A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Garages and Loving Our Neighbor Philippians 2: 1-8 December 14, 2015

Have you noticed the change in house designs over the past 30 years or so? It’s a subtle and yet interesting phenomenon that has many nuanced pieces to it but it’s one that makes me wonder. I have even bought, in my life, two of these kinds of homes. What change is that you wonder? The placement of the garage and the front door. Garages are now prominent on the front of the house in most newer neighborhoods (although interestingly there are a few places where garages are moved again to the rear of the home) with front doors with little porches off to one side and larger patios out back in a private yard (where garages used to be). As I said, there are probably several reasons for this change, such as we now have two cars in a household so we need a bigger garage, you can place living space on top of the garage for a smaller footprint on a lot are just two that come to mind. But whether this is an outcome or a culture change, we now can drive home from work, drive into our garage, put our garage doors down and enter our homes all without ever making eye contact with a neighbor. When you BBQ or have friends over-there is no space out front, so you are in your fenced backyard. You know the old saying “Good fences make good neighbors.”

If we think about it, we have a ton of control over who we let into our daily lives now. We don’t even have to know our neighbors. We get to pick and choose who we make contact with, who we meet, who we enter into relationship with and who we even casually bump into. We can choose to only have conversations with like minded people. If we are honest, this is about fear. Fear of who our neighbors might be. Fear of being used by them (you know that one neighbor who ALWAYS needs something?), fear of not getting along, fear that our neighbor might be not share our values, fear that they might be different than us, fear that they might be a serial killer, fear that they might be a terrorist, or even the fear that WE might need them, be a burden or end up in a deep and lasting relationship. How many times on the news do we hear a neighbor saying, “I had no idea what was going on next door.”

This separation also allows us to judge our neighbor without really knowing them. We see the sign in the yard of who is remodeling their kitchen, the sign where a high school student made the varsity squad, the bumper sticker of their honor roll kid, and we can judge that they have it all together and wouldn’t want to be friends with us anyway because we have none of those things going on. Not knowing our neighbor can affirm our assumption that we are not enough by the world’s standards. We can feel what we call humiliated; lesser than and not worthy. Or we can see the junk pile in the front yard, all of the beer cans or wine bottles in the recycling bin, hear the children fighting, the adults fighting, see the un-mown lawn, the newspapers piled up on the micro-porch and think or even say, “well at least I’m not that” and humiliate our neighbor. Not knowing our neighbors can also allow us to feel fairly good about ourselves and doesn’t require any self reflection either. If we never are confronted with our neighbors’ messiness, then we don’t have to deal with our own.

So, culturally we have found ways to separate ourselves, give people just a passing glance of who we may or may not be, garages where we can hide just being one of many. Yet, we yearn for something more. Our hearts and souls stir for connectivity, for intimacy, for deep and authentic community. We know that we feel most empty when we are isolated. Ask any of our older members who yearn to come to worship but health or mobility challenges keep them at home alone. We live in the tension of the fear of who should we let in and our need for community. We live in the tension of looking out for our own best interests under the guise of staying protected, and the emptiness of division that we attempt to fill with new cars for those garages, larger homes, more material possessions, busy jobs, or hobbies. None of those things are inherently a problem, unless they are where we think we are finding our primary worth and identity.

While we’re today simply able to structure our buildings to support this tension, this is not a new challenge. Apparently, the ancient people of Philippi were trying to figure out this community thing in light of what they knew about God through Jesus. The Philippians were living in the tension of diversity, of who to let in to their lives, who to be in community with, what rooted them and bound them together and how the gospel moved them from the cultural norms of making sure you have enough for yourself, and protecting what you have… to seeing each other as God sees them.

Paul pleads with them to get off of the “either/or” treadmill of either someone is for us or against us. Paul reminds them that the gospel of Jesus Christ pulls us into a completely different way of being in the world. It’s not the either only be in relationship with those exactly like you and then afraid of everyone else or being isolated and alone so that no one can hurt you. The gospel lights the way for another possibility. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection models for us the truth of who we are and “who’s” we are. Love, unity and sameness are not about assimilation, safety, and easy relationships but the deep, messy, risky relationships where we reveal ourselves to our neighbor and discover that they struggle with all of the same challenges that we do. Hearing someone else’s struggles, loves, sorrows and joys often elicits a heartfelt, “ME TOO!” While we have different lives, we all share falling short, not feeling like enough, having days where we seem all together followed by days of feeling very human. This common humanity binds us together in ways that we can’t ignore; we are created for community with one another and with God.

Jesus, God incarnate, was God’s “Me too” to humanity. God saw the separation between each other and from God and chose, desired to come and live in the tension with us and to draw us into life with God and each other. God calls out our false sense of control of who is our neighbor and reveals that when God chose to come to us, to be our actual human neighbor, God chose all of us together. Jesus’ life among us proclaims another way besides isolation, judgment, self-protection, ambition and fear. Jesus’ very human life points to unity in diversity. Same love, same mind, and full accord isn’t being a clone of each other, but it’s knowing our neighbor, seeing our neighbor, loving our neighbor, allowing our neighbor to really see us,  seeing Christ in them and saying, “me too.” God sees our common struggle with sin-which is anything that separates us from God and declares that this separation is no more. Through the humanity of Jesus, God came to be in our mess. God wasn’t afraid of really being with us and seeing all of the pieces of ourselves that we try and hide. God wasn’t afraid of the risk of getting hurt, being used, suffering or even dying at the hands of a neighbor. Relationship with us, God’s beloved children, was worth any risk, any hurt, any inconvenience.

Jesus transforms our common human ambition, common human judgment, common human self-interest, common human struggle with self worth, and common human fear into deep community and joy through the love of God that is for all people in all times and in all places. Connecting to this love pulls us into deep relationship with each other, as we share the same love, grace, mercy and hope in Christ Jesus. This love banishes all fear of our neighbor as God’s love transforms our relationships to not being about us, but others. This love banishes our fear of who we are as God’s love transforms us because it’s also all about us. This love banishes all division as God’s love transforms our separation into true community.

Jesus comes to us today and every day in ordinary and extraordinary ways for authentic experiences of Jesus’ love and love of neighbor. In ordinary bread, wine and water, elements that all of humanity needs for physical survival, the living Christ gathers us all as one, connects us and transforms our fear of others into openness and common ground. Jesus comes to us to open our garage doors, open our hearts and open our lives to show us a new way to live in hope and not fear, a new way to live in community and not isolation, a new way to live in abundance and not scarcity, a new way to live with others, for others in the form of Jesus’ love. Thanks be to God.