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Radical Nut – a sermon on the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37 preached by Pastor Mark Harris on July 14, 2019
Please pray with me: God grant us strength, as individuals, as your church, as a people, and as a nation. And remind us always that a hallmark quality of true mightiness is mercy. Amen. Some of you may think that I talk politics too much from this pulpit. If this describes you, I respect that opinion, and would suggest that you consider that for each of you who feels that way, there is likely someone else who feels that I don’t talk politics enough, or at least explicitly enough. Living into the Body of Christ does require a certain amount of compromise and acceptance of differences. But I am going to take today and talk about politics very specifically. I have not always been a Pastor. I have been politically active for much of my life, to the point of working on campaigns, and holding house parties. I do not do those things anymore. When I was active politically, I felt bound to consider, and form my opinions of policy issues. The reactions I got to those opinions in the party I worked with, and in the party that opposed that party, are the main reason I am much less politically active today. I will give you two examples. First, foreign military engagement. I know I share this room with other veterans, and as a veteran myself, I will begin by expressing my deep appreciation for the people who choose to serve. My opinions may be most disturbing to those who have volunteered. At this point in my personal evolution, I would say that I am an aspiring pacifist. I, deeply and truly, would like never to hurt anyone physically ever. I live my life in a way that steers me away from having to make choices that could include violence. The aspiring part comes in honestly. Faced with committing an act of violence to protect others, I think I might well do something I would later regret. My opinion on foreign military engagement formed through a period that included the wars with Iraq and Afghanistan, and the conflict in Syria. Enough beating around the bush, here it is: We possess the greatest and most powerful military in the world. We are signed on to treaties and express a principle that prohibits the use of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, especially against civilian populations. In cases where those weapons are being used, we should use our intelligence apparatus to locate the stockpiles of such weapons in the offending nation, and then go in and get them. We should do so in a completely transparent manner, sharing our troop movements internationally, and we should do so with an overwhelming force. This force, that’s movements are known to all, including the offending nation, would not engage unless engaged with. If it is allowed to reach the weapons, and take them or neutralize them, it would turn around and go home. If engaged with, it would respond with overwhelming force. Here’s the big problem with this policy. At least in the first case of its use, and likely past that, the offending nation, and everyone else for that matter, would not believe that we would follow the policy. At this point, the United States has another reputation besides that of the greatest military on Earth. We have a reputation of being VERY risk averse. We fear two-digit casualty numbers, and this plan would likely mean casualties in the thousands. In fact, our troops would most likely be attacked by the very weapons they are going to take out. And there is no military in the world who is better prepared for that. As a Seaman in the US Navy I was trained in the use of gas masks, and atropine, an antidote to nerve gas. Both were available to everyone on the ship I sailed with. Still, many US troops would die, and many more would be badly injured. A clear and well broadcasted account of those details might serve well to explain to the rest of the world why these weapons are banned. And despite casualties, I believe our forces would prevail. The banned weapons would be taken, and the forces that attempted to stop that would be destroyed. This policy is a kind of moral high ground so high it’s hard to breathe. I recognize that. I don’t care, because I think it’s right. Second, a hot topic: immigration. I believe in open borders. To be clear, I don’t mean open borders for asylum seekers, or for people with work visas. I mean open borders, period. I don’t believe that the human constructs of borders should not impede the movement of people. I think this is becoming increasingly important as nations negotiate so called “Free Trade Agreements,” allowing freer flow of goods and money between businesses and wealthy individuals. One of the main tenets of capitalism is the right of workers to sell their labor freely. It is the basis of the fairness of the capitalist model, the ability of individual workers to choose their employer, and sell their labor for the highest wage they can. That being the case, how can an agreement that allows multi-billions of dollars of trade between Mexico and the US, but doesn’t permit someone in Tijuana from commuting to work in Imperial Beach, California be called an agreement for “Free Trade?” Besides that, I believe in the Body of Christ that includes every person on Earth, regardless of which borders they live within. I believe in Christ’s teaching of loving my neighbor as myself, and today’s Scriptural story that shows that even those we regard as other, and strange, and possibly dangerous, are our neighbors as well. I believe that it is wrong to restrict the love of neighbor, and even the love of our enemies, with walls and check points and uniformed people who demand our papers. Some would say that this idea, put into practice would have grave consequences. I think they would be right. A truly open border policy would mean earth-shattering change to our society and our way of life. It would mean a sudden flood of immigrants from the whole globe, a terrible strain on our resources and our infrastructure, and likely at least a few cases of attacks on American soil by groups who mean our nation harm. So, I will say it again. This policy is a kind of moral high ground so high it’s hard to breathe. I recognize that. I don’t care, because I think it’s right. Even though I believe the consequences of open borders would normalize over time, even though I believe that it would mean that other nations improved within their own borders as a result, even though I believe that it would result in the American economy and nation becoming stronger than it has ever been, I know that open borders would mean a complete change in who we are as a nation. This would worry me more, if our nation was not defined by the fact that it has changed its character completely over and over again throughout our history. So, now you know why I became a Pastor and not a politician. I think I am right about these things, but I also think I would be knocked off the stage very quickly by other people. They would say I’m a radical nut. And they’d be right. I will also say clearly that I don’t really know how these ideas could be implemented, or what all of the consequences would be. I think I’m good at finding what I think is right, but I don’t know how you make that happen within the structure of government. So, I take these ideas here instead. And I strip them down to their elements. Instead of thousands of American casualties, I see at the heart of the matter the quality of mercy, and I embrace it. Instead of hundreds of thousand flowing into our streets from foreign lands, I see at the heart of it the love of neighbor, and the universality of the Body of Christ. These are things I can do. These are things I can help others do. These are things I can do from here, this pulpit, this church, and this community. These are things that we can do together. I was going to say Amen there, and it would have been a good place, but I think I need to explain a little bit why I went in this direction this morning. I am worried. I see storms on the horizon, literally and otherwise. I see a climate altered so much, that it has begun to turn around and alter us as well. I see divisions in our society so deep that the us and them that used to span borders is now contained within single city blocks. I am afraid for what this means in the future for my church, for my country, for my children. And I don’t want to be cornered by that fear. I don’t want to risk reacting out of that fear, instead of out of the love and mercy to which our Teacher leads us. I won’t pretend to have all the answers about how to avoid that, but I am looking for them actively, and I invite you to join me, and give me your ideas. And now I’ll say, Amen