Thursday, February 8, 2018

Post by: Kyle Rasmussen 

Honestly, 2 weeks ago I had a completely different blog planned. I had an epic baseball-inspired reflection of faith that would have stoked discipleship (and spring fever) into all-out contagion.

God’s timing is perfect and mine is not, however. He comes along and demands a rewrite. Where I was stretching the ties of my faith to the love of baseball, He welded the core tenets of what it means to be a Christian to the events of the other week.

Most of you are probably well aware, January is Girl Scout cookie season. My daughter, Noellyn is a Brownie this year and going through her third season of cookie sales. She’s set lofty goals the past two years and even if she doesn’t meet them this year she’s blown last year’s impressive number out of the water already. When I’m walking the neighborhood with her, about 4 out of every 5 people who answer their door order cookies! Pretty sure you couldn’t sell free beer at that percentage here…

What’s mind-blowing to me is that about 80% of houses in the neighborhood also have some sort of “No Soliciting” sign on their front door. Honestly I always have this prepared speech in my head to potentially apologize to an irate home owner who challenges our literacy. I guess there’s a universal exception for Thin Mints within that mandate. Some people literally joked about their signs saying, “It should say ‘except for Girl Scouts selling cookies’ under there…”

But I wonder, behind our closed blinds and “No Soliciting” signs, how many of our neighbors are propelling themselves privately toward rock bottom? I heard an interview with journalist Sam Quinones this fall about his research into the opioid epidemic. He was amazed at how much of the root cause can be assigned to cultural issues within the US, not economic or political issues in the countries where most illegal drugs are manufactured. “We have destroyed community. We have exalted the private,” he says. We don’t even need shady drug dealers anymore, we’ve got doctors and pharmaceutical companies lining up to pass drugs legally into our hands to feed our addictions. And we drive in our $50,000 SUV to our million dollar suburban homes with perfectly manicured lawns to make it look to our neighbors like we’ve got the perfect life going; so whatever you’re selling, we’re not interested.

Jesus clearly had something to say about our neighbors and how we should think of them. Luke’s Gospel tells us that those who prefer to “cross to the other side of the road” and ignore our neighbors in need are disobeying God’s essential commandment. Jesus asks the lawyer, “Which of these three (the priest, Levite, or Samaritan), do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37 ESV)

So on a recent Monday evening, Noellyn walked up to a door a couple blocks from our house and rang the doorbell. She had already decided it was her last cookie sales pitch of the day as the sun was setting. An elderly woman (we’ll call her Mary) answered the door and was beyond delighted to have visitors. She claimed Noellyn and my wife, Jenn were the first walk-up visitors they’ve had in the 20 years they’ve lived in Centerville. Stop and let that wash over you for a minute: 20 years, no visitors at the door.

As Noellyn rolled her cookie pitch, Jenn could tell something wasn’t normal about this suburban house. Portable space heaters were being used in the living room. When Jenn asked about them, Mary disclosed that their furnace hadn’t been working for a couple weeks. Again, this is January, let that wash over you as well. They talked for the better part of 40 minutes (they were the first visitors in a long time after all) and then Jenn and Noellyn walked through the now dark evening back home.

I was working out of town and got a call from Jenn telling me about their encounter. We both pondered, “That’s really weird” but I could tell in Jenn’s voice this was moving her to action. Sure enough, the next day she called our pastor and told him about Mary. She asked if there were any programs he knew of that could help or if there was something we, as the church could do. Our church has an amazing and talented jack-of-all-trades handyman, Brian. He is usually less busy in the winter so an impromptu house call in January was no problem. Almost if scripted, Pastor Loren happened to be having lunch with Brian that day. Together, Jenn and Brian decided they would go to visit Mary in hopes that Brian could fix the furnace. Jenn perceived that Mary’s pride would try to keep them from helping, so they kept their visit unannounced.

So Wednesday they dropped in on Mary and found out that, in addition to no heat, their water had also been off for over a month. Mary’s husband had brought a plumber in to diagnose the problem, but he had left the water off and not returned. She was using any receptacle possible (bowls, empty detergent bottles) to catch the water from the still leaking pipe for use in cooking and cleaning. Let me just throw in the fact that the median household income in our city is over $82,000 and the median home value is north of $275,000. So why would anyone assume their neighbors would be living with no working heat or running water, right?

In no time, Brian had the thermostat and furnace switch fixed, and the furnace roared to life. A couple parts runs later, he had bypassed the surge tank (which was the cause of the leaks), getting the water running again. Again, I was still out of town, but knowing Brian I can only imagine that every time Mary thanked him he said, “Don’t thank me. I’m just being Jesus’s hands.” Brian invited Mary and her husband to church (offering a ride as well - Did I mention their car isn’t working right now too?)

Jenn called me later that afternoon and told me what had happened and started to fill in more details of Mary’s story. In self disclosure, I got pretty angry. Angry that in this Utah culture that espouses family, community, helping our neighbors, etc. was an elderly couple who were in dire straits lacking basic needs. “How stuck in self-righteousness do we need to be that either nobody took notice or nobody cared?” I thought to myself. “Are we so lost in our ‘doing’ that we forget what has been ‘done’ for us?”

Again, Jesus hits us head on in Matthew’s Gospel when it comes to what service looks like to our almighty King: “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25: 37-40 ESV) I fail miserably at this every day, though I’m continually trying to put my own needs on the shelf and look to others’ needs first. And I sincerely hope that someday in future (because I don’t think she gets it yet), Noellyn will realize that because she was selling cookies to pay for summer camp, she made sure an elderly couple got heat and running water back. Most importantly, she showed someone God’s love.

I think Jesus is telling us in Luke and Matthew, “Look, I know you don’t really like all your neighbors. I know you think you’re too busy and it looks like they’re probably fine. But I LOVE YOU, and I LOVE THEM, and I put YOU close to THEM to make sure they know ME.”

Kyle Rasmussen and his family currently live in Centerville, UT and attend The Bridge Community Church. He is a Quality Control Specialist with Holly Energy Partners in the greater Salt Lake City area.

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