June 30, 2019 — Rev. Paula Norbert
God has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
1 Timothy 2:1-4
1. Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all,
2. for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.
3. for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,
4. who desires all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Today we gather as a faith community on the Sunday before the 4th of July. Living in these United States, we have had the privilege of worshipping the religion that we choose and not having that decision thrust upon us by a government. I think of the wonderful paintings by Norman Rockwell called the Four Freedoms. Rockwell’s Four Freedoms were first published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1943, inspired by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1941 address to Congress, with his vision for a postwar world founded on four basic human freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.…and we know that freedom of religion is named in the first Amendment to the Constitution, an essential part of our Bill of Rights. This also has meant that others have the right to worship as they choose or not. I would imagine that many of us are grateful for that right, along with many others that we have inherited by virtue of our citizenship. Let us pray, O God of mercy, we give thanks to you for the blessings of this day, for the many freedoms we sometimes take for granted; freedoms we cherish. Be with us, help us to appreciate the gifts you have bestowed upon us in our lives and inspire us to respect our brothers and sisters across this nation and around the world that all may live in peace, that all may know justice. Amen.
The historian Jon Meacham has written several books on the history of our country and important leaders from our past. When I have heard him interviewed, he always reminds us of the goal of creating “a more perfect union” that is laid out in the Preamble to the Constitution. We do not have, nor have we ever had a perfect union, but in a democracy, we are all responsible for working to create that more perfect union. Much like our spiritual lives, we are on the journey as citizens and as a nation. At times we have been at our best and at others, we have made serious mistakes. It’s a journey and it is not easy.
Recently, we commemorated the anniversary of DDay on June 6th. As we saw and read some of the amazing stories of that day, including interviews with some who are still alive who were part of that invasion and were able to return to Normandy, France for what is likely their last visit, I’m sure we all felt deeply humbled by their sacrifices and their stories. Years ago, my parents visited the beaches of France and the gravesites of the soldier who died that day. They were able to find and photograph the gravesite of the brother of our neighbor who died that day. When they returned to Maine some weeks later, they shared these images with his sister and it was deeply moving for her to finally see where her brother had been laid to rest so many years ago. My Uncle Bill served as a teenager in the Pacific during that time and was involved in both Iwo Jima and Guadal Canal. Like so many other veterans, he rarely spoke about the losses of his fellow soldiers, the suffering he experienced, or his own heroism as he was awarded the Purple Heart.
I recently heard about an amazing story of a British woman who served as a secret agent for the British during the war. “In May 1944, a 23-year-old British secret agent named Phyllis Latour Doyle parachuted into occupied Normandy to gather intelligence on Nazi positions in preparation for D-Day. As an agent for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), Doyle – who recently celebrated her 98th birthday – secretly relayed 135 coded messages to the British military before France’s liberation in August. She took advantage of the fact that the Nazi occupiers and their French collaborators were generally less suspicious of women, using the knitting she carried as a way to hide her codes. For seventy years, Doyle’s contributions to the war effort were largely unheralded, but she was finally given her due in 2014 when she was awarded France’s highest honor, the Chevalier of the Legion of Honour.” (A Mighty Girl.com) She also explained how she concealed her codes: “I always carried knitting because my codes were on a piece of silk – I had about 2,000 I could use. When I used a code, I would just pinprick it to indicate it had gone. I wrapped the piece of silk around a knitting needle and put it in a flat shoe lace which I used to tie my hair up.” Coded messages took a half an hour to send, and the Germans could identify where a signal was sent from in an hour and a half, so Doyle moved constantly to avoid detection. At times, she stayed with Allied sympathizers, but often she had to sleep in forests and forage for food. During her months in Normandy, Doyle sent 135 secret messages conveying invaluable information on Nazi troop positions, which was used to help Allied forces prepare for the Normandy landings on D-Day and during the subsequent military campaign. Doyle continued her mission until France’s liberation in August 1944. (Women Heroes of World War II by Kathryn J. Atwood.)
We know there are countless other stories of men and women who served at that time that we may never hear, but their dedication and service were on behalf of our nation and our allies during that war. The French who live in the towns in Normandy near the coast still tend the graves and remember the stories of liberation.
Sadly, we know that in recent years our country has become more polarized in too many places and there are families who are separated by their political views. However, historians remind us that there have been other moments in our history and, most notably, the time leading up to the Civil War, when that division nearly led to a truly divided nation.
Recently, I saw a moving story of a small town in New Mexico where they have been presented with a challenge and have responded as a community with love. Over the last several weeks, U.S. authorities, unable to house a surge of asylum-seekers at the border, have dropped off thousands of immigrants in a town called Deming, one of the poorest municipalities in one of the nation’s poorest states.
The migrants, mostly Central American families, have arrived by the busloads to find a shelter that has become the focal point of tiny Deming.
The fire department has set up shop at the shelter’s intake facility to help deal with crises. Volunteers show up in droves to lend a hand. And some churchgoers have even gone so far as to open up their homes to the migrants.
Dealing with a crush of new arrivals without federal assistance, this city of 14,000 is marshaling all of its resources to cope with the crushing weight placed on its shoulders, local officials say. “It’s been one of the best things I’ve done as a firefighter in all my career,” said Deming Fire Department Chief Raul Mercado.
Cullen Combs, the emergency manager in nearby Dona Ana County, New Mexico has been grappling with how to respond. “I have a lot of personal thoughts about it, but when I see a mother with a child who’s having a seizure because they have a 103 temperature, that’s going to hit you,” Combs said. “And that’s something that, we as Americans, we’re just, we’re going to have an outpouring of being able to help these folks.” The town has turned an empty building on the county fairgrounds into a migrant shelter, filled wall to wall with green cots, and growing piles of donated diapers, toiletries, and clothing for the migrants who often arrive hungry and weeks from their last shower. “We’re really good at this,” said Chris Brice, who runs the shelter and also serves as Deming’s jail warden and assistant county manager.
The city is spending about $15,000 a day to accommodate the migrants, Brice said. “We don’t even discuss the politics of it here,” Brice added. “It’s what we do or they would be out there on the street trying to find their own way. And that’s unacceptable to everybody.” The support has come from a wide variety of sources in Deming, from local churches and NGOs, to individual volunteers. St. Ann’s Church in Deming has housed 300 migrants since that first day in May. On average, the church takes in 85 people each week. I imagine Jesus asking, “how did you treat the least of my brothers and sisters.”
And, I think we can be proud of the incredible response in nearby Portland, where many asylum seekers have arrived with many needs as well. The response to their needs by people across our state has also been incredible and very generous.
Political and policy disagreements will always be part of a country that seeks to live as a democracy. There is much we may disagree about, much that still needs to be improved, but I also believe that there is much of which we can be proud. As citizens of this country and as people who seek to live out their Christian faith, we are challenged to consider how we may best live these values in our daily lives as individuals and as part of a larger nation seeking always to be a ‘more perfect union.’ There is a saying that reads, “to whom much has been given, much is expected.” I trust that we know deep in our hearts that we have indeed been given many blessings, many freedoms and that it is our responsibility to continue to imagine how we may continue to reach out with the love, the generosity, and the openness that Jesus always modelled in his ministry and in his teachings. Happy 4th of July, my friends. Amen.