May the words of my mouth and the meditations of your hearts be inscribed on our souls. Amen.
Today’s Gospel reading, a story of Jesus calming the winds and waves also appears in Matthew and Luke in some form as well, and was surely meant to show the ways in which Jesus’ disciples were brought to faith in Him early in His ministry. Control of nature is a characteristic attributed to the Divine; so here, as Jesus calms the storm that arose when He and his disciples were crossing the sea, this ragged group of young men, who had left everything to follow Jesus of Nazareth and His revolutionary teachings, were strengthened in their faith and belief—so much so that in a few years they could face mockery and suffering to spread His message across the known world. Few of us who call ourselves His disciples today are called upon to endure the struggles and suffering of those early disciples. . . being a Christian in this strong Christian nation is easy. . . or is it?
I have been accused of being too political. My friends, let me remind you that the Gospel is about social justice, and social justice IS political, not partisan politics, but absolutely political. And as a Vocational Deacon in the Episcopal Church, it is my duty and ministry to preach and act for social justice. I will make no excuses for my calling – to speak truth to power.
Let me share with you some other quotes that I find meaningful:
“All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” — Thomas Jefferson
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” — Edmund Burke
“The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” — Plato
As we near the 234th celebration of the founding of our nation, we find ourselves in such a needless and cruel national crisis that I am compelled to speak about it in relation to our promise and mission as followers of Jesus. As national figures use our Bible to justify heartless treatment of innocent and desperate people, I believe we cannot — we must not let our Savior die again because of our silence. As we often use the cross as an adornment, a decoration, can we forget that it is a symbol of agonizing death and injustice dealt to the Son of God by people mindlessly following laws of a government and church devoid of justice and compassion? Can we rejoice in our buildings and organizations and committees and gloss over the fact that this good Son of Man came to teach us a revolutionary ideal of brotherly love, and to challenge us to work daily for His beautiful vision of a Heavenly Kingdom on earth – a world in which all are brothers and sisters who treat one another with the love, respect, and compassion that we yearn for ourselves? Can we seize that cross of suffering and realize that human beings today are suffering and dying on our southern border—looking to us for help and safety, and it is our job—and our privilege to care for “the least of these”?
The “least of these” are the men, women and children who have risked their lives to come to the United States without documentation. In a similar fashion as the disciples, these people are terrified, leaving their own country because of gangs, drug wars, rape and murder. The disciples may have been terrified on the water, but the desert that these people have crossed to get to the U.S. border is far more cruel than a storm could ever be. It is their faith in Jesus – and us – that led them to make the dangerous trek to the safety of the United States to seek a better life, a safe future, and freedom.
But they haven’t found safety when they get here – they found cruelty and separation and unspeakable horrors. Children are dragged from their mother’s arms, potentially never to see their family again. They are warehoused in buildings hot and sterile, sleeping on a mattress on the floor with a survival aluminum blanket for cover. They are assigned a number, and herded into rooms created by chain link fence. The children are separated by sex, and we have seen only a few pictures of any girls in the detention centers. Toddlers are place in a separate area, where, unlike most toddlers, they sit motionless, crying and asking for their mother or father. Infants under a year old are separated into ‘tender age’ centers, away from their mothers.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for the care of these children. In the time of their greatest need of human contact and comfort, no worker is allowed to touch or comfort these children.
The current administration is detaining these children as pawns to achieve political goals. These innocent and scared children are being used as a ‘tough deterrent’ to discourage others from entering the United States, seeking asylum or entering illegally when they have no other choice. Under any other circumstance, detention would be equal to kidnapping and the border officials would be subject to prison – kidnapping is a federal offense. Even though the policy of family separation appears to be discontinued through an executive order, over 2400 children are now orphans. There appears to be no plans for the rejoining of families – some of the parents may have already been deported, and their children housed in 17 states, as far spread as Washington state, Texas, New York, and Connecticut. These families will likely never be whole again.
I have to say that I am so ashamed of this conduct, yet feel helpless to do anything about it. America has always been a place and people and compassion for others, welcoming those who are strangers escaping for their lives from areas of extreme cruelty and possible death.
The Bible’s first stories of the life of Jesus emphasize that he would not have escaped death at the hands of a tyrant if his parents had not ‘illegally’ crossed into Egypt. Jesus’ ministry focused on reaching out to foreigners, usually commending them above those of his own kind. “The Good Samaritan” in Luke 10:25–37 is just one of many stories that emphasize the goodness of foreigners and the need to break the rules, if necessary, to give aid to the stranger. When some asked how to cross the border into God’s eternal kingdom, Jesus said, according to Matthew 25:35
“whoever feeds the hungry and gives drink to the thirsty and welcomes the foreigner welcomes me’.
God’s realm is made up of ‘those’ kind of people.
Jesus told us again and again that we are to
Love each other as he loved us. (John 15:12)
And we there are many admonitions to welcome the stranger
And you are to love those who are foreigners/immigrants, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:19)
“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:22)
The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt (Leviticus 19:34)
These scriptures are fundamental to the Christian and Jewish faiths and to following the teachings of Jesus. We, at Saint John’s, offer the love of Jesus to one another and those who are visitors and neighbors. And we are a member of the communion of all believers, who preach and teach and live into the teachings of Jesus.
Our Presiding Bishops Michael Curry and Katherine Jefferts Schori, numerous bishops in The Episcopal Church and the Roman Catholic Church, and many leaders of other interreligious groups have publicly protested this heinous separation and detention of immigrants.
We as a nation, and we as a global family – really, we as human beings – can’t survive unless we learn to give shelter to refugees, aid to the stranger, welcome to those fleeing terror elsewhere, and comfort to children who are not our own.
If you are not enraged by these conditions, YOU SHOULD BE.
This is the time to act!
To quote Albert Einstein:
Can we have the faith of those early disciples and follow Jesus at all costs? At perhaps great risk? Can we stand by as our country—for decades the best hope on earth for justice and equality for mankind – can we let it disintegrate rapidly into a hypocritical and heartless mass of people paralyzed by a government of greed, lies, and racism? The United States of America is not a perfect nation nor are you and I as human beings, but too many people have fought and sacrificed to make this country a place of freedom and inclusiveness for us to let it fade into history as another failed civilization. And moreover, Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man died 2000 years ago so that you and I could have the opportunity to live, love, breathe free air, and not fear death – have we the faith to not let Him suffer again and again at our southern border?
I close with a passage many of you will know by Pastor Martin Niemöller – but I am changing his words a bit:
First they came for the blacks, browns, and the yellow-skinned people
And I did not speak out
Because I was not black, brown, or yellow.
Then they came for the disabled, the homosexuals, the transgender, the addicted,
And I did not speak out,
Because I was not disabled, homosexual, transgender, or addicted.
Then they came for the Jews, the Muslims, the refugees, and the immigrants
<And I did not speak out,
Because I was not a Jew, or Muslim, or refugee or immigrant.
Then they came for me,
And there was no one left to speak for me.
There is a handout on the Information Table which contains a list of resources, groups and organizations that are valiantly fighting to right this wrong. Feel free to take one and act as your conscience would dictate. Or you can find it on the Saint John’s website later this week with links you can click on.
Let us pray:
The voices of the persecuted children ring in our ears and we cannot stop them (and we must not!)
And we know these are only echoes of the myriad voices we have not heard over the years;
Refused to hear
Excused ourselves from knowing about.
“That was then”, “we would never do such a thing”, “we are better than that now.”
Evil is everywhere, everywhen.
Hear our prayers, O God: Let our cries come to you.
And strengthen our hands and feet, our spirits and our courage, because
We have a lot of work to do, along with our screaming.
may it be so.
 Mary Beth Butler, North Texas
Groups to Support.
• The ACLU is litigating this policy in California.
• If you’re an immigration lawyer, the American Immigration Lawyers Association will be sending around a volunteer list for you to help represent the women and men with their asylum screening, bond hearings, ongoing asylum representation, etc. Please sign up.
• Al Otro Lado is a binational organization that works to offer legal services to deportees and migrants in Tijuana, Mexico, including deportee parents whose children remain in the U.S.
• CARA—a consortium of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, the American Immigration Council, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association—provides legal services at family detention centers.
• The Florence Project is an Arizona project offering free legal services to men, women, and unaccompanied children in immigration custody.
• Human Rights First is a national organization with roots in Houston that needs help from lawyers too.
• The Legal Aid Justice Center is a Virginia-based center providing unaccompanied minors legal services and representation.
• Pueblo Sin Fronteras is an organization that provides humanitarian aid and shelter to migrants on their way to the U.S.
• The Texas Civil Rights Project is seeking “volunteers who speak Spanish, Mam, Q’eqchi’ or K’iche’ and have paralegal or legal assistant experience.”
• Together Rising is another Virginia-based organization that’s helping provide legal assistance for 60 migrant children who were separated from their parents and are currently detained in Arizona.
• The Urban Justice Center’s Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project is working to keep families together.
• Women’s Refugee Commission advocates for the rights and protection of women, children, and youth fleeing violence and persecution.
• Finally, ActBlue has aggregated many of these groups under a single button.
This list isn’t comprehensive, so let us know what else is happening. And please call your elected officials, stay tuned for demonstrations, hug your children, and be grateful if you are not currently dependent on the basic humanity of U.S. policy.
• CLINIC’s Defending Vulnerable Populations project offers case assistance to hundreds of smaller organizations all over the country that do direct services for migrant families and children.
• American Immigrant Representation Project (AIRP), which works to secure legal representation for immigrants.
• CASA in Maryland, D.C., Virginia, and Pennsylvania. They litigate, advocate, and help with representation of minors needing legal services.
• Freedom for Immigrants (Formerly CIVIC), which has been a leading voice opposing immigrant detention.
• The Michigan Immigrant Rights Center represents all of the immigrant kids placed by the government in foster care in Michigan (one of the biggest foster care placement states). About two-thirds are their current clients are separation cases, and they work to find parents and figure out next steps.
• The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project is doing work defending and advancing the rights of immigrants through direct legal services, systemic advocacy, and community education.
• Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights works for the rights of children in immigration proceedings.
• The Women’s Refugee Commission has aggregated five actions everyone can take that go beyond donating funds.
• The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP)—which organizes law students and lawyers to develop and enforce a set of legal and human rights for refugees and displaced persons—just filed suit challenging the cancellation of the Central American Minors program.
• Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative has a guide to organizations throughout Texas that provide direct legal services to separated children. Also listed within the guide are resources for local advocates, lawyers, and volunteers.
• Immigrant Justice Corps is the nation’s only fellowship program dedicated to expanding access to immigration representation. Some IJC fellows work at the border, and others work in New York, providing direct representation in immigration court to parents and children resettled in New York City and surrounding counties.
• The Kino Border Initiative provides humanitarian aid to refugees and migrants on both sides of the border. They have a wish-list of supplies they can use to help migrants and families staying in the communities they serve.
• The Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network supports undocumented immigrants detained in Aurora, Colorado.
• Several companies also match donations—if your company does this, you need to provide the tax ID of the charity you have given to, which is usually listed on these organizations’ websites.
• The National Immigrant Justice Center represents and advocates for detained adults and children facing removal, supports efforts at the border, and represents parents in the interior who have been separated from their families as a result of aggressive enforcement.
Dahlia Lithwick, Margo Schlanger, The Slate, June 19, 2018
How you can fight family-separation at the border