Imagine a remote town in a cold and windswept place that has grown so small only a handful of people remain.
Imagine fishing, which once sustained this town economically, is no longer possible because the fish are all gone.
Imagine families gradually depart until only two lonely children remain.
The individuals who operate essential services leave too, from the baker to the woman who runs the post office. People leave with only what they can hoist onto the ferry boat which carries them away. Pretty soon, nearly all of the houses are empty.
This is the scenario described by Emma Hooper in her book, “Our Homesick Songs.”
The book describes the actual situation in Newfoundland for most of the 1990s. It imagines how the last people left in towns named “Little Running” and “Big Running” might respond to their circumstances.
A number of us at Rolling Hills United Methodist Church recently read this book and then spent an evening discussing it. The story, and sharing in conversation about it, awakened me to a new sense of appreciation for my neighbors.
I am grateful for the neighbors who manage and tend the botanic garden next door to the church.
I frequently enjoy a peaceful late afternoon walk in the garden, and I am always warmly welcomed.
I am grateful for the neighbors up the hill who steward the Mary and Joseph Retreat Center.
Their faith traditions are both related to and different from mine, and yet they offer hospitality without restriction.
I am grateful to the neighbors who work, both in paid positions and as volunteers, for the Palos Verdes Library District. They help to make available a vast array of resources and activities that benefit and bring enjoyment to a multitude of patrons.
I appreciate the neighbors who receive my bank deposits, bag my groceries, change the oil in my car, and treat my physical ailments. I am glad for the neighbors who greet one another in the elevator or the stairwell, and hold the door for someone with a heavy package, a small child, or a rambunctious dog.
We can be encouraging to one another in so many ways!
Of course, it’s not always possible to feel thankful for every neighbor.
The ones in cars who ignore pedestrians in the crosswalk, for instance, or who drive as if their sense of urgency supersedes everyone else’s right to order and safety. Those folks are a bit of a challenge.
But for the most part, our neighbors contribute in significant ways to our well being and the quality of life we enjoy.
Imagine if they all went to live somewhere else! We would be lacking much of what makes life friendly, happy and hopeful.
Living in right relationship to our neighbors is widely understood to be a central focus of the Christian faith.
When asked to identify the most important commandment in Judaism, which was his religious tradition, Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. [That is first and] the second is, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
You can read this statement in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 12, verses 30 and 31. Loving our neighbors is put right up next to loving God.
And Jesus makes clear that “loving” means taking action to extend aid, assistance, or care.
In Luke’s gospel, chapter 10, Jesus was asked to define, “Who is my neighbor?”
In response, Jesus told a story of a man traveling alone who was mugged, robbed and beaten.
The neighbor turned out not to be someone who shared a common religious identity with the injured man. The neighbor was the one who reached across the divide between “my people” and “not my people,” delayed his own journey to provide emergency response and transportation to a place of safety, and made a financial contribution in support of the wounded man’s treatment and recovery.
“Go and do likewise,” Jesus said at the conclusion of his tale. This is perhaps one of the most challenging things Jesus ever said.
Yet, when we realize how our neighbors enrich our lives, perhaps we can find our capacity to consistently treat one another with generosity and kindness.
Rev. Dr. April Herron is the Associate Pastor at Rolling Hills United Methodist Church.