This Sunday (which happens to be the day that the U.S. will commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation) we’ll hear Jesus challenged, yet again, by the Pharisees. “What’s the greatest commandment?” they ask. He responds echoing the words of the great Rabbi Hillel: There are two great commandments. Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.*
This week, someone tweeted a photo of a banner that appeared to be hanging on the pedestrian footbridge in Eden Prairie’s Miller Park. It was a demand that immigration be stopped, and it proclaimed Identity Evropa as its source. This white supremacist group is making inroads in Minnesota, including protesting at our state capitol.
As the granddaughter of immigrants, I am agog at the free reign that these haters now feel. They are emboldened by a national discourse that coarsens more with each passing day, and by political rhetoric that barely veils hate of the “other.” There is no hesitation now to spout these ugly messages publicly. Reminds me of a story my Grandma Sullivan told about the landladies who turned her away as she looked for an apartment in the Bronx, my uncle Charlie and my father in tow in their baby carriage. “No dirty Irish,” they said as they slammed the door in her face.
Jesus reminds us this week that our Christian faith is not private. It’s about a public demonstration of who we are as his followers. It engages others, and is seen and affirmed only in the light of the love we show them.
When I was kid in Hackensack, NJ we regularly sang, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” I could probably still play it on the guitar. That’s my prayer this week. That’s the theme that I hope will underpin my actions in the days ahead as I work to reassure my immigrant and refugee friends and neighbors that they are wanted, that they matter, that they are cherished by my household and by the vast majority of people — people of genuine good will — in our City of Eden Prairie.
One of the verses of that old familiar song said, “And we pray that all unity will one day be restored.” We are closer than ever to restoration of Christian unity as we celebrate the anniversary of Martin Luther O.S.A.’s brave posting of 95 theses that opposed the Roman Catholic Church’s abuse of indulgences. My hope is that we can join as one voice now to oppose the abuses we see in our churches and all across our nation — including the demonizing of those who came here by choice, not birth. Let’s make sure that we can be seen as Christians not only for our love of God but our deep commitment to love our neighbors as ourselves. “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.”
*Hillel was asked to recite the Torah while only standing on one foot. Loosely paraphrased, he responded, “Love God with all your mind, your heart, and your soul. And love your neighbor as yourself. Everything else is commentary.”