Rev. Andrew Cunnington
22nd January 2017
Who Is My Neighbough?… Especially The One Right Next Door!

When you’ve lived in one place as long as I have, you’re bound to be a bit anxious when a new neighbour moves in. I mean let’s be honest, a dreadful neighbour can be the bane of your life.

So my heart sank when the For Sale board went up next door to us. Who were we going to have to put up with now?

Well in a street like ours, you can’t keep secrets for long. Everyone knows everybody else’s business.

So you can imagine how I felt when I heard that the people coming next door had been moved on by the Council from their previous town.

Apparently there’d been some disturbances, that’s all we were told. And that they were market traders with their own stall, and they did the rounds of the area. Sounded like a nightmare waiting to happen. Cluttering up the front garden with all their tat.

Well, it turned out to be just a Mother and Son most of the time. Father coming and going, never staying long. Never quite sure what was going on there.

Woodcraft. That’s what they went in for. The boy arrived carrying great planks of wood over his shoulders and carried them straight indoors. The Father with his hammers and nails, his saws and all the tools of the trade.

I thought to myself, they start making a noise with all that stuff in the evenings, I’d be straight round there, banging on their door. I mean it’s not fair is it. Ours is a quiet street.

They were OK actually, well at least as far as that all went. But I soon became aware that something else was wrong. People calling round. Official looking people with grim expressions. Raised voices through the walls. Couldn’t help but hear.

Then when they’d gone, I’d hear the Mother sobbing “I knew it would end up like this” she would cry “and don’t you see, you’re breaking my heart”.

“Well, I’ll not give it up“ goes the boy “I mean how can I? How can I now” and he’d slam the door ands storm off. Started spending time with our lads from our village down by the harbour. Soon he was part of the local gang. All fishermen apart from him.

Anyway the boy’s off with his Dad for much of the time. Their stall at the market. Let’s see Nazareth – Monday. Sephoris – Wednesday and here in Capernaum on Thursday. Kept him busy. Thank the Lord.

So anyway, I had this fever. I was really ill and it’s not much fun when you’re on your own. The Mother next door she asks if her Son could come and help me. I says yes. Well, I’m expecting him to lift things for me, do some odd jobs, that sort of thing.

But, no he comes in here and he sits down in my house, he holds my hand and he says he hopes I will be better soon. And when he’s gone, I’m better straight away. In the twinkling of an eye.

And what he’s done is, he’s set himself up as some sort of healer and that’s what gets him into trouble. People start knocking his door as soon as they’ve got anything wrong with them, and the religious blokes, they stand on our street corner with faces like thunder, noting down who goes in and who comes out.

Then one day, out of the blue. The balloon really does goes up! He and his gang are nowhere to be seen. The fishing and the carpentry is just left. They’ve all gone off together and now he calls himself Jesus of Nazareth and it’s said they’ll not be back. Not ever.

Mary’s left with it all. The way Mothers often are. Her man never comes near. Not now. Every so often she’s gone for days, trailing after Jesus, we think. Right down as far as Jerusalem sometimes and when she comes back she looks like a little old woman.

Then she’s gone one day and she never comes back! The house is empty and quiet, all the carpentry gear just stashed inside. And what we hear is he went too far in Jerusalem. Began saying he was this, that or the other, arrested, tried, sentenced and put to death. Some said that he had completely lost his mind.

And our lads come back with their tales between their legs. It did get well out of hand that’s all they’ll say. Near riot by all accounts. Him, dead and them lucky to escape with their lives. Well, we scold those boys for having gone. Look where its got you, we tell them.

They sulk around the place. Sitting down by their boats. Only sometimes going out to fish.

Anyway very early one morning I hear scuffling next door through the walls. I hear that old wood being dragged carefully across the floor. Burglars I think to myself and I’m out there in the street even though it’s four O clock in the morning to sort them out.

But I stop dead in my tracks. It’s him. I promise you it’s him. Jesus of Nazareth, and he’s not dead. I run to him and take his hands in mine, the hands that once healed me, and then I drop them again, for they are riven with sores, holes, wounds, blisters. the likes of which, well you can imagine.

“I’m meeting the boys. It’s a surprise.” He smiles, and he drags the wood down to the shore of the lake and he builds a fire with it all and he cooks breakfast. Right there on the beach. on the beach.

And for the time being he’s back with us again. And old Capernaum, well it’s as if the place had come back to life too.

They say its true that he was God’s Son. And when I ask them what was it he used to say that made everyone so cross in Jerusalem, they told me… ”He used to say Love your neighbour”, and that’s all he said, well I laughed like a drain, I mean, I was his neighbour. I was his next door neighbour. If I had known it was the Son of God next door, maybe I have done more. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so private and suspicious and angry.

But that’s what happens when you only look for the worst in people, you miss the best. When you think there might be a devil in someone, you miss the God that was there all the time.

So I guess you all have neighbours. And I wonder what you think of them?

Someone you sit next to in church. A next door neighbour, who may or may not be nice. A neighbour on the train. A neighbour on the bus. A neighbour at work. A neighbour in the queue. A Pen Pal or a Facebook friend. Someone new coming in here. Someone old coming back.

You never expect any of them to be Jesus of Nazareth do you. Or Mary or even that husband of hers. Or the fishing boys in our village who they now say are saints and missionaries and martyrs.

You just think they are a bunch of Joe Soaps, the people in your town or mine.

But I tell you they are all Jesus of Nazareth, each and every one of them, men and women. It’s just that you never know when he’s going to tell you his name, or if he’s going to say stay here or go there. Speak out or stay quiet.

And if we all lived our lives with that sort of expectation, I wonder what sort of place this world would be.

MATTHEW 4: 12-13