Sacred Ideals

This is a slightly modified version of a sermon given by Rev. Dr. Paul Moore on July 1, 2018 at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Silver City, NM:

Six years ago, today was my first Sunday at Good Shepherd Church. In these six years things have changed a bit. Our attendance is up. Our diversity is up. 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. It’s always important to stop and look back. When we tell the story of where we’ve been we know where to go.

In the Old Testament, remembering lies at the very heart of what it means to be Jewish. Over and over again God reminds 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.” God gave them life in place of death, and they were to remember, and do the same. Looking back told the Israelites how to move into the future.

St. 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. Now fellow Christians are suffering in Jerusalem and are in need. The proper response to the generosity of God is to be generous. Looking back told the early Christians how to move into the future.

In Mark 5 Jesus calms a storm, showing himself to be the One who calms the storms within and without. He goes on to calms the storm for a grieving family and a desperately sick woman. Because he has, in a sense, looked back and touched base with who he is, he knows how to move forward. Like the grandmother in “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.”

Remembering who we are as Christians lays the foundation for remembering who we are as Americans. We are a nation of immigrants. My ancestors came seeking freedom from oppression and a better life. I would bet 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, but they did, and they found a home here. The African American Church uses the story of Moses to tell of their own continuing journey out of slavery into freedom. The same God who took the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land is the God who has brought us together in a community of faith to journey together. The values of life and freedom that inform our American ideal also inform our Christian calling. Looking back shows us where we are to go.

We have a crisis on our borders with people fleeing homes that have become places of death. Like our ancestors, they are seeking life and freedom. We hear rhetoric they are mostly violent criminals, but for every violent criminal that enters the US there are two native-born. The other 97% are fleeing what we would also flee from.

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 one’s political persuasion might be is immaterial, blindly turning asylum-seekers back with no due process and separating their children from them 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 families! It is sinful, it is unjust, and it forgets who we are.

A government official, justifying the separations, was heard to say, “But these are not OUR children.” Her words sound hauntingly like Cain’s retort to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” to which the silent reply resounds, “And if you are not, who is?” They are human beings created in the image of God 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 to restore to the places from which they flee peace, hope, safety and dignity.

I fear that we have forgotten who we are. Let us remember that the underlying ideals of human dignity and freedom that undergird our nation are also central to our Christian faith, 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 courage to extend the same grace that we received to those who come seeking it. As Christians, let us work to make America great again by working to reclaim the sacred ideals that light the lamp beside the golden door.