God bless this neighborhood

Posted: Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Pastor Larry Rorem

Living and Growing

In my last "Living and Growing" column, I shared how my homogeneous roots have grown to include the blessing of a rich diversity of races and cultures in my own family. Embracing the uniqueness of God's multicultural, multiracial world, be it in our own family, community or world, is the way a neighbor should behave! Our challenge is to unlearn stereotypes, stigmas and attitudes that create barriers to common ground.

Who my neighbor is goes beyond cultural and racial identities. Caring for my neighbor includes acceptance of those on the margins of society who are frequently excluded. Jesus' ministry focused on the people society chose to ignore. As it says in Matthew 25:40, "Just as you did it to one of the least of those who are members of my family, you did it to me."

Matthew 25:40 speaks to community responsibility. Those on the margins of society face attitudes implying that their circumstances are caused by not taking personal responsibility for their own actions. Such attitudes cause us to lay blame and not have to feel any sense of responsibility to those considered by Jesus to be, "the least of these." When we adopt that attitude we could put our self at risk. The possibility that something can happen in our life that causes us to become "the least of these" always exists. Imagine that you, or someone you love, are defined as "successful" and a catastrophic illness or accident happens that makes it impossible to work. Often, loss of health insurance, income, savings, and everything that represents security becomes reality. Suddenly you are in the position of those you once judged to be an outcast. Those you counted on for support abandon you, because your label of "successful" is gone. This describes the life of more people than we realize. The stigma is further complicated when the catastrophic illness involves "invisible" brain disabilities caused by injury, illness, chemical imbalance or birth defect (i.e: fetal alcohol syndrome), which can cause permanent emotional, mental and behavioral changes that prevent the person from functioning in the way society expects. These people are most likely to become marginalized and considered the "least of these."

When the "least of these" are not seen as part of our human family, we lose our compassion and sense of responsibility vital for the common good. When we recognize all people as a part of God's human family, we are freed from exclusion and open to inclusion. Inclusion is a wonderful resource for growth, generosity, compassion and mutual responsibility.

A lot of learning and blessing in the life of the congregation I serve is the result of our very busy food pantry. People who come for food come from all imaginable backgrounds and realities. Frequently they are scrutinized in ways that diminish their sense of self- worth. Unforeseen circumstances in life could bring most anyone reading this article to a food pantry. The blessings of an "unconditional" food pantry are a special gift to those in need and to those who give.

I am thankful for this generous community. I invite us to an ever growing level of acceptance and generosity. When we are fed, housed and treated as "neighbor," we will be a community that is truly at peace with itself. When The Glory Hole, our place of last resort, is struggling for lack of clientele, we will have lived out God's desire that we take care of our neighbor. God bless this neighborhood we call home.

• Larry Rorem is pastor of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.

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