I just read the saddest story I’ve read in a long time. It involved an abandoned house in a neighborhood… Or so the neighbors thought. For five years the house sat untouched. Completely engulfed in weeds and vines. No one bothered to check. Complaints were filed with the city. A warning notice was stapled on the door in 2013. But no one had checked on the owner. But this past month, a young man who decided to explore the “abandoned house” had the shock of his life when he opened a closet door and found the owner’s mummified body. (Read the story here.)
How far down the tubes have we gone as a society when we have a neighbor that we don’t check on for over five years? How sad is it that there are people who literally have no one… not one person in the world who wonders where they are or how they are doing?
Maybe there aren’t any abandoned looking houses in your neighborhood… but are there lonely people you’ve never met? Is there someone sitting alone, wishing that their doorbell would ring? Someone who has an overgrown lawn that we try to ignore because we don’t want an uncomfortable conversation about the possibility that they might be in need?
I remember one time as a kid that I was riding with my grandfather to his house and unexpectedly we stopped at a house on his street but it was about 20 houses away from his. He didn’t say a word to me about what he was doing… he just stopped and got out and approached this really old man that was standing out in his really overgrown yard. I couldn’t hear what he said to him but they talked for just a minute and the old man reached his hand out to shake my granddad’s hand. When my granddad got back in his truck I asked him who that was and what they had talked about. He said he actually didn’t know him but had just found out his name – which I have forgotten – and that he had asked the man if he could help him with anything – like cutting his grass. He said the man had said no, that he was actually waiting for his nephew to come cut it but that he appreciated the offer. My granddad checked on him regularly after that and I always felt the man was standing out in his yard just waiting for us to pass by so he could wave at us.
I never asked my granddad – but my guess is that it was uncomfortable for him to stop and ask that guy if he needed help with his grass. I mean what if the guy had gotten mad? What if he had told my granddad to mind his own business? What if it had hurt the man’s feelings? Maybe all of those things crossed my granddad’s mind – but he stopped anyway. And the result was that none of those fears were reality. The man in the yard was so glad that someone noticed him. He was glad to have contact. He was glad to be seen.
The reality is that it could have been that the man got mad and offended in the moment. But if we are gentle in our approach – I think most of the time it will be received, even if not completely accepted, when we offer help.
Jesus said in Matthew 22:36-40 that loving your neighbor was equal to the importance of loving God. I think he meant that to be more than an idea or a good intention. I think he meant for us to put it into action. Maybe the words to Mr. Roger’s famous song have more meaning than we thought. Won’t you please, Won’t you please, Please won’t you be my neighbor?
Jason Rehmel is the Lead Pastor at Eastside Christian Church on the east side of Cincinnati. If you are someone who has had a terrible experience(s) at a church or churches – stop by some weekend and give it one more shot with Eastside. Whether you have felt judged, or dismissed, or unwanted – wherever it has been – Eastside is different.