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Can of Worms… or… Great Opportunity?

In 1915, Samuel Sorenson Adams wanted to tease his wife Emily after she complained that he had left the jam jar sticky.  That night, Sam cleaned out a jam jar, filled it with cloth-covered, spring-loaded ‘snakes’, that would pop out when she opened the jam jar the next day.  Emily must have enjoyed the humor of that practical joke, because Sam went on to create a snake peanut brittle can, a snake mint can, and the most popular- snake nut can.  How many of us have enjoyed that snake-in-a-can joke over the years?   A practical joke now and then is fun, but when life throws us the unexpected, we are not as pleased.  In those moments, we feel like we are opening a ‘can of worms.’  And once opened, it is near to impossible to get those slimy little creatures back in the can again, so most of us try not to open the can in the first place.
This ‘can of worms’ image brings us to our theme verse for the fall:  
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul,  
with all your strength, and with all your mind;  
and love your neighbor as yourself.
Love God- Love Neighbor- sounds easy enough.  But we all know from experience that loving our neighbor, really loving our neighbor, can be like opening a can of worms.  Years ago, I went for a walk in my neighborhood.  I had just put my kids on the bus, affording me a few minutes of precious peace before my work began.  As I rounded the bend in my neighborhood, I saw a mom trying to juggle baby, diaper bag and groceries in a rather futile effort to get everything in the house.  The baby was crying.  The mom was frazzled, so I offered to help.  I thought this would be a quick moment of neighborly kindness.  Two hours later, I left that home committed to help a desperate family in need.  That day, the mom told me that she had discovered a lump on her little one’s thigh.  When the pediatrician examined the child, he immediately called CHOP for an appointment with Oncology. The mom was scared… she could barely get the words out to tell me her story.  That day began a commitment that would span two decades, through five rounds of cancer treatments, punctuated by two funerals.  I could never have known how that simple offer of neighborly kindness would change my life.

When the pandemic began, like many of you I spent more time at home.  One day, I saw my next-door neighbor sweeping his porch.  I knew that Joe was the Principal at Barclay Elementary in Central Bucks School District, so I asked him how ‘virtual school’ was going for his kids.  It was a simple question asked out of neighborly curiosity.  But the answer opened my eyes to a world of hurt just down the road from our church.  Joe described how many of his parents had lost their jobs as our economy closed down.  Some of us were able to work from home, but those in the service industries found themselves unemployed overnight.  Many of Joe’s families were already living on the edge.  They had no buffer to help carry them through months of unemployment.  And many of them did not qualify for unemployment support or for the ‘stimulus checks’ that eventually came out.  Joe’s families were struggling to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.  So, Joe and some of his teachers began a Farmer’s Market, giving out bags of food every week to whomever had need.  That simple neighborly conversation translated into a commitment by the faith community of Lenape Valley to love our neighbors with dry goods and donations.  Literally, you have given tons of food and thousands of dollars to love our neighbors who are just down the road.  I could never have known how that simple neighborly conversation would open up such an important mission opportunity.

Sunday, I sat down to read the Philadelphia Inquirer.  I was just looking for a few moments of peace and quiet after a busy Sunday morning.  On page four, my eyes were drawn to the picture of a crying child with a caption describing the starvation of children in Somalia.  That child is half a world away.  I will never know his name, but I cannot get the picture of his face out of my mind.  The drought in west Africa has displaced millions of people as they have fled the driest parts of that region.  The war in Ukraine has added to their struggle as Putin has held tons of grain hostage.  Somalia used to get 90% of their wheat from Ukraine, but now their children are starving, and their babies are too weak even to cry.  My Sunday moment of relaxation opened up a whole new world of neighbors.  Before the end of the day, we had written a check to World Vision, a relief organization that is on the front lines in Somalia.  One newspaper, one simple moment of relaxation, and now we have more neighbors to love.

When Jesus calls us to love our neighbor, he is not giving us a simple command.  But imagine what our world would be like if we obeyed Jesus’ call to love.  Imagine what our lives would be like if we made the decision to invest in the lives of our neighbors.  This fall, Lenape Valley will do just that as we offer a Free Fall Fest for the neighbors around our church.  I hope you have secured October 16th on your calendar so that you can share in the joy of offering this love gift to our neighbors.  They say there is no such thing as a free lunch, but that is exactly what we are going to offer… free food, music, games, face painting, balloon animals, and good family time.  I hope you will invite one of your neighbors to join us on that day.  I hope you will volunteer to help that day, or to go into the neighborhoods around the church to invite our neighbors.  I hope you will hold this Free Fall Fest in your prayers, that we would be God’s instrument of grace in our community.  Look for more information in the weeks ahead… and find your place in this special gift to our neighbors.

With you, learning how to love my neighbor,
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