Who is my neighbor and whose neighbor am I?
On Saturday, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry tweeted the following: “Jesus taught us to both love our neighbor, and to be neighbors. Refugees are our neighbors, and we are their neighbors. Luke 10: 25-36”
On Sunday, I sat in a pew at the Church of the Heavenly Rest in New York City and listed to the Rev. Matthew Heyd, the church’s rector, preach a powerful sermon, based, in part, on this line from the Book of Jeremiah: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Fr. Heyd spoke about the church’s long history of community engagement and living out the reality that “through the love of Christ there is no they. There is only we.”
I have worked on the staff of the Presiding Bishop for almost six years. In that time, I’ve met a lot of neighbors I didn’t know I had and am incredibly fortunate to now call many of them friends. I use the pronoun “we” a lot.
My neighbors come from across our own Episcopal Church - which includes members in the United States, Puerto Rico, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Venezuela, Curacao, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Haiti, Honduras, Micronesia, Taiwan, and the Virgin Islands.
My neighbors come from around the Anglican Communion - a family of Anglican, Episcopal, and United Churches that spans the globe and includes over 165 countries.
My neighbors also come from the broad network of ecumenical and interreligious friends our Church has and from places like the United Nations.
My neighbors speak many languages, worship God in many ways or not at all, and vote for candidates across the political spectrum.
The thing that unites all of us is that we are neighbors – to one another and to countless others we simply haven’t met yet. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have differences of opinion – political, theological, and otherwise. However, the commitment to truly being a neighbor is a commitment to staying in relationship, to keep talking, to keep reflecting, and, most importantly, to keep listening.
As a member of the Global Partnerships Office staff, being a neighbor means that we strengthen and rebuild relationships around the world. We support the parishes and dioceses across The Episcopal Church in their efforts to do the same. Sometimes this work is public and sometimes it’s more private; there are visits to partners that are shared through the Episcopal News Service and on social media and there are also quiet conversations over coffee or tea and between meetings or workshops at conferences. All of it is a part of "changing the world from the nightmare it often is into the dream that God intends,” as our Presiding Bishop likes to say.
The true gift of loving my neighbors and being a neighbor is that it helps me fully live into my identity as a Christian. In our Baptismal Covenant, we answer a series of questions with “I will, with God’s help.” I can’t be who I am without God and I also can’t be who I am without community. I can’t be who I am in isolation.
My faith is inherently relational and incarnational. I am who I am because of my relationship with God and I believe that God is present in all people and in all places. Sometimes that’s really hard. Sometimes I need others to help me focus or refocus. But that’s the gift of Christian community – of having neighbors and being a neighbor. We invite others into our lives and we are invited into theirs - not because any of us know more than the other, but we may know differently. We are stronger together because through our different experiences, thoughts, dreams, prayers, and hopes, we have a clearer view of the world as it can and should be.
These words from the late William Sloane Coffin, a former Senior Minister at The Riverside Church here in New York City, hang on the wall in my office - a gift from a neighbor who has become a close friend: “May God give you grace never to sell yourself short; grace to risk something big for something good; grace to remember that the world is now too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.”
This blessing forms a perfect complement to the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which Bishop Michael quoted on Saturday. The parable shows us the journey of transformation that takes place in the lawyer’s mind and heart. He goes from asking who his neighbor is to understanding how to be a neighbor himself. May we all have the courage to take Jesus’ command at the end of the parable to heart and live it out in our relationships with our neighbors both near and far: “Go and do likewise.”