From The Rev. Helen Harper
St. Michael’s, Ridgecrest
Episcopal Churches are divided into the following categories: Urban/Metropolitan, Suburban and Rural.
I have been the leader of churches in all these categories on the mainland USA, and Hawaii, and what I’ve learned is this: at the heart of each of these distinct classifications is the need for relationship. Relationship is necessary not only with each other inside the church, but it is also necessary for us to foster relationships outside the church walls.
When I served in St. Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle, all 68 outreach ministries were under one umbrella called The Church in the World Ministries. All our ministries – no matter where they are located – should seek to represent the church in the world. Now more than ever we need to be the church in the world. The Christian Church came into being as a community of people. Community was, is, and always will be necessary for the church to survive in the world.
Luke’s Gospel chapter 10 contains a story where Jesus encounters “…an expert in the law” and this expert asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him he must love the Lord his God with all his heart, his soul, his strength and his mind. Jesus also told him he must love his neighbor as himself. Then this expert asks Jesus a question, he wants to know who is his neighbor, which means he wants specific information about who is worthy of his attention. He wants to be clear on the rules involving social encounters in his community.
While establishing relationships we too should ask the question “Who is my neighbor.” We should seek to understand this questionthen reach out in truth with love to our neighbors. What is interesting about this word “Neighbor” is that it contained hundreds of definitions in ancient Judaism, and this is no accident. What scholars in the ancient tradition wanted people to know, is that everyone they encountered is a neighbor. They wanted to make sure there were no loopholes that, for instance, the expert in the law in Luke’s Gospel might have uncovered.
No matter which geographical setting we work in, be it urban/metro, suburban or rural, we need to come together as congregations, co-workers, ministers, as people united by common goals, common hopes, common dreams and common desires. We all seek to be nurtured by each other at our deepest levels, nurtured by our shared faith in God. We are communities that have been shaped and bound together by our common vulnerabilities as well as our common strengths.
So, when we hear the commandment asking us to love our neighbor as ourselves, it is not only about us loving our immediate families, nor does it pertain only to those we can see and talk with over our back fences. When we accept the biblical definition of neighbor, we too will discover a neighbor is everyone! Now, loving our neighbor could prove to be a very difficult, risky, and uncomfortable endeavor because we will have to love people who do not look like us. We will wind up loving people we originally thought were undeserving of our love. We will have to approach people who annoy us with their behaviors, people whom we had previously decided were unlovable, but we will certainly end up loving all those whom God already loves.
It does not matter what geographical setting our churches are in because the message is the same: our churches need to be participating, visible, active parts of the world, forming collaborations, making partnerships, constantly bringing the Good News into the world then hearing, affirming, and loving the world’s responses.