The extra white Christy is challenged by Black Lives Matter and other four word phrases
Neighbor Lives Matter
a sermon by Rev. J. Christy Ramsey
Click the title above for a mp3 recording
Audio from Truckee Lutheran Presbyterian Church on August 2016, edited from a flawless transcription made by edigitaltranscriptions all errors are mine.
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Who is my neighbor? Four words. Four words. Who is my neighbor? But I think you got a little hint of what was really going on when you heard the introduction to the question:, desiring to justify himself, you got a little hint that there might be a hidden word in there. What do you think that hidden word is? The lawyer’s trying to justify himself. I think there might be a hidden word in there: NOT, who’s NOT my neighbor?
I think he’s looking not to expand the list but to cut the list down. What’s the absolute minimum neighborness I need to get into heaven, Jesus? I think there’s a little hidden word in there to justify himself. Who is my neighbor? Psst…I mean…who’s not my neighbor? <wink> I mean, surely there’s a lot of not-neighbors. There’s a lot of far away people. You could get the list edited down to just a few, right? I mean, if he thought the neighbor list was huge, he could have asked for the the few that didn’t make the list…that would be the shorter list. But he’s hoping the neighbor list has fewer names.
What is a neighbor, anyway? The word is absolutely unambiguous. It is very, very old word for “nearby”. It’s a location kind of thing, how close you are to somewhere. And it goes back to ancient Greek about the neighborliness is location. Somebody nearby. Well, that’s been changing over the centuries a little bit. You’ve got Jesus at stake here. But more recently, in the classic Lend-Lease Act, way back before World War II, FDR talked about neighborliness, that Great Britain was our neighbor. A neighbor who had a house fire and needed to borrow our garden hose. By garden hose he meant aircraft carriers and destroyers and armaments and war things. But still, he appealed to the country of understanding Great Britain as our neighbor that needed some help, needed us to lend them something as a neighbor would do, and then we’ll get it back later.
Neighborness is some kind of a cultural affinity, perhaps because we speak the same language we’re neighbors. Maybe we’re neighbors because of other things like religion or because we have the same values, or maybe we’re neighbors because of our nation that we live in. Maybe that is kind of the nearness, not just location, but nearness of heart, nearness of values, nearness of outlook, nearness of history, nearness of heritage, nearness of ideology, nearness of nationalism, that kind of near thing. Maybe.
There’s a principle of law that actually is the Neighbour Principle. It’s actually in the English common law has been brought over here. Good old Lord Atkin. There was a huge big case, Donoghue v Stevenson, I think it is, but Lord Atkins decided in 1932 the Neighbour Principle
Lord Atkin sort of summed it up his idea of a neighborliness. He made his decision based on a new idea of what it meant to be a neighbor– this was not a concept in law before. He came up with the neighbor principle in law that said: that you are required, the person,
the actor or non-actor, is required to consider reasonably other people who might be affected by their action or by their inaction in any particular matter.
See that switch there, kind of change of perspective of what makes a neighbor. Instead of the qualifications of the other, instead of the qualifications of the other, let me see, let me go through my list and see if you’re my neighbor. Are you this? Are you that? Are you this? Are you that? Are you this close? Are you that close? Lord Atkin sort of changed it, turned it upside down and said, neighborliness is NOT about the other person at all, but about YOU. It’s on you, in your head, to think about other people, to go and to think about neighbor as somebody else. What is a neighbor in your head? You have to say how can I be a neighbor to someone else, NOT how they are a neighbor to me. It is flipped. How am I a neighbor to others?
Now, it’s a good thing that we have this concept because that Samaritan, I don’t know if you know Samaritans. As for me…some of my best friends are Samaritans. Back in Jesus’ time, most good people were prejudiced against them. Samaritans were the worst. They were – I bet they were considered to be worse than the hated Romans. If you wanted to say who do you hate the most, eh, Samaritans would be number one, very much. Survey would say Samaritan! DING! right there at the top of the list.
Samaritans were heretics. They were half-breeds. They were traitors. They were collaborators. They were filthy. They didn’t know how to worship God right. Take everything you could hate about a person or a group add it up and: Boom, Samaritans. In any shape or stretch of the imagination, they are not neighbor. If you were a Jew back in Jesus’s time, and especially if you’re a lawyer back in Jesus’s time, especially if you’re a good observant righteous Jewish lawyer back in Jesus’s time, Samaritan is not a neighbor in any way, shape, or form.
But Jesus tells a story. And you know Jesus, he doesn’t just answer the the question, does he? He doesn’t answer the question who is my neighbor. You see what he asked at the end? He flipped it around, like Lord Atkin. He flipped it around. He didn’t say how who qualified in the story to be a neighbor to you. He said, “Who acted as a neighbor to the person that fell among robbers?” Whoa. The lawyer didn’t bargain for that. See, the lawyer wanted a short list. You know, just maybe the neighborhood, you know, just a few people.
Jesus did make a short list! He took that list down to one, the lawyer. Not about other people, but about the lawyer himself. There’s only one person you’ve got to worry about being a neighbor or not, lawyer. It’s you. Are you a neighbor? That’s all you got – that’s it. You’re done. You’re done with the list of qualifications and understandings. All you’ve got to ask is, are you acting as neighbor? And you’re done. Four words. He just had to mess it up. Switched it around. Who was a neighbor to the one who fell among the thieves?
Now, you’re going to get upset. Stick with me. What if we had a question to ask Jesus today, who would come up – what would they ask Jesus today? Would they ask the neighbor question? Maybe. I think who would ask those four word question today would be “Black Lives Matter”. Now, were you too upset to notice that was only three words? Right, I’m not going to ask for a show of hands. But just like that other question, there’s an extra word there. Word that we hear that’s not spoken.
And the thing that makes “Black Lives Matter” so upsetting is that all of us do not hear that same unspoken word. That even makes it more upsetting. Some of us, some of us hear exclusion. We hear ONLY Black Lives Matter. And we get upset because of the unspoken word that excludes. But that word is not heard by others it is only in your head. Other folks hear a different unspoken word, a focus, Black Lives Matters TOO. Black Lives Matter ALSO. Talking about focus, but not exclusion. Whoa, what would Jesus do? I don’t know. And I’m not Jesus. Good thing. He’d only last three years in the ministry. He’s a failure by the world’s measure.
But I was a firefighter for a couple of years. I think we had a motto, a slogan, a rallying cry. Something like “Preserving Life and Property,” I think was on our motto on our side of our trucks. But, you know, I think you could argue that we acted and we lived out, we trained and we moved, and we did everything in our power to live out the unpublished motto that Burning Houses Matter. Burning homes matter. That’s what we focused on, buddy boy. If there was a house burning, that got our attention. We got out of bed. We got up from the dinner table. We left our family, and we went a running to that burning house.
I was in the Volunteer Fire Department. You had – four minutes to get to the station and get on a truck or you were walking to the fire. Those trucks were gone in four minutes. So the alarm went off, you better be running. You’d better be in your car. You’d better totally focus on getting there NOW because in four minutes everybody’s going to be gone, and you’re going to be walking to that fire. We dropped everything because burning homes matter.
Now, Christy, don’t all homes matter? Don’t we all pay taxes? You burnist! Everybody’s home is just as valuable in their heart as a burning home!! Why do you hate other homes? Why do you pass them by? How come you don’t come up to their house with lights and sirens and dance around with ladders and fountains of water? Why do you do all that for just burning homes? Don’t you like the other houses you just speed on by? Do you hate them? No. It’s Focus. Not exclusion.
FDR got it right, and the Samaritan got it right. Lord Atkin got it right. Who’s your neighbor? Who needs you? Who needs a neighbor? That’s is who youryour neighbor. Whoever needs you. That’s who it is. That’s who matters. Have you studied the great philosopher of our time, Louis C.K.? You can buy tickets to a comedy show and see him, but he’s really a philosopher. A lot of philosophers are comedians today, and I understand it pays better than a Ph.D.
But he has something that I am just gave to my TechCampers at ComputerCorps two week TechCamp for young teens and I said this to the kids, because, you know, children, can get pretty competative between one another. Louis C.K. told his kids
the only time you look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if they have more than you.
The only time you look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure they have enough. And guess what. If they don’t, you give them some of yours. What a world that would be, if we didn’t think about how we measured up to other people, didn’t worry about how much we were getting what we needed, about what we were doing, but instead if we thought about how am I fulfilling what other people need from me, how am I being a neighbor, measuring ourselves instead of others.
Now, if you want a graduate course in this understanding, I recommend Love Wins Ministry. Hugh Hollowell is great at very gently and nicely just pricking our big balloon ego right in the spot. And he’s a religious guy, and he knows how to do it. 2010, one of his blog entries was about a frequently asked question: should I give money to panhandlers? That is a big issue, I know, for Christians. And you can argue about it, say, “Oh, I always do.” “Oh, I never do.”
And so Hugh talks about that.
“You know, I understand, maybe you’re in a hurry. You’re late for an appointment. You don’t have time. And you had to go, you had to go. Maybe all you can do is that look at that other person, acknowledge their presence, and move on.”
Hugh says that the thing to do in that situation is whatever the most relational thing you can do. Whatever it is, it’s the most relational that you can do. Because Hugh works with the homeless, and he says the opposite of homeless is community. And he works on homelessness by making relationships.
Now, he says – he gives you an out.
“If you’re busy, if you’ve got too much to do, if you don’t have time, if you’ve got an appointment, look at the other person, acknowledge their presence, and then later on pray for them.” And then Hugh, he goes, “And then pray for yourself. Pray for your lifestyle that has allowed you to get so busy that you don’t have time to show love and mercy to another human.”
Did I warn you? Ouch. It’s not that other person that is needy. You’re needy, too. “But Hugh, should I give money to a panhandler? What if they use it wrong?”
“Well, if you can’t give money, if you can’t give any gift without giving it as a gift, without severing the ties to it and letting that person do what [indiscernible], if you can’t give money without feeling that way, then don’t give money. You can buy a bunch of waters and put them in a cooler in your back and hand them out. You know, 24 waters and hand them out to the [indiscernible]. You can buy a gross of socks, couple dozen socks and hand them out to the homeless people. You can do that if you don’t want to give money. But if you don’t want to give money”
– here it comes. Oh, Hugh.
“If you don’t want to give money because of how they would treat it, consider for yourself why you’re more concerned about your relationship with money than your relationship with another human.”
[Whistles] Who is my neighbor? Not about what they’re doing, how they are, what checklists they get on. But am I being a neighbor?
Gee, Christy, all you had to do was preach, and you come and bring the whole congregation down. Ugh. Well, then, let’s tell a Mister Rogers story, huh? Yeah, go out with a Mister Rogers story.
Mister Rogers, a Presbyterian pastor, member of the Presbytery of Pittsburgh, I had the privilege of being the pastor of the Latrobe Presbyterian Church where his family worshiped, where he grew up in Latrobe. Great, great, great family. Rich, oh, my gosh. So much money. Oh, and thank you Jesus, they loved to help out Latrobe Presbyterian Church, even though he moved to Pittsburgh decades before I arrived for a brief ministry. He has passed away. There are stories going around. Some of them are true, a couple are not. He’s never shot anybody, never was in the military – got to watch those things internet memes.
But if Fred Rogers met you he always knew your kid’s name. He always asked when you saw him. I never met him. But people would talk about him around me. And they would just get misty-eyed. They’d talk about even when he was a kid, and the chauffeur was giving him a ride to school every day, he’d pick up his friends and have them go along with them in the limo. He was quite the man.
One of the stories about Mister Rogers was that they sent a limo for him, you know, a really nice limo. Mister Rogers wouldn’t ride in the back, sat upfront with the driver. And they went to an executive house for a meeting, and he found out the driver was supposed to stay outside with the car while they were in the house, having their meeting. And he made them bring the limo driver in with them.
And on the way home he was sitting in the front seat. Probably a long day for Mister Rogers. And they were talking. And the limo driver says, “Oh, yeah, I live right over there.” And he says, “You do? You do?” And the driver continues, “Yeah, my kids are big fans.” “They are? Oh, could we go visit? It be all right if I went and visit with them?” Well, yeah. And so the limo driver took Mister Rogers to his own home. And they sat, and he met the family, and he played the piano, and they sang neighborhood songs, and THEN he went back to his hotel.
That song, you know, in “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” he says, “Since we’re all here anyway, won’t you be a neighbor?” Since we’re here anyway, won’t you be a neighbor. There’s only – it’s a really simple answer, turns out, to who is my neighbor. If you look at it the way Mister Rogers did, Lord Atkins did, if you look at it the way even Hugh Hollowell did, it’s a really simple thing because you only have to answer for one person. And Louis C.K. would remind you that, too. Who is my neighbor? And you twist that around, saying who am I a neighbor to, and work on your own neighborness, instead of how other people should be neighbors. What a wonderful world that would be.
These are the 25 names that are included in the above image:
Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Jordan Davis, Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Emmett Till, Amadou Diallo, Kimani Gray, Jonathan Ferrell, Renisha McBride, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Myra Thompson, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Daniel Simmons, Clementa Pinckney, Sharona Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Laquan McDonald, Cameron Tillman and Tanisha Anderson.