Homily, “Borderlands: La palabra de Dios no está encadenada!”
Ordinary Time, Proper 23, 2019
Santa Fe Episcopal Church/ La Iglesia Episcopal de Santa Fe
San Antonio, TX
Derek M. Larson, TSSF
The Readings/ Las Lecturas:
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Our readings today are about borders. We have our own national border not too far from here. And it is something, I’m learning, that deeply forms the culture of south Texas. In her book, Borderlands/ La Frontera, Gloria Anzaldúa describes the border as una herida abierta. A place where the implications of our nation’s prejudices are fully visible. To live in the borderlands means to live in a complicated place, often full of pain, but also great beauty. Anzaldúa also points out however, that there are many kinds of borderlands. I didn’t grow up in south Texas. Though I was born less than 150 miles from the Canadian-U.S. border, a place vastly different than here. But I have gone through different kinds of borders in my life. I’ve passed through the borders between employment and unemployment. Between the church I grew up in and the church I’m in now. Between health and mental illness. Borders are hard. And I know my borders have been easy compared to what others have had to face. But living in some type of borderland is a fact of life. The borders in our lives are always changing, and sometimes we are on one side, and sometimes we’re on the other. Here in south Texas, we are especially aware of this reality.
In today’s first reading, we encounter the people of Israel in the borderlands of exile. After centuries of living in their own land with their own kings—Saul, David, Solomon, and all that followed—their larger, wealthier, more powerful neighbor across the border invaded their land and captured their people. Through a kind of forced migration, many of the Israelites found themselves living in a foreign land in Babylon with little hope of going home. In those days, every nation and land had its own god or gods. Each of these gods was deeply connected to the earth–to the tierra–of its people. It was bad enough having their families uprooted and displaced in an unfamiliar place, but for Israel, to be taken from the tierra of their ancestors felt like being taken away from their God as well. Psalm 137 records their anguish, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and there we wept…How could we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?” El pueblo de Israel en exilio anhelaba irse a casa.
Today I’m wondering how much has changed? As of 2017 there were over 65 million refugees displaced around the world due to violence, persecution, conflict, and climate change and that number is only growing. Here at Santa Fe we’ve seen it with our own eyes. This community has encountered many people who have been forced to cross borders. We’ve seen them get off the bus downtown. We’ve had them as neighbors in the barrio. Many right here in our pews know what it is to live in a foreign land. And others, who may have never crossed a border, still know what it is like to feel exiled. Now I’m not a Latino, but in reflecting on his own Latino identity, theologian Justo González once compared the exile experience of the Israelites to living in the United States as a Latino. Many Latinx people have been forced from their land and came here to start new. Many others have lived here their entire lives and yet are often treated like foreigners, like they don’t belong. “This is who we are:” Gonazález wrote, “a people in exile. By the waters of Babylon we shall live and die.” How many of us feel like we are living in exile? Whether it be exile from the country of our birth, or from family, or from our health, or from friendship, or from society. How many of us feel the pain of exile in our lives? Cuantos de nosotros conocemos bien el exilio?
Pero como dijo la segunda lectura, la palabra de Dios no está encadenada! The word of God is not chained to one side of the border or the other. The presence of God goes with us as we cross borders into new lands. When the Israelites were at the depth of their home sickness, the prophet Jeremiah brought them the word of God and said to them, “Build houses and live in them! Plant gardens and eat what you grow! Get married! Have children! Pray to the LORD.” Sometimes simply to live is an act of protest. Sometimes simply to thrive is a subversive act. The people thought they had lost their God and here Jeremiah reminds them that the LORD is still with them, even in the midst of their tribulation and despair. For Jeremiah, to settle down in the land of exile isn’t to give in to injustice but to live and thrive in a radical spirituality that recognizes that God knows no borders and walks with us in our struggles. Jeremiah invites the people into a kind of espiritualidad cotidiana. Live your daily life even here, trusting that God is en la lucha contigo, porque la palabra de Dios no está encadenada.
Our gospel reading for today takes place a few centuries after Jeremiah. Some of the Israelites were allowed to return home; some never came home. Some married those in foreign lands and became a new people. In Luke’s passage we see Jesus passing through another borderland, the region between Samaria and Galilee. The Galileans married in Babylon and formed new traditions before they eventually returned home to Israel. The Samaritans claimed they had never left Israel and that their way of worshiping God was more true to the original law. And so the two bitterly looked down on one another. This was the land Jesus was crossing through—the no man’s land between here and there. And it was in this borderland he encountered a group of people who had been rejected from both worlds! Ten people with leprosy were there wandering in the borderlands. Some of them were Galileans; some were Samaritans; some were probably Gentiles, but they were not welcome in any place because of the disease they carried. They were ni de aquí ni de allá.
I wonder again, how much has changed? How many people wander the world ni de aquí ni de allá? How many people wander borderlands looking for tierra para llamar a los suyos? I recall last year as a group of migrants from Central America traveled through Mexico towards the U.S. border when many here in the U.S. looked for any excuse they could think of to turn them away. They’re criminals! They’re invaders! In fact one news program in October of last year actually accused the migrants of bringing smallpox and leprosy! And so like those ten wandering the borderlands between Samaria and Galilee the migrants wandered the borderlands between the U.S. and Central America. I will never know fully what that experience is like, but I wonder how many of us feel even a little like that. I wonder how many of us feel like we are walking through borderlands? I wonder how many of us feel like we are ni de aquí ni de allá. Whether it be a political or social borderlands, or a borderlands of an ending marriage, or the the borderlands of our children moving away, or the borderlands of coming out as gay in a homophobic society, how many of us feel like we are wandering between Samaria and Galilee? Cuantos de nosotros deambulamos las fronteras de nuestras vidas buscando un hogar?
Pero la palabra de Dios no está encadenada! The word of God is not chained to Samaria. It is not chained to Galilee! It seeks us out in the borderlands between here and there and speaks life to us. The ten with leprosy found in Jesus a God who saw them. Who healed them. They found in Jesus the home they had been wandering around looking for. La palabra de Dios no está encadenada.
I’m here to tell you that whatever borders you are crossing in your life, whether it be a political border, a border from health to illness, a border from employment to unemployment, whatever border, God sees you and is with you! God is wading through the water next to you onto the other side. I’m here to tell you that if you are living in exile, whether it be in exile from the land of your birth, exile from a marriage, exile from a friendship, exile from the Church in which you were raised, God sees you and is with you! God is living there with you by the waters of Babylon urging you to not give up but to live, and to thrive! Our God is a God that knows no borders. La palabra de Dios no está encadenada!
And so here we come to the end of the sermon where we are charged with a task.
After the 10 with leprosy were healed the Scripture says that one of them “saw that he was healed and turned back, praising God with a loud voice. One of them. That makes me wonder, what happened to the other nine? Did they see that they were healed? Did they even notice? We don’t know. But the Scripture doesn’t say they even noticed they were healed, much less praised God for it. Only the one Samaritan saw he was healed, and turned back. How often when we are crossing between Samaria and Galilee do we get so caught up with our fears that we miss the healing, unchained presence of God working in our lives? The response of the one who saw and turned back, invites us to simply see the work of God. To simply notice God on our side.
Cuál es la diferencia entre el profeta Jeremías y el pueblo de Israel? El profeta ve. El profeta ve la presencia de Dios, incluso en la tierra extranjera. Cuál es la diferencia entre Jesús y todas las otras personas que pasaron a los leprosos? Jesús ve. Jesús ve la marca de Dios en todas las personas que han sido rechazadas por el mundo. Cuál es la diferencia entre el leproso Samaritano y los otros leprosos? El leproso ve. El leproso vió lo que Jesús hizo por él y alabó a Dios por su misericordia. Cuando pasamos las fronteras en nuestras vidas, es importante abrir los ojos y ver. Es importante ver la presencia de Dios a nuestro lado. Cuando vemos eso, alabaremos a Dios y incluso a la vida cotidiana se convierte una parte de la lucha contra la injusticia del mundo. Vean a Dios, porque la palabra de Dios no está encadenada! Amén.