[first half of sermon preached on 7/11]
Earlier this week, I was working in my office at home when I looked out the window and saw a medical supply truck in front of the house next door. It kind of surprised me because my neighbors are young—probably younger than me—and I see them all the time, two men, J. and R., one or the other of them walking their Pomeranian C. around the block.
Later that day, I was watering the plants in the front yard when a woman walked by with C. I told her I had seen the truck and asked if she minded telling me what was going on. She told me that J. had an inoperable brain tumor. He had had several surgeries before, but this time, there was nothing they could do. I asked if it would be all right if I brought over some food and she thought that would be fine.
The week flew by and then yesterday, there I was reading all of these beautiful commentaries on the Good Samaritan and how we need to love and care for our neighbor. Neighbor, neighbor, neighbor they said, practically in flashing neon, until finally the message got through to this priest: maybe it would be better at that moment for me to check on my actual, physical next-door neighbor than to labor earnestly over this sermon.
I didn’t do much. I went over with a note that had my name and phone number and explained that I was available if they needed a driver or a car or a guest room or food or someone to take care of their dog. And that I hoped they would call me.
R. answered the door. I gave him the note and told him what I hoped I could offer. He gave me a hug, and then said, “You’re Laura, right?” I took a guess and asked if he was R., which he was. C. barked at me and I said, “Everyone knows C.,” which we do. And I came home to work on this sermon and a much better idea of what to say to you.
I realized I don’t know my neighbors. Maybe it’s not like this here. Maybe you know the people who live next door to you or on your block. I’ve lived in small towns where everybody knew everybody and what car they drove. Maybe it’s like that here. But in most places I’ve lived, I’ve known the people I work with, the people I go to school with, and the people I worship with. I didn’t really know the people who lived around me. One or two, sure, but for the most part, my neighbors—my physical neighbors—have been a mystery to me. They are not part of my groups: my church, my family, my profession. I realized reading the Good Samaritan this time through how odd it is that the people I call by the technical term “neighbors” are the very people that I often literally walk or drive by.
I’ve tended to assume that they have their own groups of family, friends and colleagues who will be there when they need them. But maybe they don’t. Or maybe there’s something we can offer by our very proximity that family and friends can’t provide. In any event, I learned yet again the obvious lesson of The Good Samaritan: loving your neighbor means loving the people you meet as you go about your daily business and not just the people in your group. And helping them is the business you need to attend to.
[Second half of sermon was illustrated by the Tolstoy story The Three Questions.]