Thanksgiving, Turkeys, and Good Neighbors

During Thanksgiving I find it difficult to forget that we live in a world full of people who need something to be thankful about. This week almost all of us are going to celebrate a holiday with people we love, just like we have done every year. Except I would guess that someone you know is preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving for the first time without that someone they love.

Now they may need something to be thankful about.

This week almost all of us are going to sit around the table full of more food than we could ever eat. While I would guess that someone you know is preparing to look into an empty pantry just to find something to eat. Some will even have to rustle through the same old dumpsters and trash cans just so they can find another meal.

Now they may need something to be thankful about.

So, once again this year I got to thinking about how many of us have so much to be thankful about that we shouldn’t know what to do with it all. Then I got to thinking: we should give others something to be thankful about. And once again this year my mind went back to a story that Jesus told in the chapter 10 of Gospel according to Luke. If you are not a Christ-follower, I think you will appreciate this story.

“Just then an expert in the law stood up to test Him, saying, ‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘What is written in the law?’ He asked him. ‘How do you read it?’ 
He answered: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.
 ‘You’ve answered correctly,’ He told him. ‘Do this and you will live.’ 
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ 
Jesus took up the question and said: ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him up, and fled, leaving him half dead. 
A priest happened to be going down that road. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 
In the same way, a Levite, when he arrived at the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 
But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion. 
He went over to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 
The next day as he was leaving he took out two silver coins gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him. When I come back I’ll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend.’ 
“Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ ‘The one who showed mercy to him,’ he said. Then Jesus told him, ‘Go and do the same.'” (Luke 10:25-37)

Many Christ-followers I know have often interpreted the point of this story to be that every one is our neighbor so we should love everybody. Though this is true I don’t think it is what Jesus is teaching the religious “expert.” I think the point is found in Jesus’ question in verse 36 which is answered in verse 37:

“Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 
“The one who showed mercy to him,” he said. Then Jesus told him, “Go and do the same.”

Jesus is trying to help this religious “expert” understand that he was asking the wrong question. Instead of asking “who is my neighbor,” Jesus is suggesting that we should ask ourselves, “will I choose to be a good neighbor?” The point is not, everyone is my neighbor. The point is, I am everyone else’s good neighbor.

So this Thanksgiving what would happen if we resolved to be a thankful, good neighbor? What would happen if we stopped looking for reasons to help people and just started helping? What would happen if we stopped putting people through a sort of mental application process? You know, asking questions like, will they really use this money to buy a meal or will they just buy more liquor? Or, did they lose their job because they are lazy or did they really lose their job because of what they said? Or, if I do good for this person will they be willing to listen to me share the Gospel? Or, if I keep doing good for this person will they just take advantage of my help and never learn to do for their self? I know some of you will disagree with my logic here. I can appreciate that. But all I can think about is how thankful I am that Jesus was concerned with being a good neighbor and that He doesn’t ask those questions about me before He does good for me. If he did, well, I wouldn’t have received a thing from Him and I would be in desperate need for something to be thankful about.

I must admit that I am not very convinced that people who were taught by Jesus to concern themselves with simply being good neighbors to everyone, even strangers, should get so distracted by asking these kinds of questions. Personally, I do not feel I have a right to do so. Truth is I am no better than “them” (whoever “them” is). Truth is I have often been careless with some of the gifts God has given me. Yes, we need to be wise. Wasn’t Jesus wise? And wasn’t it Jesus who gave us this parable of what it looks like to be a good neighbor? Didn’t He write the script that included the Samaritan doing what many of us would consider unwise when he told the Innkeeper: Take care of him (a total stranger!). When I come back I’ll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend?” Perhaps we should just concern ourselves with being good neighbors and let the Lord sort out the other details.

Well, regardless of whether you or I come to full agreement as to exactly how we should go about being a good neighbor, maybe we can agree on one thing: we should. If so and you aren’t sure where to begin, how about this:

Instead of buying one turkey buy two, and give one away. I bet there is someone in your daily path who needs a turkey. There might be someone at your office where you work. Or just drop it off at the local Fire Station. I bet they will know someone in need. Just give one away. And if you are a Christ-follower, do it in Jesus’ name.

Instead of cooking one casserole, cook two; instead of one desert, cook two. And give one away. And if you are a Christ-follower, do it in Jesus’ name. Even if you do not know whether your next door neighbor can afford their own, I bet they would enjoy the gift of your homemade apple pie.

Instead of only having your family over invite someone else who doesn’t have their family this year. I bet they would enjoy your family’s company and everybody’s good cookin’.

So once again I got to thinking that if we thankful and abundantly blessed folks decided this Thanksgiving that we were going to give more attention to being a good neighbor, we might give someone else something to be thankful about.

Now I don’t know what you think, but I think that’s something to be thankful about.

About Fred

Fred came to serve greater Williamsburg and WCC as lead pastor in October of 2010 and is grateful to be a part of the family. He is a husband, father, certified trauma professional, S.T.A.R. (strategies for trauma awareness & resilience) practitioner, community organizer, TEDx alum, founder of 3e Restoration, Inc. and co-owner of Philoxenia Culture LLC. He received his B.S. in Ministry/Bible at Amridge University and his Master’s of Religious Education in Missional Leadership from Rochester University. Currently he is a candidate for a Doctorate of Ministry in Contextual Theology in at Northern Seminary in Chicago. Fred has also served as an adjunct professor for Rochester University and Regent University where taught courses in philosophy, ethics, leadership, pastoral care, intro to Christianity, and ethnography. He has also served as a guest lecturer on the subjects of racialized cultural systems, poverty, and missiology at various universities, such as William & Mary and Oklahoma Christian University. Fred has authored on book (Racialized Cultural Systems, Social Displacement and Christian Hospitality) and several curriculum offerings, including The FloorPlan: Living Toward Restoration & Resilience. Fred enjoys hanging out with his family anytime, anywhere. He is deeply grateful for how God graciously works through the Church in all her various forms, despite our brokenness. He is passionate about seeing the last, least, and lonely of every neighborhood, city and nation experience God’s in-breaking kingdom, and come to know Jesus as King. Oh, and his favorite season is Advent and Christmas. Fred is a founding member of the board of directors for Virginia Racial Healing Institute, a member of the leadership team for Williamsburg's local chapter of Coming to the Table, and a member of Greater Williamsburg Trauma-Informed Community Network's Racial Trauma Committee and Training Committee.
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