First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine
Rev. Kate Dalton
March 31, 2019
Scripture: Romans 12:9-21, John 4:46-54
On Monday, March 18, I stood in a crowded room of a small United Methodist congregation in San Antonio, filling plastic baggies with a pen, a notepad, and a few crayons. Baggie after baggie after baggie. Others around me had their distinct tasks as well. One person filled bags with toiletries. Another filled bags with snacks. Still others filled backpacks with all of the items that we were assembling. Take a backpack, add toiletries, water, a blanket, a coloring book, a notepad and crayons, and some snacks. We filled 275 of these backpacks in the 2 hours we volunteered. They told us that 10’s of thousands of backpacks had been distributed over the past year – all filled by volunteers with the Interfaith Welcome Coalition of San Antonio, volunteers who want to do something for the people crossing the border.
The following day, I witnessed the Coalition’s work at the San Antonio greyhound station. Half a dozen volunteers in blue vests welcoming people who have been released from immigration detention or brought there by border control. Most of the people who arrive at the bus station have very little with them. Maybe a bag or two. Many of them have children. All of them still have a journey ahead. They will travel from here to somewhere in the United States where they have identified a “sponsor.” Some sponsors are trustworthy family and friends, other are predators who take advantage. The Interfaith Welcome Coalition volunteers try to help them make sense of the journey that lies ahead and to warn them of the dangers. The people are given a backpack. Food (until the Coalition runs out). There’s medicine available. Women with babies are given diapers for the journey. Children are given a single matchbox car or small stuffed animal to keep them occupied. Some are at the bus station for hours. Some barely have time to speak with a volunteer before they get on the next bus – being handed backpacks and food as they board.
The Interfaith Welcome Coalition is not an incorporated 501-c-3. They are instead an incredible network of people who care and work together to help those who have come across the border as best they can. Every person and organization that works with the coalition has their part to play and the organizers have figured out how to work the network when specific needs arise.
Commentator Frank Crouch says this about this morning’s reading from Romans: Unlike our natural tendencies, these verses call on us not only to address the cares, concerns, and challenges of people like us, who we already know and love, and who already know and love us. Nor do they limit the horizon of our concern to our extended family, to existing members of our community, or to people who actively support us and never threaten us. The verses challenge us to care for people in need, regardless of how they fit into various religious, social, or political categories.
Commentator Mark Reasoner says this:
Genuine love is the deepest theme in this section of Romans. At a more surface level, there is a theme of good and evil that operates throughout this text. Notice how “hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good” follows immediately after the opening title of “Let love be genuine.” Then the good and evil theme is explicitly mentioned at the end of the text: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (12:21). This helps us see that genuine love is not just being nice to people. Genuine love has a moral orientation toward the good. When we show love toward someone, we are moving them toward God’s goodness. To love someone is not simply to cater to specific likes and dislikes of that person. It is rather to act toward them in ways that help them experience more of God’s goodness.
I love the last line from Reasoner, “act toward [people] in ways that help them experience more of God’s goodness.”
In her song entitled “Border Crossing”, Namoli Brennet sings these lyrics:
It’s gotta be 105 degrees
And here comes another family
They are crossing this waterless sea
They are thirsty just like me
It’s just past 3 a.m.
They are stumbling into our tent
They have been clawing their way into freedom
And we are breaking the law just to feed them
You see we have drawn this imaginary line
Says this is your country and this is mine
And I guess I was just born into the lucky
This is what separates you from me
What separates you from me
It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that we should judge. Believing that we have a right to treat others with less respect or dignity because they are in the wrong or they are inferior. But the scripture this morning reminds us that judgement is not our purview. Our call is to feed those who are hungry and give those who are thirsty something to drink. Our call is to act toward people in ways that help them experience God’s goodness. Anything less than that is acting from our own will and not God’s. May we be courageous enough to take a risk and follow God. Amen.