Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Finding the Treasure

This past Sunday, I delivered a sermon that touched on the current immigration crisis with over 50000 undocumented, unaccompanied minors making their way into the United States from Central America.  President Obama had asked for the governor of each state to find housing for a thousand of these children while they await deportation hearings.  The governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, suggested two sites, both air bases, one in Western Massachusetts and the other here on Cape Cod. 

Joint Base Cape Cod (also known as the Massachusetts Military Reservation) was once the base for a full wing of the air force.  Part of the reason my congregation in Falmouth was formed in 1962 was to be a Lutheran presence to the families that came through the base.  However, the base was closed in the 1970's, at one point almost sold as land for an amusement park, but now operates with a much lighter population as a base for Coast Guard pilots and National Guard training.

Joint Base Cape Cod is partially in the town of Bourne and recently the Bourne Selectmen voted unanimously against having the children housed at the base, for fear that they will use up too many local resources and tax the local infrastructure.  It is not clear to me whether this is a symbolic vote or whether the Bourne Selectmen actually get a say on what happens on the base.  Nor is it clear to me that, even if the children are housed on the base, the local public would have any opportunity to interact with them.
In my sermon, I took the image of Jesus’ parable about the reign of God being like treasure hidden in a field and talked about it in terms of how we deal with other people.  There are times in a community of faith that I have a deal with a difficult person (or perhaps I am the difficult person), someone who doesn’t like what I’m doing or thinks I may be leading the church the wrong way or may just be one of those types who has learned to communicate by complaining until someone does something about it.  It is in those moments that I try to look for that treasure, the loving presence of God, that I know has touched this person and that God will not take away.  I try (not always successfully) to look beyond the glare or a veiled insult and see God at work in this person before me.

Then in the sermon I talked about the children from Central America.  I did not think that the message was particularly radical for the Christian community.  It may have pushed the envelope to suggest that this would all be a different conversation if it were a thousand detained Swedish children rather than Central American children.  But overall my message in the sermon was that, should we be given the opportunity to provide some kind of comfort or care to a thousand undocumented children, we are called in Christ to do it.  You may not like how they entered into the country.  You may not like the immigration policy of the current administration.  You have every right to advocate for stronger borders if that is your political leaning. 

At the same time, I can find nothing in our body of scripture that would tell me that a strongly held political belief allows me to forgo the basic Christian ideal of love of neighbor.  For Christians, Jesus trumps the talking heads on both sides of the issue.  On this issue, Jesus makes a habit of welcoming the rejected.  He gives an example of providing food to crowds simply because they might be hungry.  He challenges us to redefine our ideas about clean and unclean, inside and outside, blessed and cursed.  Importantly, he would challenge us to step away from our tendency to dismiss people with a label; that we can ignore someone because he or she is a Samaritan or an illegal or whatever group it is we don’t like today.

Jesus looks on each of these children with love regardless of their immigration status or nationality and pushes us to do the same.  For us, that may start with learning their stories rather than condemning their status.  It may mean sharing our bread with someone who calls it pan.  I believe it means getting beyond ourselves and looking for the treasure that is the presence of God who loves them and loves us with equal and infinite love.