessed…john

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