Summary: Being a good neighbor (loving our neighbor) means being intentional about caring for those whom God places in our path even if they are different from us.
[Have the congregation exchange names with one another during greeting time]
[Sing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” while mimicking Mister Rogers (changing out of coat and shoes into sweater and dockers]
Many of us here or your children had the opportunity to grow up with Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. I used to watch Mister Rogers all the time as a kid. I wanted to be in Mister Roger’s neighborhood. He was kind, gentle, friendly, and so were all his friends, like the mailman Mister McFeely. Mister Rogers was like the grandparent you always wanted. Every episode had something to teach us, but it also demonstrated what a neighborhood and being neighborly was all about. Trolley took us to the land of make believe where we were able to see how puppets like King Friday, Queen Esmeralda, and were able to live together in the kingdom of make believe. They cared about one another, resolved their differences, and learned something along the way too. I don’t know how many of you know this but Mister Rogers, Fred Rogers, was actually an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church. I believe that in a simple way, Fred Rogers showed children what it was like to be a part of God’s Kingdom, just without the religious language. He demonstrated it day after day, care for and respect of others.
The Lack of Neighborliness
Mister Rogers learned what it means to be a neighbor from Jesus. Jesus said, “love your neighbor as yourself (Mt. 19:19),” “love each other as I have loved you (John 15:12),” and “you have heard that it was said, love your neighbors and hate your enemies, but I tell you love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you (Mt. 5:43-44).” Jesus taught what being neighborly really meant, it means being intentional about loving your neighbor no matter who they are or where they live, or what their need. In our Scripture this morning Jesus was confronted by a clever lawyer who thought he could test Jesus by asking him how he could inherit eternal life. It was a fair enough question. Jesus turned it back over to him, “what is written in the law (or the Torah, the first five books of the Bible), how do you read it?” The lawyer being very familiar with the law quoted two verses "’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ’Love your neighbor as yourself.’"
Jesus replied “do this and you will live.”
But the lawyer wasn’t satisfied with Jesus’ answer, he wanted to “justify himself” as the Scripture says or as the NLT translation puts it, he wanted to “justify his actions.” In other words he wasn’t looking for ways to demonstrate more love to his neighbor. He was looking for an excuse to justify his unloving actions toward people he didn’t really like. So he asked Jesus, “who is my neighbor?” And Jesus told a story, the parable of the Good Samaritan in response to the lawyer’s question.
Of course we never do that, do we? We don’t look for ways to justify our unloving actions against others do we? ‘Well that guy had it coming to him for cutting me off like that.’ ‘She deserved it for what she said about me.’ Surely God doesn’t expect me to be kind to that cranky guy who lives next door does he? [Illustration of my parents unkind neighbor] Surely God doesn’t expect me to love my boss who seems to enjoy making my life a living hell, or the coworker who always acts nice to my face, but then backstabs me at every opportunity. Certainly they are not my neighbor, are they Jesus? I’m not expected to love them am I?
Jesus said, there was a man going down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho where robbers stripped him, beat him, and left him half-dead. [Show the pictures of the road to Jericho] Here’s a picture I took of the Jericho road during our trip this past January, the road running from Jerusalem to Jericho. As you can see it’s not really much of a place you want to be waylaid on your journey because it’s desolate, it’s remote, there is no where to go.
Fortunately for this victim, a man walked by, a priest, a very religious person, a man who worked daily in the house of the Lord, the Temple. Surely he will stop by to help. Nope, he took one look at the guy and passes by on the other side. As God’s blessing would have it yet another man happened to approach, a Levite, a worker in the Temple of the Lord, another religious man, surely he will stop. No such luck, he passed by on the other side too.