Making History

August 18th, 2019

A sermon preached by Christopher L. Webber at All Saints Church, Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco, on August 18, 2019.

I meet every week with a small Bible study group where I live and we’ve been making our way through the so-called history books: 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. And the Bible is unlike the sacred scriptures of any other faith because of books like those, books of history. Much of the Bible is history, history, not teaching, or, rather, teaching with history. If you’re into comparative religion you can look at the Muslim Koran and the Hindu Bhagavadgita or the Buddhist Pali Canon and Agama and you will find wisdom but you will not find anything like the history books of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. Even the Old Testament this morning provides history indirectly as a parable.

Today we have to look at the first New Testament reading to get the Old Testament history summarized. It has to be summarized here, the author says,

For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets– who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight… Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; . . . (They were) destitute, persecuted, tormented– of whom the world was not worthy.

The passage ends by saying:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us . . .looking to Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith

One modern translation puts it: Jesus “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” I like that: “pioneer and perfecter.” I like that because Americans know about pioneers: people who range out ahead, exploring new land, settling, finally, even places like California and maybe the moon and Mars. Human beings are pioneers by nature. Think of the very first Americans crossing the Bering Strait – long before Jamestown or Plymouth – and moving down the west coast of the continent and spreading out across America first from west to east: first California, then New York, – that’s not the sequence they taught me in school but that’s what those first Americans did and not stopping in California either but moving also further south, crossing the border into Mexico without a wall to stop them. And all of that is part of the larger chronicle of which the Bible gives us only snippets, bits and pieces, but significant bits and pieces in which we can see more clearly the things we need to know about human society and human nature, things God wants us to learn and knows that we can learn by experience better than books. Our sacred book, our Bible, does have teaching, yes, of course, but grounded always in human experience, in history. We know because we’ve been there, we’ve done that, we’ve learned from events.

We’ve had some history lessons in recent weeks, haven’t we? Not for the first time. How many times do we need to be taught the same lesson before we act? Take chapter 4 of the Bible, for example: the story of Cain and Abel? In the larger picture – this is a personalized summary of what happens when shepherds and farmers, ranchers and farmers, have their eyes on the same land. But Abel was a keeper of sheep And Cain was a tiller of the soil. It’s condensed history: the Jews come on the scene as keepers of sheep moving into farm land in Canaan and fighting with the native farmers for that land. You can’t grow lettuce if the cattle aren’t fenced out and you can’t raise cattle if somebody fenced off the grazing land. So Cain and Abel happened, and it happened again as the west was settled, first by ranchers until human beings recognize that God made human beings for a purpose, that God made them to live together in peace and they need to learn the art of compromise and find ways to settle disputes before it comes to blows.

There came a time, long ago, when human beings understood that well enough to sum it up in four words: Thou shalt not kill. And later they learned an even better way to say it: love your neighbor as yourself. We learned that out of history by sad experience – or started to learn it because we’re not there yet, are we? Columbine, Parkland, Sandy Hook, Gilroy, Dayton, El Paso – the list gets longer and longer. How long, O Lord, how long?

Martin Luther King, Jr. confronted that question again and again. If you are black in America, you’re bound to ask. In one of his greatest sermons, King said,

I know you are asking today, “How long will it take?” Somebody’s asking, “How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, . . . Somebody’s asking, “When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men?” Somebody’s asking, . .. . How long will justice be crucified, and truth bear it?” I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because “truth crushed to earth will rise again.”
How long? Not long, because “no lie can live forever.” How long? Not long, because “you shall reap what you sow.” How long? Not long: How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. How long? Not long, because: Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord . . .

And our eyes have seen the glory in the battles raging now in the streets of Charlottesville and El Paso and still in Ferguson, Missouri, where American citizens are still stopped for driving while black as a good friends of mine have been even on Long Island and in northwestern Connecticut just a few years ago. It happens. It’s happening right now. But what we see when these dreadful things take place – what we’ve seen when people come together in a common grief – what we’ve seen is always a renewed determination to work and pray for something better. Not thoughts and prayers, Not hope and pray. No, but work and pray. Make a commitment to change, make a commitment to work and give to the city that has foundations. a commitment to the kingdom of God. A commitment to work together in faith remembering, remembering what God’s people have accomplished in faith, what we read about this morning:

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, By faith the walls of Jericho fell . . .

By faith we will move on. And we read last week in this same passage from Hebrews about those others:

who confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way (we read) make it clear that they are seeking a homeland, that they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

Yes, and some people are willing to wait, but I think God gives us the vision of that heavenly city to make us less patient with this one. I think we wouldn’t mind so much what’s happening if we didn’t have a vision of a different world, a better community. But we do and that’s why we’re not willing to settle for things as they are.

Dorothy L Sayers once said, “The best kept inns are on the through roads.” That was a hundred years ago. The best kept inns today are likelier to be at the airports than the train stations. We’re people in a hurry and now we know what’s possible and we’re not willing to wait. It’s because we have that vision that the patterns of life are being challenged and that’s frightening to some people who don’t share the vision, who think they can turn the clock back and build walls and deny travel documents to stop change from happening. It can’t be done. God is at work. Mine eyes have seen the glory – the glory of the vision of a nation where color no longer matters and ethnicity no longer matters but love matters and justice matters and peace matters and the faith that we can get there is the faith proclaimed in the readings last week and this: the faith that is shaking the foundations to tear down the city of human pride and build up the city of God

Don’t Worry!

August 10th, 2019

A sermon for the Church of the Incarnation, San Francisco, on August 11, 2019, by the Rev. Christopher L. Webber.

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” St. Luke 12:32

It seems to me in the nature of things that sermons should make you worry. My job as a preacher, I sometimes think, is to make people worry. Either there is something you’re supposed to learn or something you’re supposed to do or maybe there are other people we should worry about because they aren’t up to snuff or need converting or something. So the sermon tells us things to worry about.

I guess it goes with the territory. All this last month, we’ve been reading passages that set standards and point directions: “Love God,” “Listen to God’s word,” “Don’t set your mind on wealth” – – that kind of thing: things to worry about.

So it’s nice to come to church in the middle of August and hear a Gospel that says, “Don’t worry.” The Gospel said, “Don’t be afraid, little flock…” but, you know, right there is one of the things we worry about: we are a little flock. 25 or 30 people on a typical Sunday is what percent, do you suppose, of the neighborhood. Does anyone of our neighbors on this street come here on Sunday? Just to keep the church doors open takes a certain number of committed people, and generally just a few more than seem to be on hand.

So we do worry. We’d like a bigger flock. Even on a national basis, two or three million Episcopalians in a population of over 300 million is not good odds. And worldwide, 85 million Anglicans in a population of several billion is even worse. But even if you take the biggest church, the Roman Catholic, maybe one third of the world’s Christians and easily a quarter of the population of California – with all those people they don’t have enough priests to hold services in many of their churches nor can they avoid really serious divisions over the direction the church should go. And they are closing churches.

I talked last week to a friend who spent most of his life in Pittsburgh as an active member of a large Roman Catholic parish with multiple priests – it’s closed.

So Christians are, and maybe always will be, a little flock: seldom overwhelming in numbers, seldom seeming to have the resources or manpower needed, and yet here is Jesus saying, “Don’t worry.”

It’s not surprising actually that Jesus would need to say this. Jews had been worried about numbers for centuries before Jesus came. Way back in the Book of Deuteronomy we find Moses saying, “It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples.” There is a feeling of smallness and inadequacy right from the beginning, but always the reassurance that God does not save by numbers. So relax; God promises that we will always have the resources we need. Not the resources we might like to have or the resources that would make us feel confident about doing the job. But enough. And it always has been enough. That’s why we’re here.

They say that God made the universe – – the sun and stars and planets beyond any counting – – out of the tiny ball of matter which exploded out into everything that exists, and here is this tiny earth floating along in infinite space, a mere grain of dust in the expanse of the universe, but big enough, big enough for God’s purpose. Don’t be afraid. It’s enough.

We have a way of borrowing trouble, fearing possibilities rather than realities, and it’s probably part of the human tendency to want to be independent and self-sufficient and in charge of our lives. But we’re not. We are not any of those things. We are not in charge. Neither the President of the United States, nor Bill Gates is wise enough or smart enough or rich enough or powerful enough to control events, much as they might like to, nor are we. But we keep trying and keep scaring ourselves to death at the thought that the situation is not really under control. But you know, what’s scary is not the situation but our presumption. If we hadn’t been trying to go it alone, if we had accepted our status as totally dependent beings, we would have had nothing to worry about except the nature of the One who is in control. And the evidence of that is what the Bible is all about, what the Gospel is all about: that God is good and is in charge and loves us and can be relied on.

Don’t be afraid. that comes first, and why? Because “It is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” I wish all the worried people in the world could hear this, really hear it. You know, there are people out there with guns and dynamite who think God’s will depends on them. In the name of God they blow up federal buildings and abortion clinics and airplanes and shoot down dozens of innocent people because they don’t trust God, don’t believe God’s promise, or have never heard it. And so they create the violence that is absolutely opposite to all that God wills and promises. Does that make any sense at all?

God promises to give us the kingdom. It’s a gift; it would have to be. We ourselves can’t take it or make it. Human beings have been trying to do that now for thousands of years, trying to create the ideal society, and you see what we’ve got. And the societies that do best if you notice, are the ones that are so set up that it’s almost impossible for human beings to get anything done. Dictators can get the trains run on time, but not democracies. Dictatorships can reduce crime and produce unity, rallies of people all shouting the same thing, whether it’s “Heil Hitler” or “Down with the great Satan.”

And yet we worry: “What do I have to do?” “When do I have to do it?” Again, there are churches with answers. One of the first great heresies to shake the church was preached by a man called Pelagius who had the idea that we can save ourselves. There are churches that set rules to follow about doing this and not doing that, and they may all be good rules but they won’t save us. God saves us. And see what Jesus tells his little flock to do? Wait. Just wait. Be like servants waiting for their master to come home. Yes, be on the lookout, stay awake and be alert, remember who you belong to and what you ought to be doing when he comes; don’t wander off and get so engrossed in your own concerns that you forget your primary allegiance. But basically, have an attitude of expectant waiting, joyful expectancy, because what’s going to happen? When the master comes, what will happen? Everyone will run around in a dither trying to meet all his demands? No, not at all. They will open the door and then, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.” Now isn’t that incredible! He will serve us!

It’s amazing, but that’s the promise: he will serve us. And it must be true because it’s happening already. Every day we wake up and find air to breathe and water to drink and the sun to warm us (well, sometimes the fog breaks and the sun is still there) and it’s all free of charge, and when we come here to give thanks for all God’s gifts, what happens? God gives us still more: feeds us at God’s own table. And, you know, if we happened to whisper to others what kind of God we know and invited them to come and share the gifts instead of worrying so much, we might even become a slightly bigger little flock.

God Does Not Give Wetas

July 26th, 2019

A sermon preached by Christopher L. Webber at the Church of the Incarnation, San Francisco, July 28, 2019.

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (St. Luke 11:13)

Ten years ago the Anglican Church of New Zealand produced a new Prayer Book.  It got rave reviews on all sides. It’s a beautiful book: beautiful cover, beautiful pages, wonderful art work, red-edged pages in the center so you can easy find the Eucharist and built-in book marks so you don’t lose your place when you find it. And besides all that it has almost everything not only in English but also in the Maori language.

My wife and I traveled to New Zealand eighteen years ago and we were there on September 11, 9/11, 2001. We were glad to find churches open and services to go to and a chance to use the New Zealand Prayer Book. Quite apart from 9/11, I was fascinated to see that at every service whether there were Maori New Zealanders present or not, some part of the service was always spoken in Maori and everyone seemed to know that language as well as English.

There’s one special section of the book that provides a brief and easy-to-use form of prayer for morning and evening of a seven day week. I’ve begun to use it first and last thing every day as well as the American Prayer Book Morning and Evening Prayer later in the morning and earlier in the evening. The New Zealand form for daily prayer is all in English, but there are sections provided in Maori as well and just one place where a Maori word is used in the middle of an English reading. It’s the same reading we had this morning in the Gospel and found Jesus saying, “If your child asks for a fish, will you give a snake instead of a fish? Or if your child asks for an egg, will you give a scorpion?” In the New Zealand Prayer Book those few verses come up every Monday morning as if we need to be reminded every week – and we probably do – that God knows our needs and won’t give us gifts we can’t use. But in the New Zealand Prayer Book one Maori word sneaks into the English as if it’s just one of those words everybody knows. And probably in New Zealand they do. It says, “Would any of you who are parents give your child a weta when asked for a fish?”

I guess everyone in New Zealand knows what a weta is, but I had to look it up. It’s easy to do on line. And what I learned is that a weta is one of the world’s largest insects, often bigger than a mouse, and fierce. Go on line and you can find a video of a weta attacking a cat. No, if your child asks for a fish, you will not give them a weta. Nor will God give one to you – unless you go to New Zealand. Thank goodness!

The Gospel today is about prayer. There’s nothing more important for Christians to understand than the importance of prayer. St Paul brings it up again and again: He says, “Pray without ceasing,” and he says he himself is praying constantly for the church. And it’s not so much about rewards; it’s not so much about getting something measurable or specific; it’s not about an answer to prayer that you might easily recognize. It’s about the relationship. It’s about building your relationship with God.

What kind of relationship do you have with God? I lived in a community for a number of years where people could give their children whatever they wanted, but sometimes they did that to be rid of them. “You want another toy: fine, here it is. Take it and leave me alone.” There were lots of young people in that community who had everything they wanted, but not what they needed. No, it’s not the gift that matters; it’s the relationship. And in a good relationship good things happen.

The Old Testament shows us that kind of relationship. Do you know the word “chutzpah”? Maybe you haven’t lived in Brooklyn. Look it up on line. It’s a Yiddish term for “unbelievable gall; insolence; audacity, cheekiness, crust, freshness, impertinence, impudence, insolence; the trait of being rude and impertinent; inclined to take liberties.” For a text book example of chutzpah, read today’s passage from Genesis: It’s the story of Abraham bargaining with God. “If I find fifty righteous people in Sodom,” Abraham says to God, “will you save the city? What about forty? What about thirty? Maybe twenty? How about ten? And each time, God agrees to the bargain and each time Abraham ups the ante until finally God just walks away. But Abraham got what he wanted. He persisted. Nevertheless he persisted. And I think that’s what God wants most of all: the kind of persistence that builds a relationship. The kind of persistence that develops a pattern of prayer: Daily. Frequent. Constant. A life of prayer centered on God’s will.

Will you get the gifts you want? Not necessarily. Do you always give children what they want? Not necessarily. But you will give them what they need. You will take them to the doctor for shots and you will take them to the dentist for drilling. It’s not what they want, but it’s what they need. But I am sure you will never give them a weta.

Let me tell you a story. I lived as you probably know for six years in Japan and one day I was driving in Tokyo and I took a wrong turn and got completely lost and found myself driving through a cemetery. On both sides there were the typical Buddhist shrines where ashes are placed. But suddenly I saw on my left some typical western grave stones and some with crosses on them. There wasn’t any traffic, so I pulled over and got out and took a closer look and I was amazed to see that I was standing at the grave of Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky. Now that may not be a familiar name to you but it was and is to me. It’s one of the great names in the history of the Episcopal Church.

Schereschewsky was born in Lithuania in 1831 in a Jewish family and he was studying to be a rabbi when someone gave him a copy of the New Testament in Hebrew. He studied it and he became convinced that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah. He went to Germany to study further and after three years he came on to the United States where he was baptized in a Baptist congregation and then went for some reason to a Presbyterian seminary in Pittsburgh to study for the ministry. But after two years there they told him, “You can’t be ordained because you’re Jewish.” So he moved on to New York and found the Episcopal seminary which accepted him without a problem. So he graduated and was ordained and volunteered to go as a missionary to China where eventually they made hm a bishop. He founded a university and began translating the Bible into Chinese but after twelve years he had a stroke that left him confined to a wheel chair. So he moved to Japan and he spent the rest of his life translating the Bible into a basic Chinese dialect using a special typewriter and pressing the keys with one finger of his partly paralyzed right hand.

Bishop Schereschewsky died in 1906, and toward the end of his life he told a visitor: “I have sat in this chair for over twenty years. It seemed very hard at first. But God knew best. He kept me for the work for which I am best fitted.” God did not give him a weta. Nor did God give him a stroke. But God gave him great gifts as a linguist and translator and the perseverance to use those gifts.

If you know how to give your children good gifts, how much more will your heavenly Father. So pray for the gifts God is wise enough to give and pray for the wisdom to use them well.

What about borders?

July 5th, 2019

A sermon preached at All Saints Church, San Francisco, on July 7, 2019, by Pastoral Associate Christopher L. Webber.

I woke up last Sunday to pictures of the President stepping across a raised line in Korea and I’ve been trying all week to understand why the same man would want to ignore a border in Korea and build one up in Texas. I’ve been wondering whether today’s Old Testament reading can help us understand. It’s all about borders: the walls we build and the walls we tear down.

Naaman was a Syrian: commander of the armies of Aram Aram or Syria – same thing – a major power in those days stretching from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates It took in modern Syria and most of Iraq. Some borders mattered to Naaman and some didn’t. He ignored borders when he wanted to plunder his Hebrew neighbors. He was raiding south of the border one day and captured a young Hebrew woman and brought her north as a slave to serve his wife. Borders couldn’t stand in the way of personal gain.

Naaman’s behavior is similar, I think, to the way American corporations have plundered Central America for generations, exploited resources, overthrown governments, enriched a few and impoverished many. The American novelist, O Henry, invented the term “Banana Republic” to describe the governments created by the United Fruit Company and others to enrich American investors and impoverish Hondurans and Guatemalans. Borders don’t matter when we’re looking for plunder.

Israel had been a plunderer in the time of David and Solomon but now Israel was the plunderee, now it was a banana republic, ravaged by Egypt to the south and Syria to the north. Naaman would have understood our politics today. You might bring a few Central Americans north as servants and to work in the fields, you would certainly plunder the wealth, but you would build walls to keep most of the people you impoverished from coming north themselves. You build borders to protect yourself from that.

But the situation was complicated because Naaman was a leper. Well, it looked like leprosy. They couldn’t much tell different skin diseases apart in those days, but it looked like leprosy and that was scary. Leprosy ate away at your body and slowly destroyed you, and it was contagious so you exiled lepers, you made them stay outside the towns and cities, wander the countryside, but not get close. Lepers had to stay outside an invisible border ringing a bell to warn you and calling out “Unclean, unclean.”

But Naaman was the commanding general of the Syrian armies, so he wouldn’t be exiled quickly, but if that patch on his arm began to spread and he couldn’t hide it that was the end: no more palace, no more servants, no more luxuries, but a slow, painful, miserable death away from everything he valued and everything he cared about. But the Hebrew servant girl knew something, and she told Naaman’s wife and Naaman’s wife told him. The servant girl said, “There’s a prophet in Israel who does healings. Some say he even raised the dead. Maybe he can solve your problem.” So Naaman told the king and the king gave consent and Naaman headed south with a small army of servants and soldiers and went straight to the king’s palace in Israel.

The king of Israel at the time was probably King Jehoram, son of Ahaz, but this minor king was so unimportant we’re never told his name. So Naaman showed up at the door with a small army and said, “Cure my leprosy.” Well, the maid never said the king could do it, but Naaman just started at the top and scared Jehoram to death. “Me cure leprosy? Is he looking for another war?” But they got things straightened out and General Naaman went to see Elisha. And Elisha couldn’t be bothered even to go to the door. “Leprosy? No problem. Tell him to go wash in the Jordan and he’ll be fine.”

But Naaman was outraged. “Wash in the Jordan? That muddy creek?” We’ve got better rivers in Syria. Well, they did. Yjey had the Euphrates. He could have washed in the mighty Euphrates. Why bother to come all the way down south to wash in some muddy brook in Israel? Naaman flew into a rage and it took a while for his servants to calm him down. “Look,” they said, “if he’d asked you to do a hundred pushups or wash all over with Chanel #5 – wouldn’t you have done it? So why not the simple thing? What’s to lose?” So, grudgingly, he did. And it worked. And he was thrilled And that’s the end of today’s reading. It’s supposed to parallel or connect with the Gospel reading about Jesus sending the disciples out on a healing mission, but I’d rather make the connection to the headlines and borders.

So let me just finish off the story that the reading left hanging, unfinished. Here’s what we didn’t hear. Naaman was thrilled. He went back to Elisha and offered to pay him. But Elisha waved him off. “No problem. Go on home. Don’t worry. Forget about it.” So then – here’s the part I like – Naaman said, “Well, OK, but at least let me take back to Syria two mule loads of earth.”

Why? What’s that about? Naaman wants the dirt because now he knows there’s a God in Israel who answers prayer and he wants a chunk of Israel to stand on from now on when he prays so the God of Israel will hear him.

Do you see what’s happening? We’re at a stage of human development, religious development, when different people had different gods and the gods were connected with certain areas, certain lands. When in Israel, pray to Jehovah. When in Syria, pray to Baal. Gods have borders too. But Baal didn’t help my leprosy and Yahweh did. So if I have to go back to Syria maybe I can take some of Israel with me and stand on it when I pray and this powerful Israelite God will still hear my prayers

Here’s the point: this is a story of events that took place almost 3000 years ago and they were at a very early stage in the story of the human understanding of God. Move down a few centuries and you find Isaiah, another prophet for another time, and Isaiah knew something Naaman didn’t know and maybe Elishah didn’t either. Isaiah knew that God is a God who rules all nations. Isaiah knew that God could take King Cyrus of Babylon and use him as a tool in God’s hand. Isaiah knew that the God of Israel is the only God and there is no other. Isaiah knew that from the rising of the sun to it’s setting there is no other God. “I am the Lord,”“ says the God of Isaiah, “and there is no other.”

Think again about borders. We have a president who can step across one border and build walls on another. But what’s the big picture here? Where is God in all this? What does God care about borders? Here we are on the weekend celebrating American Independence and I learned something about that last week that I hadn’t known before. We have a prayer in the Prayer Book for Independence Day and we have assigned readings from the Bible, and I thought we always had. But No. No, the committee that created the first American Prayer Book in 1789 wrote a prayer for Independence Day and chose readings from the Bible, but the Bishop of Pennsylvania said, “Wait a minute. A lot of the clergy were not on board with this business. They had been loyal to their ordination oath to the King of England and some have gone back to England and some to Canada and we don’t want to embarrass the ones who remain by making them give thanks for something they aren’t thankful for.” So there was no prayer for Independence Day in the Episcopal Prayer Book until 1928 when most people had gotten over it. So in 1928 they put back the readings that are more relevant today than ever. They called on Episcopalians down to our own day to read these verses: Deuteronomy 10:17-21:

“The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”If that’s not clear enough, there’s a newer translation, almost ten years old, but more relevant than ever, that puts it this way: “The Lord your God is the God of all gods and the Lord of all lords . . . He enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants giving them food and clothing. That means that you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt.” (Common English Bible)

Argue the politics however you want and do what you want about walls and borders but our instructions

are clear. I took a certain pride in the presence of the one openly Episcopalian candidate on stage lastweek and the fact that he alone acknowledged that Christians are under orders. He said: “we should call out hypocrisy when we see it. . . a party that associates itself with Christianity . . . (and) suggests that. . . God would condone putting children in cages has lost all claim to ever use religious language again.”

And, yes, is it really so good a thing that there’s another set of borders in the world, another division between human beings? Is it a good thing that Korea is divided North and South? Is it a good thing that North America is divided three ways? Is it a good thing that Central American terrorists can control tiny countries and that we respect their right to rape and pillage as they like because, hey, there’s a border we have to respect?

What is it about borders? How is it that capitalists can ravage tiny countries with no one to hinder them, but when their victims flee for their lives we turn them away? What’s wrong with this picture? The wall is not the whole picture. The picture includes small countries destroyed by our corporations, but we’re not responsible and I don’t understand why.

Now I’m a priest, not a politician. I get to ask questions, not give answers. Except this: our God is the God of Isaiah, who knows no borders. Except this: we have a vision given us and a mandate to fulfill and the same God who loves us and calls us will also be our judge.

We will end the service today with the singing of that great hymn, “America the beautiful,” that puts into words and music something of what I’ve been trying to say:

“O beautiful for patriot dream
that sees beyond the years
thine alabaster cities gleam
undimmed by human tears . . .”

Few things, I think, cause more tears than borders, but we are given a vision that sees beyond the politics, beyond the borders, beyond the years; a vision that calls us and questions us: Must it indeed be always “beyond the years”?
Why not in our own day?
Why not now?