Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Dear Principal Vernon

Matthew 14: 13-21

Recently, JC Penney has run some ads that re-create scenes from one of the most iconic movies of my generation, the one behind the baby boomers. It was called The Breakfast Club, and the ads recreate those scenes with their actors wearing JCPenney clothing.

It got me to thinking about the movie, and that got me to remember the point of the movie. It was a movie about five high school students, all of whom have been given all day Saturday detention. Each kid is a stereotype, as the movie starts; a jock, a brain, a beauty, a “basket case”, and a rough kid. As the movie progresses, though, they learn about each other, and realize that they are not all so different. At the end of the movie, the brain writes a letter that fulfills the detention assignment for all of them, and reminds the principal of their basic humanity.

The gist of it is this: You see us as you want to see us. To you we’re just a jock, a princess, a basket case, a brain, or a criminal. But we know that we each hve a little bit of each of those within us. --Signed, The Breakfast Club.

This morning’s Gospel message is a similar one. Jesus, at the end of the day, sees 5000 men, and women and children besides, hungry and tired. The villages around them have food, but that many people would, I would think, pretty much exhaust the food supply of that whole side of the lake. So he tells the disciples to feed everyone.

And, to their wonder, they do.

Now, I need to remind you all of something that Donna reminded me of, this week. In Matthew, this happens twice. Once here, in the lands of his people, and once, a chapter or two later, in foreign lands. Just like the Spirit coming twice, once at Pentecost to the Disciples and followers, and once to Cornelius the roman Centurion and his household, God has included both those who are “his people”, and those who, in earthly terms, aren’t.

Those earthly drawn lines are devilish things, aren’t they? They are around us all the time, we can’t help but be tripped by them, and sometimes we act according to their boundaries so deeply we can’t even see them. We act in ways that truly are evil, and we are de-sensitized to their presence. Think of the current situation down in Shenandoah, where those three or four high school boys beat the young Hispanic father to death.

We live in a current climate of distrust toward people of Hispanic descent. Many of us in this area consider it acceptable to think that when one sees someone of Hispanic descent, that person could very well be here illegally. And the cultural climate of the area, one that distrusts outsiders, makes it a little more Ok to feel like that person “doesn’t belong here”. The headline in the newspaper could have come from any period over the last 150 years of local history.

The Welsh resented the Irish, the Irish resented the Italians and the Lithuanians, and they all now resent the Hispanics. You’ll even occasionally hear people whisper “Mexican”, as if someone’s nationality is impolite to mention, like a mole or a bad toupee! Somehow, the people that move into a new area for jobs, mining or otherwise, in a depressed economic region, are seen as a threat. And sometimes, fueled by ignorance, bravado and alcohol, those threats are met by violence.

And a young man ends up dying just because he is Hispanic.

These are human lines, not God’s lines. There was nothing Christian about what happened to Luis Ramirez. The Bible tells us to welcome the stranger. Jesus performs the miracle of feeding two multitudes, one for “us” and one for “them”. The Holy Spirit comes to “us” and to “them”.

If we are truly Christians, then our hearts can have no room for feelings like this. Jesus is clear, the Bible is clear. Welcome the stranger, for you were once a stranger. You might even be unknowingly entertaining angels. We were once all immigrants. Only Adam and Eve are truly native to any one place. Even the people we call “native Americans” came from Asia. We may as well welcome those who have come after us, because they are pretty much us, too.

The letter to Principal Vernon in the movie says it this way—Each of us has a little bit of the jock, the pretty girl, the basket case, the smart kid, and the tough kid.

There is very little that separates us from people like Luis Ramirez, he was just like us in many ways. And our salvation isn’t in drawing those lines brightly and clearly, but in our welcoming those who come into our lives as angels. As merely ourselves with different looks. Each of us has a little bit of the immigrant, and the angry teen. People are not evil because they are from somewhere else. People are not evil because they don’t have the right papers in their pockets. They are opportunities to show that we do believe what we preach, that God died for all, that we welcome the stranger in our midst. I was told that you all have understood this, because one of the more fondly remembered pastors of this charge, Rev. Munoz, once preached a sermon from this pulpit about his coming to America from Mexico illegally. You can put a face to this problem. If there is an inconvenient paper problem, it is an opportunity to help them fix the problem. That is how we show that we are saved. This is how we show the love of God.

They’ll know we are Christians by our love, not by our deportations.

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