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Wading at the Border: A Sermon by Rev. Stroope

Annika Stroope
Rev. Annika Stroope

I’m sure I am not the only preacher this fall who has prayed and studied about the Bible story of Moses and thought about all of the children coming over the Mexico-U.S. border. For me, I feel particularly guilty and apathetic, because I discerned my call to ministry while serving as a mission liaison in El Salvador in Central America. The latest reported statistic is that 74% of the wave of recent arrivals of children to the U.S. border are from the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

After I lived in El Salvador in the mid-1990s, I returned there nearly annually for several years to serve as a translator for medical delegations. I was usually the translator for the pediatrician. I have wondered if any of the kids at the border were kids we saw at the clinic. I wonder now what good did it do that fifteen years ago, I explained to that child’s parents what the dosage was for an antibiotic to treat an ear infection……..if now that child sits at Lackland Air Force base, terrified of her surroundings?

The theme of our sermon and study series here at Federated Church during September and October is How Bible Verses Talk to One Another. Of the pairs of Old Testament and New Testament lectionary passages that we have focused on for the past several weeks, the story of baby Moses in the reeds and the confession of Peter perhaps have the least in common with one another. But there are two confessions in the stories – one is far more obvious than the other – when Peter says what he believes to Jesus: that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah.

But Pharaoh’s daughter also confesses something. When she shows tenderness and compassion to the infant Moses – an infant that she immediately recognizes is a Hebrew infant, and therefore a child that should have been killed according to her father’s orders – Pharaoh’s daughter then confesses something.

She confesses that she does not believe that what her father is doing is right. She confesses that she would be complicit in a grievous, unethical plan if she does not seek care for this Hebrew infant.

She confesses that God’s kingdom is greater than her father’s.

We do not always make confessions with words. Sometimes we confess what we believe when we act. I have confessed to you in words my belief that I have felt apathetic, unethical, and pretty much useless when I know that thousands of children have been bused away from violence and extreme poverty in a country that welcomed me two decades ago. While I was welcomed, the prevailing attitude toward the children has been rejection by their neighbors.

Why have Americans not done as Pharaoh’s daughter did?

One big reason is because there are already so many children born in the United States are homeless. I just heard the statistic on the radio earlier this week that more than one million school children in the United States of America are homeless. It’s easy to dismiss something called a “statistic,” but it seems hard to argue with school registration forms that have no addresses.

We are not Peter in our modern day, we are the disciples who are wondering which of the news stories we have heard are true.

When we reflect on our lives and the lives of the people in the Bible, we usually think we should pay attention to the main characters in the Bible stories. But Moses and his sister and his mother are not who we are in our modern day. We are the Pharaoh’s daughter. We are not Peter in our modern day, we are the disciples who are wondering which of the news stories we have heard are true.

The question remains, what will we do when no one is looking? I pray for God’s guidance and your help as sisters and brothers in Christ to know what to do. We are so far from the border and we know that there are already so many needs here at home. That’s why we have collected diapers for the Center for Survivors. That’s why next month we will collect peanut butter and jelly for the Food Pantry.

Another opportunity we have is to support the Peacemaking Offering, next Sunday, on World Communion Sunday. The Peacemaking Offering is not specifically or exclusively for the immigrant children border crisis; rather, it supports the work that goes on day in and day out in disaster assistance and refugee crises year round.2 The Peacemaking Offering supports work that goes on when nobody is looking.

Unaccompanied minors in an immigration detention center (photo courtesy of LA Times)
Unaccompanied minors in an immigration detention center (photo courtesy of LA Times)

And remember that while what we can do here in Nebraska is give our prayers and financial support, that it is not just words and money. What we are doing is being the body of Christ, in which we might be the eyes and ears this time, and someone else on the border are Christ’s hands and feet. We could be the hands and feet for Pilger and Stanton, Nebraska, when the tornado hit, and other folks in other churches elsewhere needed to be the eyes and ears.

Because prayers and financial gifts make PEOPLE in other places able to follow Jesus Christ with confidence, to wade into the reeds, and to pay attention to the basket floating in the water.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Annika Lister Stroope, McCormick M.Div. ’01 and D.Min. ’13, serves Federated Church in Columbus, Nebraska. Federated celebrates the centennial of its federation this year, as a congregation of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Church of Christ. Annika feels that her studies at McCormick have been wonderful formation for this ecumenical context.