Proper 7, June 24, 2018
1 Samuel 17 1a:4-11, 19-23, 32-49
Psalm 9:9-20, 2 Cor. 6:1-13, Mark 4:35-41
Of Hospitality, Community, and the Way of Love
I had almost finished writing the homily for this Sunday. As usual, I had carefully read the assigned scriptures, studied commentaries, prayed and reflected. And then I just deleted everything that I wrote, knowing I had to start over. For this week, I cannot keep silent, to keep silent would mean that I have failed in my call to preach the Gospel. This week I must speak about the moral crisis that is gripping our nation. And let me be clear that I am not trying to promote partisan politics and to say that there is one uniform Christian position on all issues. I don’t want to polarize or divide us any further. But when innocent children are being torn away from their parents, when people are being prosecuted simply for trying to cross the border to a better life, and when our leaders blatantly misuse Holy Scripture to justify their unjust actions, I, and we, must speak out. If we don’t speak out, if we don’t call our leaders to account, we are not living out our call as citizens, and as Christians.
I believe that a nation’s true greatness is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable—the poor, the ill, those on the margins, and vulnerable immigrants and their children. And in turning away the sojourner, the strangers who are our brothers and sisters, we are turning away our Lord himself.
For I believe this current crisis in our nation is about more than immigration. It is about a lack of hospitality, of compassion, of honoring the common humanity of our neighbors. It is about fear, division, and demonizing the other. It is about racism, sexism, and classism that keep us from building the beloved community together. And it is about putting the narrow interests of our country ahead of the common good for all the nations of the world. And what is most troubling, it is about professing Christians equating allegiance to country with allegiance to God.
First, the lack of hospitality. The inscription at the Statue of Liberty reads, in part, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door! We make a mockery of these words, which have been a beacon of hope to so many throughout our history, when we turn away and prosecute those who try to seek asylum here, and threaten to build walls and separate families. We make a mockery of these words when we ban people from traveling here because of their religious beliefs or the country of their origin. We make a mockery of these words when we speak of undocumented immigrants as thugs and criminals. How quick are we to forget that our ancestors took perilous journeys into the unknown to escape the same kind of persecution many of these asylum seekers are fleeing! How soon we forget!
No friends, as Christians, we are called to something higher, something far better. In Isaiah 56:7, we read “ These will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.” In Deuteronomy Chapter 10, we hear “God executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” And listen to this from Job 29:16, “I was a father to the needy, and I championed the cause of the stranger.” We are to have compassion on the stranger, the sojourner, our brother and sister in need. We are not to have hard hearts or turn away, but to show mercy and compassion, and to share of our abundance and bounty with those who are in need. And we are always to remember that Jesus said whatever we do to our brothers and sisters, we do to him.
Second, this moral crisis gripping our nation has to do with creating an environment in which racism; fear, division, and mistrust can grow and destroy the bonds of love and community. There are those who claim that our greatness lies in the past, and that we should go back to the days when we were a more homogenous, European-American society. But the beauty of the dream of a free self governing land that inspired our founders, is that it was bigger and better than they were, and at its heart, really transcends divisions of color, class, gender, or sexual orientation. They longed to establish a land where all people could flourish in freedom. I recently was walking through downtown San Francisco on the way to a church service. I heard English, Spanish, Tagalog, and Chinese spoken. I met African Americans, Latinos, Filipinos, Pacific Islanders, and Anglos as we passed each other on the sidewalks. I saw Sikhs with their turbans, Muslim women in hijabs, and later, an observant Jew wearing a kippah. Later that day, I was served in a clothing store by a young Indian woman in a sari. This friends, is what makes America great, this wonderful diversity and variety and celebration of life in all its beautiful difference. This is what makes America great, not some oppressive sameness in which only a few have a place at the table.
It is not easy to build commonality, community, in the midst of diversity of culture, of religious faith, of varied traditions. It is hard work, but it is our call, if we are to be a just, compassionate, and peaceful nation. And it is our call as Christians to model this path. We are told to love one another, as love is of God. It doesn’t mean we are to love people who look like us, worship like us, or have the same values. We are to love our neighbors, ALL of them. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul proclaims “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” It is hard work to build true, gracious community; it requires humility, a willingness to listen, and to ask for forgiveness, over and over again. It requires our leaders, and us, in the words of the prophet Micah, to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God. It requires our leaders, and us, in the words of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, to “understand God, the Trinity, as a community of love”, and that the power of that love can transform the world.
Finally, as Christians, our ultimate allegiance is to Jesus Christ and the way of the Cross, of sacrificial, overflowing love. We are to put the love and loyalty to God above loyalty to the state. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t love our country. I love my country, and my love for it makes me grieve for injustice and calls me to hold our leaders, and us accountable. We must always seek to live out the Gospel in our common life. And when the laws of our nation violate the call to love and respect the dignity of every human being, we are called to speak out.
And friends, don’t lose heart. Despite the meanness, the bigotry, the cruelty we may see around us, this can also be the shining hour for compassion, heroism, courage, and love. For all the horror we see of children being taken from their parents at the border, we see thousands upon thousands marching and holding solemn vigil in protest. Many, many people are donating money and effort to reunite families that have been torn apart. Across party lines, Democrats, Republicans, and others are calling for an end to the zero tolerance policies. People of all backgrounds are calling for an end to unjust immigration policies that discriminate against the poor and people of color. Take heart, for in the words of the song, we shall overcome. We are overcoming, and we shall overcome. We will walk hand and hand, and we will live in peace, someday, someday soon, by the grace of God. Someday, this country of ours that we love will once again live up to its promise, its ideals, and be a beacon of freedom and hope once more. So keep your eyes on the cross of Christ, love God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind, and fear not, go out into the world and share this marvelous good news. Proclaim it to friend, proclaim it to enemy, share it with the poor, with the powerful, and watch the miracle of the Resurrection happening once again in our midst. Amen.