I’ve been asked to make my manuscript public, which I’m happy to do. I had written something else, but then got up early starting Friday morning to write a fresh sermon after Jeff Sessions made his awful comments about St. Paul in order to justify the unjustifiable. It was something else to prepare this one, but I’m really quite pleased with how it turned out. That said, I’m more aware with this one than with most of my sermons that it is written for a listening audience rather than for readers. For one thing, I don’t quite show my cards until near the end. Anyway, this was preached at Church of the Transfiguration in Manhattan last Sunday, the fourth Sunday after Pentecost, proper 6. The principal text is 2 Corinthians, 5:6-17.
I’ve told this story to some of you, but my wife and I decided it’s time for everyone to hear it. Her mother, Erna, and her twin sister, Rosemarie, were born in what is now the Czech Republic in 1944. The Bohemian forest had long been a multi-ethnic region, and her German family had lived there for generations on one side. Then Hitler occupied the country. Erna’s family were certainly no heroes of the resistance, but they had minimal involvement with the Nazi occupiers. Erna and Rosemarie was one-year-old when the war ended. Everyone suffered in those days. But the Soviet and Czech authorities decided to heap tragedy upon tragedy by making it a crime for ethnic Germans to stay. They expelled them all, whether they’d had anything to do with the occupation or not. Soldiers came to my mother-in-law’s house and told them they had to leave in 15 minutes and could take only what they could carry. My wife’s grandmother spoke Czech and managed to negotiate an extra 15 minutes. But the forced evacuation was brutal. Many died, including one-year-old Rosemarie. There are lots of thorny political issues around this story that I’m not going to touch. What is clear is that what happened to my mother-in-law and her sister was obviously tragic, but also unjust, and completely unnecessary. The German government had carried out unspeakable horrors against the Jews of Europe, among others, and may those who were killed never be forgotten. But the Czech and Soviet governments then used the same logic, just on a smaller scale. They criminalized people not for what they had done, but for what they represented, and forced them out. Continue reading