Like a Good Neighbor…

Preacher: Jessie Houff Scripture: 1 John 4: 7-21 and Acts 8: 26-40

Today it’s all about love, y’all. God’s love for us and love we show for others. The word “LOVE” shows up in the entire bible anywhere from 300-800 times depending on the translation. In the John passage I read today, the word “LOVE” shows up 29 times. This is certainly not coincidence. Afterall, we know the greatest commandment is love. We know we are to love our siblings in this world, not just in our Christian community. Love can be expressed in a limitless number of ways. We can show love physically – hugging someone, holding their hand, comforting them when they’re down. We can show love verbally – not just telling someone you love them, but even the smallest gestures like genuinely asking how their day is. Offering someone a drink when they’re working outside. I’m sure if we took the time to write down every single act of love we could think of, we would be here for the rest of our lives. Any “small” act of love could mean the biggest difference to someone. 

If you take part in mainstream television or radio at all, you are probably aware of the State Farm commercials. Perhaps you know of “Jake from State Farm” the guy in the khakis going around giving people great deals. In some of the more recent commercials, Jake from State Farm gives deals to regular people and they are over-the-moon grateful. They give Jake special gifts and go out of their way to thank him for making them feel special. The joke, of course, is that State Farm offers support to everyone. Jake doesn’t just give great deals to specific people, he gives them to anyone who needs it because, well, that’s his job. Perhaps we can think of ourselves in this way – we are good people spreading love wherever we go to whomever we encounter. We should give love to everyone, not just the people we like the best or the people who may “deserve” it the most.

You may also be familiar with State Farm jingle/slogan. “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there”. This is one of those things I never really thought about until recently. Like a good neighbor…I’ve grown up with neighbors but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I really understood what that slogan truly means. Renada and I have lived in our neighborhood for about a year and a half and we know most of our immediate neighbors…and ALL of our neighbors know Cora, our dog. I’ve come to know this slogan completely because at some point or another, all of our neighbors have helped us in some way. When my truck was in the shop and we needed to get lumber for our new deck, Bo, two houses down, let us borrow his truck numerous times. He also helped me get my truck out when it was stuck in the mud. When I thanked them profusely, Tracy, Bo’s wife, said, “Oh please, that’s what neighbors are for!” 

Our next door neighbor’s father mows our grass everytime he mows his. I try to give him money, beverages, gift cards – he refuses. He says he does it because he enjoys it and knows we’re good people. That’s love. Neighbors Ellie and Wonsup and their two young boys come over weekly to hang out with us and run around with Cora. John gave us a lawn mower. Ciara invites us to go on walks with her. Cathy welcomed us into the neighborhood first. She gives us plant clippings from her pristine yard and gives us suggestions for handy-people in the area. That’s all love.

Cathy mentioned to me the other day that she is so happy we moved in because we provide so much for the community. I wasn’t sure exactly what she meant, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that we do things for our neighbors, too. And we don’t do things for our neighbors because we feel we “owe” them – we do things for them because it’s the right thing to do and we genuinely care. I understand State Farm’s slogan: Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there. I know that if I’m in a pickle, I can call on any one of my neighbors and they will be there for me. Even though we may have differing political opinions or ways of living, we can still love one another. That’s God’s commandment. That’s our job.

Love comes in many forms. Love can come in the form of passion for a certain kind of work.  Many of us have done BVS or another form of service. That’s GREAT love. In the story of Philip and the Ethiopian God told Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” Philip had gifts to share with a stranger. Their journey together started with a simple conversation and ended with a baptism. That’s love.

Anytime I hear of Gaza, I think about Rachel Corrie and her passion for peace work. Some of you may be familiar with her story. She was born in Olympia, Washington in 1979. In 2003 she ventured to the Gaza strip to work for the International Solidarity Movement to work for peace among the Palestinian peoples. Her life ended tragically when she was killed trying to prevent a bulldozer from destroying a Palestinian home. Rachel has a special place in my heart for a number of reasons. My senior year of college we put on a production of the one-woman play called, “My Name is Rachel Corrie”. It is a 32 page monologue comprised completely of Rachel’s writings – Journal entries, poems, and details of her journey to Palestine through her eyes. 

In her writings, Rachel refers to having a fire in her belly – a passion that needed to get out. I’d like to take a moment to read some of her eloquent words that prove her love runs deep. The excerpts I’ll be reading describe her passion for her work across the years of her life and the heartache that went along with it. Taken from the play, Rachel writes:

“Okay, I’m Rachel. Sometimes I wear ripped blue jeans. Sometimes I wear Polyester. Sometimes I take off all my clothes and swim naked at the beach. I don’t believe in fate, but my astrological sign is Aries, the ram, and my sign on the Chineses zodiac is the sheep, and the name Rachel means sheep, but I’ve got a fire in my belly. It used to be such a big loud blazing fire that I couldn’t hear anybody else over it. So i talked a lot and I didn’t listen too much. Then i went to middle school where you gotta be cool and you gotta be strong and tough, and I tried real hard to be cool. But luckily, luckily I happened to get a free trip to Russia and I saw another country for the first time.  

In the streets and the alleys it was an obstacle course of garbage and mud and graffiti. There was coal dust on the snow, everything was dirty. And they always said to us, “How do you like our dirty city?” Oh, but it was so pretty with the little lights in the windows and the red dusk-light on the buildings. It was flawed, dirty, broken and gorgeous. 

I looked backwards across the Pacific Ocean and from that distance some things back her in Olympia, Washington, USA seemed a little weird and disconcerting. But I was awake in Russia. I was awake for the first time with bug-eyes and a grin. 

On the flight home from Anchorage to Seattle everything was dark. Then the sun began to rise over Puget Sound. Soon we could see islands in that water, evergreen trees on those islands. 

And I began to sob. I sobbed in all that radiance, in the midst of the most glorious sunrise I’d ever seen, because it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to make me glad to be home. 

Maybe it was finally the trees who told me to stay. Or maybe going to school in my hometown was just the path of least resistance. Maybe going to Evergreen State College was just the best way to be different from my Economics-major-high-acheiver-khaki-and-high-heels-Yalie-corporate sister and brother. I don’t know why I stayed. But one day I knew I had to. It was the same day I decided to be an artist and a writer and I didn’t [care] if I was mediocre and I didn’t [care] if I starved to death and I didn’t [care] if my whole…high school turned and pointed and laughed in my face.
I was finally away, forever and ever.” (My Name is Rachel Corrie, pg. 9-10).

The next excerpt is when Rachel was leaving her hometown of Olympia Washington, on her way to Gaza.

“We are all born and someday we’ll all die. Most likely to some degree alone. 

What if our aloneness isn’t a tragedy? What if our aloneness is what allows us to speak the truth without being afraid? What if our aloneness is what allows us to adventure – to experience the world as a dynamic presence – as a changeable, interactive thing? 

If I lived in Bosnia or Rwanda or who knows where else, needless death wouldn’t be a distant symbol to me, it wouldn’t be a metaphor, it would be a reality. 

And I have no right to this metaphor. But I use it to console myself. To give a fraction of meaning to something enormous and needless. 

This realization. This realization that I will live my life in this world where I have privileges. 

I can’t cool boiling waters in Russia. I can’t be Picasso. I can’t be Jesus. I can’t save the planet single-handedly. 

I can wash dishes.” (My Name is Rachel Corrie, pg. 18).

The final passage I’ll read is when Rachel is in Gaza. This is a letter to her mother, describing what it was like to be with the family whose home she would one day protect. Rachel Writes:

“Mom, 

I spent the evening and this morning with a family on the front line in Hi Salam – who fixed me dinner – and have cable TV. The two front rooms of their house are unusable because gunshots have been fired through the walls, so the whole family sleep in the parent’s bedroom. I sleep on the floor next to the youngest daughter and we all share blankets. I helped the son with his English homework a little, and we all watched Pet Sematary, which is a horrifying movie. They all thought it was pretty funny how much trouble I had watching it. Friday is the holiday, and when I woke up they were watching Gummi Bears dubbed into Arabic. So I ate breakfast with them and sat there for a while and just enjoyed being in this big puddle of blankets with this family watching what for me seemed like Saturday morning cartoons.

Then I walked some way to Brazil Block, which is where the big family live, the one that has wholeheartedly adopted me. The other day, the grandmother gave me a lecture that involved a lot of blowing and pointing to her black shawl. I got Nidal to tell her that my mother would appreciate knowing that someone here was giving me a hard time about smoking turning my lungs black.
I am amazed at their strength in defending such a large degree of their humanity against the incredible honor occurring in their lives and against the constant presence of death. I think the word is dignity. 

Of course, we burn out. Of course, it is overwhelming. Whenever I organize or participate in public protest I get really worried that it will just suck, be really small, embarrassing, and the media will laugh at us. Oftentimes it is really small and most of the time the media does laugh at us and of course it doesn’t get coverage all over the world, but in some places the word “Rafa” is mentioned outside of the Arab press. If the international media and our government are not going to tell us that we are effective, valuable, we have to do that for each other, and one way we can do that is by continuing our work, visibly. 

I look forward to seeing more and more people willing to resist the direction the world is moving in: a direction where our personal experiences are irrelevant, that we are defective, that our communities are not important, that we are powerless, that the future is determined, and that the highest level of humanity is expressed through what we choose to buy at the mall.” (My Name is Rachel Corrie, pg. 27).

I can imagine the love Rachel felt when she was in that puddle of blankets with the Nasrallah family. I can imagine the love, passion, and desperation she felt the entire time she was away from her home. The way she talks about her passion and the issues of the world light the fire in my belly more and more everytime I read her words. Rachel proves that you can be a good neighbor to someone on the complete opposite end of the world and that speaks an entirely different language.

Love is universal: Saturday morning cartoons with children’s giggles and blankets. Helping someone understand scripture. Mowing someone’s lawn. Washing someone else’s dishes. Writing letters to mom. What is love? Love is everything, everywhere. God is love. You are love. Amen.

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