First in series: The Joy of Neighboring
Earlier this week I was sitting in a coffee shop working, actually trying to write this sermon. And I was just having the worst time of it. I felt stuck, I had ideas in my head that I just couldn’t seem to get down on paper in anyway that made sense. So, I was feeling frustrated, and started to go through all those narratives in my head about how terrible this was. I wonder if you have these moments to, where I am just thinking. This terrible, this is going to mess up my whole day, if I can’t get this done now, then it’s going to set everything back, I won’t be able to get to other projects I have to get done, ughhh this is the worst day ever.
Well, as I was running through all these worst case scenarios in my mind. Someone knocked on the window of the coffee shop right next to me. And It was kinda jarred out of my pessimistic haze. And it was one of my friends who live in the neighborhood. She was out for a walk with her daughter and saw me in the window. They came into the coffee shop and we chatted for a bit. And as she was about to leave she told me how much fun she had had with Michelle and our son at a recent party. Then she left, nothing to big.
But when I went sat back down, my experience of my whole day was different, I feeling thankful for my wife, I was feeling thankful for my son, I was feeling thankful for this friend of mine.
The doom and gloom of how my day was totally off track, just kinda left me.
And not only that, I felt rejuvenated, like my creative energy had returned.
That one little interaction, my friends small effort to stop and bang on the window, change the whole trajectory of the day.
It’s funny how the even simplest things can have major impact on my day.
Particularly how interactions with other people can change our experience of things.
Whether it is good, like my friend running in me, or bad
Like when a co-worker says something that offends you
Or, a Biker cuts in front of you in traffic and then flicks you off, that happened this week too.
I wonder if you resonate with this. It just seems like our ability at any point to live the kind of life everyone wants (a life that feels enjoyable, deep, meaningful) is so tied to the human interactions we experience (the actual encounters we have with other human beings)
Even beyond the personal sense, how we affect each other with as our lives are a series of interpersonal interactions.
Zooming out, we might also say that the ability at any point for a society to move in a positive direction, toward equality and trust, and away from oppression and mistrust, is so tied to the way humans interact within that society
This feels high stakes for our country right now,
our ability to get along, to connect, to relate, to learn from each other, to create space for respectful conversation will do a lot to determine what’s next for us.
And this why we are starting a new series today, something we are calling “the Joy of neighboring.”
Because how we relate to the people we share the world with, has a lot of bearing on the joy we personally experience, and the joy that, collectively, our society experiences
And as a shorthand for interacting with the people around us in the world, we have chosen to use a word that Jesus himself used in reference to this, “neighboring."
It’s in reference to our literal neighbors, like those who live around us, those whom we walk by, on the way to the train or the park.
But, it is also a reference to ALL the people who we come interaction with our life.
Our co workers,
The Barista at the coffee shop
The people here, that we go to church with.
The people sitting at the table next to us at the bar.
The people who show up on our facebook timeline
Just By the simple fact that we we share this world with each-other, we are neighbors.
This was a concept that played a major role for Jesus and his earliest followers, seeing everyone we come across as our neighbor, someone worth considering, and caring for.
Partly because there are plenty of examples he (and we today) could point to as a lack of neighboring
But more than that… Because neighboring can be a source of so much joy
Not just joy for you individually, but one that can bring joy collectively
And man what a gift that would be! How awesome it would be to be a bringer of joy wherever you go? I think this what Jesus is inviting us into.
And so I want to take a look at something from the life of Jesus that I think not only communicates just how awesome the life is that Jesus is inviting us into, but offers us a model of how neighboring can help us experience a fuller experience of the world.
I would love to draw our attention the beginning of the particular episode I am about to read, because I think what Jesus does here, particularly in the beginning of the interaction has massive implications for how we can think about neighboring today.
So, reading from John 4 one of the 4 biographies of Jesus.
6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus goes on to show who he is by speaking something about her life that he should have no way of knowing, all to reveal that he is the one who has come to bring hope, restoration, tearing down the divide, that he truly is wanting to invite her and everyone into a life of eternal depth and meaning, one like living water which truly satisfies.
Jesus, in many ways, reveals what he is all about in this passage. He reveals what he has come to do, what he has come to invite us into.
He even uses his often referenced term, Eternal life, which in part speaks of a future experience where brokenness, sickness, and death are no more. But it also speaks of our experience of life today. He longs for us to find a life that is satisfying, he wants to bring us into a quality of life that is like drinking water that always quenches our thirst.
But, again for the sake of today’s conversation I want draw our attention back to the beginning part of this interaction.
Jesus, does something rather unheard of in his time. He a Jewish man, initiates an interaction with a Samaritan women. First off, this would be notable just because she is a woman. In the Patriarchal society they lived in, a man would not interact with a woman unless her husband or father were present. The fact that Jesus choose to interact in a one on one setting with a women, and that the interaction would be recorded in John for us to read today is quite surprising.
Just as a quick side note, this is one of the things about the Bible that we can often miss. Compared to contemporary texts, anything written around that time. The Bible gives more pages, more references, more words addressing women, or recording what women say than pretty much every other contemporary text put together.
Back to what I was saying though. The Second notable things is that as the women herself noted, a Jew as Jesus was would never have been expected to interact with a Samaritan. These are two different cultures and religions who were notorious for “not getting along”. The Jews not only disliked Samaritans, they saw them as dirty, lesser people.
So, for the original readers of this passage, perhaps most notable thing would have been that Jesus initiated an interaction with her at all.
There were so many divides, so many obstacles to Jesus initiating this interaction.
And this is something we see Jesus do and praise through his life. Taking the first step of engagement
When his first disciples start following him, it’s because he first goes to them and says come follow me.
When a sick women reaches out to him an a crowd, he stops... praises her, and heals her because of her faith and effort to reach out.
When children come to him, and his disciples shoo them away, he tells them that it is in acting like these kids that they will find eternal life.
When he first sends his disciples out to share his message and power with others, he tells them to take nothing with them, so that they are forced step out of their comfort zone, and depend on reaching out to those in the towns they visit.
When Jesus sees the Tax collector Zacchaeus in the tree and calls him out, and initiates the interaction.
Jesus even tells his disciples that when they care for the stranger, when they reach out to others, that is as if they are caring for Jesus himself.
And when asked what the greatest commandment is he replies that to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ And equally important is: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
We see time and time again throughout Jesus’ life, that tied into this life full of living water, one of depth and contentment.
Is the act of stepping outside of ourselves, reaching out, overcoming the barriers that cause us to stay on our own islands.
Jesus encourages us to live a life "open to initiating connection and open to connection being initiated with"
And I don’t this is just a random encouragement, or something we really ought to do if we were good people.
Like all of Jesus’ encouragements, like all of the charges he offers us, this is just what the doctor ordered for our lives, it is something that makes our lives better, deeper, full, more connected
When we begin to see ourselves as neighbors to around us, looking to consider, and connect.
On the surface this is awesome. I mean any chance for connection we will get in this world, means that there had to be a moment where somebody reached out for the sake of connection.
But, even more than that I believe that God tends to show up in cool ways when we reach out for the sake of connection.
I have found he loves to use other people to show his care for us
I have found that God can work through my smallest efforts towards connection to both benefit, heal, encourage other people through me, but also that he uses those same interactions to encourage and show care for me.
Many of the moments that have stuck with me, where I felt in some tangible way that God was real, and he loved me, cared for me, many of the most meaningful of these moments happened when I felt like God was using another person to connect with me.
Next week Nader will actually be continuing our series by talking a bit more about this.
But here is the thing, perhaps the idea of connecting, or neighboring sounds great to you, but it can feel really hard to actually do.
And think this can be particularly hard in a big city in chicago, where it is remarkably easy to live around thousands and people and also feel totally disconnected.
And because of that I wanted to particularly look at the beginning part of neighboring. The act of initiating, reaching out.
I have a friend, who just seems to always be saying really wise and insightful things, I don’t know, I wonder if you have any friends like this.
You know, they can just say something really simply that seems to perfectly encapsulate some big and significant idea.
Well this friend, talking about this whole concept of neighboring, told me that how he thought about this was, “Be awkward so other’s don’t have to be”
That it seems like the one universal obstacle that he saw facing modern americans that prevented them from experiencing the Joy of Neighboring was awkwardness.
Maybe, the awkwardness of whether the other person wants to talk to you
Maybe, the awkwardness that the other person comes from a different culture or background and we don’t really know how to interact with them.
We maybe don’t have the same kind of explicit taboo as Jesus and the Samaritan woman had.
But, plenty of obstacles in way of interacting with those who come from different cultures than us.
Feels particularly true in our country today.
Or Maybe, the awkwardness that just comes with talking with someone that you don’t know super well.
Whereas in Jesus time, cultural and social norms seemed to be the big obstacle to Jesus like neighboring, as we saw with the women at the well.
In American, his theory was that our fear, our desire to avoid this awkwardness, seems to keep us from reaching out to other people, that seemed to be the big obstacle he saw facing most people, and this keeps us from experiencing the Joy of neighboring that Jesus wants for us.
So, “be awkward so others don’t have to be” What does that mean?
Well, first it is acknowledging that awkwardness can feel like a wall to connection and it can be hard to overcome.
So, let’s say it’s like a Sunday morning here at church
And there are two people and would love to feel connected here.
But, there is this wall of awkwardness, that works to keep them both where they are,
it’s what keeping these two people who presumably want connection from finding it.
Well, the only way they are going to get connection is if one of them chooses to be awkward and step through that wall of awkwardness
To take it upon yourself to be the one who will push through that wall, so other person doesn’t have to.
That’s being awkward so others don’t have to be.
And I have found that this simple suggestion from my friend has had a massive impact on my own sense of connection. And I think it is a tip that has made me far more effective in helping other people connect. In short, a better neighbor.
But, here is one other thing I have learned about this.
We should each approach this according to our personality, our leanings, our strengths.
Exactly how this plays out looks different for everyone.
Just as an example.
I have gotten really good at this in a party setting.
I can see someone across the room at a party or here on a Sunday, and I can embrace the awkwardness so they don’t have.
I go up and initiate the conversation with them.
I used to hate small talk, I used hate parties, this is actually a major area where I have grown in my life,
and that is in no small part due to this advice.
And honestly I like my life a lot more for it.
But with my actual neighbors, the people who live in my building. This I am terrible at this.
But, my wife, Michelle she is great at this.
She has made it her business to get to know every person in our building, doing things like having them over for dinner.
Or, on Halloween we went trick or treating, even though our son was only 6 months old, because she decided it was the one day in Chicago where you could literally go up to your neighbors house ring their doorbell and say hi, nice to meet you.
It looks different
I think this in a healthy way will and should push us out of our comfort zones.
I still have to embrace the awkward at a party, michelle still has the embrace the awkward with our neighbors.
It is stretching for each of us
But, it looks different.
If you are an introvert, it probably isn’t best to start with the party.
It’s probably more about you embracing the awkwardness of asking someone how they are doing, like really doing.
In a conversation that very well could stay at the surface level.
You taking that step to be awkward, asking the real question, for the sake of connection
I think what we find here is that delicate balance that we often see when God is working in our lives. Pushing us to grow, but in a way that is still true to who we are.
And I have come to find that it is in these moments that I take a little risk, where I embrace a little awkwardness, that so often have the biggest payoffs.
Those are the times I have found myself to be experiencing a fuller more meaningful life.
I think embracing the awkwardness life, awkwardness of connection, of relationship is at the heart of a life full of Joy.
That is the joy of neighboring.
So, here is my Take away for today: Commit to be awkward this week in one way for the sake of connection!
Think of one way that you can pursue connection, that awkwardness would maybe prevent you from doing. And commit to doing it this week
Maybe it’s here today, finding someone who you would like to be better friends with and asking them to grab a cup of coffee with you.
Or committing to meet two new people at church next week.
Maybe it’s asking a co-worker a real question about their life
Maybe it’s actually meeting one of your literal neighbors.
Maybe it’s engaging someone with a different political view in a conversation where you try to learn from them rather than argue your perspective.
It could be a simple as acknowledging and saying hi to that one acquaintance that you sometimes see while walking to the train.
Or maybe it’s as significant as sharing with friend a struggle in your life that you have largely kept hidden.
In short, commit to one act of connection this week, commit to pushing through whatever barriers what divides would prevent you from doing it.
What you might find is that you get the connection with the person you choose to push through the awkwardness for.
OR maybe you don’t, but each time you do it, I guarantee it will feel easier the next time. It helps develop a lifestyle of neighboring.
But even more than that It think by taking this step you may find new opportunities to feel connected with God.
As looked at early Jesus time and time again modeled and celebrated people when they took the risk to step out.
And believe that today when take risks to do this, we will find that God can show up in the most surprising ways and surprising places.