I want to tell you a true story – I know it’s a true story because I was there when it happened. During my summer breaks from college I worked at Jones Beach on Long Island. One Sunday afternoon, while driving along the beach, my crew and I heard the following exchange on the marine radio channel, “This is fishing trawler ‘Ruthie B’ to the Fire Island Coast Guard Station.”
“Go ahead ‘Ruthie B’ this is Fire Island Coast Guard.”
“Fire Island, we’d like to report a boat on fire in the Inlet. There are people in the water. We are going to assist.”
Now, this caught our attention and as we listened intently to the rest of this exchange it quickly became apparent that the Coast Guard radio operator had a form to complete for emergencies. He began to ask a series of questions of the Captain of the Ruthie B.
“Ruthie B, what is the size of the vessel in question?”
“It’s about 30 foot, Fire Island.”
“What is the color of the vessel in question? “
“It is blue and white, Fire Island.”
“What is the name of the vessel? “
“I cannot see the name, Fire Island.”
The voice of the Captain of the Ruthie B betrayed the unfolding urgency of the situation.
The Coast Guard radioman continued, - “Ruthie B, are there any distinguishing marks on the vessel in question?”
Now there was a long pause and finally the Captain answered, “Fire Island, it’s the only boat in the Inlet that’s on fire.”
Now I tell you this story -- to talk about our call to discipleship in Christ Jesus. -- We are here because we are all disciples of Jesus Christ. We are his disciples for love of Jesus, for his sacrifice for us on the cross and for his teachings of the Truth of God’s love and promise of Salvation: leading to life eternal. As Christ’s disciples, we gladly preach the Good News to all nations and share the gift of His love with all we meet.
We may not go out two by two, with only a staff, sandals and one tunic – with no money, no food and no advance hotel reservations, -- but still, we are sent -- just as the twelve were sent –
W Sent to drive out demons and cure the sick.
W Sent to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty
W Sent to comfort those who mourn and suffer
W Sent to clothe the naked and shelter the homeless
W Sent to bring justice to the oppressed
W Sent to bring peace to the nations
W Sent to preach the Good News – of God’s love and mercy
Jesus empowers us to do all these things in His name. He gives us his Spirit -- to guide and support us as we go.
This brings us to “problem” of the stranger, the alien in our midst, the immigrant.
The conversation continues on immigration, - who can stay – who cannot – this continues to be a hot-button topic commanding the national attention. The hostility toward immigrants, especially those who come to us out-of-desperation - continues to grow – often with violent words and actions.
We are not here today to debate or discuss the merits of this controversial topic, but we here to remind each other of our lives as disciples - sent by Jesus Christ, - who calls us to love God and one another.
- Just as he did with the twelve, Jesus sends us today to drive out demons -- the demons of fear and hatred
- He sends us to cure those who are sick -- sick with the sins of greed and prejudice; those who would exploit the weak and defenseless; denying food, water, shelter and fair wages to people who are different, especially those who are desperate
- Jesus sends us to seek justice for the oppressed – to protect the weak and speak for voiceless
- Jesus sends us to care for those who suffer in mind, body and spirit: bringing them comfort and peace
- Jesus sends us to welcome the stranger and the alien: calling us to treat all people with dignity and respect – to love the other as we love ourselves
When we see those among us who live in the shadows – who live in fear - the exploited, the voiceless - we see people; people who suffer, - people living on the fringe of society, - People driven by desperation to make the hard choice to leave their homes and family – to come here; seeking a better life. And in seeing them -- we should remember that we are a nation of immigrants;
- Immigrants who fled oppression, starvation, persecution and death,
- Immigrants who sought a better life – lives of peace, prosperity and freedom
- Immigrants who too faced hostility, uncertainty and rejection – barred from good jobs, decent housing, fair wages and a place in society
When we look into the faces of those who come today – we see people not very different from our own ancestors. People who hope to find freedom and peace – dignity and respect – love and compassion.
Like the Coast Guardsman in the story, it is easy to get caught up in the details – but we must remember -
There’s a “boat burning in the Inlet and people are in the water” needing to be saved. - People looking for the same basic dignity and respect each of us want, need and deserve – as children of God.
Let us remember why Jesus sends us, his disciples – let us stay focused on the burning boat and those whose lives are in danger – for as Paul reminds us – “we are all one in Christ Jesus.” –
Jesus, who said to each of us -
“I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me; naked and you clothed me; sick and you visited me. . . I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.”