Which Neighbor?

By Rev. Chris Jorgensen

March 28, 2021

Video of entire service (including Palm Sunday Procession with a real live donkey!): https://www.facebook.com/hanscomparkchurch/videos/277722717272213

Scripture: Luke 19:28-40

photo of parishioners with donkey outside of the church

I tell you, if they keep quiet, even the stones would cry out! (Luke 19:40)

I was inspired when preparing my sermon this week by this verse and by the “Shouting Prayer” that was in our Lenten Prayer Guide. I thought, “Maybe we should have a shouting sermon?”

But I don’t want to just shout my whole sermon. I’m going to need your help. What do you think? Kids? Will you help me? Grown-ups?

For our shouting sermon, we are going to have two teams. Anytime you hear me ask the question, “Which Neighbor?” The people on my right will respond, “Every Neighbor!” Then, immediately after that, the people on my left will chime in, “No Exceptions!”

Which Neighbor? Every neighbor! No exceptions!

Okay, let’s do this.

This Lent, we journey through our “Do Better” sermon series. Each week, we learned how to do better at loving our neighbor.

Which Neighbor? Every neighbor! No exceptions!

That’s right.

During week one, we talked about having hard conversations. We learned to love even people we disagreed with. But even though we disagree sometimes, we committed to having hard conversations because that’s the beginning of how you change the world to be a place like God dreams it to be.

God dreams of a world where all people are treated the same whatever their race or class or immigration status or ability or sexual orientation or gender identity. We know we are not there yet. So we committed to having hard conversations even when it’s uncomfortable to move us closer to seeing the kingdom of heaven realized here on this earth.

We remembered that we can have hard conversations because we know God loves us even when we feel uncomfortable. And we can survive being a little uncomfortable because real, actual lives depend on our speaking out. 

Having hard conversations helps us to better love our neighbor.

Which Neighbor? Every neighbor! No exceptions!

During week two of our sermon series, we committed to doing better with race. We recognized that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color face all kinds of obstacles that white people don’t face. BIPOC people experience things like discrimination and violence and health disparities. 

We committed to rooting our racism starting with what is in our own selves. We committed to being aware of our own implicit bias, that way our brains work that might cause us to make assumptions about people based on their race. 

We also committed to listening and believing our neighbors of color when they tell us about their lived experiences of racism. We committed to both of those things so that together, we can be anti-racist, and work to create a world where people of every color have equal access to health care, equal protection from violence, and equal educational and economic opportunities.

Because we are called to love our neighbors of every color.

Which Neighbor? Every neighbor! No exceptions!

During week three of our sermon series, we learned the story of the Ethiopian eunuch. Now, eunuchs were people living in the Ancient Near East that we might call gender minorities. They were people who did not neatly fit into one gender category or another. They did not neatly fit into any contemporary gender category, but like many queer people, they were people who were excluded from some religious communities because of their identity. 

In some religious communities, the answer would have been “Nope. No eunuchs allowed here.” Well, guess what? We learned that the Ethiopian eunuch was welcomed into the very earliest Christian communities. In fact, he was the first non-Jewish person to be baptized in the Acts of the Apostles

We learned that he was a critical and important part of the story of God’s love that keeps expanding and expanding to include people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. We learned that there is no limit on who is welcome to be part of our church family. 

Because God calls us to love ALL of our neighbors!

Which Neighbor? Every neighbor! No exceptions!

During week four of our sermon series, we learned that God is fully present in all of us, whatever our ability or disability. We talked about how even as our bodies and minds change over time, and maybe we can’t do all the things we were once able to do, we are still able to receive the love of God and share God’s love with others. 

In fact, we learned that Jesus, after he rose from the dead, was a person with a disability. He still had injuries to his hands and feet and sides – and yet he was not any less God incarnate because of those disabilities. He was not any less the Love and Life Incarnate because of those disabilities. 

We learned that Jesus fully embodied the presence of God as a person with disabilities. By extension, we learned that we fully embody the presence of God even with all the ways we might struggle with physical and mental wellness. Whoever we are, whatever our ability or disability, we can be the love of God for one another. 

We can fully love our neighbor.

Which Neighbor? Every neighbor! No exceptions!

Finally, last week we talked about doing better with immigration. We talked about how to welcome and affirm New Americans – a term Pastor Eddie Mekasha taught me as a way to talk about immigrants, refugees, and migrants. We remembered that New Americans are part of our community. We learned that the call to welcome immigrants, refugees, and migrants is all over the biblical narrative. 

We also learned how to do better by not seeing New Americans as the “other” who needs our help, but seeking to be in true and equal and mutual relationship with one other. As the Rev. Mike Mather said, “To love one’s neighbor is to afford them the same dignity, consideration, and freedom that you desire for yourself.” 

So we committed to doing better at listening and empowering and affirming our New American neighbors. We committed to seeing the strengths and gifts that New Americans bring to Omaha so that we can all build the kingdom of God right here in this city, and so that we can all enjoy abundant life together. We are going to make the community better for all of us – together.

We do that by being in true communion with our New American neighbors.

Which Neighbor? Every neighbor! No exceptions!

Today, on Palm Sunday, we are doing all those things better because we are doing them in public. It is one thing to quietly hold values of welcoming, including, affirming and empowering all people. It is quite another thing to proclaim it out loud, to commit to it for all the world to hear. As Jesus said, if we followers of him were quiet, even the rocks would cry out.

Well, the rocks don’t need to say anything today!

Because we are here to cry out about our commitment to the hard work, the life-giving work, the world-transforming work of loving our neighbor.

Which Neighbor? Every neighbor! No exceptions!

Thanks be to God. 

Amen.

——

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

[1] If you were at the outdoor worship service on Sunday, how did it feel to “cry out” about loving all our neighbors, no exceptions? Was it comfortable or uncomfortable for you? Why do you think that was?

[2] Of all the “do better” topics we explored this Lent, which one do you think is most important? Why?

[3] What is one thing you might do differently because of what we discussed this Lent?

[4] Which “do better” topic would you still like to learn more about?

 

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