Who’s Got Time for Neighbors?

Sometimes life feels like one big game of beat the clock. Are you winning? Meeting people takes time. How can we find time to get to know our neighbors?

Read Mark 5:21-43 here.

Listen here:

Pop quiz – What did Jesus tell us are the two most important commandments?

  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
  • Love your neighbors as yourselves.

Right!  Very good.  Love your neighbors.  That’s what we’ve been talking about for the past two weeks.

  • We talked the first week about how loving our neighbors works much better if we know who they are, and so we were challenged to look for opportunities to get to know those who live around us.
  • Last week we talked about our fears that get in the way of loving our neighbors, fear of not having enough or being enough, fear of the messiness of our sin, and remembered that prayer feeds our faith instead of our fears.

This week we’re talking about another big challenge to loving our neighbors – time.

Why do we need to work on this obstacle? Because Jesus told us to, and because Jesus told us when we’re loving people, we’re loving him.

Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. –Matthew 25:40

Why is it a challenge?  Because we’re busy people.

So how do we make time for loving our neighbors?

InigoInigo Montoya, a character from the movie “The Princess Bride” used some basic networking.  He introduced himself, saying “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father. Prepare to die.”  His basic networking plan was: 1) a polite greeting, 2) his name, 3) a relevant personal link, and 4) managed expectations (“Prepare to die”).  But maybe Inigo’s way isn’t quite what we’re looking for.

Instead….Let’s look at how Jesus did it.

capernaumIn today’s reading, Jesus is on a preaching tour around the Sea of Galilee. He’s on tour with the gospel. He had started in Capernaum teaching in the synagogue there, preaching the good news that the kingdom of God is near, and then moved on to the surrounding towns.  At each stop, he’s healing people, and people are amazed at the authority of his preaching, and so word spreads.  Crowds gather, and people are clamoring to get to Jesus, at one point even tearing off the roof of a house to get to him (Mark 2:4).

As he’s on his way to his next stop, one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus stops Jesus and does something that’s not very characteristic of a dignified synagogue leader, he falls to his knees and begs Jesus to come to his house and heal his daughter who is near death.  Jesus doesn’t stop and consult the agenda, or tell Jairus he’s too busy, he just goes with Jairus.

Jesus is willing to let people’s needs change his plans.  Jesus welcomed interruptions.

This was the synagogue leader asking, so of course Jesus would change his plans to do what Jairus asks. We know he’s important because he has a name.[1]  We’d do this, too, for somebody important.  If your boss comes in and says she needs you to do something right away, what do you do? You do it. But Jesus would have gone anyway, because to Jesus it didn’t matter who was asking, as we see from what happens next.

As they’re heading toward Jairus’ house, Jesus stops and says, “Somebody touched me.” (5:30)  The disciples’ response to this is funny.  Sometimes in these stories, the disciples are like the chorus in a Greek tragedy or the musical number in a play, helping us see things that would be more obvious if we were experiencing this in real life.

“What are you talking about? With this crowd pushing and jostling you, you’re asking, ‘Who touched me?’ Dozens have touched you!” (5:31)

We’re left hanging in the story about Jairus’ daughter as the action stops for this new story about a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years.  Jairus’ daughter is near death – that’s urgent.  This woman has been sick for twelve years – not urgent.  But the woman has seized this opportunity while Jesus is here passing through.  She’s ritually unclean and not supposed to touch people so she doesn’t make them unclean from her bleeding, but she’s desperate to be healed enough to risk touching Jesus’ robe.

bleeding-womanThis is a large crowd and everyone is pushing and jostling, trying to get a look at Jesus.  Probably others are also trying to touch him.  By sheer determination and desperation, this woman makes it through the crowd as Jesus and the disciples are hurrying towards Jairus’ house, and finally she gets close enough to touch the back of his robe . . . and she is healed.

We can imagine her joy!  Finally, after all these years, healed!

But Jesus also felt it.  Lots of people have touched him as he’s been making his way through the crowd, but this was different, and Jesus noticed this woman.

Maybe you know what this is like, to be in a crowd of people and feel invisible until one person makes eye contact and actually notices you.  There was a kid in a church we went to for awhile that was like that.  He struggled with severe depression.  We went on a youth retreat and the youth leader told me we needed to make sure we gave him his medication at breakfast and supper, but other than that everyone was ignoring him.  He kept to himself and didn’t talk much.  He was hard to connect with, but when someone took the time to make the effort and look him in the eye, he would talk.  Most of the time, though, he was used to being ignored and avoided.

This woman was probably used to being ignored and avoided, too.  But Jesus stopped and asked to meet whoever had just touched him.  The woman had snuck up behind him to touch his robe, but now she faces Jesus and kneels before him to admit her sin.  She has made him unclean.  She has interrupted his mission to go rescue the synagogue leader’s daughter.  But Jesus is not angry about the interruption.  Instead he commends her for being courageous enough to take a risk of faith, and says:

“Your faith has made you well.  Go in peace.” (5:34)

Jesus isn’t angry about being interrupted, and Jesus doesn’t pay any attention to the taboo of touching this woman, or to the social rank of the person who is asking.  Jesus doesn’t put the synagogue leader’s request ahead of the woman’s.  This is how the kingdom of God works.  This is how the kingdom of God has come near.

To the humble he gives favor. (Proverbs 3:34)[2]

Notice that neither one of these people were scheduled stops on Jesus’ preaching tour, but he stops anyway, because Jesus’ agenda is not about hitting the stops on the tour, it’s about telling people about the good news of God’s love and grace, and demonstrating that love through healing.  Jesus stops for people because people are what matter most.  Loving people is what matters most.

Love . . .is the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen. (1 Cor. 13:8 Phillips)

Jesus has time for people because people are what he’s all about.  And if we’re following Jesus, then people are what we’re all about, too.  Which means that loving our neighbors isn’t something we need to add to our to-do list or make space for on our calendars, it’s the way we live our lives.  It’s why the apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. (Rom. 12:1 MSG)

Loving people is something we can do everywhere we go, in everything we do.

When I was going through the process of becoming a pastor, I had to meet periodically with the presbytery committee that shepherds people who are on that path, and I was always nervous about meeting with them because they would ask such challenging questions.  Good questions, but challenging ones.  One that really made me pause and think was this:  Why do you want to be a minister of the word and sacrament?  Why not something else?

It’s a really good question because we believe in the priesthood of all believers.[3]  That means that we are all called to ministry. All of us, no matter what we’re doing for a job. We don’t have to be pastors to be ministers.

“You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ . . . His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:5,9 ESV).

We’re all called and qualified to talk to God and to tell people about God because we have Jesus leading us, and interceding for us, and commanding us to.  We don’t stop being part of that priesthood when we walk out that door, that’s actually where the job begins, as we follow Jesus out into the crowds.

So if loving our neighbors isn’t something we put on our to-do list or on our calendars, how do we do it?

We start with prayer.  We ask God to show us how to love our neighbors, and to give us a heart for our neighbors.  Spend some time praying about our memory verse for this week:

The world is passing away along with its desire, but the one who does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:17 ESV)

The things of this world will pass away, but the one who does the will of God will be with God now and forever.  We already know that God’s will is for us to love our neighbors.  That’s why Jesus commanded us to do it.  But we do have trouble making it happen, so we need to ask God for help.  And then expect God to answer our prayer in unexpected ways. Sometimes that will mean being interrupted.  If we’re not watching, we might miss it.

Pray, and then watch for God to answer.  If you don’t expect God to answer, you won’t watch for it.

Yesterday, watching Clemson play football, things weren’t going well.  Neither team was making first downs. I gave up for a bit and stopped watching, and got on Twitter, where I discovered we had gotten behind because we paused the TV for a break, and on Twitter I saw that Clemson had scored.  Suddenly I was glued to the TV because I knew what was coming and I wanted to see how it happened.  We need to watch for God to work with that same kind of expectation.

So let’s keep on praying for our immediate neighbors, the ones who live nearest to us, and asking God to help us find opportunities to meet them and get to know them.

A man named Cory was working on this.  He lives in Reseda, California.  He started by praying for his neighbors as he was walking around his neighborhood, asking God to help him love his neighbors.  He kept doing this, and as he learned their names, he prayed for them by name. And Cory asked God to let him help with whatever God was doing in their lives.  And God did.  One day a fifty-foot tree blew over in front of Cory’s house, and the neighbors came out to help cut up and haul away that tree.  Working together, Cory got to know his neighbors in a new way, just as he’d been asking.

What we’re asking God to do when we’re praying this way is asking God to help us shift from living in chronos time, chronological time, into Kairos time, God time.[4]

Chronos (chronological) –> Kairos (God time)

Kairos times are those moments that are opportunities to be the people that God has called us to be, moments when we tap into eternity by connecting with God and with the people around us, moments when we get to love one another with the love that God has poured into our hearts. (Rom. 5:5)

This week, as we prepare to gather with our families and our community to celebrate Thanksgiving, let’s be asking God to help us love our neighbors, and let’s watch for those opportunities.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity. (Eph. 5:15–16)

God has given us a week of beautiful weather coming up, so this week, let’s do some walking and praying around our neighborhoods.

  • Ask God to help us love our neighbors.
  • Ask God to bless (names if you know them).
  • Ask God to help us be a part of whatever God is doing in their lives.

Pray and then watch for God to work and to show you what he’s already doing.

And who knows what God will do?

No matter what, let’s give thanks that we have this life and this calling and this love to share because of Jesus.

[1] David Garland, NIV Application Commentary: Mark (Zondervan), pg. 224.

[2] And many other places in the Bible: https://www.esv.org/Psalm+138:6;Proverbs+3:34;Proverbs+29:23;Matthew+23:12;Luke+1:52;James+4:6;1+Peter+5:5/

[3] A great explanation of this here: https://www.gotquestions.org/priesthood-believers.html

[4] “It’s called living a kairos life—living by opportunities that God creates as opposed to trying to make something happen.” Mavis, Brian. The Neighboring Church: Getting Better at What Jesus Says Matters Most (p. 142). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

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