I was in seminary about 10 years ago, one of the things we were required to do to prepare us for life in ordained ministry was to go on a mission trip to the Mexico side of the Texas border. The goal of that trip wasn’t to proselytize, or build anything,
or to evangelize.
were simply sent there, a class of prospective priests, to watch, learn, and grow in faith. We had spent time studying the God of Israel, who listened to the groans of the people in Egypt crying out from under the unfair economic practices of pharaoh. We
had studied the God of Judah, listening as his people wept in captivity, kept from their holy land. We had studied the God of the outcast, the foreigner, who had delivered the people of Israel from slavery, from the law of production and into the law of neighborhood.
We had studied the ways of Jesus Christ, who had brought an unexpected way of salvation into a world occupied by Rome, littered with the bodies of anyone who had dared to stand in the way– but offering new life in the face of the fear of death. We had learned
of the God of Paul, who broke down divisions between Jew and Gentile to let a new movement of love break in.
we took our knowledge, and we went to Mexico to see if this God we had studied in the classroom could be found in the world around us.
loaded in vans, our seminary class with different political backgrounds and different feelings and beliefs about immigration, church and state, and headed to the town of Piedras Negras on the border of the Texas city of Eagle Pass, hosted by an Anglican priest
whose ministry was with most of the people we would meet.
went to more places than I have time to speak about this morning. But there are three that I want to mention.
was a sort of halfway house for immigrants trapped between their countries of origin and the United States. We met a man who had been hitching a ride on a train from his home in Honduras to try and reach the border in hopes of a new life when a train passing
the other direction came too close, searing his arm off. We heard of many such stories; some like his, others who actually made it to the border and attempted a crossing but nearly perished along the way, returning to this place to recover. Last year, 412
people died in attempted border crossings, from dehydration, starvation, exposure, and the like.*
I thought of the Israelites, wandering in the wilderness. I wondered about the desperation that would drive someone to such a flight into the wilderness.
second place I want to mention is the maquiladoras. Maquiladoras are factories built in zones along the border by US companies to take advantages of trade laws so that they can pay low wages for Mexican labor and operate in a reduced regulatory environment.
Some maquiladoras treat their workers fairly and the lives of the workers improve. But others are not, are their workers are exposed to chemicals, dust, and other conditions unacceptable in the United States. I wondered about our trade policy, being more
than willing to take advantage of the conditions in Mexico, but our immigration policy which is less willing to afford our living conditions to those we met who make that trade possible; those who suffered from lack of a living wage, suffered lost limbs from
malfunctioning equipment, and other work related ailments. That stark contradiction in US policy reminded me of Pharaoh. And my heart broke.
last place I want to tell you about from this trip is more pertinent to today’s news. We visited a border orphanage. We went to see a house full of children who had been ejected from the United States. Some of them had been deported after staying with distant
relative who a US resident and were now waiting for a parent in Mexico to arrive to pick them up, perhaps having been sent to the US in hopes of a better life. Others were less fortunate, and no parent had been found. There were cases where a parent had been
deported earlier, and the child was not identified at the time of deportation, perhaps coming home from school to an empty house not knowing their parents had been taken in custody. Some of the children were not Mexican nationals, but residents of places further
south like Honduras or El Salvador– and ejected from the US, literally dropped at the edge of US territory because of their brown skin to let Mexico figure out what to do with them. That was 10 years ago.
biggest learning I had from that trip is that the border is not a fixed line in the ground. Maybe that’s not news to us in San Diego. One of my Spanish teachers lives in Tijuana and works here in San Diego. But the border is a liminal place with lives and
families that span it regardless of what kind of physical barriers are erected. On my trip, we met families who lived in Eagle Pass and worked in Piedras Negras, and vice versa. We met families who were separated by the border and heard their stories. One
of the lessons of my trip was that la frontera, the border, is a liminal thing, including people groups and ways of life, not just a line on a map. To treat it rigidly and harshly for political purposes ignores the reality of the people, and life in and around
Sea of Galilee in today’s gospel was such a border. It marked a geopolitical separation between countries. It served as political fodder for Roman conquests to ensure their continued domination. It was a border, una frontera.
this gospel lesson Jesus has just finished a day of teaching his disciples beside the lake. With very little preparation, he tells his disciples they are going to cross the lake; cross the border from Capernaum in Galilee on this boat into the country of
a mighty storm rears up on this border lake crossing. There are experienced, seasoned fishermen in the boat- they know how to handle a ship- but they go and wake up the carpenter because this storm is so mighty.
are early in their time with Jesus. They don’t really understand yet, they only know that this new teacher of theirs is asleep while the world seems to be falling apart, when the seas are high and they, the experienced ones in the ways of the world, can’t
seem to figure out what to do next to save them. It’s hard, apparently even for the disciples to rely on faith rather than the ways of the world in the midst of the storm. How much more so, I suppose, for us.
they wake Jesus up, and he gives the wind a piece of his mind, and he tells the sea to be still, to be at peace.
followers of Jesus in the boat, still so early in their journey with this strange man from Galilee who can calm the winds and the sea, are frightened by the sudden peace of God instead of comforted as the storm leaves. For Mark, fear is the opposite of faith.
Mark is telling us that the disciples have not yet come to their faith in Jesus.
had to experience the peace Jesus brought to bear over the storms again and again before they could have courage in the face of their fear; courage to take action in the face of fear.
class, when we went on our trip to the border, was full of anxiety. It was the beginning of the increased drug gang violence. Would we be kidnapped? It was the first time to Mexico for some. For me it was the first time to be up close and personal with desolate
poverty, walking among the places where people live who have no running water, with barely a roof over their heads, and nearly nothing to eat. It was uncomfortable at best, and fearful at worst.
the experience of that fear somehow changed us over those days. The storm of the border, with all of the conditions there, opened us– I imagine each in different ways. One colleague of mine went on the trip full of anger at the requirement of having to
go and with a resolute mind that the borders should be locked tight. In turn, I was angry at him for being what i considered hard-hearted. The trip filled him with empathy at the plight of the people he met along the way, and his heart softened. My heart
in turn opened to him as I heard the stories of why he had been fearful, angry even, at immigrants. The peace of God changed both of us, from fear to faith.
me, the experience of meeting a little old grandmother, an abuelita living in the colonias with no running water, in the frigid cold as we distributed blankets, telling me she had only taken a glass of tea and a tortilla in the past two days, changed me also.
Whose grandmother was she? Wouldn’t I want to flee such conditions too, and take my grandmother with me? How might we as the United States seek to improve conditions in Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and other places so that people would not want to risk
their lives on such a dangerous journey crossing the border? The peace of God doesn’t always leave us content, but, I believe, opens us to the other, calls us to action. It changes us as we cross the sea. That is just what happens when you walk with Jesus.
don’t know where you find fear, anxiety, or discord in your life. But my prayer for you, for us, for the world, is that we are given an experience of the peace of God that allows us to grow from fear to faith; from despair to hope; from death to life. And
that in turn, may give us the courage to face the very real fears of this world, turning our faith into action, and making the love of God something very real: the kingdom of God come on earth as it is in heaven.
The Rev. Canon Jeff Martinhauk
Proper 7B, June 24, 2018
St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego
on the Word, Year B, Vol. 4.
Ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 2010.