St. Paul’s –First Sunday of Lent – 3-10–2019
Teresa Todd – arrested for helping rescue people cross our Southern border in Fort Davis
For more than a year, her son in California had been sending her money. Finally she felt she had enough, and she paid all of it, more than $2000, to a man who promised he could get her and her three younger children across the Rio Grande safely into America.
Shortly after midnight they had crossed the river, and the guide had said, Wait here! and disappeared into the night. Three hours have passed, and he hasn’t returned. She becomes convinced he has abandoned her, taken her money and fled. What is she going to do? She is lost and alone in the desert, with three children (the oldest is only twelve), and the sun will be rising soon. She suddenly understands that if they are lucky … they will be captured. If they aren’t lucky, they will die out here. She prays–desperately, with no hope–but still she prays….
Suddenly a shadow looms against the night. A man is coming. Not her guide. Someone else. As she watches she realizes he is walking with a limp. So he can’t be someone to help them, he must be another wetback, another refugee who got lame on the journey and was left behind.
Mother Rosita? he whispers.
Yes, how do you know my name?
I am the man sent to help you. We have a truck two miles away. Are you and your children strong enough to follow me?
Yes, she says. We will be stronger, now that we know there is help. Did you injure yourself looking for us?
No, says her new guide. I was born with a club foot. No one ever suspects that I, with my disability, would ever be out walking in the desert, helping fugitives across the border.
And in that moment Mother Rosita realized she would never look at a crippled person in the same way, ever again. Even limping, this man … had beautiful feet.
Earlier in the book of Romans, Paul had said that there is no distinction between people. No one can claim to be any better off than anyone else. All have sinned, and all fall short of God’s glory. Now Paul says there is no distinction between people. No one can complain that they are any worse off than anyone else. God is generous to everyone who calls for help.
There is no distinction. But of course we always make distinctions. It’s human nature. How did you feel when you realized I was telling a story from the viewpoint of an illegal alien? Did you see the limping man as a hero … or a villain? Was he carrying good news for Mother Rosita and her children? Or was he carrying bad news for post-911 America?
More than twenty years ago a man I knew in Indiana complained to me about all those evil Vietnamese coming to America and stealing jobs away from decent people. This man was a farmer, for goodness sake! There was no chance that a former Vietnamese peasant was going to kick him off his hog farm and replace him. On top of that, these Vietnamese weren’t even illegal, they were officially refugees. America had welcomed them to this land. And doubly on top of that, this man was the great-grandson of an immigrant. I’ll bet people in 1907 were complaining about all those evil Europeans moving to America and taking all the good jobs.
God makes no distinction. But of course, we do. It is a lifelong task to learn not to make distinctions. It’s a lifelong task for every one of us to overcome our racism.
In our Hebrew Scripture for today we read the confession I, being born and raised Jewish and every Hebrew was supposed to make every year:
A wandering Aramean was my father …
Aramean is not a word we use every day. I suppose that the closest modern word would be Syrian, but it was more than that. In the time of Jacob there was no nation of Syria, but people living in what is now Syria or Lebanon or Israel or Jordan could claim to be Aramean. And Jesus and his disciples probably grew up speaking Aramaic, the language of Arameans.
But more interesting than the word Aramean is the word wandering. The father of all Israel, the man who was first named Israel, is the man we usually call Jacob. Jacob was not a settled farmer. Jacob was a wanderer. Jacob was a nomad, following his flocks and herds wherever he could find pasture for them. One translation even calls him An Aramean Astray, as if Jacob were the sheep that wandered away from the flock.
More than a wanderer, Jacob was a fugitive from his brother’s revenge. Jacob was a refugee from a famine in Palestine. Jacob was a foreigner, an alien, an outsider in Egypt. He probably couldn’t even speak the language. A barbarian in a civilized nation that had no room for nomads. Jacob and his children and grandchildren had to learn a new way of life. A refugee. An alien. Living on someone else’s charity. Living in someone else’s settled world.
The book of Deuteronomy is for Hebrews living centuries later. The children of Israel had escaped from Egypt, they had escaped from what turned out to be not charity but slavery, they have a land of their own, they have farmland of their own. They are no longer nomads like Jacob, wandering from place to place; they are landowners with boundaries and laws and courts to settle differences. But they must always remember their roots. They haven’t always been settled farmers. My father was a wanderer. My father was a fugitive. My father was a refugee. My father was an alien.
In recognition of their history they are supposed to care for the widows and orphans and landless Levites among them. In recognition of their history they are supposed to care for the foreigners among them. They are supposed to look at the immigrants, the aliens within their country, and say to themselves (and to God), I remember what that was like. I don’t want anyone in our land to suffer the way we did in a foreign land. They were supposed to tell themselves, God makes no distinction. I must make no distinction.
Today in our country….. Most of us can say truthfully in our hearts, My father was a wanderer, my mother was a fugitive, my parents were strays, my ancestors were refugees. We can all thank God for the beautiful feet of the guides who brought them good news of America, the guides that brought them good news of the Northwest, even for the representative feet of that New Colossus in New York Harbor, the Mother of Exiles:
… Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest–tost, to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door. –Emma Lazarus
We are all here today because somebody with beautiful feet brought us, or our ancestors, good news: good news of America, good news of Presidio County, good news of Jesus Christ. We can remind ourselves that God makes no distinction between the ones who got here earlier and the ones who got here later.
But we also can have beautiful feet. We also can carry good news, even to, especially to … the alien, the refugee, the homeless, the tempest-tost, the people who believe God doesn’t care. Calluses and corns and swollen joints and a smell that makes everyone back off, it doesn’t matter. Our feet can be beautiful, too.
Mr. Chambers was constantly resentful, and there was no way to get even. The problem was the Boyds, up on the hill. They were hill people, and they acted like it. Two broken-down vehicles in their yard. Constantly up and down the dusty road, and the dust settling on all his nice things. Constantly talking to him in their irritating accent. And, there was no way to get around it, they could have bathed more often. Mr. Chambers was cultured and refined, and he had his neat ways, his little conveniences. These Boyds turned it all upside down. They presumed on him. They took advantage of him.
And they didn’t have a telephone. It wasn’t just that they were constantly borrowing his. Worse than that, Billy, the son, was always off somewhere, calling from the neighbors, asking Mr. Chambers to take a message up the road to Billy’s parents.
They thought they could make things equal by giving him things out of their garden, tomatoes and corn and … and squash! Mr. Chambers hated squash! What do you do with people like that, who don’t know any better than to share what they have with everyone else?
Matters got worse and worse, and Mr. Chambers realized there was going to have to be a showdown.
And then one evening a police car stopped in his drive. Some people named Boyd live around here?… I hate what I’m going to have to tell them. Their boy’s dead … he ran into a bridge abutment. …
The police car went on up the hill, and Mr. Chambers sat there imagining the horrible grief of the parents. Their only son was dead. …
It came in the middle of the night–a harsh night of cold rain–the strident tone of the phone. Hey, Mr. Chambers, it’s Billy! It wasn’t my car! Tell my folks I’m okay!
He didn’t remember whether he ever hung up the phone or not. He burst out of his door without a light, and without his shoes, in the middle of the rain, in the middle of the night, up that slippery hillside, over rocks he did not feel, he ran … bad heart, emphysema, and all; … he came up on the porch and beat upon the door where two people were still sitting up in the glow of their kerosene lamp; and they opened the door and stood there.
He looked at them for a moment and walked in and said, He’s alive! Billy’s alive!” and spilled the words out.
And there was rejoicing, and there was crying, and there were embraces, and they said, Sit at our table! Sit at our table!
And he sat there, and they made coffee, and they laughed and they cried, at the absurdity of it all, and at the goodness of God, and something beyond themselves….
And then Mr. Chambers said to Mrs. Boyd, Hey! I’m getting your floor all muddy.
And she said to him, Those feet … can get my floor as muddy as they want to! [From a story told by Roger Carstensen, January, 1976.]
We are here, in this land and in this building because some messenger brought good news to us, or to our ancestors. And we have the opportunity with all of our life–we have the opportunity to bring good news to someone else. Someone yearning to breathe free. Someone homeless, tempest-tost. Someone who thinks everything is lost and God doesn’t care. We can carry a message of love and hope and brotherhood and grace….
Maybe they’ll even admire our feet….
In the quiet of this moment,
in the stillness of this place,
draw near to us, O God.
As we seek the shelter of your refuge,
as we celebrate the bounty of your provision,
hearken to our need, Holy One.
Transform this time and place
into our land of milk and honey—
a land where you are among us,
a land where your mighty hand
and your outstretched arm
a land where you alone are worthy
of our worship and service.
We ask this in the saving name of Jesus, our Lord.
Invitation to Sharing
God wishes to be seen and wishes to be sought.
God wishes to be awaited and to be trusted.
There are multitudes of individuals who long for God,
who are seeking God,
but do not know where or how to search.
May this church, this congregation
be a lamp to light the pathway
for those who are seeking God.
Our offerings—financial and other—
help us to shine our collective light brightly
so that fellow-seekers may find their way.
Give, that we might shine more brightly.
May bountiful blessing, O Lord, we pray,
come down upon your people,
that hope may grow in tribulation,
virtue be strengthened in temptation,
and eternal redemption be assured.
Through Christ our Lord.