July 7, 2019

Pentecost 4C

Close the Concentration Camps

GOSPEL

The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, `Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’

“Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”  Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

SERMON

Today’s Gospel invites us to remember that, very much like those first disciples, who were privileged to be in the presence of Jesus, we too enjoy that gift.  This nearness to Christ can happen in expected and unexpected ways, as well as in anticipated and unanticipated moments.

A unquestionable and spirit-nurturing experience of His presence is ours each time we gather around this altar to celebrate the Eucharist and to share the sacraments of His body and blood.

And like those first disciples each encounter with Jesus is with purpose.  He engages us to send us forth as his disciples so that we might proclaim the good news in what we say and in what we do.

You may have noticed that the dismissal at the end of each mass is not a directive to go home and take a nap.   We are dismissed with the words, “Go out and proclaim the good news and rejoice in the power of the Spirit by loving and serving others.”   And so how did you fare this past week as far as proclaiming, rejoicing, loving and serving?”

The good news that we have been entrusted to proclaim is the nearness of the Kingdom of God and the immediacy of His Reign.  It is about what is going on in the here and now.  It is from engaging this mission that we derive “the joy that the world does not understand, cannot give and cannot take away.”

Jesus is clear that those who are entrusted with this awesome mission should anticipate an uneven reception, at best, and a violent rejection, at worst.  But neither of these scenarios can be sufficient cause to deter us from our appointed task.

The world is never eager for good news. Rightly does Jesus say, “I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves”.  He knows full well that there will always be more wolves than lambs and that the kingdom of God will always be the place where fewer will choose to dwell.  The number of wolves that stalk the landscape is legion.

This week as congress went on vacation, it did so leaving the lives of thousands of innocent children and their parents in jeopardy – caged in concentration camps on the southern border.  Yes, innocent, because seeking asylum is not a crime – it is a right guaranteed by international law and by our own laws.  To criminalize it, is, in fact, the crime.  To treat innocent men, women and children as criminals and worse, even as less than human, is grossly disgusting, morally reprehensible, and absolutely unconscionable.  Those responsible both actively and passively, by what we do and what we fail to do, stand before God’s judgment.

That a navy seal was this week given the equivalent of a slap on the hand for using the body of a murdered teenage combatant as back round for a “selfie” underlines just how willing we are to give the requirements of basic human decency a pass.  No one, no one at all, is to be denied our God given dignity.

The photos of the concentration camps, that some wolves go so far as to deny as real, yes our present-day holocaust deniers, provide images that must surely wrench the soul and tear at the heart of any normal, human being possessing even a minimum of compassion.

This in neither a time to enjoy a holiday, nor it is time to simply bemoan, bewail and discuss the situation, as congress apparently plans to do when they return from their holiday.  If there were ever a time for action that time must be now.

There was a protest outside Antonio Delgado’s Kingston office on Tuesday.  A Jewish man in the crowd spoke passionately about our need to seize this moment and use it to make as many people as possible, as uncomfortable as possible, with what is going on in those concentration camps – to make people as uncomfortable as those vulnerable human beings who are being made to stand in place for days on end because there is not enough room to lie down – a space that has one toilet and one sink – a space made for 40 that is being shared by 150 people.

Think about it.  Imagine someone you love in that space.   Imagine that loved one not being able to bathe for 50 or 60 days.  Imagine your child or grandchild not having food, or diapers, or clothing or medicine or the comfort of being held in your loving arms.  Image your child or grandchild being made to suffer a trauma from which they will never recover.

Now imagine yourself doing nothing.  The sending forth to love that you will hear again in this morning’s dismissal would direct our hearts and our love to those who are being caged.

The man wearing the yarmulke did not retreat from calling these camps concentration camps.  He said that using that name is correct and does not compromise the uniqueness of the holocaust event.  He said that the German camps were death camps but warned that they too began as concentration camps.  He said that this was not a time to unplug and to turn off the news.   My Jewish friend said that this is a time for civil disobedience.

The lambs of which Jesus speaks, are the vulnerable in every society, as well as those who render themselves vulnerable, carrying no purse, no bag, no sandals, for the sake of and on behalf of those who cannot speak for or defend themselves.

In these times in which we experience a resurgence in the scapegoating of immigrants and the undocumented are we not compelled, as disciples, to place the absolute compassion of the kingdom of God before any hyped and imagined and rigid national boundary needs?

Do the words of Emma Lazarus, in her poem, the New Colossus, etched on a tablet of stone at the base of the Statue of Liberty, the “Mother of Exiles”, ring with any truth or have they become yet another hollow expression of questionable and undeserved national pride?

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “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!”

This past week congress voted a spending package to build newer and bigger detention centers, newer and bigger concentration camps that would be managed as businesses by outside contractors.  Is this what we need?  Is this what we want?  Will we settle for this?

We don’t need this.  We cannot want this. We must never settle for this.  We need to, and we must close the camps and let God’s people go supporting them and accompanying them along the difficult journey to secure a viable life.

We reap what we sow.  If we sow the seeds of militarism, we will never reap peace.   If we sow indifference, we will never reap compassion.   If we sow ignorance, we will never reap wisdom.  If we sow selfishness, we will never reap abundance.

Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.”   These days, the heart that beats in this nation, is clearly not a kingdom heart. In some very important ways, ours appears more a nation of wolves – where inhumanity, aggression and great profit for the few, at the expense of many, remain the unchallenged values that define the landscape and that drive the biggest decisions?

Disciples of Jesus, in this and every nation are charged and sent by Jesus to enter the house where people live with the proclamation and the invitation: “Peace”.   “Peace to this place”.  “Peace for this place”. “Peace from this place”.  And to do so, knowing there is an essential connection between peace and justice, between peace and compassion, between peace and tolerance, between peace and inclusion, between peace and national humility.

We are sent by Jesus to proclaim “Peace to this place”, even at the risk of our own acceptability and our own acceptance.  It is OK to be rejected for the sake of the kingdom, for any rejection sustains us in the best company, “Whoever reject you, rejects me and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

In the words of Paul to the Galatians, “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all.   And may we never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to us and we to the world”.

On Friday evening, July 12th, there will be a “Lights for Liberty” rally, at Academy Green Park, sponsored by, Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, Citizen Action and UIDN.

The Jesus who sends us forth this morning, wants us to show up.   For with all do respect to the bronze lady standing in the harbor, the first “Mother of Exiles” must be the Church, the community of believing disciples.

The Rev. Frank J. Alagna                                                                                                      July 7, 2019