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The Neighborly Way

Tuesday, March 21, Lent Calendar* Invite: Do something kind for a neighbor. Pray for your neighborhood.

We have experienced both: the neighbors that make you cringe and the neighbors that make you happy that they’re your neighbor. The house on one side of us has been a rental for years. Many people have come in and out of that house. I have often said that I wish you could interview potential renters and buyers who will be living beside you before any contracts are signed. One family of renters would scream obscenities at each other out in the backyard late into the night when our children were small. It was not fun.

On the other side of us, a new family moved in after the bachelor who owned the home went into foreclosure. I knew they were good people when they handed us glasses of wine over the fence. Soon we made a pass gate through our fence so our kids and dogs could go back and forth and play. We were so sad when a new job took them to the other side of the country. Blessedly, wonderful new neighbors followed them, the kind of neighbors you are happy to see as you come and go each day and the ones you can trust to watch over your house when you are away.

My neighbor Connie from across the street helping me transplant tomato seedlings.

When we first moved into our home nearly twenty years ago, I thought the neighbor across the street was like the nosy Mrs. Kravitz in the old TV series Bewitched. It is true that Connie has the low down on the neighborhood, but not because she’s nosy. Never having had children of her own, Connie takes on the role of “neighborhood mom” who watches over everyone. She is nutty and funny and never at a loss for words which can sometimes be a bit overwhelming when you’re running late in the morning and just trying to get out of your driveway. On the 20th anniversary of her sobriety, my husband baptized her underneath a cross on top of a hill that overlooks the ocean in Ventura. She doesn’t go to church, but she teaches me a lot about Jesus and how to be a neighbor. Recently she helped me transplant tomato seedlings that the little children at school couldn’t quite finish.

I know why it is sometimes hard to be a neighbor. We are busy, sometimes coming and going into our homes for a little respite with no energy for much of anything else. We are nervous about meeting new neighbors; what if they are crazy or scary or mean or...? We wonder about the neighbor with the political sign in their yard that in contrary to how we voted. We aren't sure what to say to the neighbor who seems different than us. We wonder how to become more than strangers.

But here’s the deal. There is this story of a man who asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” The man wasn’t looking for the response that he got. He was looking for a way out of being neighborly. But Jesus doesn’t let us off the hook. Jesus told the man the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus' point: our neighbors are the ones right there in front of us who have need. Race, class, gender, political views, religious views… Jesus doesn’t allow those to be barriers.

So today, pray for your neighborhood. Pray that kind people move into the house with the "for sale" sign. Pray for the old lonely man who lives down the street and whose wife just died. Pray for that neighbor that drives you crazy, that maybe you will have a little more patience and understanding and that they will, too. Let those prayers be the seed ground to do something kind for a neighbor. It might be as simple as smiling and waving as you exit or enter your driveway instead of just ignoring. It might be fresh baked goodies on a a cold and wet day. It might be a little note that says “I am thankful you are my neighbor.” May we heed the wise advise of Mister Rogers, "All of us, at some time or other, need help. Whether we're giving or receiving help, each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world. That's one of the things that connects us as neighbors—in our own way, each one of us is a giver and a receiver."

*Find the daily Lent calendar here; or for the Lent calendar more specific to Ascension Lutheran Church, go here.

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