"Who Needs Divisions"?"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - November 27, 2002


     One of the wonderful opportunities that is ours because we live in America is that we have the privilege of experiencing the world's rich diversity right on our own doorstep.  All we have to do is go shopping, restaurant hopping, or stroll around the Tidal Basin during cherry blossom time.  It does not take long after listening to the numerous languages being spoken to realize that representatives of the world are living among us in peace.

     A number of years ago a psychiatrist wrote a piece for the Thanksgiving Newsletter that was sent to the constituency of Capitol Hill Group Ministries, a group to which I once belonged.  I saved the article because it illustrated so perfectly what many of us experience.  This is what he wrote:

     Within the course of a week, I come into contact with people living within a half mile from my house who have adopted America as their home.  The person who bakes bread for my family is from France.  My dry cleaning is done by Asians.  There is an Italian tailor who alters my pants.  Two of my colleagues are from Pakistan and Germany.  We have Greek, Cambodian and Chinese cuisines within walking distance.  My favorite bank teller is from India.  The operator of the Texaco station where my auto repairs are done is from Korea.  One of his mechanics is from Lebanon.  Our shrubs and lawn are meticulously maintained by landscape artists from Mexico.  My personal physician is from the Philippines.  My ophthalmologist is from Ghana. My accountant came from Israel.   

     Capitol Hill is the world in miniature.  The splendid aspect worth celebrating is that our tiny world here lives together in peace.  Each of us is serving others in some capacity.  We have integrity in what we do.  We care about our community. We want the best for our families. 

We should all take comfort in the idea that if it can happen here, it can happen in our larger world.  People who want the same things out of life learn how to get along. 

     It is my conviction that our religious beliefs are part of the fabric in each of our lives.  Who needs to talk about differences in faith when we see results like harmony, service, quality, authentic caring and a wholesome community spirit.  


The next time we find ourselves despairing over conditions in the world, look around in our own neighborhoods.  What we hope will one day happen in the world is already happening here.  Let us never stop role modeling this for the rest of the world. 

     Each one of us needs to look at our lives tonight and ask ourselves what it is we are celebrating.  Of course, this is Thanksgiving eve.  It is a time when we traditionally celebrate our unity, a unity that had its origins at a time when Pilgrims had a meal with Native Americans presumably for the first time.  

     Also it is a time when we have the opportunity to give thanks to God for life itself and all the potential growth patterns that were placed within us when we were born.  The evidence of our cooperation in developing such patterns is overwhelmingly present everywhere we look. 

     But what happens on the day after tomorrow?  What happens to us when the afterglow of our family gatherings begins to fade?  Do our eyes once again concentrate on the aggressive drivers instead of appreciating the 97 percent who are driving sensibly?  Do we listen to stories of arsonists, rapists, snipers, and terrorists while stories of Toys For Tots, medical breakthroughs, new trade agreements and food distribution by religious groups are marginalized by what appears to be more sensational? 

     Why is it that we feed ourselves a diet of what the 1 percent of the 1 percent is doing.  Such cues for living are distorted exaggerations at best.  Yet when events of rage become the focus of our concentration, we literally teach ourselves and our children that our world is unsafe and that people different from us are not to be trusted.  

     What is worse is when the cruel and barbaric deeds of a few are attached in some twisted way to the Will of God.  Those of us who know the meaning of community understand thoroughly that such thinking misses the mark by a wide margin. Yet we read our newspapers as though they represent an accurate portrayal of the attitudes of the world's citizens.  We watch network news that we know is developed by editors who have an eye on Nielsen ratings.  If we are not careful, ever so slowly we become what we feed ourselves.   

     One day a Cherokee chief was teaching his grandson one of life's greatest lessons.  As they walked together around the rim of a lake that was nestled in the valley of an expansive mountain range, this old man, who had grown very wise through the years, said: 

A fight is going on inside of me as I speak.  It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.  One is evil -- he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and arrogance.  


The other one is good -- This one is joy, peace, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.  This same fight is going on inside of you  and inside of everyone of every nation on earth.

     The grandson thought about this struggle for some time. Then he broke his silence and asked, "Which wolf will win, grandfather?"  The wise Cherokee chief answered, "The one you feed."

     Everyone of our faith traditions contains loving symbols that teach us how to embrace and enhance our spiritual growth.  We also have woven into the fabric of our lives the thread of fear that confronts us with forms that we may not recognize.  Basically, love and fear are the two wolves.  The health of the community we represent tonight and the entire "melting pot" culture that we value depends on which wolf we feed.  Our future is at stake.  We need to remember how we got here and the price others have paid so that we might experience it.

     Many years ago a friend of mine picked up two women from the Soviet Union at BWI Airport.  Neither one of them had visited the United States.  She was going to house them and shuttle them back and forth to a conference they were attending.  She stopped by a Giant food store to pick up a few things for supper. 

     When the two women entered the store, they froze in utter and complete amazement. They were accustomed to standing in long bread lines and finding little available meat.  There were always extraordinary prices and little variety of products.  In their broken English they asked how much of what they were seeing would be there in the morning. 

     All at once Mimi realized that these two women were totally unprepared for what most Americans take for granted.  In fact many of us appear agitated when our check-out time is lengthy. Occasionally when we find ourselves in the express line, we count the articles in the basket of people ahead of us to see if they meet the requirements of ten items or less.  The two Soviet women had no idea how what they were seeing could happen.

     Our culture literally has been built on the strength of our diversity. In our own way, we serve one another.  If this were not so, gasoline stations would run dry.  Surgery would be reserved for the wealthy.  Pharmaceutical products would not be available in every drug store.  The shelves of grocery stores would be depleted within hours. 

     The fact is that an incredible variety of products, goods and services are available because over 200 million Americans are faithfully doing their jobs in serving one another.  Not all companies are like Enron.  Not all chief executive officers are thieves. It is when we feed ourselves a diet of such failures that we blur the truth and feed the wolf that knows nothing of creation.        

     Because most of us pull together in the same direction, using our joint wisdom, insights and talents, the future looks incredibly bright.  If the rest of the world wants what we have, let them build the communities that produce the same results. All of us must put away our fears and mistrust of each other.  Everyone must do their part in serving the rest.  This is the only way our roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, airports and manufacturing facilities are built.  Such creations are the result of a spirit of cooperation inspired by vision, character and integrity.  Our faith traditions have a fundamental role to play by keeping us on task.  They represent our compass.  

     We will discover that when we remain faithful in the small things, together we will be able to work on the larger issues like global conflict, disease, famine, and poverty.  This will happen not because we are special or favorites of God.  These events will happen because we are being faithful to the way God made us.  We were wired at birth to create with our minds, emotions and spirit. When each of us shares our creative abilities, not only do our unique talents multiply, but we also serve to make God's spirit visible.

     There is so much for which to be thankful. We cannot allow our differences, or the fear-mongering of a few to shatter our concentration on remaining faithful to the values that create life. Tonight I ask all of us to persevere in our faith traditions, so that the values upon which our country was founded will not perish because of neglect, indifference and petty intolerance. 

     We must stand together and celebrate the inheritance we have received.  Tomorrow will be safe and productive in ways that are beyond anything our best fantasies can imagine.  It will happen because many of us have joined hands today, as did our ancestors, to help make it so.  Amen.