Who is our neighbor?

by Pam Tinsley

In early October, our local Islamic Center was burned in an arsonist’s hate attack. Between the fire and water damage, our Muslim brothers and sisters now face a rebuild and remodel of their mosque. In the meantime, they have been forced to find a new place to gather for worship.

Without a second thought our Episcopal church opened our doors and invited them to worship and pray in our large parish hall, which was appropriate for many – though not all – of their needs. Our congregation wasn’t the only one to provide support, and after several weeks the Islamic Center was able to find a larger space that would support their longer-term needs.

 Our Muslim brothers and sisters were stunned by the hospitality. Many are immigrants from countries where Islam is the dominant religion, and they have felt marginalized in a nation and community where they are victims of indifference, if not outright hatred. The power of our congregation reaching out, then, was more than practical. It was highly symbolic. By stepping forward we were saying that this Christian community not only believes in a set of values, but also lives them out. We showed that Jesus’ commandment to love one another as he loves us means something. We showed that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves, and we showed that our neighbor doesn’t need to look like us or worship like us. We showed that not only do we strive for justice and peace, we also seek the dignity of every human being.

The Christian ethic that we profess in our baptismal promises reminds us that our needs and the needs of our neighbor are bound together. We are all made in the image of God. And if we truly believe that, and if we put God first, we are called to seek our neighbor. Our neighbor just might be the marginalized shepherds in the fields. Our neighbor just might be the poor carpenter and his pregnant betrothed who could find no place for them in the inn. Our neighbor just might be the lowly babe whose crib was a manger.

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