Have a Heart
Rev. Diane Bowers, Ph.D., for Knox/TLC, Santa Rosa
Grace and peace be unto you from God who is our Creator and from Jesus Christ who is our Savior and our Friend. Amen.
When Hans and I brought six-day old Elijah home with us,
we were told that he was sleeping for two hours and then eating two ounces, and then sleeping for two hours, like clockwork, around the clock, and he continued that pattern when he came home. Hans and I went into automatic mode and changed him and fed him and changed him and fed him and slept in-between.
On the second day of having an infant to care for, a random thought flitted unbidden through my mind, and it was, “When are his parents coming to pick him up? We’ve been babysitting this child for a long time.”
I think it’s fair to say that I loved him the minute I laid eyes on him, but it was the middle of the night, the second night he was with us, that I fell in love with him, and felt deep within me that I was his and he was mine. It happened the way rain begins. You don’t control it and it falls from the sky and covers you. He had my heart.
I have never been a fearful person, particularly, but having a baby really raises the fear factor in your life. Now I have to worry about all the ways he could fall, what to do about mysterious rashes, and make sure we enrich his little life with books, music and the outdoors so his little brain will develop. Fortunately, I have some control over most of this.
What I can’t control is how other people respond to him. Because Elijah is brown. A gorgeous, sun-kissed, caramel brown. Ethnically he’s half Latino and half Pacific Islander and when he encounters the big wide world, that is all some people will see, and it will be enough to treat him differently, or worse.
I want to bring this closer to home.
A Latino man named Hermann takes care of our yard. He does the every other week mow and blow, and trims bushes when needed, stuff like that. He’s a good man, and works really hard, and is completely dependable. We’re lucky to have found him.
A few years back he told me couldn’t work for us anymore and when I asked “Why?” and he told me my neighbors had spoken in a bullying manner to him. When I heard what they said, and it was clear to me that these neighbors felt free to speak to him with a kind of condescension and self-assumed authority because they had more social power.
This happens to him frequently. People tell him that he’s not welcome here, to go back where he came from.
I was really upset. I was angry with my neighbors for their casual, racist entitlement, and I was upset that Hermann had had to experience that, especially in my employ. I talked with one of the neighbors about it, made some changes, offered abject apologies to Hermann, and he agreed to stay.
What has never happened to me, being treated poorly because of my color and the assumption about where I was born, happens to him regularly. I feel protective. I do what I can.
As my and Hans’s son, Elijah will be protected to some degree by our white privilege, by the income we have and the language and education and advantages we can give him, but it won’t be enough to protect him completely. I know that.
I think all the time about the other children who don’t have what he has. About the 11-year-old girl named Magdalena Gomez Gregorio whom we all saw on the news this week. Her father was caught up in the ICE raids on Mississippi food processing plants. In an interview she cried and begged officials to release her father and all the other parents. “He’s not a criminal,” she cried. “I need him,” she cried. “What will I do now?” “Please, government,” she sobbed, “have a heart.”
In Luke chapter 12 verse 34 Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” And Jesus said in verse 40, “You also must be ready, for the Human One is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Our gospel text for this morning is a little confusing. Unlike the healing stories and parables, there’s no real narrative here. In the first few verses we hear Jesus continuing his teaching from last week about possessions. He says, “Sell your possessions and give alms and have treasure in heaven,” concluding, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
In the second half of the teaching Jesus is telling his followers to be ready for his return and warns that we should be vigilant because he says, “the Human One is coming at an unexpected hour.”
As I encountered this text this week I did so with the awareness that the Latino population in our country feels terrorized and traumatized because a shooter came looking for them, specifically, in El Paso and then ICE agents arrested 680 Hispanic people who were on the job, once again tearing parents and children apart. I think we all feel, we know, that something deeply wrong. It’s as if the world is off its axis, and spinning off into a dangerous place.
Jesus said, “Be ready. Be dressed for action with the lamps lit, the house in order, be prepared for my return,” and it is clear that we are not ready for him. The house is a mess.
But I also encountered this text with another awareness and that is the fact that two months in a row, the members of Knox Presbyterian Church and Thanksgiving Lutheran got together to talk about their neighbors and how to help. You came to two discussions in order to explore the question of what it is that we have in this barn, in this house, and what our neighbors need, and where those two things intersect.
One of the realities that was named last Sunday was that many of our neighbors are immigrants, and of those, majority Latino. They have all the needs that any immigrant without much money would have, and right now, they also have fear.
Members of our two congregations volunteered to get together and see what we’ll do next, and I’m encouraged. Perhaps on September 8, for God’s Work. Our Hands Sunday, or later this fall, we will introduce ourselves to our neighbors as a church that cares about them, and in so doing, we will begin to set the house aright. We will light lamps and prepare food and in doing those things, Jesus will arrive.
Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Jesus is saying, where you direct your treasure and your effort, your heart, your mind, your commitment and values, will follow.
On Thursday I was leaving the church to head home and I saw that some kids had set up a lemonade stand on the grass just to the east of the parking lot. There were four boys, two white and two Hispanic, and a white woman, sitting at the table selling the lemonade, and there was a group of girls on a blanket under the trees, just hanging out.
“You wanna’ buy some lemonade?” one of the boys shouted. “Yes,” I said. “Yo, you wanna’ buy some lemonade?” one of the girls shouted. “Yes!” I said. “I just need to put my things in the car.” “Do you wanna’ buy some lemonade?” one of the boys yelled as I walked towards the table. “YEEEES!” I said. “I’m coming.” So they were not lacking in entrepreneurial spirit. The lemonade was not great, so later they’ll have to learn about quality control.
Anyway, I talked with the mom, and asked her which kids were hers because far be it from me to assume that all families are the same color, and I told her that we were planning to hold a neighborhood event sometime this fall.
She mentioned that she remembered when Knox held a cookout in the past, and I told her I hoped they would all come to whatever it is we decide to do. “You’ll put up flyers, right?” She said. “Yeah,” I said, “We will. We’ll be ready.”
Hermann doesn’t live in the houses next to this church, but people like him do. ICE agents haven’t raided a factory near here, but nonetheless, people are afraid. A little girl named Magdalena pled for her father and begged the government to have a heart.
My son Elijah will never be in that particular position, but nonetheless he will hear at some point that he doesn’t belong, and how can I protect his heart? How do I and we increase the heart of Christ in this world and put the world back on its axis?
[At the ELCA churchwide assembly this past week the assembly voted overwhelmingly to become a sanctuary denomination. Among other things, this means that as a church we are saying that walking alongside immigrants and refugees is a matter of faith. So let’s explore what that means and how this congregation could live into it. How do we put the world back on its axis?]
Maybe it starts with Knox and TLC and a cookout where neighbors meet neighbors, and brown and white children selling lemonade, and putting our hearts and our treasure where Christ is.