Friday, September 27, 2013


This Sunday's sermon will be from Jeremiah and focus on the special concerns of the local congregation. But the last time I spoke on these propers, I used the Gospel text on Lazarus and Dives to consider a Christian view of immigration. Since immigration is before the House of Representatives, I want to share these thoughts from three years ago.

Faith does not happen in a vacuum.
It happens in the mix and muddle of human life.
As Robert Frost said,
            “Earth is the right place for love.
            I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.”
So faith happens in our actual lives,
            our private lives and our public affairs alike.
But both our private lives and public affairs
            are driven by forces other than faith.

This past week the bishops of the Episcopal Church
            have been struggling to sort out the place of faith
            in the national debate over immigration.
That debate is driven by quite different forces.
The non-faith principles, which are not necessarily bad  --  just secular --
             are in head to head conflict.

On the one hand, we have free market capitalism
            which most Americans believe in.
Since the rise of capitalism in the 17th, 18th, and 19th Centuries,
            it has depended on a freely mobile labor force
                        – people able to go where the jobs are.
Serfs had to be able to leave the rural manors
            to go to urban factories to make the economy work.

On the other side, we also believe in nationalism.
Nations define themselves with borders
            and protect the wealth inside the borders
                        from those on the outside.
The Dominican Republic where there are jobs
             guards its borders against Haitians
                        who come there for work.
The same thing happens in France, Ecuador,
            and numerous nations.

One could interject facts and statistics to argue
            for one side or the other
                        on the immigration debate.
But facts are the business of economists and sociologists.
Certainly, people ought to learn the facts.
But the Church is here to teach faith,  
            to uphold spiritual and moral values     
            which are the framework for what we do with the facts.

The voice of faith in the immigration debate is bigger than one issue.
It speaks to our whole way of being in the world.
So faith cannot say anything about immigration
            that does not also say something about          
            how we live our lives as congregations and as individuals
                        in our families, our friendships, and our daily work.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus.
It does not say how the rich man got rich. It doesn’t matter.
It does not say how Lazarus became poor. It doesn’t matter.
What matters is the wall the rich man built to keep Lazarus out.
Lazarus longed “to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table.”
But the wall kept him out.

In the next life, Lazarus was comforted in heaven.
The rich man was tormented in Hades.
We don’t know why the rich man was tormented in Hades.
It doesn’t say it was for his callous disregard of Lazarus.
That might be  -- it but we don’t know.

What we do know is that the rich man wanted Lazarus
            to come give him some relief, to show him some mercy.
 But Lazarus could not do it.
He could not come to the rich man’s aid
            because “a great chasm had been fixed between them.”

The unspoken point is that it was the rich man
            who had fixed the great chasm, built the wall,
                        locked the gate.
Now he found himself on the wrong side of it.

This Gospel lesson could say something about immigration.
Or it could tell us about the gated communities
            in which so many of us live. I do.
Or it could say something about the walls of righteous rules
            we use to hoard our own moral superiority
                        from the folks on the outside.

There is a spiritual problem that keeps building walls.
It built the Berlin Wall.
It built the Great Walls of China and Peru.
It built Hadrian’s Wall to keep barbarians out of the Roman Empire.
You can look at them now and see it isn’t a successful track record
            that keeps us erecting walls.

It’s something inside us.
It’s the same spiritual problem that builds walls around human hearts
            to protect us from the vulnerability
                        of caring too much about too many.
Jesus keeps saying all through Luke
            that we can build our walls,
            but there is no guarantee which side of the wall
                        we will wake up on tomorrow.

Life is a terribly uncertain proposition with lots of ups and downs.
Shakespeare said that in most of his plays.
Frank Sinatra said it in one of his classics:
            “That’s life. That’s what all the people say.
            You’re riding high in April, shot down in May.
            But I know I’m gonna change that tune
            When I’m back on top in June.
            I said, ‘That’s life.’”

The spiritual problem that builds walls
            is our notion that we can stop all that upping and downing.
We think we can build a wall to keep the workers out or the jobs in.
We think we can build a wall around our families
            to make them little islands of wholesome tranquility
                        in cities beset by crime, poverty, and addiction.
But the walls don’t work.
Life is life and life moves no matter how hard
            we try to wall it in or wall it out.

The moral of the story in Luke
            is that walls imprison us.
They cut us off from each other
            and we need each other.
The stranger is the unknown part of ourselves.
We cannot wall out risk without walling out blessing.

To open the gates of our  hearts is to risk
            caring too much for too many.
I don’t know what we ought to do about any public policy.
Others know more about economics and such.

But I do know that as long as we have walls around our hearts
            we will keep building them around our nation
                        and our neighborhoods.
We will wall ourselves in and wall life out.

We began by quoting Robert Frost,
            “Earth’s the right place for love . . . .”
He also said,
            “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall . . . .
            Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
            What I was walling in or walling out,
            And to whom I was like to give offense.
            Something there is that doesn’t love a wall . . . .”