Who are our neighbors?

People of God called All Saints,

Remember the parable of the Good Samaritan? It was Jesus’ answer to the question, “Yeah, but who are my neighbors?”

We describe All Saints’ entire reason for being as: “Igniting passion for Jesus, boldly transforming our neighborhoods with hope and love.” And it’s natural to ask, “But who?”–Ignite whose passion? Transform which neighborhoods?–and, “But how?”

This Lent, Pat H. put inviting people to worship at All Saints on all our agendas. Literally, she put invitations in our hands. This is marvelous. Pat challenged us to do what God wants us to do. She showed us there is no one but us to do it, and there is no easy button.

The effort we invest, the listening we do, and the social risks we take…this is how passion for Jesus is ignited and neighborhoods are transformed. We already learned this from the disciples in Acts. And we only become willing and able to do it as we open ourselves to God igniting and transforming us. We saw this too in Acts. God does it through us.

Pat’s project is marvelous, and igniting and transforming will require more than one effort and approach. Of course, the question lingers: “But who?” Who can and will we engage? I am convinced the answer is not our friends but our neighbors. Not people we already know well. But people we regularly have the opportunity to get to know better.

And there’s the other question: “But how?” How do we approach our neighbors? I am convinced this answer has three parts: 1.) with curiosity about who they are, 2.) with an invitation to a specific holy task we can accomplish together, and 3.) with a story about where Jesus met us and how seeking and serving God changed our lives. Probably in that order, so “How?” leads us right back to “Who?”


Here’s the heart of the challenge we face: “It’s easier to reach out to the entire world than it is to reach out to your neighborhood.” Advertising, internet, television, newspapers…who hasn’t imagined promoting All Saints in these ways? That’s easy. But person-to-person, neighbor-to-neighbor? That’s hard.

This is the insight of Candy Chang, a public artist in post-Katrina New Orleans. She’s working right on the edge of that challenge, seeking ways to engage her neighbors and help them engage each other while addressing the things that truly matter to them.

In minutes 69 to 72 of the documentary, Urbanized (available streaming on Netflix), you can see two of Chang’s projects “I Wish This Was…” and “Before I Die…”

Both projects are incredibly creative. Neither are rocket science. In one, she offered a marker and a small space to write; in the other, chalk and an outdoor wall painted with chalkboard paint. In both, there were public spaces neighbors already pass by and simple, evocative sentences to complete: “I wish this was…” and “Before I die I want to…” Responses ranged from funny and irreverent to honest to despairing. And the art is, people got to know their neighbors and got to envision together a better neighborhood. Actually, not just envision, but truly enact.

Here Chang is at TED describing this neighborhood-engaging art:

This is a vision of igniting and transforming. It may not be in the name of Jesus, but it clearly embodies the spirit and values of Jesus. Jesus was constantly on the road, where people are, and Jesus would stop and talk and eat with literally anyone.

Chang’s is not the only vision of igniting and transforming. The possibilities are limited only by our imaginations. Julie S. heard about one congregation that simply walks its neighborhood. No door-knocking, no tracts, just walking, looking, and praying. Marv L. and the Service Ministry Team invited support for the food pantry from CarX in Bettendorf. Nothing complicated, just “Hey, we believe this is important. Will you help?” Both are simple but creative efforts that we can be inspired by, if not repeat.


What’s funny about the way Jesus told the Good Samaritan is how Jesus positioned the person who asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Maybe we’ve heard the parable a thousand times and think Jesus told the story in order to encourage the questioner to be a Good Samaritan and help people in need alongside the road. But that’s backwards. Paradoxically, Jesus turned it around and subtly placed him alongside the road waiting for help. (Re-read it, and you’ll see what I mean: Luke 10).

We are in need. We need to see All Saints thrive. We need to ignite passion for Jesus and boldly transform our neighborhoods with love and hope. And with Jesus, we–individually and as a congregation–get to go out with waiting hearts and wonder…

Who will be our neighbor today? In what creative ways can we invite a busy world to stop so we might discover each other in God’s own healing presence?

Thanks be to God.

Pastor Clark Olson-Smith

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