Rev. Dr. Paul Moore
July 1, 2018
Pentecost 6, Proper 8
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Six years ago, today was my first Sunday at Good Shepherd Church. I came to a parish that was just beginning to rise from the dead. In these six years things have changed a bit. Our attendance is up. Our diversity is up. We have a Sunday School every Sunday, and we love our little ones! We just sent two kids to camp. Our outreach programs span the whole southern part of the Diocese and reach into Mexico and Honduras. We are known and respected in the community as a force for good. We are safe for people who don’t necessarily feel safe in worshipping communities.
I thank God for the times we’ve had together and look forward to some exciting things to come. In the Fall we will be launching a very exciting discussion about worship space and mission, taking a close look at how our worship space forms and informs our ministry. It will be a look back, so that we can look forward.
It’s always important to stop and look back. Looking back helps you look forward with wisdom and compassion. It helps us get our bearings. When we look back and see where we’ve come from we keep the wisdom of the past and we avoid repeating its follies. When we look back, when we ask the right questions, we can begin to trace through our story the story of Jesus at work in the world. When we tell that story, we know where to go.
This kind of remembering goes to the heart of what it means to be a Christian. The whole Passover celebration that lies at the very heart of what it means to be Jewish remembers the Exodus, the freeing of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. Over and over again in the Old Testament God says to the people, “I am the one who brought you up out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Therefore, take care of the orphan, the widow and the alien among you, because you were aliens in Egypt, and I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” The writer of today’s first lesson names the values inherent in this sacred memory: God is not the God of death, but of life. Freeing you from slavery is life-giving. Therefore, be like the God of life and give life, not death. Looking back told the Israelites how to move into the future.
In the Epistle reading this morning Paul challenges the Christians in Corinth to share in the relief of the Christians in Jerusalem generously. It is an act of remembering. God had generously shared salvation with them, Gentiles as they are. Now fellow Christians are suffering in Jerusalem and are in need. The proper response to the generosity of God is to be generous. He echoes the first lesson: God gave you life, now be a life-giver.
In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus gives life. Last week Sarah so eloquently opened up for us the foundations of Jesus’ personal relationship with God. In the story of the calming of the storm, she showed how God is the great calmer of the storm within. To stop and quiet the heart and let the words of Jesus speak deeply to us, “Peace, be still,” opens up for us a place at the very heart of our hearts where the Spirit of God dwells in peace with us. She urged us to seek frequently that place, and she is right in saying so, for it is there that we see most clearly, it is there that we know ourselves most fully, and it is out of there that we act most faithfully.
And so, Jesus moves into action. Because he has, in a sense, looked back and touched base with who he is, he knows how to move forward in wisdom and compassion: He gives generously of life and peace to a grieving family and a desperately sick woman. If you’ve seen the children’s movie, “Moana,” like the grandmother to Moana, you can almost hear the Father whispering to Jesus, “People have forgotten who they are, but you, remember who you are! Now go and live that into a world that has forgotten.”
We must never forget who we are.
This is July 1, as close a Sunday to July 4th as will be this year. On this Sunday closest to our nation’s birthday I want to take a look back. Remembering who we are as Christians lays the foundation for remembering who we are as Americans.
First of all, we must remember that we are a nation of immigrants. Like the ancient Israelites, our ancestors moved out of darkness into light. My ancestors came from England, Ireland, Scotland and Germany. They came seeking freedom from oppression. They came seeking a better life. I don’t know about yours, but I would venture to say that your story is not a whole lot different. If life in the home country had been good, your how-many-greats grandparents wouldn’t have left to come here. But they did, and they found a home, and they carved out a life and a living. They were changed by the new society in which they settled, and they changed it as well. That great mosaic of immigrants paints the panorama of this country.
The African American Church knows this in its very blood. Their ancestors did not decide to come here; they were brought against their will. They invoke the story of Moses, not as a story of origin, but as a story of their journey literally out of slavery into freedom. They sing about it, dance to it, and proclaim hope through it, for the journey is not yet complete. Yet at its core there is a common theme: Through whatever path, God has brought us here, together. And it is here, together, that there is the promise of freedom, and here, together, that we must work it out. The ideals that undergird this nation of life and freedom call us to extend that same life and freedom to all. Looking back reminds us of who we are and shows us where we are to go.
If we are a nation of immigrants, we are a Church of migrants. The same God who took the Israelites out of Egypt to the promised land is the God of our journey, carrying us through life into eternity. That same God has brought us together in a community of faith, from different and varying pasts, to journey together, the values of life and freedom that inform our American ideal also inform our Christian calling. As Christian Americans, looking back shows us the way forward.
We have a crisis on our borders with people fleeing an untenable life. (I know, because we see it in Honduras.) Like our ancestors, they are seeking life and freedom, the American Dream.
We hear rhetoric that those who are coming across our border are mostly violent criminals, but this is just not supported by the facts. For every violent criminal that enters the US there are two native-born, of our own blood, and too often, of our own making.
Looking back, we know where to go: There are constitutional protections and provisions by international law that call for treating these people as “orphans, widows and aliens,” in the ancient tradition of Israel and as Jesus’ “least of these.” Our own Statue of Liberty invites the world to “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore,” for she holds the lamp beside the golden door.
Whatever administration is blamed or takes credit is immaterial. Blindly turning asylum-seekers back with no due process and separating their children from them (especially nursing infants eight months of age,) cannot be justified by Scripture, tradition or even reason. Leaked sources indicate that, in spite of claims to the contrary, child-care in the detention centers is NOT adequate. The children cannot be touched, they cannot be held, and the one thing they need is not being provided: their parents! Executive orders to stop the practice avoid the underlying issue and appear devoid of adequate provisions for reuniting children and parents, and our legislature seems incapable of a compassionate response. It is sinful, it is unjust, and it forgets who we are.
And it is symptomatic of something deeper and more sinister. A government official, justifying the separations, was heard to say, “But these are not OUR children.” It sounds hauntingly like Cain’s retort to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” to which I can hear the silent shouted reply, “And if you are not, who is?” They ARE our children, and their parents are our brothers and sisters. They are human beings created in the image of God just like you and me. They have come seeking life and liberty, the same as our ancestors. If we claim to follow the God of Moses and the God of Jesus, if we hold dear the values of life and liberty that are woven into the very fabric of the American ideal, then we must care for them as if they were our own, for they are. And we must work, as we do in Honduras, to restore to the places from which they flee peace, hope, safety and dignity.
I fear that we have forgotten who we are. On this birthday of our country, let us look back and remember. Let us remember that the underlying ideals of human dignity and freedom that undergird our nation are also central to our Christian faith. Those same sacred ideals are shared also by Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and every major religious tradition of the world. A great America is a generous America, a humble America and a kind America, that, remembering its roots, has the strength of soul to extend the same grace that we received to those who come seeking what we found. As Christians, let us work to make America great again, not by domination and force, but by working to reclaim the sacred ideals that light the lamp beside the golden door.