“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” – Matthew 22:36-40
From the evening of June 5 to the evening of July 5, 2016 our Muslim brothers and sisters are celebrating Ramadan. Ramadan is a holy month of intense prayer, fasting from dawn-to-dusk and evening feasts for most of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims. If you’d like to know more about Ramadan, click here.
Anti-Muslim sentiment in our nation is on the rise, in part because some have equated Muslims with violent extremists who twist the faith to suit their own warped agenda. As I write this the nation is reeling from a terrible tragedy in Orlando, Florida in which a gunman entered a gay nightclub with a semi-automatic weapon and opened fire. Fifty are dead. Many more are critically wounded. Officials are saying that the shooter, an American-born citizen, called 911 before the attack and pledged loyalty to ISIS. It appears that this was both an act of terrorism and hatred. This event will likely add fuel to the fire of anti-Muslim sentiment.
How should Christ-followers respond? Let me share two thoughts.
First, we lament. To lament is to feel deeply our grief, to lean into it, to dwell in it and to give it voice – to give it to God. Lament is usually in response to the intense pain of injustice, tragedy or loss. Most of us either stuff our grief or turn it outward in anger and blame. Neither response is helpful. Lament is the biblical response to tragedies like the one we are facing. So give voice to your grief. Give it to God. Let me encourage you to use the words of Psalm 5 if words fail you.
Second, we love. Terrorists should be brought to justice, but our Muslim neighbors should not be punished for the actions of extremists. Jesus taught us to love our neighbor, and right now our Muslim neighbors need to experience the love of Christ extended to them. As the body of Christ that love must be extended through us.
And that brings me back to Ramadan. The congregation I serve is joining many congregations in the Twin Cities in posting small signs around the outside of our campus wishing our Muslim neighbors a blessed Ramadan. It’s a simple act that seeks to acknowledge the importance of this month to our Muslim neighbors and make it clear that we refuse to allow the actions of extremists to diminish our love for our neighbor. Jesus would do no less. How might you extend love to your Muslim neighbors?
Let your heart weep for the brokenness of our world. Give full voice to your grief for the victims and their families in Orlando. Cry out for justice for them. But let God make room in your heart for love. Only love is strong enough to overcome evil. Only love is stronger than death. Only love.
Want to learn more about your Muslim neighbor? Check out this outstanding resource published by Lutheran Social Service. Click here.
Jeff Marian is lead pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN.