The world in which we live is not the same one into which we were born. It has shrunk, it has become more vulnerable, with regard to water, air, oil, land, and resources of all kinds. We share the desire for being shown mercy by one’s neighbors, and we long for the grace of loving one’s neighbor as one’s self.
In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt articulated an important aspect of his foreign policy. It was his approach to dealing with Latin American neighbors, and an intentional reversal of the Monroe Doctrine on neighborliness.
In the field of world policy I would dedicate this nation to the policy of the good neighbor–the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others–the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a world of neighbors.
President John F. Kennedy said,
Geography has made us neighbors.
History has made us friends.
Economics has made us partners,
and necessity has made us allies.
Those whom God has so joined together, let no [one] put asunder.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan – Luke 10.25-37
True Worship – Isaiah 58.6-12
A Hymn of Praise to God – Sirach 39.12-35*
Who Is My Neighbor – in the Presence of an Expansive God?
A reading from Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 39.12-35*
These verses, from the apocryphal book Sirach, are full of exuberance and can also open up questions about the ease with which we make value judgments. The service could begin with the reading of this excerpt, followed by singing. The emphasis should be on exuberance (to match the text), choosing songs to respond to the infinite variety and color with which God created the universe and all living beings therein. There are four lists of hymns; choose some from each (to avoid monochromaticism!). The reading may be divided among several exuberant voices.
selected verses from Sirach 39
I have more on my mind to express;
I am full like the full moon.
Listen to me, my faithful children, and blossom
like a rose growing by a stream of water.
Send out fragrance like incense,
and put forth blossoms like a lily.
Scatter the fragrance, and sing a hymn of praise;
bless the Lord for all his works.
Ascribe majesty to God’s name
and give thanks to God with praise,
with songs on your lips, and with harps;
this is what you shall say in thanksgiving:
All the works of the Lord are very good.
The basic necessities of human life
are water and fire and iron and salt
and wheat flour and milk and honey,
the blood of the grape and oil and clothing:
all these are good for the godly,
but for sinners they turn into evils.
No one can say, “What is this?” or “Why is that?”—
for at the appointed time all such questions will be answered…
No one can say, “What is this?” or “Why is that?”—
for everything has been created for its own purpose…
No one can say, ‘This is not as good as that’,
for everything proves good in its appointed time.…
So now sing praise with all your heart and voice,
and bless the name of the Lord.
HWB 1 What is this place
HWB 14 Come, we that love the Lord
HWB 46 I sing the mighty power of God
HWB 59 Sing praise to God who reigns above
HWB 72 When all thy mercies
HWB 76 Je louerai l’Eternel/Praise, I will praise you, Lord
HWB 81 Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing
HWB 114 In thee is gladness
HWB 167 For God so loved us/Gott ist die Liebe
HWB 299 New earth, heavens new
HWB 327 Great is thy faithfulness
STS 30 Arise, your light is come!
Some from this list:
HWB 7 Here, O Lord, your servants gather
HWB 9 Jesus A Nahetotaetanome/Jesus Lord, how joyful you
have made us
HWB 55 Cantemos al Señor
HWB 392 Heart and mind, possessions, Lord, I offer unto thee
HWB 397 God loves all his many people
STJ 6 Jesu tawa pano/Jesus, we are here
STJ 12 Cantai ao Senhor/O sing to the Lord
STJ 24 Creation is a song
STS 65 Abre mis ojos/Open my eyes
STS 75 Heri ni jina/Blessed be the name
STJ 97 The Lord is my light
And some from this list:
STJ 9 Come, now is the time to worship
STJ 27 God of the Bible
STS 5 Open my ears, open my eyes
STS 89 Christ is alive
STS 113 I will stand in the congregation
End with one, or both, of these hymns:
HWB 145 There’s a wideness in God’s mercy (stanzas 1, 3-5)
HWB 353 Lord, listen to your children praying
Who Is My Neighbor – in the Presence of a Welcoming God?
A prayer of confession
STJ 132 Lord Jesus Christ, we are your body…
This is a very powerful and moving prayer of confession. It needs to be allowed spacious time in order for the pray-ers to absorb the words they are hearing/seeing. Lengthy silences after each congregational response will do that. Better, however, would be replacing the spoken responses with the first stanza of STJ 47, Oh, Lord have mercy, accompanied or unaccompanied. Another suggestion: at the line, Let the body of Christ join hands and become one…, there is the recommendation that the congregation is to join hands. On this occasion, it would be effective if, instead of joining hands, there would be spaces open to the right and the left of each person. People could be asked to imagine the presence of a neighbor, then the prayer can continue, using the alternative ending.
STS 117 How can I say that I love the Lord
Who is My Neighbor – in the Kingdom of God?
Reading from the Gospel
To call attention to the spaciousness of the Kingdom of God, read this Gospel passage in several languages. Since this is a familiar story, one could divide the story among several readers (in different languages), in these segments: verses 29b-30, 31, 32, 33-35, 36-37. Conclude with re-reading the Gospel in English. Another possibility would be to have four readers surround the congregation, each reading in a different language simultaneously.
The exposition on this familiar story could be stories of ‘one who showed mercy.’ There are many – some big, some very small. I would invite a number of people from the congregation to introduce a friend of theirs who was one such person. Only a first name, real or imagined, is needed. There should only be enough information so that hearers have insight into the merciful act of this friend; 100-150 well-chosen words should be enough. The information should allow the hearers a small window into the soul of the one who showed mercy, rather than focusing on the details of who, what, when and where. Prior to the first reading, and again after a respectful silence when each reader is finished, an alleluia refrain should be sung (e.g. STS 17, 24, or 87, or STJ 41).
Who is My Neighbor – in Repairing and Restoring?
HWB 395 Here I am, Lord
Reading from the Prophets (arranged for four readers and congregation)
Readers: Is not this the fast that I choose:
Reader 1: to loose the bonds of injustice,
Reader 2: to undo the thongs of the yoke,
Reader 3: to let the oppressed go free,
Reader 4: and to break every yoke?
Reader 2: Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
Reader 4: and bring the homeless poor into your house;
Reader 1: when you see the naked, to cover them,
Reader 3: and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Congregation: Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and the Lord will say, Here I am.
Reader 3: If you remove the yoke from among you,
Reader 1: the pointing of the finger,
Reader 4: the speaking of evil,
Reader 2: if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
Readers: then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.
Congregation: The Lord will guide you continually,
Reader 1: and satisfy your needs in parched places,
Readers 1 and 2: and make your bones strong;
Reader 3: and you shall be like a watered garden,
Readers 3 and 4: like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
Readers: Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
Congregation: you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
This prayer time should be an extended time, and not generic! Invite members of the congregation ahead of time to plan to lead an intercessory prayer for a place or a person they know that cries out for someone to repair a breach. Give time and space for each prayer to be spoken; a spoken or sung response could follow each. The prayer time can conclude with the hymn, If you believe and I believe, STJ 32.
STJ 2 Hamba nathi/Come walk with us, the journey is long
STJ 67 Let there be light, Lord God of hosts
STS 114 God has chosen me
STS 115 Beauty for brokenness
HWB 229 Tú has venido a la orilla/Lord, you have come to the lakeshore
(HWB 769, to be read in unison)
Guide us, O Lord,
by your Word and Holy Spirit,
that in your light we may see light,
in your truth find freedom,
and in your will discover peace,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord. AMEN
from Wendell Berry:
Make a home.
Help to make a community.
Be loyal to what you have made.
Love your neighbors – not the neighbors you pick out, but the ones you have.
Love this miraculous world that is a gift to us.
The community of knowing in common is the seed of our life in this place. There is not only no better possibility, there is no other, except chaos and darkness.
*If it is problematic to use this passage from Sirach in the worship service, I would still recommend to worship planners that they use it as a shaping passage for the gathering part of the service. Its uniqueness lies in its naming the basic things that are necessary to life, its questioning the importance of human value judgments, and its exuberant praise of the Creator and Sustainer of all life.