Many of us have probably seen the ads for State Farm Insurance. If you haven’t, they go like this. A group of three young men are watching television, when a baseball comes crashing through the living room window. One of the men picks up the baseball, while another quickly says, “Don’t worry, we’ve got this taken care of.” He then says, “Watch…Just like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” Instantly, a woman in a business suit, clipboard in hand, is there in the living room. It’s the State Farm agent, there at the call of the insurance holder. The commercial then goes to the ridiculous, as the friends take turns saying the “magic” phrase, “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there…with a sandwich!” The sandwich appears, and then, as the men chime in with their wishes, the sandwich is followed by an attractive woman neighbor, who happens to live in Apartment 4E, and finally, a hot tub. State Farm makes its point: when you have a need, and you have State Farm, their agents will be there like a magic genie.
The ads are clever…but I began to wonder about the phrase that State Farm has used for years in its ad campaigns. “Like a good neighbor.” Do we really know what that phrase means anymore? What is a good neighbor? I remember growing up on our street in Seattle, just a few miles from the University of Washington. We knew our neighbors, as they had kids who lived across the street, and down the street. Our street was a mix of families with children, retired couples, widows and widowers. I knew the names of actually over 40 families in the surrounding five block radius, mostly because my older brother and I shared a paper route for six years (for my younger friends, Google “paper route.” It’s in the historical archives. You’ll have to go to Page 2 of Google search results, because I’m not talking about the band named Paper Route). But since my time living on my childhood street, in the multiple neighborhoods I have lived in as a young adult and now 40-something adult, I can’t tell you all the names of my neighbors.
Turns out I’m not alone. In preparation for teaching at our church, I’m reading a book entitled, “The Art of Neighboring.” Authors Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon write about the loss of neighboring in our culture. They cite the fact that, in recent years, city planners, neighborhood developers, architects, and others have helped to construct neighborhoods and homes so that it minimizes contact between neighbors. Plus, our culture values privacy so much that we treat our homes merely as launching points for work (which often happens miles away) and play (which again, happens miles away). When Jay and Dave speak nationally, they claim that only about 10% of their audiences can even name their immediate neighbors on all sides of their home. Jay and Dave began this journey of studying the art of neighboring when a group of pastors and ministry leaders asked the mayor of their Denver suburban area how their churches could best serve the city. The mayor said, “The majority of the issues that our community is facing would be eliminated or drastically reduced if we could just figure out a way to become a community of great neighbors.” (The Art of Neighboring, p.18) Jay and his fellow pastors were embarrassed when they realized that Jesus had indeed said the greatest commandment included “loving your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31)
For nine weeks, we’re going to talk about how we as individuals, and we as a church, could be good neighbors. We’re going to see that the roots of this invitation come from the Old Testament, continue through the gospels, and find their way into the letters of Paul and James. I don’t pretend to think that a nine-week series will solve our neighboring problem. But our church is committed to making followers of Jesus, and in loving our community well, in the name of Jesus. This is a starting point, when we realize that God has always intended that His people be a blessing to those around them. And one day, by His grace, by the change the only He can bring, may our neighbors say, “like good neighbors, the people of the church are there.”