“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”” (Galatians 5:14 ESV)
Generally, in this space, I share my thoughts and studies related to the specific passage I’m using in my Sunday morning sermon. But today is different. The small group of believers who worship together as Hilltop Baptist Church are not gathered in a building. Instead, we have gathered in a neighborhood that we are trying to reach with the good news of Christ.
A few years ago, I began to realize that while gathering for worship is truly one of the distinct privileges of the church, it was not the only method of worship our fellowship should be practicing. So, I challenged our folks to identify an area that desperately needed to experience the love of Christ that we could begin to love. Now, for many churches this would naturally be the neighborhood directly surrounding their building but, in our case, we are fairly rural and our closest neighbors are almost a half mile away.
So, we identified a three block area where several of our families live and began making plans to try and show them God’s love through our actions. If you need a biblical reference for justifying this, see the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Great Commandments (love God, love your neighbor), or Jesus’ actions towards those who were hurting or struggling. Our first attempts at sharing Christ came in the form of a neighborhood block party. We picked a Sunday afternoon/evening in the early fall and scheduled the event.
The event was not overtly religious by design. The primary indicators this was being hosted by our church were the music we chose to play (contemporary Christian) and a few signs we placed on tables. I didn’t stand on the street corner and shout out a sermon on hell, sin or judgment. I wanted the sermon to come from our actions. We served them dinner, we offered to pray for them, we played games and gave out prizes. Did we see anything spectacular come out of the event? Nothing specific, just a sense of appreciation from the folks in the neighborhood.
We’ve now been holding the annual block party for 4 years and they have begun to ask about it and anticipate it. Last year, on the Sunday following Easter, I asked our folks to go a step further and spend a Sunday morning working in the same neighborhood. What kind of work? Anything that needed to be done on the outside of their homes. So, last year we spent several hours cleaning up several yards. One of the homes we worked on belongs to the mother of a former church member, but another house we worked on is referred to as a “drug house” by some folks in the neighborhood.
A few of our folks wondered out loud whether we should do the requested work on the “drug house” and I simply reminded them that they needed to experience God’s love as much or more than anyone else on that block. Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that those who most need God’s grace are those we think don’t deserve it, but that’s the beauty and power of grace. If it were earned or deserved, it wouldn’t be grace. And we often forget we too are recipients of undeserved grace.
So, let me leave with one simple, thought provoking question. Who has God put in your path that needs to see and experience the grace of God through your acts of kindness? Often, it’s the one we least expect or are least likely to offer grace. So, get outside the stained glass windows of your comfortable faith and let God stretch you a bit. It might hurt a little at first, but it is so worth it…