Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – The West Wing Series pt. 1

I wanted to live in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Who wouldn’t? Specifically, I wanted a house like his. I loved “Picture Picture.” I loved Trolley. I loved that awesome stoplight he had in his house. I still want one. It just seemed like such a great place to be. Plus, he wanted me to be his neighbor! It was in his welcome song every single day. “Won’t you please, won’t you please, please won’t you be my neighbor.” Everyday, I would watch that show and loved how comfortable Mr. Rogers would make me feel. He exemplified everything I would want in a neighbor. He was kind. He was thoughtful. And he always made me feel welcome. No matter who you were, if you’re a boy or girl, Asian or Caucasian, Christian or Muslim, Mr. Rogers welcomed you. And that was really the key. It didn’t matter who you were, Mr. Rogers welcomed you no matter what. You were always invited into his home.

Somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten what it means to be that kind of neighbor.

We could easily blame it on the media or the Internet or just the times we live in, but that wouldn’t quite tell the whole story. According to a recent 2013 poll, Americans are tired of being involved in other people’s business. 52% of Americans believe we should “mind our own business internationally and let other countries get along as best they can on their own;” 38% disagree with that statement.[1] In the nearly 50 years of measuring this data, this is the most lopsided in favor of isolationism that it’s ever been. And largely that’s because of what another poll calls “war fatigue.” People are tired of having our men and women fighting other people’s battles and dying for causes they don’t believe in or understand. It was by far the number one reason cited for wanting a more isolationist view. Number two was the economy. Either the cost of these wars or the general struggle with the American economy has been a reason for wanting to withdraw from the world political stage. Interestingly, people are all for engaging in the global economy. Nearly 77% want us to be active in the world when it comes to trade and jobs. But there is a growing sentiment to protect ourselves first to withdraw from being the defenders of democracy. That isolationism bleeds into how we perceive every aspect of our country.

And as understandable as that is, we are challenged by Christ to love our neighbor.

And figuring out what that means today is sometimes kind of tough. If you have a Bible or a Bible app this morning, would you please go to Luke 10:25-37. Luke 10:25-37. Perhaps the most famous “love your neighbor” passage in the entire Bible. Most people who have never read the Bible will understand the reference. It’s the parable of the Good Samaritan. We’ve heard of Good Samaritan laws. We’ve heard of people who are selfless being referred to as Good Samaritans. But this is where the phrase comes from. Luke wrote about this story in his Gospel and it’s not a true story, it’s a parable. Jesus told it to the lawyer to make a point – the key to eternal life is in loving your neighbor. The key to eternal life is in loving your neighbor and Jesus was very specific about how to do that.

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

The one who had mercy on him.

That perhaps is the most telling line in the whole story. Then Jesus tells him, “Go and do likewise.” THIS was the key to everlasting life. To love our neighbor like the Good Samaritan loved this man. A total stranger who could very well have been a robber himself was helped by this Samaritan who had no obligation at all to help. That is the level of engagement Jesus expects from those who follow him; to love your neighbor even if he doesn’t look like you, even if he doesn’t behave like you, even if in other circumstances he would look down on you. Love your neighbor. Had the Samaritan walked by like the priest and the Levite, no one would have thought twice. Probably not even the victim lying there helplessly. Samaritans were shunned by the Jews at the time. They were thought of as heathens. They were looked down upon. And yet, this Samaritan not only bandaged his wounds and treated him, but then took him to a safe place and paid for his well-being. He asked for no thanks in return. He simply did what he knew to be right. He loved his neighbor.

Shouldn’t we do at least as much for those in need?

It is perfectly understandable during this time in our world’s history to be afraid of the stranger; to be wary of those we don’t know. It seems like far too often we hear another horror story about people being killed in a bomb blast or a stabbing spree or a runaway truck plowing down innocent people and we think to ourselves that it’s time to raise the wall. But in those times I can’t help but think on Robert Frost’s famous poem, “Mending Wall” in which he writes, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, / That sends the frozen ground swell under it / And spills the upper boulders in the sun; / And makes gaps even two can pass abreast…” I think that something is God. That something that doesn’t love a wall is God. God created us for community and more than that, God created us to love our neighbor as an example of our love for God. So it’s God that doesn’t love a wall. And yet we build them anyways. Some people in our country want to literally build a wall between us and our southern neighbor Mexico. They fear Mexican immigrants. They fear they will take American jobs. They fear they will bring an unsavory element to the country. But what we forget in our fear is that the same exact things were said about the Japanese, the Chinese, the Italians, the Polish, and the Germans. This isn’t new. We have long feared the influence of other cultures upon our own. And without justification. Something you may not know, but of the 11.1 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States, only half are from Mexico.[2] We get this image of being invaded by our Southern neighbors but there are immigrants from all over the world invading our country. Even if we were to stop Mexican immigrants from coming across to the United States, it would only stop half the problem. Did you know that there are between 65,000 and 75,000 illegal Canadian immigrants, too?[3] But nobody talks about them. Over a million Canadian nationals are living in the United States right now. But no one is talking about building a wall to the North. And interestingly enough, among every ethnic group here illegally, they are less likely to commit a crime than our own citizens.[4] You might argue that’s because they don’t want to get kicked out, but then the argument that we need to build a wall to protect ourselves doesn’t hold water because we need to protect ourselves more from each other. We need to consider whether our objections are really about security concerns or about something else that is brewing inside. Like I said, this is not a new argument. If you are not one of the original English settlers to America, someone has said these things about your ancestors, too.

Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26116868
Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26116868

I bring all of this up because of the Syrian refugee crisis.

You hear about it in the news, but so many of us are unaware of what is really going on. I listen to wide support from people who claim to be Christian trying to bar these refugees from entering our shores. But I can’t help but believe when I read the Bible that is exactly the opposite of what Jesus would do. Jesus wanted us to invite everyone to his table, but ESPECIALLY those who didn’t know him or didn’t even like him. Some have said we should only let the Christian ones in, but again, that would be completely the opposite of what Jesus told us. He said in Matthew 5, “46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” The situation is horrific. It’s not just civil war but with the added dimension of the Islamic State entering as a third party and seizing land right in the middle of Syria, civilians are being brutally attacked on three different fronts. Their own government is said to have used sarin gas and barrel bombs dropped from aircraft on the population in order to root out the rebels. The Islamic State has conducted beheadings and amputations to inflict terror in the land. And all sides have committed war crimes including rape, murder, and torture.[5] Of the 4.8 million registered refugees, only 10,000 have been resettled in the United States. And even those were objected to strongly by many Americans. To me it’s ironic that a country founded by a group of people fleeing tyranny would then turn around and refuse other people fleeing even worse tyranny. Is this the same country that claims to stand for Christians values? Is it the same country that has inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddle masses yearning to breathe free?”

I was watching The West Wing the other day.

It was an episode about Thanksgiving and in it, a group of Chinese people fled to America seeking religious asylum. They claimed they were being persecuted but the Chinese government denied it and ordered them home. The President was put in a real pickle and had to find a clever way to resolve the situation. We can be the world’s policeman. We can be the world’s bank, the world’s factory, the world’s farm. What does it mean if we’re not also…” and he pauses and in my mind I hear him say “hope.” Then he goes on. “They made it to the new world. You know what I get to do now? I get to proclaim a national day of Thanksgiving.” We too easily forget that nearly all of us have such stories in our history. We should be so grateful that someone in our families were brave enough to seek out a better life for us. And equally as grateful for those that dared to accept us. As Thomas Paine wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”[6] It is not in the times of sunshine and daisies that we have to test our beliefs, but in times of shadow and night. It is not in the times of sunshine and daisies that we have to test our beliefs, but in the times of shadow and night. It is when it is darkest that we are truly tested as to the mettle of our beliefs. And if we give in to fear now when the world needs us most to be a bastion for hospitality and love, then what good are we as Christians? Can we be the type of neighbor that our childhood friend Mr. Rogers would be proud of? In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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[1] Data in this section comes from http://www.people-press.org/2013/12/03/public-sees-u-s-power-declining-as-support-for-global-engagement-slips/

[2] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/09/20/5-facts-about-illegal-immigration-in-the-u-s/

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_diaspora

[4] http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-mythical-connection-between-immigrants-and-crime-1436916798

[5] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26116868

[6] http://www.ushistory.org/paine/crisis/c-01.htm


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