Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Stone Chapel, Proctor Academy, Andover, NH
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Jewish-Christian-Muslim Trialogue
Sermon given by Rev. Dick Dutton 9/11/2011
at Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

The Hebrew word…the Israeli word for peace is Shalom…

The old English word…the American word for peace is Salem…

The Arabic work…the Muslim word for peace is Salaam…

And each expression means more…”peace to you”, and “peace between us”!

For our interactive moment, let’s try them; turn to each other and say these words.  In Hebrew…shalom.  In English…salem.  In Arabic…salaam.  Now didn’t that feel good?  If we were just as easily able to translate the words into action, into relationships.  Now for show and tell, I brought a replica of one of my most favorite sculptures in the world.  If you were to visit the Community Church in New York City, you would see the 14 foot bronze original by Moissaye Marans, entitled “Swords Into Ploughshares”…based on the quotation from the Book of Isaiah, the prophet…

Isaiah 2:4

            “and God shall judge between the nations…and shall decide for many peoples…they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks…nation shall not lift up sword against nation…neither shall they learn war anymore.”

So hear me on this morning, on September 11th, the ten-year anniversary of the tragedy of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and Shanksville, PA, Flight #93.

And we have a choice…we can call up understandable hate and revenge and nationalism, and the demonization of others, especially Muslims…or we can build toward salaam.

I have a dream – not that one.  My dream is to bring together a group of Jewish – Christian – Muslim youth for a camping experience…this next summer.  I believe our broad community of southern New Hampshire will be able, like seeds of peace, to pull together Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Unitarian boys and girls for a 2-week camping experience at Camp Coniston or Camp Wilmot…similar to what the First Baptist Church of New London did 10 years ago with kids from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Catholic and Protestants.

We would have these simple basic goals…

  1. That the young people would develop positive relationships, overcoming stereotypes and mis-information…
  2. That the young people would become advocates and spokespersons among their peers and their families with the spirit of salem…
  3. That the young people would collaborate in programs and projects throughout the area and across the State to demonstrate working together, once again the spirit of shalom

Two days ago I attended Friday Prayers at the Islamic Center of Manchester…and three weeks ago I met with Rabbi Robin at Temple Beth Jacob in Concord.  I’m meeting with others thru churches, temples, and mosques…and finding those experienced in working with youth and committee to inter-faith dialogue.  I believe we can do it in 2012!

Eight years ago, when we concluded those days together with the Catholic and Protestant kids from northern Ireland, two of the gals, 15 year old Katarina Humphries, Protestant,  and 15 year old Zarra Patrick, Catholic, created this amazing poem.

“We had a dream that there could be peace
Forgive one another, let the conflict cease
We will be strong, building peace
To last our whole lives long.
We would stop all the trouble and pain.
Why must we suffer again and again?
It can’t go on.
We’ve been hurting much too long.
For us we all belong, it doesn’t matter where you’re from
And whatever your name.
Everybody is the same.
So let us go hand in hand
And march with pride throughout this land
The children have won,
We’ve stopped the bullet and the gun.”

Can we do it again?

Thank you Katarina and Zarra!           

There is a wonderful story in the New Testament that is known around the world…and replicated in almost every culture and every tradition across the globe.  We all heard the story and the clear message today…but when Jesus first told the story, it was a real shocker…in fact I’ll bet that he was “smiling up his sleeve”, and secretly laughing when he came up with the punch line.  It was totally unexpected and crazy!  Remember this build-up…

            “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves, who robbed him and beat him and left him for dead.”

No surprises here…happened all the time in Palestine…and happens today in wild, unguarded valleys around the world.  But watch what happens next.

            “A priest came by, saw the wounded man and passed by way on the other side.”

Not good!  The priest in every religion is supposed to be the example of ideal moral behavior to everyone else.  But he blew it.  With whatever rationalization he chose…he thought he was off the hook.

Then a Levite came by, saw the wounded man and he too passed by on the other side.  This made the guys and gals in the pew sweat…the Levite represented the outstanding leaders in the temple…positions of great visibility and great responsibility.  Here’s his opportunity to outshine his pastor, his rabbi…but no, he practically runs away from the scene…passing by on the other side.

Now, here it comes!  The kicker, the 3-0 mark, the ultimate shocker!

            “A Samaritan came where he was, bound up his wounds, set him on his own donkey, took him to an inn and saved his life.”  A Samaritan!  What!

But it’s not what he did…it’s who he is…a Samaritan…hated by the Jews, ostracized, humiliated, denigrated, excluded…the Scriptures said!...”The Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans.”  Samaritans…untouchables, lowest class, gypsies, Nazis!!  Do we understand today…this is now the parable of the Good Muslim!  The good Muslim!  Or any other individual or tribe or sect or nation, or religion…any other person we have chosen to reject …our enemy, our Samaritan!

Not only does Jesus turn the parable upside down by making the Jew’s enemy, the Samaritan, the hero of the story…but he told the parable in response to a question by one of the lawyers…”What must I do to inherit eternal life…or what must I do to experience life fully and find true happiness and fulfillment?  Everyman’s question.

Jesus says what we have heard and understand through history.  All the religions echo it…love God, love your neighbor.  And then what is really bizarre…Jesus defines neighbor…as the enemy, the Samaritan.  Can we handle that…

            “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks…shall not lift up sword against Samaritans…neither shall they learn war any more.”

It all begins and ends with the healing relationship with our neighbor, doesn’t it?  Is there a better way to celebrate 9/11?

This story has been getting a lot of press.  The members of the Heartsong Church, just outside Memphis, Tenn., beat their swords into ploughshares just last year.  An Islamic faith community was moving into a new Mosque and Education Center nearby…but it wasn’t going to be ready in time for Ramadan.

So the members of Heartsong, in a simple act of Christian hospitality, invited their new neighbors to use their church building during the Muslim holy month.

The ripples from Heartsong’s hospitality and outreach have been felt around the world.  A group of Muslims in a small town in Kashmir with much Muslim-Christian tension, saw a report on CNN about the actions of the Heartsong Church.  One of their leaders said to a reporter.  “God just spoke to us through this man.”  Another said, “How can we kill these people.”  A third man went straight to a local Christian church in their village and cleaned it inside and out!”…”We are now trying to be good neighbors too.  Tell your congregation at Heartsong we do not hate them, we love them, and for the rest of our lives we are going to take care of this little church in our village!”

            “Salaam aliechem!”

In response to 9/11 the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America created this powerful statement…this prayer we need to hear it and speak it again and again…

“In the name of the Prince of Peace, we come as people of faith to support our Muslim brothers and sisters in this time of increased “Islamophobia” and anti-Muslim behavior.

We are dismayed…

            By the burning of holy books;
            By the protesting of building of Muslim community centers and mosques;
            By the direct attacks on Muslim people.

We say that those who use religion to persecute and prejudge Muslim people do not speak for the vast majority of peace-loving Americans and they do not speak for us.

As people of peace and justice, we resist the disease of Islamophobia and urge our brothers and sisters to do the same.

We recognize that, even amidst the current wave of hate-filled hysteria, the possibility of positive change exists if people of good will take action.

Show us how to use this moment to act in ways that will bring about healing, mutual understanding and cooperation.

Turn our thoughts and actions from the things that lead us farther away from the peace we all seek.

Give us the voice to speak, the courage to act and the opportunity to create and deepen relationships among people of difference faiths.  For in doing so, we honor you, O God, by reflecting the love and grace that represent for all of  us…Shalom, Salem, Salaam!”

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