In Revelation 21 we read about John’s vision of the new heavens and the new earth. It is a powerful vision of future joy, beauty, and triumph as everything bad is removed from existence and replaced by goodness and light emanating from God and Jesus himself. The Message translates verse 3 as “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women!”
What I nice image, I thought, just imagine if God really did move into the neighborhood, a couple houses down. And then over time, God got to work fixing up everything broken or in disrepair. First, he starts pulling up weeds in the neighbor’s yard. Oh look, he’s putting in some roses. The next day he’s out across the street at that house in need of fresh paint. God’s on it, good as new in no time flat. And what’s he up to now? You hear he’s helping some of the neighbors with their taxes, and a good thing since the deadline’s already passed. But then, God tells you he’ll be at your house tomorrow, he’s seen a few things needing attention.
Before long the entire block has been transformed, you can’t remember it ever looking so good. And God didn’t stop with just yard-work. Last weekend God threw a party. The whole neighborhood was there – everyone talking about how great it was, now that God had moved in next door. And you got to meet some new people, found out you had so much in common. Everyone had such a good time together they were busy making plans for the future. A new book-club was forming, and a men’s group, others had worked out a schedule to bring the Bryant’s food after their new baby girl arrived.
How great it would be if God moved in, a couple houses down.
This is the vision of our future. God will make his dwelling place with humankind. He will be with his people – every tear wiped away. No more death, no more crying, no more pain.
But God isn’t just waiting for the future. He has in mind to begin this work now. God’s Spirit lives within us, and Jesus Christ our Lord. He invites us to be his people, fixing up everything broken and in disrepair. Our work now accomplishes this plan, bringing order and good into the world. And we are called to care for others, with a generosity that is bold, seeing needs and meeting them, saying that it is God who has sent us, his mission that we serve.
And then they will say “How great it would be if God’s people moved in, a couple houses down.”
Practical Tips for Being a Good Neighbor
Jesus’ call to love our neighbor as ourselves has far reaching implications. But in our work to change unjust systems and serve others in “big” ways, we may sometimes overlook our literal neighbors. So how can we love those who live on our block, in our building, or right next door?
Be Available. Not in a creepy, waiting for people on their front porch kind of way, but if we are always holed up in our home we are not going to be great at loving our neighbor. Be intentional about spending time outside. Make use of opportunities to say hello or engage in conversation, even when on your way to something “more important.” As you get to know your neighbors, you will also discover ways to care for them at a deeper level.
Open Your Door. I wish I could remember the reference, but a book I read a while back challenged its readers to consider the question: if everything you have is ultimately God’s, then how would God have you use each of those things. For example, if we can begin to remind ourselves that this dining room table is not my table, but God’s, how might God desire I use it in service to others? Who might God have in mind for me to invite in and feed? What conversations might happen around this table if I just extend the invitation? Our homes and our hospitality are some of the greatest simple tools we have for serving others, building relationships, and allowing God to lead the way.
Pray in Specific Terms. As we make connections with our neighbors we can also work them into our prayers, by name when possible. And as we get to know them and discover their own life’s ups and downs, we can pray for those things as well. We should never overlook the power of prayer for bringing about positive change in the world.
This piece originally appeared as a mid-week devotion for Calvary Lutheran Church in Silver Spring, MD.