The Rev. Patrick Keyser
“Say to them, the kingdom of God has come near to you.”
In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Nearly every day since mid-April, buses of migrants coming from the state of Texas have arrived at Union Station here in Washington, DC. These buses are filled with individuals who have left their homes, many fleeing violence, all seeking a better life for themselves. And in many cases for their children. Most have made the treacherous trip through Central America and Mexico to the southern border of the United States. Their harrowing journey then continues from there as they travel for anywhere from 30 to 50 hours by bus to arrive here in the nation’s capital. Those who arrive day after day are exhausted and usually bringing not much more than the clothes on their back. While the governmental response to this massive humanitarian need has been at best, modest, the response of dedicated community organizers and volunteers has been nothing short of miraculous.
When word first arrived back in April, that buses would be arriving, organizers rooted in DC’s mutual aid network, immediately sprang to action, establishing plans to assist the migrants arriving here in Washington. Volunteers greet the buses at Union Station and coordinate the movement of the arriving migrants to designated respite centers assigned for the day. Most of which are local churches that volunteer to host on a rotating basis. There, breakfast and lunch are served, clothes and other basic necessities are made available, and space is provided to simply rest and be comfortable. At these respite centers, organizers also help arrange travel for those who are seeking to continue on to connect with family or friends in other cities and locations. And for those who have no such connections in the US, temporary accommodations in the Washington area are arranged. Many volunteers have opened their own homes to those who need a place to stay.
I’m proud to say that members of the Sanctuary Ministry of this cathedral along with many other faithful Episcopalians from across the Diocese of Washington, have been committed volunteers in supporting this great effort of welcome. Several Episcopal churches are among those serving as respite centers. I recently volunteered one morning at a nearby parish church. As we prepared breakfast and fresh coffee welcomed over 40 wearied individuals into that space and spent time around the table, eating and sharing in conversation. I knew deep within myself that this was the work the Church was supposed to be doing. This was God’s work.
The politics surrounding immigration in this country are deeply contested and complex, but the response required of us as Christians in the face of such a scenario is decidedly clear and simple. We are called to show hospitality, to offer food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, welcome to the stranger, clothing to the naked. For as Jesus teaches us in the great story of the judgment of the nations in Matthew chapter 25, in doing so, we do it unto Christ Jesus himself. The Roman Catholic tradition identifies these acts as the corporal works, corporal acts of mercy. Those related to the bodily needs of others. These deeply scriptural acts must be understood as central to the life of Christian discipleship. It is such acts of mercy, such acts of hospitality. In those we meet Christ and our fellow human and open ourselves to the possibility of transformation. The letter to the Hebrews offers us this extraordinary reminder, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that, some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
This morning, I would like to invite us to consider the broader call to mission and ministry that is ours as followers of Jesus, using the text before us from Luke’s gospel as our guide. This portion of Luke chapter 10, tells of Jesus appointing and sending 70 individuals on ahead to every town and place where he himself intended to go. Though the text offers us little in the way of specific information about these unidentified 70, I think we can reasonably assume that these were individuals who had come to know Jesus, who had seen the good works and healings he had done, who had heard his teachings and found him someone worth following. Now Jesus teaches them that to follow him, requires accepting the call to be sent out. This sending out of the 70 follows Jesus’s earlier sending out of his 12 disciples, his closest friends as described just one chapter prior in Luke 9.
For Jesus, mission was not something limited to himself or even to his closest group of followers. Proclaiming the good news and announcing the coming of the kingdom of God is work for all of us who seek to follow him. We find further important insights for our understanding of ministry in the instructions Jesus gives to the 70. He tells them, “Go on your way, carry no purse, no bag, no sandals. Whatever house you enter, first say “peace to this house.” And if anyone is there who shares in your peace, your peace will rest on that person. But if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking, whatever they provide.” They’re further instructed to cure the sick and proclaim, “the kingdom of God has come near to you.” We see that Jesus sends them out with virtually no provisions, seemingly unprepared, and asks them to take the risk of believing that God will provide. God will show up in their midst, through the generosity, hospitality and goodwill of others.
Here Jesus teaches us what is for so many, a very difficult lesson to take to heart. No matter how hard we try, no matter how much we seek to tell ourselves otherwise, we are not self-sufficient beings. We cannot do everything on our own. We depend on the gracious provision of God and of others. We need God and we need each other. And this is something we must always remember when we engage in those acts of mercy, to which we are called. There’s an ever-present temptation in such moments, to see ourselves, even if just implicitly, as the ones in positions of power, as those who are giving something to others who are in a position of need. The understanding of that relationship is unequal, imbalanced. One that is inconsistent with the example given to us by Jesus, who sends us, not as those possessing much, but instead as those who are mindful of our own needs and limitations. The kingdom of God comes near when we recognize our interconnectedness and mutual need for each other as members of the human family.
In a well-known phrase from his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King puts it this way, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” St. Paul and his letter to the Galatians urges us, “Bear one another’s burdens. And in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” The whole law is summed up in a single commandment. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
This weekend, across the United States, we celebrate Independence Day. A civic holiday that for many, is a time to celebrate this country and its history. For others, it is a time to reflect on the ways this country falls short of the ideals it expresses and to call it and all of us to live more fully into those ideals. To become truly a place where there is liberty and justice for all. As Christians, gathered this day, we are given the gospel invitation to reflect, to consider how Jesus is sending us out for ministry. The form that takes is unique for each of us given the particularity of our lives. But we are united in our shared commitment to follow Christ, that we in turn might contribute to a more just society.
In the days and weeks ahead, buses will continue to arrive at Union Station here in Washington, bringing more exhausted migrants, seeking safety and a better life. Dedicated and heroic volunteers will continue to organize efforts to welcome and meet the basic needs of those who arrive. The need is great. And at times the magnitude of the hardship and suffering that surround us can so easily overwhelm us. For we can, of course, call to mind so many other situations. The truly horrific news from this past week of the death of over 50 migrants in the back of a tractor trailer, in the sweltering heat of a Texas summer. Or the ongoing devastation of war in Ukraine, the plague of gun violence in this country, or any of countless number of scenarios from your own lives or the world around us. What on earth can we do in the face of such need and suffering that seems to continue on without end?
Consider this example from the gospels. In a moment when Jesus’ disciples wished to dismiss a large crowd of hungry people and send them away, Jesus looked at them and said, “You give them something to eat.” Sometimes it is really just as simple as that, responding to the need right in front of us. We must never discount the importance and impact of that. Remember the words of St. Paul from the portion of his letter to the Galatians we heard this morning, “Let us not grow weary in doing what is right. For we will reap at harvest time if we do not give up. So then whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all.”
May God indeed give us the grace to not grow weary as we work for the good of all. So, friends, go on your way and proclaim to all that the kingdom of God comes near. Amen.