She and my mother could quite often be found chatting about the troubles of life over hot tea and rock cakes. They navigated the ups and downs of life together.
The house in between was home to an elderly couple, Mr and Mrs Hearne. They’d turned their back yard into a wonderful vegetable garden and would hand us homegrown vegetables over the back fence. We kept an eye out for them as they became more frail and needed help. I still remember the night Mr Hearne die, hearing the death rattle for the first time in my life and feeling terribly afraid.
Our doors were always open and we looked out for one another. Neighbourliness was the love and compassion that ebbed and flowed from house to house bringing with it a quiet sense of security that someone cared and would always be there if you needed them.
But Jesus made it very clear that neighbourliness has little to do with geography. When a despised Samaritan showed compassion for a badly beaten up Jew, Jesus took a razor-sharp axe to geographical and cultural boundaries and fences.
The victims ‘countrymen’ were either too busy, too fearful or just didn’t want to get involved and beat a hasty retreat. The Samaritan obviously had places to go and things to do too. He said to the innkeeper, “On my way back I will pay you whatever I owe”, yet in that moment helping this desperately needy man became his priority.
Many of us are too busy juggling the balls in our lives to be on more than nodding terms with those living around us. We might say good morning or even bring in their garbage bin occasionally but there's not time to share our lives with them.
We live in an era that fosters distance. We are bombarded with reasons to be fearful or suspicious, warned to guard our privacy and the walls between us grow at an exponential rate.
Do you ever sit in a train and feel completely disconnected? No eye contact, no smiles, no friendly greeting the way folk used to do. It's that disconnection that seems to drive an unwillingness to get involved, to be inconvenienced or to face the ugliness of life that involvement might entail.
We break down the fences one kindness at a time, a word of encouragement, a bed for the night, a meal for someone in need or by carving out time and space to share my life with someone in need.
Last week I went to the funeral of a man whose life opitomized neighbourliness. He was a pastor who was more at home beyond church walls, in the byways and amidst the brokenness of life we all navigate. He poured out his life into those who were hurting and doing it tough. He had been through some deep waters himself but those experiences only made him more compassionate.
Like the Lord he served, he was not embarrassed to care for anyone, irrespective of their situation. His love broke down all walls. It didn't matter whether you were rich or poor, Muslim, atheist, Christian, Lebanese, Iranian or fair dinkum Aussie, his love knew no bounds.
He was a very ordinary man, gifted with great humility, joy and grace that flowed from his deep love for Jesus. He touched the lives of a countless number of people in his lifetime. The 500-600 people who attended his funeral were a testament to the reach of his love.