A Sermon for June 17, 2018

June 17, 2018 — Leave a comment

Anyone who has spent much time with me knows I’m easily moved to tears.

Tabitha used to tease me that I would cry at a McDonald’s commercial if the ad could convince me a Big Mac would bring peace and love to all the world.

To that charge, I plead guilty.

I’ve cried two times this week.

Once was while I watched a video from a baseball game. The Milwaukee Brewers often take time between innings to pay tribute to those who either have, or who are presently serving this country in some branch of the military. In the video earlier this week, viewers see a mom and her two boys. The stadium announcer tells the crowd that the older boy is celebrating his birthday, and that dad is away on deployment in Afghanistan. The announcer continues the story by mentioning dad has missed this boy’s last three birthdays because of various overseas assignments. And then…while the announcer is talking, dad comes into view, sneaking up on his unsuspecting sons. Then, as the announcer’s voice crescendos, the dad taps the birthday boy on the shoulder. The surprise is complete! The family hugs one of those hugs which convey both the pain of separation and the joy of reunion. The crowd in the stadium goes wild! And me? I’m weeping tears of joy and relief…just like I knew the people.

The second time I cried was when I saw a single picture of a father and his son. There was no announcer enthusiastically narrating a joy-filled moment. There was no cheering stadium full of sports fans. Just the two of them. And this wasn’t a reunion. The photographer had snapped the poignant moment of a farewell embrace at the southern border of the United States of America. The father was about to be taken in one direction, and his child — probably no older than 5 or 6 years old — would be taken in another. Attempting to cross into this country illegally, this parent and his child were separated by the Border Patrol. Only God knows how, when or where these two people will ever find each other…or if they ever will. And me? I cried tears of anger and grief…just like I knew the people.

People who know more about the function of human emotions than I do, say the reason I had these emotional reactions to these two scenes have to do with the capacity of people to have “empathy” — to somehow put oneself in another person’s place. And while I don’t know what the people in either of those scenes were actually feeling, I know what it’s like to hug a loved one after a long absence. I know what it is to be overjoyed. I know what it is to feel confusion. I know what it is to feel helpless and afraid. I know what it’s like to be separated from a loved one for decades, and to live with a hole in my heart because of that separation.

There’s plenty of criticism flooding the various media channels about the situation at the border. And, there are plenty of voices supporting the present policy of our government — as incomprehensible as such support may seem to this preacher. I’m not going to pretend to be prophetic this morning by loading up my righteous indignation and firing away with angry rhetoric as a means of relieving my own shame, guilt and anger — as if such an exercise would restore a single family to wholeness. Tweets won’t release anyone from detention. Facebook memes won’t comfort a kid who doesn’t understand where mom is. Talking heads on Fox, MSNBC, or CNN can’t provide solace to the suffering. Think pieces from the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal won’t soothe the worried minds of parents who undertook a dangerous journey in hopes of a better life, and who now face an uncertain and guilt-filled future without their precious children.

As people of faith, we purportedly worship a God whose love overwhelms the hatefulness of this world. This is a love which will not be thwarted by “hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword” (Romans 8:35). As people of faith, we proclaim that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, or things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38,39). As people of faith we are called to be witnesses in WORD and DEED of this liberating love of a life-giving God.

I’ve got a priest friend who constantly says, “Love has a look to it.” In other words, we know we are a loving people by the acts of love we undertake. Sometimes love looks like prayer and fasting as we seek God’s wisdom and pray for God to strengthen us to do God’s work of justice and mercy. Sometimes love looks like charitable giving to relieve the immediate suffering of those in need. Sometimes love looks like supporting advocacy groups who work in governmental systems on behalf of those who are in greatest danger of being unrepresented. Sometimes love looks like the frustrating, slow-moving efforts of signing petitions, making phone calls, and writing letters to lawmakers to remind them that, yes, indeed, they still do actually work for us — whether we voted for them or not.

Love has many looks to it,

and…

doing nothing looks nothing like love.

I suspect many of you who feel strongly about the situation at our border have already taken an action…or ten. Here’s what I want you to know. Everyone of those actions matter! Even if no tangible results have happened yet, those actions matter. You’ve scattered some seeds. Pray to the Lord of the harvest. Trust the Kingdom to do its work. And…if you would like to share resources with your fellow Trinity folks, send any links or articles to me this afternoon or tomorrow, and I will assemble those resources for a parish wide e-mail which I will send out on Tuesday.

I’m also guessing some of you haven’t taken any action yet because you have felt helpless. Here’s what I want you to know. That feeling of helplessness? Use it to put yourself in the place of that parent and child embracing each other before being separated by our government. Feel the anger. Feel the pain. Feel the fear. Feel the loss. Cry. Empathize.

Then, use that empathy to fuel an action on behalf of those who cannot take an action for themselves. If you don’t know where to start, send me an e-mail to that effect this afternoon or tomorrow. Together, we’ll find some actions to take. Jesus once said, “If you have the faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20). I like to think that, even amongst Episcopalians, if we pool all our faith together, we ought to be able to come up with a mustard seed’s worth. And I don’t know about you, but I’m about ready to start talkin’ to some mountains.

And, if you’re here this morning, and you’re agitated I would take yet another sermon time to “preach politics,” then I ask your forgiveness because I’ve failed you as your pastor. I have failed to adequately connect the faith we profess in this building with the faith we live once we leave here on Sunday mornings.

There is nothing political about decency.

I grew up in a time when this country, for all of its faults, positioned itself as a world leader in human rights and compassionate foreign aid. And there is no way I can construe what is happening along the border right now as compassionate or decent.

In our baptismal covenant, we are called to respect the dignity of every human being. When our government, on our behalf, separates kids from their parents, and warehouses them in mass detention facilities, and deprives them even the comfort of human touch, we have some work to do as Christians.

Yes. I’ve done some crying this week, and, truth be told, I’ve done some cursing too.

But I have not lost hope. I refuse to lose hope, because I don’t have hope. HOPE HAS ME. And hope will not let me go. And my hope has a name — His name is Jesus. The same Jesus whose family spent time as refugees in a foreign land. The same Jesus who knew hunger and grief and loss. The same Jesus, who was separated from his friends and detained unjustly. The same Jesus, who faced a farcical legal proceeding underwritten by the power of Empire. The same Jesus who was sentenced in a sham and executed without recourse. This is the same Jesus who was raised by God on the third day, who ascended to heaven, who sits enthroned above, and who will return to judge all of the purported powers of this world with the merciful wrath of loving righteousness. My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ love and righteousness.

This is the hope that fuels me to action — even as I recognize all of the obstacles, and all of the ways the powers of Sin and Death are slow to release their hold on this world. But, as Paul writes in the Epistle lesson for today, “…the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all…And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised…” We are called by this love of Christ to be people of love: to love with every fiber of our being; to love in the face of the forces of hatred, prejudice, and injustice; to love when loving seems like a dead end. We love in spite of ourselves, because we know what it is to be loved.

Don’t lose heart, dear ones. We have been given everything we need to love God, to worship God, and to be God’s friends. And we have been given everything we need to make a difference in this old world. Keep on hoping. Keep on praying. Keep on acting. Keep on loving. Do what you can and it will be enough. Who knows? We just might catch a glimpse of a flying mountain of bureaucracy just before it drowns in the sea of God’s justice.

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