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  • Writer's pictureSteven Marsh

Giving–Neighbor Choosing: a Reflection on Psalm 127, Mark 12:38-44, and Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17

Author Philip Yancey writes,

In high school, I took pride in my ability to play chess. I joined the chess club, and during lunch hour could be found sitting at a table with other nerds poring over books with titles like Classic King Pawn Openings. I studied techniques, won most of my matches, and put the game aside for 20 years. Then, in Chicago, I met a truly fine chess player who had been perfecting his skills long since high school. When we played a few matches, I learned what it is like to play against a master. Any classic offense I tried, he countered with a classic defense. If I turned to more risky, unorthodox techniques, he incorporated my bold forays into his winning strategies. Although I had complete freedom to make any move I wished, I soon reached the conclusion that noneof my strategies mattered very much. His superior skill guaranteed that my purposes inevitably ended up serving his own. Perhaps God engages our universe, his own creation, in much the same way. He grants us freedom to rebel against its original design, but even as we do so we end up ironically serving his eventual goal of restoration. If I accept that blueprint–a huge step of faith, I confess–it transforms how I view both good and bad things that happen. Good things, such as health, talent, and money,I can present to God as offerings to serve his purposes. And bad things, too–disability, poverty, family dysfunction, failures–can be redeemed as the very instruments that drive me to God.[1]

Like Yancey playing chess, we sometimes rebel against God’s ways and try our own. Eventually, we stop our ways and submit to God’s. In the good and the bad, we experience God using us and redeeming us. Bybeing grateful in the good times and seeing the bad times redeemed and becoming the very things that drive us back to God, in both instances, we are banking our hope on God’s promisethat he engages life…our lives…in meaningful ways. God’s outcome is always for our best…our restoration. God chooses us as neighbors…better yet, as children. We discover and know this to be true as we worship, learn, connect, serve, and give on a regular basis.Why? It is foundational to our understanding of giving ourselvesaway for the sake of others, just as God did in and through Jesus.

The psalmist teaches us that God is the source of all things and all that God is for our benefit. God’s providence cares for us in the highs and lows of life. Divine providence helps us embrace a strong sense of security in insecure timesand establishes meaning for us. God always governs and has life covered.Mark lifts-up self-sacrifice through obedience as an act of love for God and others. He asks us to see ourselves as the two coins, not the poor widow.[2]And the writer of Ruth moves us to find meaning in life, regardless of the circumstances. That approach requires resolve. In Ruth’s experience, a religion and people foreign to her became her religion and people. Naomi chose Ruth to be her neighbor and trained her in the ways of the Covenant. And Ruthmarried Boaz. Boaz became her redeemer in that he married a foreigner to include her then in the covenant family. Ruth bore a son, Obed, who is the father of Jesse and Jesse of David.

Jesus calls people to follow him. The church is made up of followers of Jesusto serve others into relationship with Jesus. The church is not a social club. Worshiping, learning,connecting, servingand givingon a regular basisengages us in the work of unity, reconciliation, and justice just as Jesus didand commands us to do. When our lives are marked byacts of love to those that come into our sphere of influence, particularlythose who may present inconvenient circumstancesand demands on our time“…we catch a glimpse of what itmust be like to come close to Jesus.”[3]

What, then,is the significance of neighbor choosing for our giving of intellectual, emotional, spiritual, financial, physical, and time capital? Our lives are not our own. Nor are our neighbor’s lives. In reality, we do not choose our neighbors. We are to be our “brother’skeeper.”Mike Slaughter inn The Christian Wallet writes, “Christians in particular seem tochoose isolation and segregationfrom the rest of the world God loves, narrowly defining “neighbor”as someone who looks likes us, acts like us, and, most important,believes like us.”[4]Oh, the people in your lives, those easy and uneasy to embrace,are your neighbors. They are the ones you are called by God to love in word and deed.Loving God is giving ourselves away for the sake of others. Giving ourselves away for the sake of others is lovingGod.

We, as individuals and a congregation, exist to show our neighbors, in word and deed, restoration in Jesus Christ. Ours and theirs.

[1]Philip Yancey,“Chess Master,”Christianity Today (5-22-00), 112.

[2]The idea of emphasizingthe two coins over the poor widow is takenfrom Emilie M. Townes inDavid L.Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, YearB, Volume 4(Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009),286.

[3]Cynthia A. Jarvis in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4(Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 216.

[4]Mike Slaughter, The Christian Wallet(Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016),182.

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