By Fr. Timothy Kroh on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost:
In the Name ✠ of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
On this Sunday before Independence Day, in this particular time in our history, we should consider migrants. The story of America is a story of migrations. The first migrations were millennia ago, as the ancestors of the First Nations came onto this land as the first humans to live here, and then millennia later another wave of migration, this time from Europe. Many European migrants were fleeing persecution and violence, as migrants due today, but the migrants from Europe were not only human migrants, but also the migration of colonialism, disease, violence, forced conversions. Soon after the arrival of this migration, another one began: four hundred years of forced kidnappings, brutal transport, and the sale of human beings as chattel fueled the economy of this nation. Thanks be to God that those people of nobility and courage did not have their faith and hope extinguished but survived to a time of freedom. And yet we know that that freedom was often incremental in its progress and often went backwards. America is a story of migrations, and we can see the effect of this evil system today, all over the country but certainly in this city of Baltimore, in the inequality and lack of opportunity for people of color, in the culture of violence, and in the geography of this city.
America is a story of migrations, and the migrations continued after two world wars and during, when numbers of people from all over the world came to this country to seek the promise that we enjoyed. And yet so many of them were ghettoized and marginalized by the whites who were already here. Migrants pour into our borders every day. We hear the stories of so many of them in the news and so often unaccompanied child migrants, and maybe we wonder why their parents, if their parents are living, would allow or encourage such a dangerous journey. There’s only one answer to that: desperation. If you’ve not heard of the gang MS-13, you’re lucky. MS-13 is a gang that began in this country as disenfranchised migrant children were not allowed into public schools in the 1980s, and the gang grew from Los Angeles to all over this country and all over Central America. Last night I read a story about an eleven year old boy, the same age as the girl in the Gospel today, who was recruited by the drug cartel in his village in Honduras. The gang said to the parents of this eleven year old, ‘We’re taking your son.’ The parents said ‘No, please don’t, anything but that,’ but they knew the gang’s modus operandi, which is to take children, to tattoo the symbols of the gang on those children’s bodies, and then they are forever in that life of death and crime. This is no fate for any child. And if they resist, the parents are only too often murdered, perhaps with the children as well.
I’m sorry for these disturbing images in church, but I feel responsible to share them. In the Gospel today about another child in crisis, Jesus heals not only the child, but also a woman who had been suffering for twelve long years – the lifetime of these children in question. Today the mercy and power of Christ is shown in this story of healing for the woman with a hemorrhage, and this girl who was at the point of death. These stories testify to the unstoppable love, mercy and justice of God. And today that mercy works through you, and me. Baptized ministers of God. We who’ve made solemn vows to love and serve Christ in our neighbors, to uphold the freedom and dignity of every human being, are called to be agents of God’s work in this world. We need to remember this week, but all the time, that our nation is indeed great, but God is greater. We need to give thanks for our nation and work to improve it, and also remember that it is a sin to have any loyalty above our loyalty to God. We need to remember that ‘Liberty and justice for all’ has been interpreted in extremely limited ways in the course of our history and that each successive generation has fought to expand the concept of liberty and justice. We need to remember that all of us here are descendants of migrants. We need to remember that the wisdom of God decreed that our own Lord was a child migrant in the land of Egypt, along with the Most Holy Mother of God and St. Joseph, fleeing, as so many migrants do today, the threatened murder of their child.
As St. Paul says to the Corinthians, so he says to us: “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may not be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.” We can and ought to be so deeply grateful to God for setting us in this nation among many nations of the world. But we ought to remember this week that God has done this in order to give us rights and responsibilities. We have the right to free speech, to the vote, the right to civil action and protest, and so many other privileges shared by far too few in this world. We’re lucky to have them, and they’re gifts from God. And in this moment in the history of our nation, and in every moment, you are called to exercise your rights, not just as citizens, but as citizens of God’s kingdom. As ministers of Christ’s justice, mercy, and compassion. For the migrant, for those who are homeless, for those who live every day with racism, poverty and violence, for everyone who is marginalized. For our Lord honors those who are not honored in the world and blesses the poor and the persecuted.
Unless we exercise our rights and privileges to honor such as these, and to expand liberty and justice for all, our celebration of the national day is facile. And if we’re not making the right use of the gifts we have, we need to consider how God is calling us in this season to be agents of justice, love, and healing. Amen.