UPDATE: Our local paper covered the service. I believe the print edition even has pictures, maybe they'll put some online later.
By Jim Jannotti.
Delivered as an address to an interfaith worship service that included six faith communities on September 11, 2005 in Memorial Park, Pottstown, PA
We’ve come together on this bright day because it’s Sunday and most of us are in the habit of going to church. But as fate would have it, a few weeks back five Pastors and a Rabbi got together (sounds like the beginning of a joke doesn’t it?), and so now we’re doing our Sunday thing together and out of doors.
When you heard that this special worship service was happening you may have reacted with some skepticism. I don’t blame you. It is worship with strangers, after all, and who wants to do that?
Four years ago today our entire nation was given an opportunity to be better than we’ve ever been. The 9/11 attacks were horrific, but the response across America was inspiring. For a shining glorious moment, we moved closer to becoming an America in which no one is a stranger.
As is often the case with shining moments, that one proved brief.
In the months, some would say weeks, following our national tragedy, America gradually went back to being what it was before and is still. For all our many strengths, we remain a nation of strangers living next door to each other.
That’s not true everywhere, nor is it true all the time, but it does ring true to me as I consider what’s happened to our civic life and our politics during the past four years. It rings true as I watch the seemingly endless and sad finger pointing that has followed the destructive forces along the Gulf Coast, the resulting displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, and worse, the destruction of their homes. I could list the reasons why I think we’ve chosen to be this way, but it would take too long and probably result in us all getting into an argument. And arguments, as much as we seem to love them in our country, are not why we’re here today.
Arguments are what happen when for whatever reason, we can’t or won’t make the effort required to move beyond stranger-hood. It’s hard work cultivating a shared life. “Don’t be a stranger,” we say to those who haven’t come around in a while. It’s an interesting command. “Don’t be a stranger.” It implies that there’s work involved in being a friend and neighbor.
And it does take work. Work that in my darker moments, I fear we will not choose to undertake. I wonder if we can work as hard at building each other up as we do at tearing each other down. I wonder if we can work as hard at forming communities as we do at forming arguments. I wonder if we will ever move from being strangers to being friends.
Someone once asked a well known itinerant Jewish preacher, “Who is my neighbor?” The answer, which I should mention, didn’t come from the preacher but from the man who asked the question, was “the one who showed mercy.”
And there’s the work. This worship service asks what God requires of us. Well what God requires of us is a love of mercy; to favor compassion over suspicion. What God wants is for us to look at another and see a neighbor rather than a stranger. So maybe it’s a neighbor we haven’t met yet. God wants us to be as creative in seeing reasons for friendship as we are in coming up with reasons for animosity.
We can begin here and now, at this time and in this place. What better day than September 11? What better place than here, where many of us ought to be strangers? You may have come skeptical, and that’s okay. But come you did, and now you’ve been given an opportunity. There’s no better place and time than here and now for each of us and all of us to begin moving from stranger-hood, to neighbor-hood.