I’m a pretty easy going person. I get along with most people I meet, and I would rate myself a 9/10 on the nice scale.
But, I once nearly threw my Bible at someone while a Wednesday midweek service at Calvary Temple. Pastor Scott was teaching about something that was undoubtedly very important for my spiritual growth, but I was too busy seething at the person behind me.
I’m sure you’re trying to imagine what they were doing. Sneezing on my hair? Kicking my chair? Doing that weird whistle thing when you breathe out of your nose?
They were coughing.
But it wasn’t a real cough. I can understand if someone legitimately has a cough and can’t help it. Instead, it was a “black lung, pop!” kind of cough.
And it never stopped. The entire service, it was these little “keff keff” kind of coughs, right in my ear. By the time Pastor Scott had finished his sermon, I had pictured seventeen different ways to muffle this person with a scarf/coat/tissues/Bible/stray alpacas.
Looking back, it was so stupid. But I guarantee, if after service, that person had tapped me on the shoulder and asked me for any kind of help, I probably would have asked how their “black lungs” were doing and then have pretended to need to pee. (Pastor Jon, are you really sure you want me writing a Calvary Temple blog? These are not pretty confessions.)
I was not being a good neighbor.
One day, a man asked Jesus what he needed to do in order to obtain eternal life. Jesus asked the man what the Bible said the answer was, and he said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.” Then, the man took it a step further–asking Jesus who was considered to be his neighbor.
In response, Jesus told a (drumroll) parable. A man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, and along the way, he was robbed, beaten, and left for dead. We all know how the rest of the story goes–three different people passed this beaten man, The first two were even religious–the kind of people you’d think be jumping to help someone in need. But, they both passed him by.
It wasn’t until a third man–the Samaritan (and someone that most Jews hated)–passed by that help came.
Jesus then asked the man who he thought was a neighbor to that beaten traveler. The man responded correctly–the good neighbor was the Samaritan–the one who stopped to help.
All this talk about neighbors made me think of one of my childhood heroes–Fred Rogers (better known as Mister Rogers!) Of course, I don’t know for sure, but Fred Rogers left a legacy of a man who appeared to have a very close relationship with God. (My writing concentration in college was Creative Non-Fiction, and this piece on Mister Rogers’ life is one of my favorite essays of all time. There’s some not-nice language, but I think it paints a really lovely picture of his life, his faith, and his impact on children.)
I also liked this little anecdote I read in a Christianity Today article:
[Fred Rogers speaking] “I studied Greek with him [Dr. Orr, a teacher of theology] and then I studied New Testament with him. Every Sunday, my wife and I used to go to the nursing home to visit him. One Sunday we had just sung ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’ and I was full of this one verse. I said, ‘Dr. Orr, we just sang this hymn and I’ve got to ask you about part of it.”
“‘You know where it says—The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him. For, lo, his doom is sure. … one little word will fell him? Dr. Orr, what is that one thing that would wipe out evil?’
“He answered, ‘Evil simply disintegrates in the presence of forgiveness. When you look with accusing eyes at your neighbor, that is what evil would want, because the more the accuser’—which, of course, is the word Satan in Hebrew—’can spread the accusing spirit, the greater evil spreads.’ Dr. Orr said, ‘On the other hand, if you can look with the eyes of the Advocate on your neighbor, those are the eyes of Jesus.’
“I’ve never forgotten that.”
We can sometimes be a little legalistic–thinking that the only neighbors we have are those we live next door to or those friends we are around every day. But according to Jesus, our neighbors can be anyone we come into contact with who need our help. It’s not up to us to judge who is worthy of our help–we’ve just been instructed to love as Jesus has loved us.
In the puppet skit this week, Wendy and Suzie are hiding from a little girl they both find annoying. They don’t want to be her friend, and they certainly don’t want to be her neighbor either.
Just like me and my little cough incident described above, we can sometimes find petty, inane reasons to dislike people. How shameful that Jesus has commissioned us to go out and love everyone, and we’re too busy being annoyed at the little things.
I’ve had the chance to talk to some of the kids in my Sunday School class about this. I teach preschoolers (so three and four year olds), and we sometimes have incidents where kids aren’t very nice. One situation that happens a lot is one of the younger kids will start following one of the older kids around–trying to sit near them or copy whatever they do. And, of course, the older kid inevitably gets frustrated and comes to tell me all about it.
It’s always a great opportunity to remind them how kind and loving Jesus is. Even if someone is annoying to you, consider it a great opportunity to be a friend to someone who needs it.
I think of that Bible verse from John 13:35:
“Everyone will know that you are my disciples because of your love for each other.”
What better way is there to be a witness of Jesus than to show love for your neighbors?