Shine, America, Shine!
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison, you visited me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
THE WORD OF THE LORD.
When I step into the pulpit, you are placing upon me a sacred trust. You trust that I, or any preacher, will speak to you how the gospel bears on the events of the day.
This week, I knew I was called to speak about the national crisis facing us today at our southern border with Mexico.
I speak not about a Congress and an Administration dealing or not dealing with a broken immigration system. No, I am talking about the act of separating children from their parents for lengthy periods of time. If the parents are deported, they are not reunited with their child. Rather than being deported together, they are separated forever, unless the parent at their own expense can locate their child. However, this is an almost impossible task for a parent to do while the parent and child are now in different countries.
I know many of you are troubled about children being separated from their families at our borders and you're filled with emotion. You may feel a sense of powerlessness - how can we possibly do anything about this injustice being committed in our name?
Here are some things we can do and reflect on with this issue.
First, we must hear what Jesus said in our Scripture text this morning.
Jesus said – “Come, you blessed by my Father; take the kingdom prepared for you… For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we feed you, or give you drink? Or see you a stranger and take you in, or clothe you? Or visit you in prison?
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
In light of Christ’s teachings and as followers of Christ, Christ calls us to look after the most vulnerable upon us. We are disciples of Christ first. You are called to act your conscience dictated as being a follower of Christ.
Second, we would do well to be clear to those in power - family separation policies are not "following the law." It is a procedure not a law. As such, this procedure and act is cruel and evil, and there is no legal, religious, or ethical defense for it.
Listen now to part of the statement our General Assembly, which just met in St. Louis this week, stated – a full version of the document is on the bulletin board by the church offices. Our denomination says clearly -
“As Presbyterians…. there is nothing of more urgency than the tragedy that is unfolding at our borders, where children are ripped from their parents and placed in holding cells, while their frantic parents scream in agony at the separation.”
The statement continues – “Have we wandered so far from Jesus’ kind admonition, “Let the little children come to me … How can this happen in a nation many claim….the critical importance of families to the fabric of our lives together?”
The statement states boldly – “Perhaps the most egregious aspect of this policy is the willingness of the highest legal official of our nation to suggest that if a mother has fled violence in her own country to save herself and her children but has not had a chance to make a proper petition for safety in the U.S., she should be taught a lesson by having her children taken from her.”
The statement concludes – “As officials of our government attempt to address the crisis, we cannot tarnish the highest values of our nation. We must not punish desperate parents by tearing their children away from them, leaving the parents without access to the children or assurance of their welfare. Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II Stated Clerk of the General Assembly Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 100
As the people, who instituted the Constitution, and give all governing officials their authority, you need remind them that the people set true values and humanitarian policies of our nation and society not party or politics.
Thirdly, I know many of you are desperately struggling with how to respond to this crisis. You are not only followers of Christ, you also try to be good citizens of this nation. Many of you have a struggle of conscience to endure.
To help you deal with this crisis of conscience, let me remind you of examples from the past, when people like you had to struggle with hard choices and moral dilemmas.
Almost 200 years ago, Presbyterians, among many other groups, by their conscience, their understanding of the Gospel, as well as their decency as human beings spoke and acted on behalf of persons who were treated as inferior by the words, the laws, and the actions of their state, nation, and other persons.
They wrestled with Paul’s words when he wrote - “All things are lawful,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other. Just because something may be legal in one sense does not make it right in a moral sense.
We rule by law, yes; but we also rule by something higher than law – we rule by justice, which encompasses a morality not all laws or procedures enshrine. That is because we know there can be unjust laws and policies, which make a mockery of justice. We have seen this in many places and many times in history, in our own nation and others, such as with slavery, with slaves running alone or with children from cruel and violent conditions, with the underground railroad, with laws of segregation, and in other lands laws against Jews, and many other groups.
Our fore-fathers made difficult decisions. They endured a real moral and legal struggle for them. Your crisis of conscience will not be easy either. You have to find your answer, and to live with it. I can only show you the crisis and the gospel of Christ.
Finally, the crisis before us today, is not a choice between being practical or impractical, nor between irrationality and reason. Separating children causes more problems, more lawsuits, more harm to children and parents. The call for basic human decency is not irrational.
Thank God our founding fathers had the wisdom to create three separate but equal branches of government. If the legislative and executive branch do not act or misuse their power, then the judicial branch can step in to act.
And if they do not act, then it falls finally to you – the people - to you in the pew, to you with a conscience, to you the people whose country this is, to you with the power to influence all by your voice and ballot.
It is good to see Americans, First Ladies, have a heart and soul, and speak out – against the breaking of a sacred bond created by God, and that is the bond between a child and their father and mother. This is a chance for America to shine as a place and as a Republic – a shining example to the world about human rights and dignity.
However, I fear we are slowly but inexorably headed towards a bad place, towards a future we will regret. We are tiptoeing into troubled terrain. I fear troubled times ahead when we will come to know personally what Charles Dickens wrote about in his introduction to The Tale of Two Cities:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way.” Amen!