Oakland church

Opening Reflections: Who Is My Neighbor?

“And just who is my neighbor?”

That question will be swirling about during the campaigns and debates, from the presidential debates to our local elections. Health care, women’s rights, civil rights, the national and local economies and the environment will be front and center. Each one of these issues points to our concern for each other as neighbors, and reflects our grasp of the politics of caring for each other and the earth.

During the month of October, Skyline Community Church is doing it’s part to invite you to engage in how this question is answered in all of these issues.  Join us as we learn more about the critical choices facing us, as we decide who will lead us for the next four years and what the political priorities for our nation and our cities will be. Join us, as we do our part to activate the vote, especially among the poor, who are often, disenfranchised, and least likely to vote.

These questions are inextricably linked to our identity as a faith community, especially this year, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of this faith community, Skyline Community Church. Fifty years ago, the early founders met at Skyline High school, led by conference minister Richard Norberg and his wife Eleanor, who brought along their portable organ to lead worship. In partnership with lay leaders, they invited “neighbors” to come and take part in this ecumenical experiment, to follow Jesus in a more inclusive vision of community.

As we look ahead to the next fify years, especially as so many progressive faith communities are in decline, it’s more important than ever, to re-examine this question, “just who is my neighbor?

The question “who is my neighbor” was first asked by a religion scholar as he met with Jesus. In his unusual way, Jesus answered with a story. The parable of the Good Samaritan is actually a bit of a violent story: it tells of a person who was robbed, beaten and left by the side of the road for dead. A couple of religious leaders  walked by and simply ignored him; he was too much trouble and probably beyond saving anyway. But a foreigner, an outsider, stops for him and steps out of himself and is moved by compassion. He shows care for the dying man and even helps to restore his sense of well-being before moving on. Jesus reveals the hypocrisy of the religious leaders, and reveals, that there are, in fact no limits to who is neighbor. It’s all about being neighbor to everyone.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if that parable were read at the beginning of all of our national political debates? Some of you have said to me that you no longer feel excited or challenged by national politics; it seems that you have become more wary as public campaigns have become more ugly. Perhaps political parties can no longer be trusted to make a profound difference in the lives of the people. But those who might genuinely grapple with a sense of what it means to be a real neighbor might be able to change the way we look at each other. Our actions matter. Our choices matter. The way we treat each other actually makes a difference and matters.
There needs to be more good Samaritans in the world, not less. We can change the balance by learning what it means to practice compassion in our neighborhood and with each one who is our neighbor. Instead of crossing the street and distancing ourselves from the pain of others, let’s learn what kind of equipment we need to pursue a life of welcoming compassion.

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