Pastor Steve Mechem
Romans 12: 17-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
There is an old Croatian proverb, “Better a bad harvest than a bad neighbor.”
Once there was a man named Gus.
Gus lived in a small house on a quiet street in a small town in Iowa.
Gus shared a driveway with his neighbors to the west- parents, 2 soccer loving daughters, and a beagle named Lester.
Gus’s neighbor to the east was a single mom and her three teenage boys, a german shepherd named King and a cat named Gizmo. The boys formed a punk band called Total Eclipse.
Gus kept his lawn mowed but didn’t have any flowers or bushes in his front yard; he thought landscaping was a waste of time. There was a large Oak tree in the middle of the front yard.
Gus’s back yard was surrounded by a 6 foot wooden privacy fence.
Gus lived alone.
Gus had no wife or significant other.
Gus’s children were grown and lived out of town. Sadly, they never came home to visit.
Gus was a grump and a fussbudget and was kinda mean. People who tried to befriend Gus usually quit after a time because it just wasn’t worth it.
Gus’s neighbors had little to do with Gus. He was always complaining and grousing.
He would sit on his front porch surveiling his neighbors and often shouting at them for one thing or another.
Occasionally, the girls’ next door would kick a soccer ball into Gus’s yard. He would yell at them as they ran into his yard to retrieve the ball. Truth is, the errant soccer ball so enraged Gus that he built the privacy fence to keep it (and them) out.
The fence, however, became the homerun wall for the boys next door. Unfortunately, Gus confiscated the balls that flew into his yard. He had a trash can full of them. “My yard, my ball,” he would say.
The boys’ band, Total Eclipse, practiced in the back of a bike shop until it was closed due to a fire. So, in the short term, they practiced in their garage.
Gus heard the band practicing, stormed across his front and pounded on the garage door. Gus yelled at the band members for making such a racket and warned them to stop.
So Gus called the police. A somewhat embarrassed officer came by to tell the boys to keep it quiet because of a neighbor’s complaint.
The officer had stopped by Gus’s neighbors on several occasions-
-because King was barking too loud,
-because Lester pooped in Gus’s yard,
-because the boys next door parked their cars the street,
-because the neighbors who shared the drive way had a neighborhood party that lasted too late into the night.
Truly, the neighbors had tried to make nice, but soon gave up as Gus continued his rampage of grumpiness.
There were moments when the neighbors actually acted a little like Gus in response to Gus.
The Mom next door was aware that Gus’s privacy fence had accidentally been built two feet onto her property. She didn’t care much about it until Gus called the police on Total Eclipse.
After the police visit, she had her lawyer write Gus a letter demanding Gus rebuild his fence so that was not her property. Gus was furious.
Gus constantly complained about the neighbors with whom he shared a driveway- the way they parked,
the number of cars they had,
the way they shoveled snow.
For a short period of time, Gus owned a pick up truck. He parked it on the front edge of the drive way and would have to swing around it to get to the garage. This meant veering onto the neighbors’ half of driveway.
One day, as Gus came home he pulled into the driveway only to discover that he couldn’t pull into the driveway. The neighbors had constructed a barricade to prohibit Gus’s car from getting around the pickup truck.
Gus marched up to the neighbor’s house, and pounded on the door. “What the blankety blank!,” he yelled as the door opened.
“Sorry Gus, just following the rules you set.”
Gus, for the first time since he lived in that house, had to park his car on the street that night. It got egged.
The family who shared the driveway moved.
And a young family moved into the house. There were two moms, Kathy and Lisa, a six year old daughter, Candace, and four year old son, Justin.
On the day they moved in, they looked up to see a man walking toward them. They were excited that a new neighbor was already there to greet them.
Gus stared at the women, assessing the situation. He rolled his eyes.
“Umph,” he said, “I’m Gus.” He didn’t wait for his new neighbors to introduce themselves.
“Here’s the thing.
I’ve lived here 20 years and there are some things you need to know. This is a shared driveway and you are not allowed on my side.
You are responsible to shovel your side.
I don’t allow kids in my yard and I don’t want your dogs pooping on my grass. I go to bed early and I will not tolerate loud noises.
I can’t abide by people who don't take care of their yard.
Don’t let your kids leave their junk, their bikes or skateboards on my side of the driveway or I will drive right over them.”
Ok. Do you understand?”
The two moms, standing with their arms around their children, looked at each other, smiled a bit and then Lisa said, “we don’t have a dog.”
Gus sternly umphed. He turned around and walked home.
The moms took their kids trick or treating introducing themselves to their new neighbors.
They were greeted with sympathetic looks and remarks like, “Oh, Gus is your neighbor,” and “Good luck living next to him.”
As they were returning home, they passed by Gus’s darkened house. Someone had covered the Oak tree and front of the house with toilet paper.
Kathy and Lisa, with Candace and Justin, stepped onto forbidden ground and cleaned up the mess made by neighborhood kids.
While they picked Toilet Paper off the branches of the tree, they couldn’t see Gus looking at them from behind the curtains in his home.
They never told Gus they had cleaned up his yard and Gus never told them that he had watched them do it.
One day in December, Gus heard a knock on his door. He answered it, ready to yell at Mormon Missionaries or kids selling stuff for school. Instead, he encountered his new neighbors, standing there, a paper plate covered with foil paper in Candace’s hands. She handed him the plate. “Merry Christmas. Its cookies we made.”
Gus umphed and reached for the plate. Candace looked at him and asked, “what’s your name again?”
“Ok. I like the name Gussy.” Candace beamed.
Gus umphed again.
In January, a six inch snow visited the neighborhood. Gus hated snow and hated shoveling.
He was shocked to see that his driveway was completely shoveled, and Kathy and Lisa and Candace, were finishing up their side of the driveway. Kathy looked up, saw Gus through the window, waved and smiled.
Gus umphed, and stepped away from the window.
In March, a massive spring storm saturated the Iowa town. The creek flooded and water was marching toward Gus’s house (he had had problems with creek water in his basement in the past).
Panicked, he started digging a trench in his back yard. He was muttering and sputtering and digging, when he looked up to see Lisa and Kathy, digging next to him.
Gus was Gus, mostly. He grumped. He groused. He looked disapprovingly at the kids as they ran around their yard and got too close to his.
And oh my, did he look disapprovingly when low and behold, Kathy brought home a puppy. “Don't let that expletive dog poop in my yard,” he groused. But as he turned away from the puppy, a slight smile came across his face.
Whenever Kathy or Lisa or one of the kids saw Gus, they would wave and holler, “hello.” Candace would always add “Gussy” to her “hello.”
In June, Gus landed in the hospital for ten days. Emergency surgery.
Gus was not annoyed when a homemade card arrived from Candace and Justin.
Gus was slightly annoyed when the whole family visited him in the hospital.
Gus was wonderfully annoyed when, as the family was leaving, Candace came over to Gus, patted his hand, and said, “Get better Gussy. We miss you.”
“Umph,” Gus said.
He rubbed his hand, where Candace had patted it, after they were gone.
When Gus came home, he was surprised to see that his lawn had been mowed. While nobody said anything, he knew Kathy and Lisa were responsible.
Kathy, Lisa, Candace and Justin were constantly dropping by, bringing food, getting the mail, picking up prescriptions, saying “hi.” Gus was surprised by how much he didn’t hate it.
In the early fall, a mended Gus heard a knock on the door. It was Justin. He asked Gus if he had any duck tape.
Gus answered, “No, I don't have any Duck tape, but I do have some Duct tape. What do you need it for?”
The plastic tire on Justin’s electric car had split.
Gus and Justin and Gus’s bright red Duct tape took care of the plastic car.
On Thanksgiving day, Gus noticed several cars in his shared driveway. He was surprised that he didn’t mind they were partly on his side.
A few minutes before noon, Gus heard a knock on the door. Upon opening it, he discovered Candace and Justin standing in front of him all dressed up.
“Gussy, will you eat with us today?”
“Umph,” said Gus.
“We will eat at 1:00,” squeaked Justin with a giggle. And off they ran back to their house.
Gus ate with Kathy, Lisa, their parents and siblings. He was surprised that there was a chair prepared for him in between Candace and Justin. The kids insisted on it, said Lisa.
While Gus ate, the new puppy slept at his feet. Gus didn’t mind, and even dropped some turkey onto the floor for him.
Gus wasn’t great at friendly, benign conversation. But it was the best day.
As Gus left, Candace asked him if he would come to church for their Christmas play.
Gus umphed. And wrote down the date on a piece of paper.
Candace played an angel. Justin was a sheep. Lisa and Kathy sat in a pew and proudly watched their children perform. Sitting beside them, with a smile that almost broke his face, sat Gus.
After cookies and punch, and a lot of strange stares from people who only knew Gus as a grump and a fussbudget and kinda mean, Gus walked out of the church with Kathy on one side, Lisa on the other and two little kids pressed up against him holding his hands.
“Thanks for coming Gussy.”
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”