“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” the Book of Common Prayer p. 304
On my first journey West as a young adult, I landed in Colorado Springs, Colorado, during a seminary internship as a hospital chaplain. I was completely unaware of how transformed my life would be in a matter of months. I fell in love with the landscape—with the Rocky Mountains jutting up above into the bluest of skies; with the wildflowers of pink, and yellow, and purple that cascaded and colorfully consumed the most remote forests floors; with slopes remaining open until the long days of summer when the sun marked that it should have been swimsuit season instead of ski season.
But the most majestic moment I experienced during my time in Colorado, was when I stumbled across a sacred aspen grove that stretched further than I had ever seen across the slopes of Helmet Peak. For a Southern girl these aspen trees were a new phenomenon. They were magnificent, magical, mystical. I don’t know if it was the beauty of their bark, or the way the sun streamed through their branches, or the sound when the wind ruffled through their leaves, but the aspens were memorizing to me. Yet what I found most powerful about this perfect piece of God’s good creation, is not what I could see with my own eyes but what lay in the soil beneath the surface. These trees are not alone or isolated, but they are a community. Each aspen tree is connected to the next, and to the next, and to the next. The tree at one end of the grove being related to another at the furthest corner of the community. Because the quaking aspen sends out its roots, which then re-emerge, shooting up around it as new trees, new individuals of the grove, new members of a beautiful community. All are interrelated, all intertwined, all immersed in one another. All springing forth from the same roots.
My friends, wouldn’t it be beautiful if our whole world, if the human race, if every tribe, people, and nation, understood community in the context of the aspen grove? Wouldn’t it be powerful if we saw our neighbor not just as those within close proximity but every child of God (even those at the furthest reaches of the globe)? Wouldn’t it be transformative if we would seek and serve Christ in all persons, realizing that we are all interconnected? Like the example in our Gospel account for this morning?
Today’s passage from Mark gives me perspective on this whole, “who is my neighbor” phenomenon. Breaking it down verse by verse, Jesus first heals those in close proximity—in his congregation so to speak. For the earliest Christian communities met and worshiped together in houses (the space Jesus enters into at the beginning of today’s Gospel). In this congregational context Jesus encounters the mother-in-law of his disciple Simon, a woman in need of healing, a parishioner in need of his prayers. And Jesus came, took her by the hand, lifted her up, and the fever left her. This woman is his neighbor.
But Jesus’ ministry did not end there. His presence was not consolidated to his congregation, to his immediate community. Instead Jesus’ disciples brought to him all of those who were sick or possessed in the whole city. They were knocking down his door! Everyone suffering from addiction, cancer, depression, no one was left out. Jesus encountered every person in need of healing, every individual in want of connection, every child of God in search of some love. These people are his neighbor.
Yet Jesus’ mission and ministry does not end there. As his disciples approached him during his time of prayer, requesting him to return to the people of the city, Jesus knows that there are others in need of his healing embrace. And so Jesus answered his disciples, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do” (Mk 1:38). And they go out into the towns surrounding the sea of Galilee—Bethsaida and Cana, Gennesaret and his own Nazareth. Those people are his neighbor too.
Jesus doesn’t stay in one place. Jesus isn’t locked into a particular sacred space. No, Jesus’ community—those people he is called to serve—is not limited to his followers, his city, or the surrounding towns even, but Jesus’ mission and ministry is for all children of God. His neighbor is every man, woman, and child in need of healing. And aren’t we all in need of healing in one way or another?
If we take Christ (and the aspen trees) as our example, we find that those in our congregation are our neighbor. Those in Incline Village are our neighbor. Those in the towns surrounding Tahoe—Kings Beach, Crystal Bay, Glenbrook, South Lake, all are our neighbor. And even those further afield, at the farthest end of the grove—Reno and Carson, Sacramento and San Francisco, Wyoming and Washington, Iraq and Iceland, Somalia and Syria, these are our neighbor too. We are called to seek and serve Christ in all of these people, in every human being, in each child of God.
To be disciples of Christ, to live into our Baptismal Covenant, we are called to remember through the example of Jesus that “neighbor” extends beyond those with whom we might feel more inclined to be “neighborly.” For our neighbors are the Samaritan and the Sadducee, the Roman and the Judean, the local and the tourist, the poor and the wealthy, the native and the immigrant, the Republican, the Democrat, the socialist, and the libertarian. All of these are our neighbors. Our neighbors are Project Mana clients and Incline Village Nursery School children, students of Sierra Nevada College and all of those spiritual seekers in our midst. Our neighbors are Syrian refugees and North Korean communists, Palestinian Muslims and Israeli Jews. Our neighbors are every human being dropped on this earth, every child of God across the globe.
For Christ’s radical message, the Good News of the Gospel, is that no one is left out from the kingdom community. Because no matter how hard we try to deny it, or to draw distinctions between one another, or to judge who is in and who is out, we are all connected. We all share the same roots. We all are one Body in Christ. Where one falls so does everyone. Where on thrives so does everyone. When we love our neighbors we are in turn loving ourselves, because one cannot survive without the other. We will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves, for we are not isolated. We are not alone. But we are a community: interrelated, intertwined, immersed in one another’s lives to the point where there is no separation between us and neighbor.