Won't You Be My Neighbor?

This sermon was preached on Jan. 21, 2017 (the day after the inauguration of President Trump) at the Center for Spiritual Living as a part of "Awake/United:An Interfaith Call to Community". More than 400 people attended this gathering, led by Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and Buddhist faith leaders from around Sonoma County, CA.

Hi. My name is Rev. Emily Stockert. I’m an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and currently serving as Interim Pastor at Knox Presbyterian Church in Santa Rosa. As Interim, I am helping Knox strengthen their identity as a faith community. As part of my work, I have a passion for helping people how a strong and secure sense of self can actually make us more open to others, and lead to more peace in life.

When I think about my own sense of self and who I am, it’s funny, but I can connect it partly back to my favorite childhood television show. Mr. Rogers. Oh, how I loved Mr. Rogers. He was just so warm, and friendly, and he would come in get all cozy in his cardigan and house shoes, and sing “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood. It’s a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Please won’t you be my neighbor?” My mom says that for a time I really thought he was talking to me. That’s good tv.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Mr. Rogers was my earliest role model for Presbyterian ministry. He was ordained in the Presbyterian church. And he made the idea of loving your neighbor, as it says in our Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, accessible to little four year old me. As I reflect on the idea of neighbor, I realized that we might think of the individual religious and spiritual communities in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County as living in a kind of spiritual neighborhood. Some of us are literally neighbors (Knox and Center for Spiritual Living are almost walking distance from one another), but it’s more of a metaphorical neighborhood. And like in most neighborhoods, the size and style of our houses varies, our families are different, our daily routines are not the same, but we are all people of some sort of faith or spiritual practice, and we all want to be safe inside and outside our spiritual homes.

Neighborhood safety starts with knowing your neighbors and looking out for them. You know, saying hello across the driveway, taking in each other’s trash cans on vacation, maybe bringing some brownies to the new family that moves in or a casserole when someone’s sick. Paying attention to what’s going on around you.

One of the main ways that neighborhoods deal with safety is with a Neighborhood watch program. I walk my dog around my neighborhood and I see the neighborhood watch signs with the kind of shadowy man in a hat a trench coat, we’re supposed to keep an eye out for. He’s kind of representative of a non-specific threat that might sneak in that we’re all watching out for.

If we think of the faith communities in Santa Rosa as a neighborhood, then this shadowy man is probably an apt metaphor for the vague sense of dread that is settling in among some of us. We don’t know what the shadow man will bring, but for some of us the spectre of Nazism, White Supremacy, and the further oppression of women and minority groups hangs over us.

It’s been said that totalitarianism and terrorism have roots in loneliness. Loneliness, isolation, alienation from one another. Loneliness can be the root of the rise of a totalitarian government - and also its effect.

Loneliness. It’s such basic feeling that we don’t talk about very much. How often do we say to one another “I’m feeling lonely. Can you keep me company?’

One small but profound way we to combat whatever shadowy threat is making its way into our neighborhood, is to have communities that combat loneliness and isolation.

If we think of our individual spiritual homes as spaces to develop and nurture community, and then we connect those communities together, we’ve got our own kind of neighborhood watch going. Out of that we can find ways to care for one another and the community at large.

The good news is: that’s what we’re doing today, aren’t we? Leaders of different faith traditions coming together to plan this event. Speakers standing side by side, sharing sacreds words out of their backgrounds. We don’t have to have the same theology, we just simply exist, in the same space together. We’re forming a neighborhood, we’re neighbors here.

As you leave today, before you go, look around. See your neighbors. Say hello. Tell ‘em where you’re from, if you’re from a faith community. Invite each other to your worship services, the same way you would invite a friend to a meal, ask questions. If you are looking for a community, say that. You’re bound to meet somebody that shares your interests.

You know, if we really take in what’s happening in this space, look around, really see one another, it think we can really say...it is a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Thank you.

Credit for Image of Fred Rogers

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