Greetings to you in the name of Yahweh the Almighty, in the name of Allah the beneficent and merciful. Greetings to you in the name of the Eternal One who gave the Buddha his great enlightenment, and in the name of the Hindus’ Supreme Being that orders the cosmos.
Good afternoon. Greetings to you in the name of Yahweh the Almighty, in the name of Allah the beneficent and merciful. Greetings to you in the name of the Eternal One who gave the Buddha his great enlightenment, and in the name of the Hindus’ Supreme Being that orders the cosmos.
Greetings in the name of generosity and human compassion, that guides some of us who claim no faith at all. Greetings to you to in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, through whom many of us hear the words of God. It is wonderful to be here on this happy occasion. Thank you to Pastor Moss and the people of Cascade United Methodist Church for your leadership and hospitality. It is a delight for us to be together, in the spirit of prayer and fellowship, raising our voices in praise and rededicating ourselves to the common good, as we embark with our Mayor Kasim Reed on his second term.
The Psalmist puts it perfectly, “How good and how pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together in unity.” (Ps. 133:1) Some of us have already been to worship today or have led worship today so don’t worry, I’m sensitive to that; I won’t be long this afternoon. But Mayor Reed has gathered us for an important reason and we should give that some serious consideration for a few moments.
As the program indicates, my charge is to offer the interfaith address. How important it is that we have a mayor that understands that God speaks in many tongues and that all of those wonderful tongues and traditions are important to address and honor. Especially because when we get past the ego that sometimes infects our time together, we realize that each tradition at its core and at its best agrees that the cosmos has a brilliant and benevolent bent and that all creation and every human being has worth and dignity that is non-negotiable. And there is an implicit message in our gathering today. It seems, at least to me, that there’s an expectation written in to our being together in prayer and praise. The expectation is that we the people of various faith traditions and those of no faith tradition at all might leave this place more seriously committed to collaborating with government for the good of all people, especially the most vulnerable. Especially the indigent, the immigrant, and the ignorant.
It is as if there is an engraved invitation from our mayor to each of us today ― an invitation to partner more purposefully with him. I don’t know about you, but I believe that real interfaith work is not so much in the praying but the doing. In the going, the giving and the governing, in advocacy and advancement.
Yes, we need to pray for our city and for all our elected officials, those we love and those we struggle to love; for those who wear red and those who wear blue alike. And yes, we need to remind the people we serve to pray for our mayor and his administration as they hold the privilege of the public trust and endeavor to enlarge the common good. But we must always remember, beloved, the climax of prayer is action not amen! The most worthy enterprise of our coming together is to take on the challenges that are too big for us individually. This is the most worthy enterprise of our coming together. This is the best vision of real interfaith work. It is true in the Atlanta metropolitan area that you can’t throw a rock without hitting a church, synagogue, mosque, temple or house of prayer. If this is so, then after we are empowered by prayer, and strengthened by fellowship, we could suspend dialogue about doctrine and make a difference in this city together: in juvenile justice, sex trafficking, among our homeless population, especially our returning veteran population, with the mentally ill, and the children of our most vulnerable public schools.
This list is by no means exhaustive. Now is the time for us to celebrate our individual faiths for what they actually are: traditions of revelation and wisdom and insight. Iron anvils where human purpose is forged and refined. Not competing religious product offerings. God is big and the world that God loves and has intertwined God’s self with is vast and dynamic.
Now, maybe more than ever, is the time for civil and religious partnership. Yes, prayer is important, but there is more to do than pray for our city and our mayor. In the 46th Psalm, King David dreamed out loud about a river whose streams make glad the city of God. And that this city would be a holy place where the Most High would reside. (Psalm 46.4)
The faith community of Atlanta in partnership with all people of goodwill could make our city more glad and God more at home among us if you and I would dare more greatly than we have before. This is what each faith teaches. That the barriers we encounter and the limits we set are not insurmountable. Giants can be slain. The blind can see. The prisoner can be released. Today is important because no faith alone can accomplish what must be achieved for our common thriving. Until people of faith find a way to work collectively, all faith communities will be looked at suspiciously.
To be committed to interfaith work is an easy thing, really, if you understand God. God is always simply but sublimely calling us to be the words we pray. Listen to the great Sufi Rumi: “I was dead then alive, weeping then laughing. Love came into me and I became fierce like a lion and gentle like an evening star.” Listen to the great Jewish call to worship: “Shema Israel, adonai elohainu adonai ecahd. Hear O Israel the Lord your God is one.”
Listen to Jesus remind his disciples not to be religiously narrow. “I have sheep who are not of this fold,” he told them. My purpose is to go after the lost. Or in another place, real worship is in spirit and in truth. The good news today is God is for all of us. Goodness is for all of us. We were made by good to do good.
I’m saying God is not a Christian, a Jew, or a Muslim. But God is real, and able, good and generous. And while we have this faith in the real world, we serve a yet more real God. That’s all you have to believe to collaborate with others. That there is truth, but none of us have the copyright on it. And our understanding of this truth is evolving. So while we are growing up in the full stature of the divine, let us do those things together that we know are of God. Those things that are ethical and moral.
Tomorrow Mayor Reed will be sworn in as a two-term mayor of Atlanta. It is poetic that January 6th is the day when the church celebrates something called Epiphany. It is the day when we believe that the wise men actually reached Bethlehem and met Jesus. It’s poetic because those wise men were from Iraq. They weren’t Jews, Muslims or Christians. But they found some direction in Jerusalem. That ultimately led them to Bethlehem and to the new thing that God was doing. Many faiths, no faiths all under the same star. Going forward in a new way.
When I think about the mayor’s invitation to us to be here today as brothers and sisters from different belief systems, my mind goes back to Dr. King. We would do well to remember that Dr. King was a Baptist, who was inspired by a Hindu, was friends with a Muslim who marched with Catholic, Jews and atheists so that there might be jobs, equal access under the law and shared prosperity. This is our spiritual DNA in Atlanta. This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our sight. This event has simply called us back to who we are again.
Thank you, Mayor Reed. Now let’s get to work!