Thursday, June 23, 2016

Who are My Neighbors?

This is the first of four excerpts from last Sunday's message. Thank you for reading.

I’ve been asking these four questions of myself for several long bits and I’m going to go through them one by one.
One: Who is my neighbor and what does it mean to love them?
Two: What does it mean to bear fruit, the fruit of the Holy Spirit?
Three: How do I quicken, strengthen or increase my relationship to God?
Four: What is the evidence of my salvation?

I ask these questions because in the end, knowing peace is knowing my salvation and trusting in our Heavenly Father in a sure relationship, so that I may meet the fallen world as someone transformed in Christ, being remade in His likeness.

I’ve been asking who is my neighbor since attending Presbytery of the West in the fall of 2015. It was the topic for that Presbytery meeting. In light of the massacre in Orlando and the contentious, if entertaining, Presidential Primaries, I am shaken. Who is my neighbor? Is a candidate for office my neighbor? Omar Mateen was someone’s neighbor. The fifty slain were neighbors. Are Muslims my neighbors? What about my enemies?

Plough Quarterly, in their spring edition (coincidentally titled Who is my neighbor?), published Navid Kermani'Peace Prize of the German Booksellers acceptance speech. He for  spoke of an interview with Father Jacques Mourad who served in the Catholic Qaryatain's Catholic Parish in Syria and belonged to the order of Mar Musa founded on the idea of and dedicated to an encounter between Christianity and Islam and to love for Muslims. Kermani recounts how after being abducted by ISIS and held, Father Jacques was rescued by Muslims from the small Syrian town he served. He quoted Father Jacques as follows, "'The threat from ISIS, this sect of terrorists who present such a ghastly image of Islam, has arrived in our region,’ Father Jacques wrote to a French friend a few days before his abduction. ‘It is difficult to decide what we should do. Should we leave our homes? To us that seems very hard. The realization that we have been abandoned is dreadful – abandoned especially by the Christian world, which has decided to keep its distance so that the danger will stay far away. We mean nothing to them.’"

Have we abandoned our neighbors in war-torn Syria?

As I read through the names and photos of the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting I saw one man, Miguel Angel Honorato, a father of three, an active volunteer in the community someone who wore the cross of Christ in his photo. I caught myself thinking, I should pray for him and his family. But then, I wondered what about the others, the trendy hip clearly homosexual photos, some self-indulgent, some so bright and beguiling I had to smile, some tender and young, some hardened, but mostly just human. They are all gone now. Were they my neighbors? What would I look like to them?

I knew a municipal judge in Snyder Texas. He was a wry-witted man, a bachelor with the mark of many years at the bench and at life. He spoke of an older woman who tried to change him. He said, she was an old pinch-faced woman. Is that who I am?

Paul tells us in Galatians 5:13-15, 'For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.'

I think about the current Presidential Campaign. Are we biting and devouring one another? I think about terrorism and the victims of the Pulse nightclub and San Bernardino and the Paris attacks. Are we any closer to our neighbors? Where do we start? How do we go forward loving God and loving our neighbor?

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