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Who is My Neighbor (Really)?



With the invention of the back deck  and the automatic garage door, and the elimination of the front porch from homes, we’ve become an insulated, isolated society in many ways.  It seems our home has become our fortress, a place to retreat to after a busy day. As a result, we come and go without having to have contact with the other folks who live in and around our neighborhood. Their called our neighbors. 

When I first lived on my own, the very first neighbor I got to know was a family from Vietnam. They spoke no English, and I spoke no Vietnamese. The cooking aromas that wafted through their windows to my balcony were strangely wonderful, but unfamiliar, the clothes they wore traditional to their heritage. We waved and smiled our way into a relationship with one another. The grandmother would leave an occasional gift of vegetables from the garden she planted in our shared apartment backyard on my doorstep, and I would find little toys and treats to bring home for the little boy. My hello soon was greeted with a tentative chào, and before I knew it, we were exchanging a few halting words as we came and went about our day. The Ngo family made it a pleasure to come home to my empty apartment each day., because they knew the meaning of being neighborly.

Scripture calls us to “love our neighbor as ourselves”. Who is our neighbor? Is it as simple as the Ngo family living next door? Not so much. With our lives so crammed with busy schedules and to do lists a mile long, we barely have time to eat a meal at home, let alone spend time with those who live around our perimeters. But there are “neighbors” all around us, and they are in need of some good old fashioned, neighborly, over-the-fence, get-to-know-you, listening. You might be surprised at what you find – and share yourself.

Like….. the 20-something who lost a family member and experienced death for the first time – ever! Or the elderly man who has been widowed for 3 years now, and the loss is just as acute as it was on day one, How about the family who has been trying to sell their home for so long now they have lost count, but because the market is flat, no one is buying. The funny kids across the way whose big old beagle keeps getting loose and coming over for hugs, and whose dad loves to engage in major water fights with the hose. Somehow the kids always manage to win. These are the easy neighbors.

As we have recently moved into a new church neighborhood, we’ve begun to spend some time out and about getting to know the folks who live around us. The apartments beside have a reputation for housing drug addicts, and out of their midst we had a visitor last week. Interesting to watch when a “visitor” comes to church. They are not familiar. Not “of the family”.  And too often, we treat them as such: some are wary, others watching, others simply don’t know what to do. Really? We’re a church. We’re supposed to welcome the stranger, love the neighbor, seek the lost, and all of that. But when they show up on our doorstep? When they come in our midst to worship. When they’re not neatly pressed and freshly washed? 

“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27) Neighbor means near-dweller. We as church, often want to “do mission” to those “out there” somewhere. It’s easy to have that back deck, isolated, insulated approach. We have to love at the very least, those who are nearby. If they are close enough to touch, they are our neighbors. If we can see them when we get out of our cars on Sunday morning, they are our neighbors. And so we start there. 

Who are your neighbors? How isolated is your church? Do you know the Williams and Joshes in your neighborhood, unfamiliar at first, but seeking to become part of the family by taking the first hesitant steps. We’re called not just to welcome, but to love and not just to love, but to love – as ourselves. Tall order. But we are church – the Body of Christ incarnate. We can do this. 


One Comment leave one →
  1. 31August2012 06:59

    Thanks Patti for this! So often it easier and more comfortable to say to our neighbor in the pew in hushed tones, “Who is that lady with the kids?” rather than stepping out of our comfort zone and walking toward the newcomer. Hospitality can be one of the most difficult things for us to engage in. . . and yet we have to realize that it’s not about our own comfort but the comfort of the stranger among us. Whenever I get the opportunity to worship outside of my own congregation it is one of the most important things I am examining: Will I be greeted by anyone other than the usher? (Most times unfortunately not!) One cannot hear the gospel if one is so uncomfortable in the worship space because of feeling like an intruder, an outsider or someone who suspect just because no one has ever seen their face. We have a lot of work to do in regard to visitors and church neighbors and neighbors/neighbors alike. Thanks for the reminder!
    amy little

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