If I think back to the street I was brought up in I can go round the houses in my mind's eye and tell you the name of each neighbour. I spent the first 12 years of my life in that street and 35 years on I can still visualise each of the neighbours faces and their mannerisms.
It's my recollection that back in the 60s and to a certain extent the 70s communities were very personal and local.
This next statement may say more about me than any who are reading this blog but now I can only tell you the names of some in my present street. Some I don't know at all. I only really talk to my immediate neighbours at either side of our house and across the road. Coincidently I will have lived in the house I presently live in for 12 years in a few months.
I don't think I'm that different to most adults living in Scotland today.
As I contemplate this fact it occurs to me that this semi isolated way of life seems to have crept up on me. I didn't set out intentionally to live this way - I love company and would view myself as very social and interested in people.
Maybe I'm just too busy with work and family. Maybe I'm just too selfish and not prepared to invest time in others and their needs. I think it's more a case of just not noticing, and most others around are living similar type lives. We can, after all, do everything from our arm chairs - shop, order food, view properties and purchase them - if we are so inclined we can even arrange a date without leaving the house. Our way of lives lend themselves to our isolation and self interest.
The Lord Jesus challenge was to "love your neighbour as yourself" in response to a very religious man's question when he asked "who is my neighbour?". (1) In my experience many religions tend to set rules and boundaries and put instructions in place that almost encourage us to be aloof and distant. Living in the west of Scotland we all experience the very real barrier that often sits between catholic and protestant communities. This is just one example. The historical conflict between Muslim and so called Christian countries is another.
The Lord Jesus was very different and radical when he came across religious do's and dont's. His challenge to His church was to go into the world and preach the gospel.(2) The gospel by the way is the good news about God.(3) The great news that God loves us and he wants to take our lives and make them radically new and alive.(4) To take our sin and selfishness and forgive us as a result of the sacrifice by Jesus when he went to the cross.(5)
When Jesus was living on earth and he came across people with real problems he didn't condemn the life they lived. He gave them the power and the authority to live a different kind of life - a life of faith and not on the basis of them trying harder.(6)
The religious leaders in Jesus day were not like this - they were much too like the men in the story of the Good Samaritan. The passers by looked down on the man who was in need lying on the road and thought they were better than him. As a Christian - someone who is a follower of The Lord Jesus Christ, there is a danger if I'm out of touch with the community I live in, that I come across like the religious men that Jesus was speaking to.
What kind of neighbour would I be if I pointed out your faults and your short comings when I meet and speak to you. Never realising I had the same faults and short comings. God's acceptance of my life is based on the perfect life of His Son, Jesus and on the basis of my acknowledgement that I'm not worthy of His love and grace.(7)
As a good neighbour, just like the Samaritan in the gospels (take a look at the story in Luke chapter 10) I'm asked to come to the aid of the person in need. I'm asked to help them and make sure they are looked after. I would find this very difficult if, from a religious viewpoint I point out my neighbours faults and look after my own interests.
Any close look at the teachings of Jesus and the demands of true Christianity will mean sacrifice and love for those we come into contact with.(8) The hope of the church I'm part of is that we have a positive impact in the community where God has placed us. It should be a place where the life and love of the Lord Jesus is seen in those who make up the church.
We are meeting together on Saturday and over the rest of next week to look into what God has to say to a group of Christians who want to make a contribution to the community around them. If you are interested in hearing more about this why not come along to any of the meetings planned on Saturday and into next week. Details are available on our website.
Note 1 Luke 10 v28
Note 2 Romans 1 v16&17
Note 3 Matthew 28 v19
Note 4 John 3 v16 & John 14 v6
Note 5 Hebrews 7 v26-27
Note 6 John 1 v12-13 & Ephesians 2 v8
Note 7 Romans 5 v18&19
Note 8 Matthew 5 v38-42