We Are Family
This morning I want to talk a bit about God’s family. Desmond Tutu once said, “You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.” In the best of all possible worlds we are born into families where there is lots of love, kindness, support and care. If you have ever witnessed the birth of a child, you have hopefully experienced what it is like to be part of such a joyous occasion. One in which there are hopes and dreams for a good life for this new person and a commitment on the part of the parents and caregivers to do their best to provide all that is needed for the child to thrive and be healthy.
In the best of all possible worlds, children are wanted, cherished, cared for and respected. In the best of all possible worlds, families receive the internal and external support and resources they need to feed themselves, have housing, be of good health, and be safe in their persons. In the best of all possible worlds, our society is one in which we are an extended family that looks out for one another as the early Christians did to ensure that no one is hungry, no one is alone, and no one is forgotten.
We are not, sadly, in the best of all possible worlds. In addition to current attempts to significantly change many of the safety net benefits that help working families make ends meet, like CalFresh (food stamps) and health insurance subsidies; we are now faced with a new assault on the integrity of families; the separation of children from their parents because of improper entry into the United States which is a misdemeanor (a petty crime like shoplifting).
There are differing points of view and ideas about how to manage improper immigration and it is not possible this morning to discuss or resolve the many issues that are involved. What I hope we will think about today, tomorrow and for however long we need to, is the impact separation from their families has on children.
One of the stories I recently read was about a five-year-old boy who was taken from his father who was put in detention for improper entry. The child was placed with a foster family. The foster mother talked about how for months the little boy cried a lot, was withdrawn and continually asked when he would see his father. The boy constantly held on to two pencil drawings he had, one of his family and one of his dad in an attempt to keep his family close to him. As he cried himself to sleep at night he kept those pictures under his pillow. The child, for many months, had and still has no idea where and when he will ever be reunited with his father or any member of his family.
The article also described a loving and caring foster family who do their best to love and care for this child. The foster mother’s anguish in relating the boy’s pain is palpable. How does anyone explain to one so young why they cannot be with a loved one or how long they will be apart?
Family is important to us. While many of us are closest to the families we are born into, some of us find new families because our original families were not there for us or could not care for us. Still children, especially young children, experience long lasting adverse effects when they are forcibly taken away from their families, whatever the reasons. Imagine, if you will, that this child, this little boy, was a member of your family. What would you say to him?
In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Jesus provides us with an expanded vision of who we are to consider as family.
We are born into families physically and we form families spiritually. In one instance we physically come from a common ancestor. In the other instance, when we become Christians, we recognize that we come from a common spiritual ancestor. As children of God, we seek to be in communion and relationship with God and one another. It is one of the reasons many of us come to church, to be together and to do our best to care for and love one another, to be family. Harm done to one member of our human family, harms all of us.
Richard Bach, the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, once said, “The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.” Our true family, the one given to us by God, the one that consists of family members we are physically and spiritually related to, needs us. Our family needs us to speak up when wrong is done to any one of us. Our family needs us to prayerfully and faithfully act when one of us is in trouble. Our family needs us to be the voice for the voiceless, the conscience of our society, and the leaders who shine light in dark places. That is how we protect our family.
We care for our children by strengthening and supporting our families. We may differ in our thoughts about how to do this well and effectively. We are, however, united in our faith when we are guided and led by Jesus Christ. Therefore, we know that we can work together to seek actions that are aligned with our Baptismal Covenant. Our guideposts, our standards, and our faith are based in our promise to God that we will persevere in resisting evil; that we will proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; that we will seek and serve Christ in all persons; and that we will strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being, and I will add, their families.
We cannot be silent when we see wrongdoing. Elie Wiesel, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize said, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented”. The immigration policy of separating children from their families causes harm to them and to us for we are their family too. Let us come together to talk about better ways to care for our children and support our family.
I would like to close with a prayer for the human family which is found on page 815 of the Book of Common Prayer. Let us say it together:
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us
through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in
your good time, all nations and races may serve you in
harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.
Now, let us go forth in love to do the work that God has given us to do.
Link to the Episcopal News Service article published June 12, 2018: Church, interfaith leaders call for US government to end its immigration policy separating families: