…“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”
The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Only nine short months ago we were gathering for coffee, connecting in homes, attending functions and regularly dining with friends and family.
Almost overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic changed how our society functions. Social gatherings ceased, restrictions were introduced and we all had to adjust to our new reality as health authorities had to weigh many competing factors.
It is hard to know right now how to connect with others and invest in our communities when people need to remain at least 6 feet apart. Particularly with winter coming, we can no longer have socially distanced picnics in the park and hang out on back decks and porches. It will be more and more difficult to feel known and find “safe” ways to connect face to face.
In this time of needed isolation for the sake of public health, I think it is more important than ever for people to be considering how they can neighbour well with others, especially for people of faith. When it is easy to only think about yourself and get lost in a Netflix series, video games or purging things on your local Buy Nothing Group, we have this opportunity to look outward and consider what needs may be arising in our cities and how we can respond.
As mental health issues increase, as addictive behaviours surge, and loneliness looms, it is imperative that Christians embody the commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves. But what could that look like?
I am not an expert by any means but I have found a few practices to be very helpful. Throughout the pandemic, Melody and I have made efforts to be present in our space. We’ve walked and biked the streets, stopped and chatted with neighbours and just regularly prayed for our block. It has deeply increased our love for the neighbourhood and the people who live here.
In addition, we’ve tried to regularly show people that we are thinking of them. We’ve texted and instant messaged, we’ve left sidewalk chalk messages and even delivered flowers. These acts tie us more and more to the hearts of acquaintances and friends and unites us in people’s joys and sufferings.
These small acts are not revolutionary and may not even make a significant change to the face of our neighbourhood, but they are something. They are attempts to be faithful to Christ, imperfectly and insignificantly, trying to bring light to a dark place. The hope is that it helps people catch a glimpse of the remarkable love that God has for them.
As people of faith, it can feel difficult to bring about the kind of change that we want to see in the world, especially in the middle of a global pandemic. And yet, we need to remember that we cannot bring about the kind of change that we desire to see. We fall short, we grow weary, we make efforts that can sometimes actually harm rather than heal. We need to remember that Jesus is the only one in which our hope lies. He is the one that redeems and restores. He is the one that has the power to transform and set people free. Our hope for our neighbours and our world rests in his loving and powerful arms that conquered the grave and sin so that we could be set free.
It is my hope that as Bytown Community Church is established that Melody and I can equip people to live by their faith in their neighbourhoods. Helping people truly care for others as they care for themselves. We choose to love not because we believe that we can necessarily change the world but because Christ first loved us. We love others and seek to help our neighbourhoods flourish as a gift of gratitude to Jesus for the grace and abundance that he has extended to us.
When you reflect on your life, how are you a neighbour to others? If you are a follower of Jesus, how does your faith connect with the place in which you live? If you do not identify as a Christian but do care about being neighbourly, what motivates you?
My prayer is that Christ’s beautiful sacrificial love for us may inspire us to love others during this difficult time. Particularly the stranger and those perceived to be our enemy. May the motivation to care be because of the new life that Jesus has offered us.