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
Father Roger Gustafson