Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Standing With Our Neighbors

Tonight I got to "pinch hit" for my Bishop, Doug Fisher, who was at a gathering with other New England Bishops in New Hampshire, What an amazing experience to be at The Islamic Center of Western Massachusetts among Muslims, Christians, Jews and others - among educators and politicians - all who know that deep down we truly are one. 

I have a deep and abiding respect for the office of  bishop across denominational lines. And as you've realized tonight they are very busy people, as I'm the third pinch-hitter for a bishop tonight! But I have a particular fondness for the one I work for, Doug Fisher, who serves the Episcopal Church in central and western Massachusetts. Doug is a very talented guy who cares a lot for the work you are doing here, and for your imam. But he has not yet figured out how to be in two places at once. So as much as he wanted to be here, he had a prior commitment with the New England bishops in New Hampshire that keeps him from being with us this evening. And so you get me…

The Episcopal Church is deeply committed to respecting the dignity of every human being and to working for justice and peace among all people. In fact, we renew those commitments through our Baptismal Covenant every time we celebrate Holy Baptism and a few times each year beyond those. We know we cannot do that work alone; always it is “with God’s help.” But along with God, we need one another. We need ecumenical and interfaith partners. These promises shape who we are in this time and place as we recommit ourselves to stand together with our neighbors, whom we are called to love. And tonight we stand particularly with our Muslim neighbors, our cousins through Abraham.

There is a little verse buried in the Book of Genesis (the twenty-fifth chapter, the ninth verse) that has come to mean a great deal to me over the years. It says this:

Isaac and Ish′mael his sons buried him in the cave of Mach-pe′lah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre...

The “him” here is Abraham, their father. I only have a couple of minutes here and my job is to affirm our commitment to stand with our Muslim neighbors in these dangerous times, not to preach a sermon. But I invite you to linger for a moment on that scene and maybe to continue pondering it when you leave this place.

Isaac and Ishmael were half-brothers with a complicated relationship. Their mothers, Sarah and Hagar, had their own challenges. Many of us know about complicated families and relationships.

But sometimes, at the birth of a child or grandchild, or at a wedding or funeral, we glimpse moments of grace and healing, of people rising above their differences. For me Genesis 25:9 is one such moment. These two blood brothers stand side by side in their grief. I wonder who spoke first, or if words failed them? All I know from the text is that they were both there, grieving the death of their father and commending him back to the living God in whom Abraham put his trust.

Our joy can unite us, to be sure. And often it does. Tonight is such an occasion for me and I trust for all of us. 

But I wonder if, more often, it is our shared pain that has the potential to heal the brokenness we experience in this world, if only we allow ourselves in those moments to be surprised by grace. We don’t need pious platitudes at the grave. We need courage. And we need love. We need to see in the face of the other our brother – our sister – our neighbor. And in such moments we glimpse the living God, the One who formed us all of the earth and breathed the same Spirit into us all.

And so we stand together this evening, lamenting what feels lost to us in these troubling times, but strengthened by the bonds of love we share as children of Abraham. May this gathering remind us that we are never alone. God is with us. 

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