Jesus Christ rose from the dead and now sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Because of his victory, “all power in heaven and on earth” has been given to him (Matthew 28:18). That core Christian belief is celebrated each year on the last Sunday before the season of Advent begins in a special celebration called the Feast of Christ the King. Instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925, it reminds all kings, rulers, and lords that only Christ is the true King of kings and helps all Christians remember that Christ must reign always in their hearts.
On the day of his crucifixion, Jesus was brought before Pilate, the local Roman governor, who asked him whether he was a king (John 18:33). Earlier, various people had claimed that Jesus was the promised one who would overthrow the imperial rule of the Roman Empire. That would have been unacceptable to Pilate. Anyone claiming to be a king would be seen as a rival to the emperor, and the claim would be met with swift and cruel punishment in order to eradicate the threat and deter future uprisings.
Jesus’ response is curious. Without denying his sovereignty, he responds that his “kingdom does not belong to this world” (John 18:36). It does not originate from the world and therefore is “not here” (Id.). Jesus is not saying that his kingdom is absent from the world. Rather, he explains his kingship in terms of his heavenly identity and mission to come into the world in order to “testify to the truth” about God’s love (18:37). As Saint Augustine put it, Jesus’ kingdom “is not from here” but “is here right up to the end of the world” (Tractates on John 115.2). Accordingly, his followers must live as he did and build up his kingdom by faithfully witnessing to the truth of the Christian faith.
But God’s kingdom is not theoretical. As we’re learning in our Sunday message series called, Next Door: The Art of Neighboring, God’s kingdom is formed person-by-person, family-by-family, and neighborhood-by-neighborhood. In order to build up this kingdom, we have to take leadership over our neighborhoods. Too often neighborhood organizations focus exclusively on reducing crime and eliminating threats. While important goals, true leadership moves people beyond fear and isolationism into trust and collaboration.
Each year, our parish brings the local neighborhood together in a celebration of Christ’s birth. In a giant block party, we extend Christian good will to our neighbors by inviting them to our Christmas carnival and boutique. Read more about it in our companion piece this week.
Think about what could happen if you invited a few neighbors over for coffee and asked the simple question: “What can we do together to lift up our neighborhood for God?” Take leadership in your neighborhood and claim it for Christ the King.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
The award-winning televsion show, Desperate Housewives, originally aired in 2004, and ran for eight consecutive seasons. Set on “Wisteria Lane” in the fictional town of Fairview, which actually was part of the Universal Studios backlot in Los Angeles, the show follows the lives of four women as seen through the perspective of a deceased neighbor who now narrates the storyline.
Behind the deceiving façade of a picture-perfect, affluent suburban neighborhood is the portrait of four neighbors who struggle with divorce, infidelity, demanding families and rambunctious children, paralyzing perfectionism and other dysfunctional behavior. With each new season comes a new mystery, usually with the arrival of an enigmatic new neighbor. The television series highlights the truth behind families and neighbors, which is that there is no perfect neighborhood. Despite external indications to the contrary, all people struggle with failure, imperfection, betrayal, disappointment, conflict, and loss.
As the holiday season draws near and Advent approaches, the readings we hear in church become increasingly ominous. In this weekend’s gospel reading, Jesus describes cosmic upheavals of epic proportions. The light from the sun and the moon will die out, stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly powers will be shaken. It is a prediction of the end of the world as we know it. But at the end of days, Jesus promises, God will gather his faithful people from the “four winds,” and from the “ends of the earth” (Mark 13:27).
The prophet Isaiah offers a vision of this new reality. In those days, he says:
[T]he wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair (Isaiah 11:6-8).
Isaiah refers to it as God’s “holy mountain,” upon which there shall be no “harm or ruin” (Isaiah 11:9). In other words, it will actually be the perfect neighborhood.
Working towards a perfect neighborhood in our world today does not require Stepford wives, children, and families. It does not entail perfect veneers or forced expressions of happiness. Rather, it demands a willingness to be gathered, to step out of the isolation of the inner sanctums we have made for ourselves, and to build community instead.
Because neighbors often disappoint each other, building the perfect neighborhood often requires tolerance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Conflict with neighbors is often painful and can inflict lasting wounds. Read our companion piece this week to discover how one parishioner put her neighborhood conflict behind her. If you want to live in a healthy neighborhood, forgive and connect.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
The premise of our new Sunday message series called, Next Door: The Art of Neighboring, is that God wants us to be a source of his goodness and grace in our neighborhoods. Church leaders like to hound us about working to build up God’s kingdom, but frequently do not provide any concrete suggestions on how to do so. In actuality, God’s kingdom expands and develops person-by-person, family-by-family, and neighborhood-by-neighborhood. To the extent we wish to change the world, we first have to change our world, which is lived out in local neighborhoods.
Last week, we challenged ourselves to learn the names of our neighbors and pray for them and their needs. This week, we consider specific ways that we can be generous with our neighbors. From lending a cup of sugar to the neighbor next door who’s in a pinch, to welcoming a new family to the neighborhood, or helping someone with work around the house, God wants us to become more and more generous in spirit with those nearest to us.
Neighborliness was an important value in the South where I grew up. A salutation when passing someone on the street was common. But when I first came to California almost twenty-five years ago, I was shocked each time my friendly greeting was rebuffed with silence and weird stares. Recently, Father Celestine shared with me about how Nigerians greet each other, even people they don’t know, with a kind wave and a pleasant “how-do-you-do.” Children are expected to approach their elders with a respectful address, which in turn is met with an outstretched hand.
But many times in our own part of the world, it’s nearly impossible to get a simple nod out of a passerby. What if we worked to transform our neighborhoods with the simplest of all actions and forced ourselves to say hello to people on the street as we pass by? Trust me, it will be disconcerting and perhaps even upsetting when your overtures are snubbed, but you will have done your part.
This week, don’t just wave to the neighbor you know. Brighten up your stomping grounds by hailing strangers with a cheerful smile and gracious words of acknowledgment. It could be a simple hello or, as we say in the South, “how ya’ll doin’?” Maybe they’ll actually stop and speak to you. What a world that would be.
When I first came to Saint Brendan, almost no one smiled when coming forward to receive communion. I just kept smiling and today almost everyone returns the gesture. Don’t give up on neighborliness. You can change your world with a consistent spirit of generosity and affability. It’s perhaps a bit simplistic, but that is my vision for “Father Roger’s Neighborhood.”
“Won’t you be my neighbor?”
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
As children gear up for Halloween and families make arrangements for the cherished traditions of the winter months ahead, we begin this holiday season in mourning over another senseless act of violence. After spewing a tirade of anti-Semitic venom over internet websites, Robert Bowers burst into a Pittsburgh- area synagogue last Saturday and opened fire, killing eleven innocent people and injuring six others in the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in American history.
Pundits speak of the death penalty and the need for gun control, but what is also painfully clear from these heartbreaking events is that we do not know our neighbor as we should. Although the gunman lived in an apartment complex in the local area, one of his neighbors said that she could not remember ever seeing him speak to anyone in the two years she had lived there.
Especially heartbreaking is the statement made by one local resident attending the interfaith service and candlelight vigil held for the victims, who said that the Squirrel Hill community where the massacre took place was the inspiration for the beloved children’s television show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. “Fred Rogers . . . went to our church,” she said, “and to think that in a place where you would love your neighbor, this would happen is just . . . horrible.”
Today we begin a new message series that we’re calling, Next Door: The Art of Neighboring. In this timely and relevant four-week series, we’ll be looking at specific ways that we can bring God’s love into our own neighborhoods. The easiest way to start doing that is simply learning the names of some of your neighbors.
Indeed, a certain level of connection is established when we know someone’s name. It brings the relationship to a whole different place. Likewise, it’s hard to advance in a relationship or even have a conversation with someone, if we don’t know his or her name. Besides, we honor people and show them respect when we know their names. We are drawn to people who make the effort and care enough to know our names and use them.
Indeed, the first strategy of any hostage negotiator is to build rapport with a hostage taker by using his or her name. Although according to news reports Mr. Bowers found a community of like-minded extremists, white nationalists, and Nazi supporters on an alt-right social media website where he posted a stream of anti-Jewish slurs and hate speech, I can only wonder whether anyone in his real space neighborhood actually knew his name and used it to greet him.
Your assignment this week, therefore, is to get to know some of your neighbors’ names. We must learn from the sin of Cain in the Bible when, after killing his own brother Abel, he asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Father Roger Gustafson