Monday, November 30, 2009

My neighbor? Not mine.

Had a fabulous Thanksgiving weekend.  Picked the kids up from school, thanked teachers and administrators as we left the building last Tuesday, and we were off to our five day weekend.  There would be no trips to Colorado or Kenya or even the Windy City during this brief vacation.  But there would be family time.

Time to lay on the floor playing legos, snuggling on the couch with my three year old just being 'daddy', cheering on ten year olds at a soccer tournament with my daughter's team playing, and time to do a dad & son project for our old farmhouse.

Plus, there was time to simply sleep, waking in the morning without the trumpeter alarm belching out, and having time to say 'good morning' to my wonderful wife before falling out of bed in spite of plenty of sleep.  And of course, amazing coffee made each morning by someone in the house.  I think the morning fragrance sang out, "the kingdom of God is at hand."

So, my neighbors were primarily my wife and kids this weekend, but it there was also lots of family.  Our traditional family gathering is as real as it gets in America.  Turkey, stuffing, potatoes, yams, cranberries, twenty-seven other hot dishes, and did I mention more turkey.

Then there is the time of thanksgiving, of actually sharing our thankfulness with one another.  In spite of little people around the table and painfully stretched stomachs, there was plenty of patience for everyone, all thirty-two of us, to verbally share a a bit of our deeply held thankfulness for the past year.

Following a team effort to clear the table, the ladies mostly stayed in the kitchen to finish the clean up process, and most of the guys headed to the t.v. room to watch our favored Lions get walloped like a whitetail dear being taken down by a Freightliner semi-tractor on the interstate.  It happens every year, and needless to say, the deer never wins the encounter.  Yet, as native Michiganders we're hoping that some year the oncoming semi chooses to wheel into the median instead of taking us out.  For whatever reason, they never seem to have mercy.  Sigh.  Perhaps someday.  Or perhaps not.

As the football games of the day wound down, someone felt  compelled to say, "So, how's that Obama thing working out?"  Within moments, the conversation had turned to health care.  Under her breath, the one friend I had in the room at the moment, said, "You let them get to you."  And she was right.

As I got frustrated within 90 seconds and prior to retreating to another room wanting to preserve Thanksgiving, I asked, "Who is our neighbor?"

While the biblical text doesn't directly state that we should provide health insurance for our neighbors, who are our neighbors?  On this questions Jesus is unabashedly clear.  If you belong to the family of human, you are neighbor.

So, what is our obligation?  We can argue against nationalized heath care, and yet we can not argue that we are demanded to care for those without a doctor.  The story of the Good Samaritan stares us straight in the eyes.  If we dare look the other way, I wonder if we really follow Jesus Christ at all.  We can claim a forgiveness of sins, but without compassion for people in our midst, and beyond, we are not following well.  This is certain.

We can argue that heath care is for the church, for the diocese to provide, and yet how many of our churches have a doctor or nurse on staff?  For all the churches in Greater Grand Rapids, we have hundreds of people sitting in the E.R. every day because they have no access to health care apart from an E.R. visit.

Heath care providing may not be something the government should be leading.  But heath care for our neighbors should be a driving force in the lives of people who claim to follow Jesus Christ.  If we dare to claim the Christ of the cross as our Lord, we need to bow to the ways of the cross, give up some of our wealth, and find ways to come to terms with the reality that following Jesus means more than being thankful that our sins are forgiven.

It is time we move from being paralyzed because of fear.  Fear of becoming a socialist nation.  Fear of additional taxes.  Fear of losing our competitive edge.  Fear has kept us from recognizing that every person within the bounds of our national boundaries is our neighbor.  Yet, fear is not what keeps followers of Jesus from following.

In reality, many throughout history have died following.  Others have ended up in financial ruins.  Still others have had their voices sidelined for speaking of justice and mercy when it wasn't a popular idea.  Perhaps this is really our issue today.  We simply love our money.

For those who want to follow the Prince of Peace, the Jesus Christ of the gospel, we need to seriously ask, if not me, then who?  Who will take care of the least of these if neither I nor my government will do it?

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