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  • Ross Moughtin

When neighbourhoods come together


You will be pleased to know that I fertilized our lawns yesterday with Eric’s lawn spreader using some of his Fisons fertilizer which he kindly gave me. For Eric (#8) is an expert on lawns – he is responsible for maintaining our local crown bowling greens. Also yesterday I wheeled over our wheel chair (which had belonged to my mother-in-law) to Jan who lives opposite now recovering from her fall. We had already lent Charles at number 2 her zimmer frame, following his accident. I could go on: Anne at one end of our road picks up our prescriptions at Boots while Colette at the other end supplies Jacqui with Aldi’s fruit muesli (“there’s simply no alternative”), I mowed Hilda’s lawn while Lyndsey organised our wonderful street party on VE Day. In other words our neighbourhood is coming together. It helps, of course, that we live in a cul-de-sac of just 17 houses. This time last year, however, we hardly knew each other, certainly not well enough to offer mutual support. It also helps that none of us has electronic gates. The coronavirus pandemic, while devastating the country, has had some positive outcomes, above all in relationships. We have come to value not just the valiant NHS staff but also ordinary people doing their ordinary jobs – postal workers, supermarket employees and the like. Moreover, local networks have sprung to life. It’s not just that we now go to our local butcher who is also able to deliver using volunteer drivers. We are getting to know people during our daily walks, those who we bump into (while observing social distancing!) and also those folk working in their front gardens with time to chat. “Get ready for a smaller world” wrote Canadian Jeff Rubins presciently in 2009. This maverick economist argued then that the future is not going to be a continuation of the past. He was thinking more in terms of an energy crisis than a pandemic but even so he deserves a longer quote. “Soon, your food is going to come from a field much closer to home, and the things you buy will probably come from a factory down the road rather than one on the other side of the world. You will almost certainly drive less and walk more, and that means you will be shopping and working closer to home. Your neighbours and your neighbourhood are about to get a lot more important in the smaller world of the none-too-distant-future.” In fact we are now living, just 11 years later, in that “none-too-distant-future.” Already we have been changed. Even when this pandemic is all over, our neighbours have resolved to hold a big street party. This is important because neighbours and neighbourhoods have a key place in the Gospel message. Memorably Jesus summed up the entire torah, the law of the Old Testament, in just two commandments: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”. . And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37). The whole point here is that we can choose our friends but we cannot choose our neighbours. Whether we like it or not, they’re just there. So, says Jesus, just get on with it and decide to love them even if they do have cats. But Jesus goes on to add an extra dimension to being a neighbour in his parable of the Good Samaritan . “Which of these three,” he asks the lawyer, “do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ The lawyer is effectively cornered by the storyline. He would like to say that his neighbour is a law-abiding member of the people of Israel like him. In fact, he cannot bring himself to say “the Samaritan” but instead “the one who had mercy on him.” Of course, we are drawn to people just like us, that’s human nature. We can’t choose our neighbours, true. But we can normally choose our neighbourhoods, at least within limits. Even when we decide to follow Christ, the temptation is to have fellowship with disciples just like me rather than just like Jesus. The danger then is that the church becomes just another club sometimes a variance with its geographical neighbourhood. And yet the cross of Jesus destroys all boundary markers so that the apostle Paul can rejoice “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11) In practice that means that we need to decide to go out of our way and make meaningful contact with our fellow disciples with a very different cultural background to ourselves. This may simply mean that after the service we aim to talk to people other than our friends. It could mean joining small groups with people we don’t know very well. It may even mean, as in the Eden project, deciding to live in a neighbourhood we wouldn’t normally choose. Whatever, as Paul encourages the Christians in Rome: “Each of us should please our neighbours for their good, to build them up.” (Romans 15:2) Or in the Message translation: “Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?” #neighbours #church #parables

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