Next Door: Week 1 Walking Down Your Street
Today, we’re beginning a brand new message series. This series is called Next Door: The Art of Neighboring.
Appropriately, we’re kicking it off on the Feast of Pentecost, which celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Church. The Celtic Christians had a term for the Holy Spirit. They called the Spirit the Wild Goose. The name points to the mysterious nature of the Holy Spirit. You never know where the Spirit will lead you. There is an air of danger, discomfort and unpredictability when you follow the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will lead us to places we would not naturally go on our own.
Ironically, the adventure we’re looking at in this series is right in our own backyard. The premise of this series is that God wants you to be a source of his goodness and grace in your neighborhood. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is sending you to be an instrument of his grace to the people that live near you. You do not live where you live by accident but for reasons of providence, reasons known to God. With God there are no accidents. You may have chosen your home because you thought it was a good investment or a great location. You may have chosen your house because you loved the kitchen. You probably didn’t buy your home because you were thinking about how to be a blessing to your neighbors. You were probably just hoping they’re not crazy.
But the truth is, God had other reasons for putting you there. God sees it as an opportunity to bring his light and love to the people in that community. The Christian faith is always a faith that is placed in creation, in history, in time. The Christian faith is meant to get very, very specific and particular.
The whole story of the Bible is filled with very tangible places where God invites others to build his kingdom and make known his love. When God appears to Moses, he promises Israel a specific homeland, a promised land that was essentially a series of neighborhoods. David’s crowning achievement was establishing a capital city for the nation and moving the center of Jewish worship there. Jesus spent almost all of his life in three specific communities: Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum. The Bible itself describes these places as obscure and insignificant. So too, the call for us is to be in a particular place and to embody the presence and purpose of God there.
We are to make God’s love and blessing known in the specific environments in which we live our lives. Of course this is not at all easy in itself. And then there are all the obstacles and objections brought to us by the culture we live in.
One fact alone underscores the difficulty. Most of us no longer live in cohesive communities. We travel outside of our neighborhood for everything and may rarely see the people who even live next door.
But then, there are other obstacles and personal objections too. You might be reluctant to establish a connection with a neighbor out of fear. You fear they might become dependent upon you and you like the distance. Or maybe they seem somewhat eccentric and you’re uncomfortable with that. You might have an objection because of a previous argument or past history. Or maybe it’s just the weight of having not connected up until now.
I mean, it is one thing to reach out to people when you first move in but if you’ve lived near someone for years and years, how do you just go over and introduce yourself now. You may struggle to connect with your neighbors because you are introverted and you don’t like meeting new people or because you don’t think you have anything in common with them.
And why pay any attention to your neighborhood anyway? First, we already talked about the fact that God wants to use us for the transformation of the world to build his kingdom. And the transformation of the world happens person by person, family by family, neighborhood by neighborhood. Jesus asks us to love our neighbor and whenever we follow what Jesus says there are always blessings.
Blessings are always on the other side of our obedience to God. Second, we do it because all of us want to live in a nicer, friendlier neighborhood. And if you want to live in a friendlier neighborhood then guess what? You’ve got to be friendlier. Third, this actually impacts the quality of your life. Your life improves when you’re better connected. We’ll talk about this a little more next week, but as human beings we were not created to live in isolation. In fact community is more important to your physical health than even diet or exercise. As your connection improves with others, you get healthier.
As I mentioned earlier, today is the feast of Pentecost. Acts 2 tells us when the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together.
And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Acts 2:1
Pentecost was already a Jewish Feast in Jesus’ day, celebrating the harvest. Here Jesus’ disciples were together at prayer, mostly motivated by fear. And despite Jesus’ resurrection, the church might never have grown beyond that little locked room, if not for the gift of the Spirit in the form of fire, tongues of fire which allowed them to speak in different languages.
After the Holy Spirit the disciples broke out of their holy huddle and started making an impact on their immediate community.
In Jerusalem at the time, there were people from all over the world, who spoke many different languages, there to celebrate the feast. And yet at Pentecost they were suddenly able to understand one another. The Holy Spirit allowed for connections and understanding among people who never would have connected or communicated otherwise. This is rightly understood as the beginning, the birthday of the Church, which begins as a movement from isolation and aloneness to interconnection and communication.
The Holy Spirit still works in the same way. It is a gift given to us in a Sacramental way in Baptism and Confirmation. It is also a gift given to us whenever or wherever we dispose ourselves to the work and the will of God in our lives.
The Holy Spirit can give you the opportunity to make connections that you would never have thought possible. The Holy Spirit has the power to open up doors that you never thought would open. The Holy Spirit has the power to help you overcome your fears, and connect with those around you.
So over the next several weeks we are going to look at some initial steps you can take to impact your neighborhood for good and for God. And fyi, none of them will involve going door to door. And we acknowledge that with the many variables we will not all move at the same pace. Some of you might get further than others. That’s OK. The main goal is to begin seeing your neighborhood from God’s perspective and to ask for the Holy Spirit to fall fresh on your neighborhood. It is to invite the Holy Spirit into your neighborhood through you. And about being open to where the Holy Spirit is leading you. And to start simply praying for your neighbors and neighborhood.
Invite the Holy Spirit into your neighborhood. You can pray for your neighborhood every day during your quiet prayer time. Pray for the people you know by name. Pray for the people who you only know by description. Your prayer can be as simple as: God please bless the grumpy old guy that lives around the corner. Father, please bless the loud family across the street. Lord, bless my nosey neighbor next door. You can pray for people you know, and make their intentions your prayer intentions. You can pray for the people who you never see. You can pray for your neighborhood as a whole. Or another idea could be to do a prayer walk. The next time you are walking your dog or taking the kids or grandkids for a walk, or you’re out running, pray a rosary for your neighborhood. Prayer is something we can all do no matter what obstacles or objections you might have.
In today’s gospel we are given another account of Easter Sunday, commissioning them to share the good news and anticipating the gift of the Holy Spirit that would allow them and empower them to do it.
Each of us are sent, and to grow as disciples it is important to understand the practical implications of that in the context of all that is near to us. But wherever the spirit leads it always leads you outside your comfort zone because that is always where growth is. God is far more interested in the growth of your character than with your comfort.