Gospel Lessons – NIMBY

“Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?”
Matthew 25:37b

I learned a new acronym last week: NIMBY

It means “Not in my back yard”.

The context?

People in my neighborhood were commenting about an upcoming council meeting regarding resources for people experiencing homelessness.

Basically, I read through a bunch of comments from people saying I’m a “nimby” person now.

And so I asked a friend what this new hip phrase meant, and it hurt my heart.

Not in my back yard

I’m new to our area, my husband and I finally have managed to find a rental property closer to my church, which has been a tremendous blessing. My 40 minute commute is now 14 minutes!

And I have known about our local problems around homelessness, but I think not living here meant that its reality hadn’t set in.

As I went through the comment feed from my neighbors, I was overwhelmed at this NIMBY mindset. And then I saw that one of the areas they were hoping to zone for a shelter would be in my community.

If they were to grant zoning, there would be buffers between residential zoning (like my home), but in many ways, as a new resident to my area, this zoning would be “in my backyard” as it were.

And there’s a lot of complaints from those who have experienced shelters “in their backyard”, worries about crime are real.

And I have worries about crime too. I just finished unpacking all of our stuff, it would be upsetting for things to get broken or taken.

People who are experiencing homelessness are often struggling with addiction and mental illness, which could bring instability to my community.

All of that is true, it’s real, it’s not an easy fear to overcome.

But the truth is, living into the Gospel was never meant to be easy.

Living into the Gospel was never meant to be easy.

In Matthew 25, Jesus goes through a long list of the ways in which “the righteous” have served him. They have given him food and drink when he was hungry and thirsty, they saw him as a foreigner and they welcomed him, they saw he was naked and gave him clothes, they visited him in prison and when he was sick, and so on.

These righteous ask how they could have possibly done all of these things for Jesus.

And it’s pretty simple.

It’s pretty clear.

They did all of these things for Jesus, because they did them for the least of these.

Caring for people who are hungry, who are alien, who are imprisoned or sick, that’s what it means to live into the Gospel.

And the truth is, NIMBY is antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

NIMBY is antithetical to the Gospel.

And the truth of the matter is, if not your backyard, then whose? I mean, Jesus didn’t have a backyard. So this acronym would have made no sense to him anyway.

Because as Jesus traveled and moved and went from place to place, he moved his backyard with him. And he brought the least of these into his backyard. Homeless, prostituting, sinning, broken people came to Jesus, and not only did he let him in the backyard, not only did he provide basic services like food and healing, but Jesus invited them inside.

And hey, maybe the risks Jesus took weren’t the same as you might be feeling. Jesus didn’t have stuff to protect. And really Jesus didn’t have people to protect, for Jesus, his family were those same sinners that came to him.

And the truth is, sometimes we fail to live into the Gospel.

Sometimes we fail to live into the Gospel.

And that’s okay. That’s why we need Jesus. We need Jesus’s forgiveness for when we fail to serve him by serving the least of these. We need Jesus’s love to help open our hearts to our neighbor, regardless of who they are. That’s why we need Jesus to guide us, to strengthen us, to lead us to into the Kin-dom that he is creating on earth.

And so sometimes we fail, but maybe, just maybe, we can take this forgiveness, this love, this mercy, that Jesus gives us, and open our hearts, open our “backyards”, our communities. Maybe we can just stop declaring with boldness and pride that we are “nimby” people now.

Instead, let’s be Gospel people. Let’s be Good News people. Let’s serve Jesus by serving the least of these.

It begins with you, and me, and all of us.

What are ways you have found yourself closing off from your neighbor in need? How might you open up your “backyard”? How might you serve the least of these?

Pastor Megan Filer

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