February 26, 2017: Just when I thought I was safe…

Posted on : Feb 23rd, 2017 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

“Just when I thought I was safe in a gated community, God moves into the neighborhood.”

Our English word, “neighbor” originates from two Old English (Anglo Saxon) words meaning: near + dwelling. In the late 16th century (1580) a neighbor could be someone on the next farm, who lived miles away but was the nearest dweller. Today we think of neighbors and neighborhoods as pretty tight-knit, small communities.

Up until the mid-1960’s, neighborhoods in America tended to be very homogenous. They were made up of groupings of people who were the same. Even large American cities had very homogenous neighborhoods. Then, in the 1960’s American neighborhoods began to change and become much more diverse.

Some people loved the diversity, others feared it. For example, the neighborhood surrounding our church in the early 1900’s was white (Caucasian) and very middle class. In the 1960’s when racial covenants – which were legal restrictions written into property deeds which forbade the sale of a home to someone other than a Caucasian – were declared unconstitutional by the courts and as Hollywood became one of the growing centers for immigrants from all over the world, there was a mass exodus of residents looking for more homogenous neighborhoods. That exodus, which is often called “white flight,” is what created the massive suburban neighborhoods of the San Fernando Valley.

In the 1980’s upper middle class folks wanted “safer neighborhoods.” In an attempt to create such neighborhoods, an ancient custom was adapted. In ancient and medieval times, cities were protected by massive walls around them. They were known as walled cities. Oftentimes they had a mote and a drawbridge which was the only access into the city, unless unfriendly types could figure out how to scale the walls.

The modern version of the walled-city is the gated community. Gated Communities were created to control access to neighborhoods. In place of a mote and drawbridge, they had a security guard and iron gate.

A lot of people, probably most of us, live in the new version of a “gated community.” Our “neighbors,” our circle of friends, are very similar to us. We interact with people who think like us, share similar values, are similar in social class, are of the same political party and can self-define as part of some community of similarity. For many years in America, though this is certainly not as dominant today as in former years, religion was also one of the great “gated communities.” In the 1950’s the great divide in Christianity was between Protestants and Catholics. By the 1980’s the great divide was between conservative/evangelical and progressive/liberal Christians.

All of this is fine until God moves into our neighborhood. Then things really get mixed up. Our worship theme this Sunday is “Just when I thought I was safe in some gated community, God moves into the neighborhood.” I thought of this paradox as I reflected on the contemporary translation of the Gospel of John in “The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language” which was created and translated by Eugene H. Peterson.   The traditional translation of John 1: is “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Peterson contemporized it with these words: “And the Word took on human flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”

When we take these words seriously, our faith is really challenged. Jesus calls us to break down the many walls we put up. This Sunday, as we conclude our “Awakening Faith” series, we’re going to look at what happens to our faith when Jesus moves into our neighborhood.




~ This Sunday’s Scriptures ~

John 1: 1-18

“The Word took on human flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”

In the beginning there was the Word;

            the Word was in God’s presence, and the Word was God.

The Word was present to God from the beginning.

Through the Word all things came into being, and apart from the Word nothing came into being that is.

In the Word was life,

            and that life was humanity’s light –

a Light that shines in the darkness,

            a Light that the darkness has never overtaken.

Then came one named John, sent as an envoy from God, who came as a witness to testify about the Light, so that through his testimony everyone might believe. He himself wasn’t the Light; he only came to testify about the Light – the true Light that illumines all humankind.

The Word was coming into the world –

was in the world –

          and though the world was made through the Word, the world didn’t recognize it.

Though the Word came to its own realm,

            the Word’s own people didn’t accept it.

Yet any who did accept the Word,

            who believed in that Name,

            were empowered to become children of God –

Children born not of natural descent,

not of human will –

but born of God.

And the Word took on human flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.

-We saw the Word’s glory –

            filled with grace,

            filled with truth.

John testified by proclaiming, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘the One who comes after me ranks ahead of me, for this One existed before I did.’”  

Of this One’s fullness

            we’ve all had a share –

            gift on top of gift.

For while the Law was given through Moses,

            the Gift – and the Truth – came through Jesus Christ.

No one has ever seen God,

            except Jesus,

            who has revealed God to us.


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