Serve With Neighbors
September 4, 2023
Bishop Scott Alan Johnson’s September Reflection
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
—2 Corinthians 5:16-19—
I spent a year between undergraduate and seminary education working at the Lutheran Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. One of the projects assigned to me that year was a fundraising letter sent to alumni and supporters of the ministry. After I turned in my first draft, Pastor Larry Meyer went over it with me, asking for only one correction. In the letter, I’d written something that suggested that our ministry was “bringing Jesus to campus.” “We believe God is always with us,” said Pastor Meyer. “Our work is to help people look for the many ways God is already present.”
I’ve been thinking about this as we embark on “Serve with neighbors” as this month’s “Go and…” theme. What’s kept poking at me is the preposition, with. There’s a lot of specificity contained in those four letters. Serving with our neighbors implies that there’s already some sort of work going on – that instead of our neighbors being the recipients of our service, they could be the instigators of it. We often approach works of service from a position of privilege: we see ourselves as the good Samaritan (often leaving out the scandal of that particular parable’s hero being an unrighteous Gentile) or those who’ve been in the vineyard for a full day’s work. Have we ever considered that we could just as easily be the workers invited to join in the last hour, or the innkeeper trusted with continuing the care another has already started?
Serving with our neighbors places us in a position of accompaniment. God’s story already includes our own story and that of our neighbor. This lens of accompaniment has redefined ELCA Global Mission for a number of years now:
“In Christ’s reconciliation, we are all in relationship, all part of the body of Christ. We are not just called to love those who love us, who ‘get’ us and understand us because we are very much alike. Rather we are called to love and be loved by those who are not like us, whom we might have to work quite hard to understand, or who may not understand us at all. God’s reconciliation is across borders and boundaries. When we are trying to build bridges in our “already–not yet” reality, it takes a lot of grace.”
All of this from one little word, one tiny preposition: with. With changes everything, at least that’s how I see it this month. It reminds me of what Pastor Larry taught me all those years ago: our privilege is looking for where God is already present and active. So, friends, go and serve with your neighbor this month (and in the months and years to come). Give with your neighbor. Hope with your neighbor. Forgive with your neighbor. In a world where we far too often define ourselves by which neighbors we will not acknowledge, God calls us to reconcile and be reconciled to one another, to work with one another for the sake of all our other neighbors. May your service with your neighbors be blessed to be a blessing, now and always.
Yours in Christ,
Bishop Scott Alan Johnson