A Beautiful day in the Neighbourhood

Genesis 12:1-3

          1 The LORD said to Abram, “Leave your country, your relatives, and your father’s home, and go to a land that I am going to show you. 2 I will give you many descendants, and they will become a great nation. I will bless you and make your name famous, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, But I will curse those who curse you. And through you I will bless all the nations.”

 

Mark 8:31-38

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

 

It’s a beautiful day in the neighbourhood

       A beautiful day for a neighbour.

       Would you be mine

       Could you be mine.

       Won’t you be my neighbour

 

So sang Mister Rogers in the opening part of his television show called Mister Rogers Neighborhood that ran on television for 33 years.

My granddaughter Sloan watches a spin-off of Mister Rogers Neighbourhood with a show she enjoys called Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood.

 

Fred Rogers believed in positive values for children and encouraging them on educational tv. In a famous presentation to the US Senate about public television he said:

This is what I give. I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him (or her) realize that he (or she) is unique. I end the program by saying, ‘You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you; and I like you just the way you are.

Mr. Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian Minister who believed strongly in the teachings of Jesus that we should love our neighbours. He said one time:

You know, I think everybody longs to be loved, and longs to know that he or she is lovable. And, consequently, the greatest thing that we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved and capable of loving.

 

And so he had a show about a neighbourhood and taught children about community and loving neighbours.

 

Loving neighbours… maybe one of the greatest commandments in the whole of scripture. And a commandment and teaching share by many religions. I am not sure that there is a teaching that is as widespread and universal.

 

I believe that the love of neighbour runs through all of scripture.

And in today’s first scripture lesson it is found in the promises to Abraham, when we read that he will be a blessing to others.

 

But it goes even farther back.

 

Let’s start at the beginning.

 

God had a plan. That plan was to be in relationship with all of humanity, to be their friend, to be their neighbour, to be a sharer of joy and sorrow, to be a partner of life’s journey with humans.

So God created a couple of humans. Adam and Eve.

And at first the plan was wonderful.

God made living souls out of the earth that were designed to love him and love one another in a wonderful relationship.

That was plan A.

 

But Plan A as foiled. Humans had free choice and they could turn away from their loving partner God, and they could not only stop loving God and others, they learned how to hurt and destroy, and hate their neighbour.

And things like hate, envy, suspicion and fear entered relationships and from that time forward relationships became messy and complicated, and the source for most good movies and novels and soap operas.

 

So Plan B was hatched. This time the plan wasn’t to be in relationship with all of humanity. The plan was to find one good and righteous person and be in relationship with that person and build from there.

And so God found one. Noah. And while the world drowned in a flood of self-destructive egoism, Noah trusted in love and faith and God and hope and floated above hate and envy and suspicion and greed.

But getting out of the ark, he screwed it up in a matter of days and plan B didn’t work either.

 

So here is where Abraham comes in. Abraham is plan C. And it really is a hybrid of plan A and plan B.

It has the universal dimension of plan A and it has the righteous and holy dimension of plan B.

Plan C is that God will be in relationship with a holy people, Abraham and his family and all his descendants, and through them everybody will see how it works and God will come eventually into relationship with all peoples.

 

And there you have the Old Testament in a nutshell. God trying to be in relationship with a people, Abraham’s family, the nation of Israel, and to their credit it went on for hundreds and hundreds of years. Plan C worked out a lot better than Plans A and B for those plans were very short lived.

 

So that is Abraham. He was plan C.  – God in relationship with a people, Abraham’s family.

 

 

And we could talk more about Abraham’s faith, you know leaving his own home and taking off into parts unknown, with only hope of God in his pocket.

We could talk about his great faith when it came to having a son, when he was like one hundred years old and his wife was ninety, and yet Abraham trusted God.

We could talk about Abraham’s faith when he was told to offer up Isaac his only son as a sacrifice, and Abraham learned that God would always provide a way to worship that didn’t involve hurting other people.

 

And we could talk about many other stories and accomplishments of Abraham.

 

But we would have to point out that eventually plan C failed too.

 

But that eventually along came a person, a human who had a perfect relationship with God.

Along came a person who not only filled the bill for plan C, but Plan A and plan B as well.

 

That is what our Christian faith proclaims. That Jesus is all three plans restored. He is the new creation like Adam and Eve. He is the one righteous man, like Noah; and he is the embodiment and inaugurator of a new chosen people, the people of God.

 

So the story of Abraham begins with Adam and Eve and Noah but ends with Jesus.

But in between there is one very important verse and it is the last of the promises to Abraham

Though you I will bless all the people of the earth.

And if you look closely you will see that it is the only blessing that is repeated.

The fact that Abraham will be a blessing. He will bless all the people of the earth.

 

Most people when they talk about being blessed by God usually miss this.

They talk about their blessings. They count their blessings…

with health and children and family and prosperity and wealth and SUV’s and RRSP’s and RIF’s and new houses and a sports car and holidays in Hawaii or Palm Springs.

 

But the most important blessing is about blessing others.

Fundamentally our faith is not about being blessed with stuff, it is about us being a source of joy, peace and life for others.

 

Abraham was plan C. That is the beginning. Abraham’s life was fulfilled in Jesus. That is the end.

But in-between God blessed him by making him a blessing to others.

 

A blessing to others. You know when it comes to  standing up at a funeral or a memorial service and talking about a deceased loved one, the thing that always stands out is this: How the person blessed others.

 

So for spiritual homework you can go home today and  count your blessings,

But as you do you can ask yourselves three questions.

Three questions about whether you truly are blessed.

 

One, Were my blessings something that were available to all people or just a few chosen ones. That is the Adam and Eve question. The Plan A common humanity question.

 

Two. Did my blessings make me a kinder more loving person. That is the Noah question. The Plan B righteous person question.

 

Three. Were my blessings all about what I received or were my blessings about what I gave to others. That is the Abraham question The Plan C, bless all peoples because I am chosen, question.

 

These questions are at the heart of scripture and the heart of God and the heart of the Old Testament as found specifically in Leviticus 19:8 and Deuteronomy 6:5 and the heart of Jesus.

 

Any group, any institution, any congregation can ask these questions.

Are our blessings available to all of humanity?

Are our blessings something that makes us better, …more loving, more caring, more forgiving, more graceful?

Are our blessings something we are trying to keep to ourselves, or something we are trying to give to others?

 

I don’t know how that will turn out for you….

I know that I have a ways to go myself.

 

But this I believe is also the heart of the words of Jesus to deny ourselves and take up our cross.

 

What are we denying and what are we taking up?

 

First of all what we are not denying is our personality. In fact I would argue that Jesus came to tell you that it is okay to be you…       that Jesus loves you and treasures your uniqueness.

 

Jesus is not trying to get you to deny your sense of humour, your fondness for cheesburgers with fried onions, or your sense of style. Jesus is not wanting you to deny your gender, your upbringing, your sexuality, or all the things that makes you, you.

 

The greek word apareomai which is translated deny, has the sense of rejection or renouncing.

Jesus isn’t asking us to deny or renounce of individuality, but renounce an old way of life that is selfish and exclusive and thinks of self as above and better than others.

 

And take up a cross. So renounce an old way of life that is selfish and take no thoughts for other and embrace a new way of life.

What is that new way of life. That new way of life is a life of service to others that for Jesus culminated in being killed because he actually practiced and taught love for neighbours, which for Jesus means all people.

He went to the cross and died to prove that he loved everyone and even if his family, his brothers and sisters, his tribe, his nation, his neighbours killed him, he would still love his neighbours.

So taking up a cross is not about promoting a particular doctrine… and taking the consequences come what may…

It truly is about renouncing an old selfish way that thinks that myself is the only thing that really counts.

It is about rejecting a superior way that thinks that I am better than others.

It is about renouncing a violent and unjust way that thinks that others can do without in order for me to have, and that it is okay to hurt others to keep me having the good things in life….

And embracing a way of live that is exemplified in love for neighbours…

And embracing a way of life that is exemplified in being a blessing to all people.

 

 

And that is dangerous. Preaching love for all. Trying to be a blessing for all.

It got Jesus killed. Because love for neighbours wasn’t just some warm fuzzy feeling for Jesus, nor even a sense of being sorry for those who were on the margins, but a call for the rich to share with the poor, for the powerful to lose power and empower the have-nots, for the winners to share with the losers, for the victors to release the captives and the prisoners and forgive them.

For the neighbours to embrace the strangers.

For us all to forgive our enemies and be reconciled to them.

 

When Jesus talked about love of neighbour, it was so radical and dangerous, it was the same as taking up a cross and being willing to die.

And that is what he did.

Jesus isn’t asking us to deny our true self, but to find our true self, and that true self is tha part of us that is the image of God.

The image of God is about blessing all people.

And the image of God is about loving the neighbour.

And who is our neighbour?          Everyone.

 

And even we Christians have trouble with that.

 

Everyone one of us puts up psychological fences about who is our neighbour and who isn’t.

 

Some people or groups keep other races and cultures or people of a different skin colour on the other side of their neighborhood fence.

Some people or groups keep gays and lesbians and transgender and bisexual people on the other side of their neighborhood fence.

Some people have members of their own family on the other side of their neighbourhood fence.

Some people or groups keep Muslims or Mormons or Wiccans or other faith groups on the other side of their neighborhood fence.

Some people and groups keep terrorist and rapists and various and sundry violent criminals on the other side of their neighbourhood fence.

 

And whoever you have on the other side of your neighborhood fence, you don’t sing to them as Mr. Rogers does: Would you be mine. Could you be mine. Won’t you be my neighbour.

 

And yet these are the words of Mr. Rogers which could very well be the words of Jesus:

You know, I think everybody longs to be loved, and longs to know that he or she is lovable. And, consequently, the greatest thing that we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved and capable of loving.

 

So, if we want to be a neighbour, the greatest thing we can do is to help somebody know that they are loved and are capable of loving.

 

And if we want to take up a cross and follow Jesus here’s what I think we can do:

Be plan A, plan B and plan C.

 

  1. Make our blessings available to all people.
  2. To let our blessings change us into loving and compassionate people.
  3. And to let our blessings be about what we give to others and less about what we receive.

Amen