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Refugees and Samaritans
July 14, 2019, 12:00 AM

Grace and Peace to you from the Triune God. May the words on my lips and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God.

Today's gospel lesson is the good Samaritan. This story is the explanation to the question, “Who is my neighbor” asked in reference to the command “Love your neighbor as yourself.” While trying to help all of you become the Samaritan, who is taking care of the wounded and needy, is my usual tactic for this passage, to start, I wanted to take a little different approach.

First, I want to ask the question of when have each of us been the Priest or the Levite? When have we been those who saw the condition of the other and moved to the other side of the street, so we would not have to make ourselves unclean by dealing with this person or situation? What are the places at this very moment where we may be choosing to either cross the street, or at least stay on the far side of the street, so that we don't have to engage the situation?

Second, I want to ask the question, “What are the actions to which we are called, in serving our neighbor.” We know that the Samaritan took from his own things and from his own moneys and put himself out of the way to care for this person who has been hurt. Maybe God is asking us to use our money, maybe God is asking us to use some of our stuff and maybe God is asking us to use our voice, to stand up for what is right, and to become a visible reminder of the harm being done to the other. What of our resources are we being asked to utilize to help our neighbor?

Finally, I want to ask the question, who are those people that we should be calling our neighbor. I want to suggest that there is a long tradition of trying to make sure that our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world have what they need and this is laudable. Since however, it was the Samaritan, the theoretical enemy of the man who was hurt, I also want to suggest that in some ways it is also all of humanity. There is no one on this planet who is not made in the image of God. To a person, whether they believe or not, by our faith we see them as “Imagio Deo” or in the image of God. Our neighbor is every other person on this planet plus those in space. We are called to ask who is our neighbor?

Our initial questions are: When are we the priest or Levite? What are the resources we are called to utilize as the Samaritan? And who is the injured party that we are being called to help?

There are lots of options for those who we are being called to help but a comment from one of my Japanese friends, quoting George Takai caught me. George Takai is a survivor of the WWII Japanese internment camps. In the United States of America, we rounded up people of Japanese descent and forcibly moved them into “Interment Camps.” Recently George Takai was quoted as saying that when he looks at the camps being utilized to “house” the refugees, inside the United States, he sees the internment camps that we used to “house” the Japanese, literally him, during WWII. This got my attention, especially because there is fairly universal condemnation of the Japanese Internment Camps today. Japanese internment camps are a blot on the history of the United States for many people.

I want to look at the definition of internment camp for just a moment. The simple definition for internment is confining a person with synonyms being imprison, confine, detain or incarcerate. So and internment camp is a prison. Wikipedia simply says, “Internment is the imprisonment of people, commonly in large groups, without charges” ... “while it can simply mean imprisonment, it tends to refer to preventive confinement, rather than confinement after having been convicted of some crime.”

And then goes on to say, “Interned persons may be held in prisons or in facilities known as internment camps, also known as concentration camps.” Bad enough to think of internment camps but now to think of them as concentration camps.

The comparison with concentration camps then got me to looking up what technically are concentration camps. Merriam Webster gives the following definition, “a place where large numbers of people (such as prisoners of war, political prisoners, refugees, or the members of an ethnic or religious minority) are detained or confined under armed guard”

I have never heard anyone say that concentration camps are acceptable. George Takai has effectively stated that by his personal experience, we are running concentration camps for the refugees. Thus we need to consider carefully, I think, if this is one of the groups we are being called to assist and if so, how? What resources do we have that can be brought to help the plight of these people, many of whom I will be so bold as to say are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

I am reminded of the poem by Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller, written as a sort of confession after the second world war which reads, “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

I read this everyday walking to class in Seminary. I always wondered if a moment would come when I would feel impelled to speak so that I was not complicit in this kind of problem. This week when I read the George Takai quote, and I saw the pictures of those asylum seekers on the floor with only a space blanket & less than adequate sanitary facilities and then read that our Gospel text was the Good Samaritan, I came to believe that the moment had come when it was my imperative to call out what I see and how I see it intersecting with scripture.

My questions for the morning, if you will recall, are, “When are we the priest or Levite? What are the resources we are called to utilize as the Samaritan? And who is the one who has been hurt that we are being called to help?”

As a person of relative privilege, I have long believed that part of my call was to create opportunity for those who don't have that privilege. As I look around this sanctuary, I see people of relative privelege. What resources has our privelege brought and maybe it is at moments no more than the freedom to come and go as we please or to make a phone call on behalf of the other.

I think we have a choice and maybe we can do no more that sit vigil and call our politicians and support Lutheran Immigration Relief Services but we have a choice whether we want to be the priest and Levite or the Samaritan. There are many others, but I think,  one of the injured parties, most of whom are not our enemies but our brothers and sisters in Christ, is the Asylum seekers that we as citizens of the United States are complicit in sending to concentration camps. Thus very directly I ask, Are we the Priest and Levite or the Samaritan and if the Samaritan then what resources are we being call upon to use to help affect a healing for our brothers and sisters sitting in concentration camps within the borders of our country?