Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Who is my neighbor?

Who is my neighbor? In the gospel, those words lead into the famous story about the Samaritan who took time to stop when others didn't, couldn't or wouldn't. When we think about that phrase, we're often pointed to the downtrodden and disheartened in communities around us. That is a good place to look, to be sure, but does anyone ever look at the person sitting next to them in the pew?

What has happened to the community in the church? In a time of busyness and over-scheduling, church does not need to be just "another thing to do", but what can it be? What do you expect to receive from your faith community?

Recently I have heard many people lamenting the changed times, when it is difficult to get people to come to confirmation or weeknight Bible studies or Sunday night youth group- things that were congregational staples even ten years ago. So what happened?

I don't know that the answer to this question is one about "making time for God"; maybe it is a question about neighboring. Perhaps the church isn't the second social home for people anymore. Maybe it's not where people want to be and they get all they need from church on Sunday mornings. And yet- the whys and hows of ultimate concerns remain in the hearts of people everywhere and they look to faith communities to point to the blowing of the Spirit in the world.

People say they wish they had more time or that the church offered more things to meet their needs. Where would these things- Bible studies, support groups, alternate worship services- come from? Your pastor cannot do it all. The church council cannot do it all. The body of Christ needs limbs and God's wind does blow over dry bones. Are you open to that?

In the story of the Samaritan who stopped, there is a priest who did not. We often think it was because he didn't want to touch the impure body of the beaten man. That reaction was not borne out of squeamishness, but from the exhausted knowledge of knowing if he did touch the man (who might be dead) there were a variety of purity rituals to perform and prohibitions in effect if he touched blood or discharge or dead flesh. The priest did not stop because he knew the extra work it would create and he hoped someone else would do it.

With the knowledge of the priesthood of all believers, have we forgotten the importance of being a Samaritan?

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