July 3, 2011
Two women direct our thoughts today.
Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.” Jesus is actually quoting a passage from the Old Testament book of Sirach. The words that he is quoting are those of Wisdom. Frequently in the Old Testament, Wisdom is presented as a woman. This female character describes who God is and what it means to serve God.
In the words from Sirach, Wisdom tells us that if we labor, if we are burdened, if we have any need, we are to come to God because God will not turn us away. God will welcome us and give us rest. Woman Wisdom tells us that our God is one who loves us and is with us. We need not fear approaching God, because God welcomes and helps us.
Now of course, as soon as we recognize the generosity and welcoming of God, we realize that we have a responsibility to be generous and to welcome others. This brings us to the second woman whom I wish to set before you today: Liberty. She stands in New York harbor. On the base of the Statue of Liberty is a poem by Emma Lazarus that gives Liberty a voice. Her voice is remarkably similar to the female figure of Wisdom. It is one of invitation and welcome. Part of Emma Lazarus’ poem reads like this:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free;
the wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
send these tempest-tost to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Almost a century ago our nation held open the golden door to millions of immigrants who sailed past the Statue of Liberty, were welcomed into this country, and eventually became citizens. Indeed, many of us here today are descendants of those immigrants. We can see that welcoming them to this country accepting the diversity of races, creeds, and cultures did not diminish our country but strengthened it. In fact, it made us who we are.
So Wisdom calls out the generosity and welcome of God, and Liberty calls out the generosity and welcome of this nation. It would be wise on this holiday weekend to listen to these two women and to commit ourselves to be people of generosity and welcome. We could begin in our own families and relationships, making sure that we are willing to receive and respect people who are different from us: people who we meet in our schools, in our workplace, in our neighborhoods. But also, as citizens, we should commit ourselves to see that our country keeps open the door of citizenship to those who wish to immigrate here. We should work to make sure that our policies are fair and just.
People of all political backgrounds agree that our immigration system is broken. We should, then, as Christians and Americans, work to fix it. As people of faith, we believe that this country and our freedom are gifts from God and we acknowledge those gifts not by hoarding them but by sharing them. When we do that we follow the example of those Americans decades ago who welcomed our grandparents and parents to this great nation.
Let us acknowledge the generosity of God which has given us so much and then use the gifts that we have received to accept others. Wisdom and Liberty call out a message of generosity and welcome. Let us listen to them.