Sermon by The Rev. Kathy McAdams
St John’s Episcopal Church, Franklin, MA
July 28, 2019 - proper 12c
Part of my retreat last week was a continuing ed course about Spiritual Direction with people with Addictions. The icebreaker activity asked us to choose several photos from many that were laid out on a table, and to talk about how each one relates to our lives. One that particularly jumped out at me was a picture of a tall fence with barbed wire atop it; sort of like the ones I see around the prisons in Norfolk on my drive to church. I told the group that I chose it because it made me think of the people in detention centers on our southern border; a situation which has weighed heavily on my heart recently. In 2011, I took a sabbatical and spent part of it in Honduras, in a language and cultural immersion program. While I was there, I spent some time riding around with an Episcopal Priest and his family, visiting his 35 congregations - remote villages of indigenous peoples. It was not uncommon to see men wearing sidearms or carrying machetes - a tool which was necessary for cutting firewood, but that also sometimes became a weapon. In the town of Copan, where I studied and lived, there were men with machine guns guarding the banks, and soldiers manning a checkpoint near the Mayan ruins. I made friends with some of the stray dogs that roamed around the town. Most of them looked like skeletons.
When I first arrived in San Pedro Sula, and boarded the bus to Copan, it was clear this place was nothing like I had ever seen. I had been advised to take this particular bus, which was more expensive, rather than the so called "chicken buses" that the locals use, as it was more secure, since sometimes gangs will stop the buses and rob the passengers. The buses were contained in a corral surrounded by a solid 20' wall. Passengers were screened nearly as if we were boarding a plane. The bus driver carried a machete. Thick curtains covered the windows.
Even so, I wanted to view the countryside on this 4-hour ride. I was appalled to see families living in makeshift tents and shacks along the side of the road, on strips of land likely not theirs.
Two of the people I met in Copan died soon after my visit. The family I stayed with had two young adult sons, and one was murdered in San Pedro Sula. I remember my host telling me of a friend who was dining in a restaurant there, and was stabbed; so ironic that her own son would meet a similar fate. The wife of Padre Arnaldo, the priest I shadowed, was overcome by an infection. I wonder if she might have survived had she received better medical care.
After experiencing just a taste of life in Central America (and this was eight years ago; the poverty and violence has increased significantly since then), I completely understand why people would flee their countries to find a safer life for their families; one that promises more opportunities for work, education, and healthcare. Today’s Gospel urges people to be persistent about their needs: “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” And if it’s not, then keep knocking.
So, after speaking about this in the group, I discovered that one of the other participants lives in Tuscon, and she’s part of a group that borrowed a deserted monastery to house some of the asylum-seekers, to provide them hospitality, to care for their needs, and to help get them processed and on their way to sponsors in the States within a few days. This is a temporary arrangement, only till the end of this month, but at least they were able to do something, to help a number of people in the six months that they ran the program. I could feel this sense of passion and call welling up in me, a need to do something to help, and I wondered if there is some way that we can support an effort like this on the border, or is there something we can do here.
I did discover that Episcopal City Mission has partnered with an organization called Beyond that is posting bail for local detainees, providing free legal representation (since that is not provided by our government), and assigning volunteers to accompany them to court, just for moral support. I wonder if this is something we can do. I plan to make a donation to this effort, and explore how to get involved.
I know that some people don't like to hear about "political" issues from the pulpit, and trust me, I would never tell you who to vote for, but this is a humanitarian issue. This is a Christian issue. This is about caring for fellow human beings, it's about welcoming the stranger, it's about common decency, it's about "seeking and serving Christ in all person, loving our neighbors as ourselves," and it's about "striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being." Do those last two lines sound familiar? They're from our Baptismal Covenant, the promises we make when we become Christians. This covenant with God doesn't ask if the people are from another country, or if they entered legally. I'm certain that God doesn't care. Because they are all, like us, made in the image of God. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s not repeat the sin of Sodom and Gamora by failing to offer hospitality to sojourners. By welcoming the stranger, we have an opportunity to be Christ, and we have an opportunity to meet Christ. Let's not let this opportunity pass us by.