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Our Lady of the Harbor

Sunday, 3 July 2011
“Come to me . . .” 
A Sermon for III Pentecost
July 3, 2011 - Independence Day Weekend
St. Martha’s Episcopal Church, Bethany Beach, DE
the Rev’d Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.”
Does anyone know the source of these words that begin a famous poem?

You may recognize them as the beginning of the poem “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus. The entire poem is actually a sonnet which she wrote to raise money for the building of the base and is now engraved on a bronze plaque and contained inside of the Statue of Liberty.

The Statue of Liberty was erected in New York harbor in 1886 as a gift from France to the United States, ten years after we had celebrated our centennial anniversary.

Chances are pretty good that, when your grandparents or great grandparents or, perhaps, great-great grandparents immigrated here from another country, this was the first sight they saw.

My grandparents came to this country from Portugal – my grandfather at age 18 and my grandmother at age 13 – but they came here through Boston Harbor. Indeed, missing the sight of the Statue of Liberty was a great disappointment in my grandmother’s life. She had read about the “Lady of the Harbor” and had, in fact, memorized Ms. Lazarus’ poem.

Indeed, she used to recite it to me when I was a child, pointing out to me that Ms. Lazarus' mother was Portuguese and a good Christian who had echoed the words of Jesus in her poem.

Well, except there was this one little problem.

Ms. Lazarus’ father was a Jew and her mother was a Portuguese Sephardic Jew. I never had the heart or the courage to disabuse my grandmother of her inaccuracy or her prejudice. I knew what the back of my Grandmother’s hand felt like.

Did you hear the echo of Ms. Lazarus’ poem in this morning’s Gospel lesson? Jesus says,
"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Here is the ending of Ms Lazarus’ poem:
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
I fear too many of us too easily forget the stories of our grandparents and great grandparents and great-great grandparents who left the security of their homeland and families and came here as immigrants to establish a new life.

In so doing, we forget the stories we all have in common, stories of the struggle and sacrifice of our ancestors that are written in the DNA of our bodies and have become part of the genetic code of this country.

Their struggles, their sacrifices, are the cost of our freedom

So many of us – indeed, our children and our children’s children – take for granted the many freedoms we have today. It has ever been thus. Jesus said to the crowd,
"To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, `We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.'”
The next generation is frequently a source of disappointment to the last – and vise versa.

Many of us will go home from church today and finish making the potato salad, put the lounge chairs out on the deck, and get the grill ready for a great celebratory feast with our families.

I want to suggest to you that your celebration will be richer and more satisfying if you gather your children and grandchildren ‘round and tell them the story – as much as you remember – of when your grandparents or great grandparents, as far back as it goes in your family – came to this country.

Tell them the story of the Statue of Liberty and read them Ms. Lazarus’ poem.

Then, read them this gospel passage so they may hear the words of Jesus which were so precious to so many of those who immigrated to this country that they could heard the echo of Jesus’ promise in the words of Ms. Lazarus’ poem.

Even though she, herself, was not a follower of Jesus, Ms. Lazarus certainly knew the teachings of a good Rabbi when she heard one.

Liberty and justice for all is a marvelous notion, a grand idea which, once we have attained it, we sometimes hear the part about ‘liberty and justice’ and forget the ‘all’ at the end.

This marvelous idea of ‘liberty and justice for all’ finds new life, new passion, new meaning, in the stories of the lives of those who made great sacrifices for those who would follow them.

Just as our children need to learn the their history and their family stories of the personal sacrifices made for their freedom, so do they need to know the stories of Jesus and the sacrifices He made for our liberation.

Jesus says,
"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Because we believe in religious freedom, you don’t have to be a Christian to be an American, thanks be to God, and not all Americans are Christians, but I think Emma Lazarus’ poem can inspire those of us who are Christian citizens of these United States – as well as those who are not Christian – to be better Americans.

In Psalm 19 we hear the psalmist say:
“I will make your name to be remembered from one generation to another; *therefore nations will praise you for ever and ever." 
May the names of all the saints in your family and in all the families of everyone whose sacrifices made this country great, through the mercy of God and the grace of Jesus, be remembered today.

Amen.

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