Thursday, July 10, 2014

Of Orphan Trains and Immigrant Children

Romans 7:15-25
Chatfield United Methodist Church
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
July 6, 2014


Anytime you encounter a portion of scripture that sounds like a riddle, know that it is. Unlike a parable that is, at least on the surface easy to understand, riddles are not. Like parables, riddles are an important way of understanding the depth of godly living. Unlike parables, we don’t often make children’s stories about them. Riddles are complex and are, in their complexity, able to unlock a treasure worth knowing about. Remember in Lord of the Rings, what protected the Ring was the solving of riddles.

In the scriptures when we encounter a riddle it is a good idea to listen to other ways of hearing the text to help us solve the riddle’s secrets. A different version of the bible is sometimes helpful. Usually one written in simpler language. Something more understandable. Something written more like the way we speak everyday.

When I want that I turn to two different versions: The Message and The Good News. So from the Good News our scripture from Romans 7 For even though the desire to do good is in me, I am not able to do it.  I don't do the good I want to do; instead, I do the evil that I do not want to do.
Yup that is our life a lot of times isn’t it? I want to do what is right but often I just don’t have the capacity to do it.

I really want to be always concerned about my neighbors but….
I want to understand why there are more slaves now than there was during the time of the civil war but…..
I really want to be more generous but…
I really want to be more kind but…
I really want to be more faithful but….

Jesus wasn’t nailed to a cross because we lie once in a while. Jesus was nailed to a cross because in our lying we trample on our own humanity and the humanity of others. We cheapen who we are as beloved children of God.

Jesus wasn’t crucified because we steal once in a while. Jesus was crucified because we take from, we steal from others and ourselves the capacity to be fully beloved children of God.
We shame ourselves, we shame others, we refuse to love ourselves and others with the love of Christ. We refuse to see in the other and ourselves the full extent of he glory of God’s creation.
When we dare to say that someone isn’t godly because they don’t meet up to our standards, or isn’t worthy because they have made the wrong choices in life, or isn’t allowed in because they are different than…we are stealing and destroying our own humanity and the humanity of others.

This week we heard a lot about the children who have come from Central America as unaccompanied immigrants. 50,000 children was one number I heard, that is the equivalent of a small town. I also saw on my Internet feeds some pretty harsh opinions about what should be done to these children. Send them back home was the nicest thing that I read. Most of what I read dehumanized the children and the society from which the children come from.
I wonder what your reaction was? When you heard the news and saw the photos of the children. Sleeping
My thoughts turned to something that happened in this country in the 1880’s. We even have a romantic book about it in our library. Orphan trains.
In October 1854, 45 homeless children traveled together by boat and rail from New York to Dowagiac, Mich., where they were auctioned off to local farmers and craftsmen, who gave the youngsters homes and put them to work in fields and shops. This was the first ''orphan train,'' the beginning of a system that ultimately relocated some 250,000 poor, orphaned, abandoned and runaway children from East Coast slums to rural areas of the developing nation between the 1850's and the 1920's. Charles Loring Brace, a Connecticut-born minister and reformer, thought this up as a solution to the wretched abuse and poverty he encountered among street children while he worked as a missionary with New York's Five Point Mission. [1]Was this a solution? Humane? Godly?

Here is a piece from a recent news article about the immigrant children who are crossing the borders: A 14-year-old girl from El Salvador said: "The biggest problem is the gangs. They go into the school and take girls out and kill them. ... I used to see reports on the TV every day about girls being buried in their uniforms with their backpacks and notebooks. I had to go very far to go to school, and I had to walk by myself. There was nowhere else I could go where it would be safer. Some of the children are as young as 4. They have notes pinned to their shirts giving authorities a name and phone number or address of a relative in the United States.[2]

What do you feel, what do you think when you hear this? Do you still sputter and say, but we can’t afford them? They aren’t our responsibility?

Jesus wasn’t crucified because we might lie to children. Jesus was crucified because children are treated, in all generations, with a lack of respect, dignity and care.

The good I want to do…
Sin is not simply a bad choice, or an action. Sin is more than human misdeeds.

Paul's understanding of sin is far greater. Paul writes of sin, not merely of a sin.
Sin for Paul and for Jesus is a force to be reckoned with, a force set against humanity and God alike.

The good I want to do…
As the Message reads: the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me?
Sin opposes God. Sin drives humanity to destruction. Sin deadens our hearts to even children’s needs and humanity. And only God can deal with this evil power in such a way as to liberate humanity from its force. The answer to the question Is there no one who can do anything for me? is… The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. God through Jesus Christ acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do and think something totally different.

Grace that taught my heart to fear; has also the fear relieved. Thanks be to God. A crucified Christ says to all of his followers: You have a heavy burden to carry. I know, I died because I tried to live as a person of God in this world and was rejected. You have a heavy burden to carry. I know, I died because I tried to show that people who were rejected by society, the orphan on a train, the child crossing the border, the stranger, the immigrant are worthy to receive human dignity. You have a heavy burden to carry, I know, I was crucified because I, too tried to carry these heavy burdens into the world so that others could share the load with me.

But here is the thing: this heavy yoke is no longer a yoke of burdens, it is a yoke of freedom. Jesus was crucified, but Jesus was also raised. Proving that this yoke is life giving. Not really heavy at all.

Let me give you an example of how this heavy burden is lightened because of the crucified Christ. What if instead of first thinking of the children crossing our borders as illegal immigrants, what if we see them, primarily as children of God? As children for whom Jesus died? As those children who gathered around the feet of Jesus? As a child, who like Jesus fled danger and possibly death? Instead of being angry because children are crossing our borders illegally, what if we looked with compassion. And heard the stories with the ears of Jesus? Wouldn’t our hearts be lighter?
I know this won’t solve the economic issue of caring for the children and helping them find their way home. But this attitude shift, towards the heart of God, relieves our hearts of hatred, fear and anger.

Take my yoke upon you, Jesus says, it is why I died. It is a yoke of freedom, not of sin. It is hard; our inner being wants us to care primarily for our own needs. But Jesus was crucified, died and was buried so that we could lay our sinful selves at the cross and rise again with him into people who are no longer sinners. We are sinners saved by grace.




[1] http://www.nytimes.com/books/01/06/10/reviews/010610.10herndot.html
[2] http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/13/us/immigration-undocumented-children-explainer/

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