“Who is my neighbor?” Here we are, the day before our Diocesan Convention where we will be exploring this question together and this verse pops up in today’s lectionary readings. Coincidence? I think not. Jesus reminds us in Matthew’s Gospel that we understand the words of the Law and the Prophets through the lens of “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’…” (Matthew 22:37 – 39, NRSV). These words are truly all we need to know how to live as part of the Jesus Movement! The trouble comes in determining how we are to love. What does this love look like? And, who exactly are we to love? Here’s where we often find our differences of opinion; it’s where we can let the answers become political rather than responses of compassionate openness and welcome. I’m so glad we will be engaging in more conversations at Convention because I believe we can learn best in dialogue with those we respect and love as brothers and sisters.
Once again, our friends at Episcopal Migration Ministries shared a great article about our Syrian neighbors on their Facebook page that I think is worth sharing here. In reading it, we get a glimpse of the importance of being an advocate – one who comes alongside – and a friend to those who come empty-handed to a new land. When Maryam and her family arrived in the US from Syria, they had nothing – not even a common language to share their hopes and fears with their hosts. Before coming to the US, the family spent three years in a Jordanian refugee camp after fleeing their homeland. Even in the camp, this family suffered when their young sons were frequently beaten by others leaving their son Ibrahim with scars on his legs and arms.
As soon as they arrived in their new hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, they were greeted by two new friends, Kate McCaffrey, an anthropology professor at Montclair State University, and former Rutgers professor Melina Macall. “We are facing a global refugee crisis and we felt that very little was happening,” McCaffrey said. “We turned to our synagogue to forge an alternate path.”
For Maryam and her family who are Muslims, this was a surprise:
“In Syria, I lived surrounded by my family and in-laws, who share the same faith,” she said. “I never thought I’d have Jewish friends.” McCaffrey said there is like-mindedness between the Jewish community and the Muslim community, because both have congregants who have sought refuge from war, and both live out the tenants of their faith. “Part of religion is to welcome the stranger,” she said. “We felt that would be a good ground for starting something.”
The family’s transition has not been simple. They started with a $7.000 reimbursement required to cover their air travel to the US. That’s a pretty big expense when a family has no employment and only receives $975 per person for 90 days from the federal government to help them get started. McCaffrey and Macall decided they could help and did a crowd-sourcing campaign in hope of receiving the $7,000 in 7 days. To their amazement, they reached their goal in 72 hours!
Twenty-eight hundred dollars per person doesn’t go far when you’re trying to set up a home, buy clothes for growing children, and feed a family. Maryam’s husband Fadel, a welder by trade, has been unable to find employment although he continues to try. Maryam is ready and willing to find a job, too. “We need a steady job. It’s true we don’t speak the language, but our English will get better as we keep working,” she said through a translator. “But the most important thing is to stand by my kids so they can continue going to school.”
You can read the whole story here as well as watch the CNN video of the interview – http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/18/us/syrian-refugees-new-jersey-camerota/index.html
The Episcopal News Service (ENS) reported on the efforts of one diocese to meet not only the physical and emotional needs of their refugee community but also the spiritual needs of their neighbors. In Dallas, the Rev. Samira Izadi Page, who is an Episcopal priest and director of Gateway of Grace, a ministry for refugees providing housing, education and friendship, is especially prepared to address their spiritual concerns. ENS writes that Page “is a former Muslim who fled Iran nearly 20 years ago with nothing but the clothes on her back, making her particularly authentic in leading refugees to Christ.”
A group of refugees from many different countries sits in a circle reading and discussing Bible verses in Farsi, Arabic and English as they enjoy lunch together. Some of the women are wearing their traditional clothing while others wear t-shirts you’d expect to see on a hot summer day in Dallas. Their children play happily together in an adjoining room.
According to ENS:
The Bible Study is one snapshot of many that illustrates what evangelism looks like in the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas. With the consecration last year of Bishop George Sumner, a new emphasis has been placed on how best to know Christ and make Him known. The focus includes determining best practices, and creating an Order of Evangelists to be spearheaded by Carrie Boren Headington, who is the diocesan evangelist. “The aim is to have a representative at each parish serving as a catalyst for missional living,” Headington said. “Each church is a local outpost for the Kingdom of God strategically placed to be a witness to its neighbors. Each member of the congregation is an ambassador in their daily lives drawing those around them to follow Jesus.”
As we here in Michigan attempt to live into our roles as members of the Jesus Movement sharing the “Good News of God in Christ” by word and example, we are God’s evangelists – even though that “E” word seems to make us a bit nervous. Each of us is called to discern how God wants us to serve in this role but God does want each of us – and it’s something we have covenanted with God through our Baptism. I thought about this as I read that full article from the Diocese of Dallas. We acknowledge that, as a Church, our attempts at proselytization in the past have not always been implemented with love and grace. There is, indeed, a balance needed in respecting and honoring the culture and beliefs of our neighbors while desiring to share the love of God through Jesus with them. I think this is why we can’t merely take the one Baptismal Covenant to proclaim the Good News apart from the other, “striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being.” It’s all a part of knowing how to truly love our neighbors and loving God with everything we have.
The article on The Episcopal Diocese of Dallas webpage says it well:
The best way to do this is to proclaim the Gospel and earnestly share our own faith stories with others, said Headington who recently received a national appointment as Missioner Evangelist for the Episcopal Church. “As St. Teresa of Avilla said,’ ‘we are the hands and feet of Jesus,’ and we are His mouthpiece.”
Love and listen. “You have to listen to people. In evangelism for decades it was thought that you should take a Bible and thump people on the head with it. That’s the opposite of what Christ did. You love them and listen,” Martin said. “You help people discern from the Holy Spirit.”
Here’s the full article – http://edod.org/resources/articles/what-is-evangelism-today/
So, as we come together to discuss “Who is My Neighbor?” we can look eagerly to how the answer will impact our lives and the lives of those in our families, our communities and our world. Let’s “love and listen” to each other as we share our stories at Convention and when we return back home. I’m looking forward to seeing you there!
Let us pray –
We are called to love God,
to love God with every part of our being,
every part of our lives.
That same God also calls us to love our neighbor:
friends, relations, acquaintances, strangers.
Not just love a bit, but love in abundance.
help us to love and help us to change the world.
Lord, bring justice to the oppressed:
oppressed by enemies, by governments, by economics,
particularly the refugees within our communities and those desiring to come.
Show us how to help bring your justice to this world.
Lord, give food to the hungry:
the hungry nations, the hungry in our own towns,
particularly those who have no home to call their own.
Help us to appreciate what we have got, and help those who have less.
Lord, set the prisoners free:
those imprisoned by unjust powers, those imprisoned by guilt or shame.
Give us the wisdom to appreciate each situation
and to bring your liberty to the bound.
Lord, open the eyes of the blind:
blind to light, blind to the truth, blind to your wonder.
Lead us as we seek to bring new light where there is only darkness.
Lord, lift up those who are bowed down:
the ill, the sad, the bereaved, the troubled, the lonely.
Give us the skills to help share burdens and raise spirits
and give us the desire to always be there.
We are called by you to serve each other
and we are not entirely ready.
We are called to serve you
and we come uncertainly
but we come because you call.
And we lay our lives down and say,
take all that we are and use it for your service.
(adapted from Rod Belt, “DramatisDei”)
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee