David, Jesse, and fathers at the border

The Rev. Julie Wakelee-Lynch

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Albany, CA

Proper 6B, Sunday, June 16, 2018 (Father’s Day)

Today’s readings: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Pentecost/BProp6_RCL.html#ot1 

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13; Psalm 20; 2 Corinthians 5:6-17; Mark 4:26-34


Jesse must have been confused, to say the least, when the baby of the family was chosen by the priest to be the second king of Israel. The longer story in 1 Samuel jumps around in time and is conflicted about David’s age at the time of his selection. But what is clear is that no one expected the kid who was out keeping the sheep head off to lead the nation. David had a huge and complicated role ahead of him, and while there’s no way of knowing, it’s very unlikely that he would have had any idea of the complicated responsibilities he’d have to embrace.

One portion of the story in Samuel shows several of his brothers engaged in Saul’s army, fighting the Philistines – and then David shows up to slay Goliath. They deride him for thinking that one they see as a child can accomplish what the army could not. And, he walked into a situation with a king then-rejected by God for arrogance and disobedience. David’s job, according to another portion of the story, was to play music to sooth Saul’s tangled and angry mind.  Saul makes David his armor-bearer, which indicates that David was not some little waif, but had the build of a warrior. In his own way, clouded with rages and the knowledge that the end of his rule is near, Saul loves David, and David shares a true bond of love and friendship with Saul’s son Jonathan.

We don’t hear a lot more from Jesse, though he comes up in genealogies of Jesus, in Isaiah’s beautiful poetry, and even in Advent stories with the tradition of the Jesse tree. He is the root that makes the tree of David grow and flourish.  I wonder: Did he see much of his famous son in the years that follow? Did he ever get to sit down at the dinner table and dare to give advice to his now all-powerful son? Those parts don’t make it into the story.

I wonder what it was like in those days for Jesse, the father of King David.


It’s Father’s Day, a day to celebrate the many and wide-ranging blessings of fatherhood, to pray for fathers everywhere, and to give thanks for the blessings implanted in us from our fathers. For many, it is also a day of confusion, of exploring wounds that are yet unhealed, or mourning what might have been. And, for immigrant fathers seeking a better life for their children at the southern border of the United States, today, like too many of the days previous, will be a day of terror and unimaginable loss.

Their children – babies, toddlers, youngsters, teens – will be torn from their arms in a system of intimidation and abuse intended to keep people fleeing horror in their home countries from wanting to enter our nation of immigrants.

Violence visited upon families by drug cartels in Central American countries is raging and, parents, still believing that even the now officially immigrant-hostile United States will be better than the horror in which they are struggling to survive, are lining up at the border to seek asylum. Others are crossing wherever they can.

It is now the stated policy of our nation to remove children from their parents and house them in prison-like facilities, often states away. Parents are not informed of the whereabouts of their children. This is our national response to people, like us, whose forbearers came here – fleeing wars, economic stress and seeking the opportunity to begin anew. The Los Angeles Times, in a piece fact-checking questions about this policy, confirmed reports that in some instances, parents were told their children were being taken to be bathed, and instead were sent to separate detention facilities.[1] According to The Washington Post, as of this past Thursday, 11,432 children are in the custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, up from 9,000 in early May.[2] The Post article features a prominent pediatrician visiting a detention center for immigrant children under the age of 12 on the Texas border. Dr. Colleen Kraft, the doctor making the visit, spoke of the harm to developing children’s brains caused by the traumatic separation from their care givers. The workers at the shelter are not allowed to touch the children. Not allowed to touch children, including toddlers. Imagine: no mom, no dad to hold a screaming toddler who doesn’t understand why her parents have left her. You don’t have to be a parent to feel that pain.

What is happening at our borders is wrong. It is immoral, and it has far-reaching impacts for society – ours and others. Where will these children finally land? Will they ever see their fathers and mothers again? Our country has significantly contributed to many social disasters in Central America already – policies of earlier decades led to the flourishing of gangs like the infamous Mar Salvatrucha 13, or MS13. We have overrun democratically elected governments, supported corrupt dictators, meddled in elections, created trade agreements that hurt both US and Latin American workers, but this separating of daughters and sons from their fathers and mothers is a new and morally unconscionable low.

If people of faith do not speak out now, we are morally responsible for what I fear is just the first step into a field of greater horror. I urge you to educate yourself about what is happening, financed by our tax dollars, and continuing under the watch of those we have elected to office.

Then, I urge you to act. This is not a political issue: it is a moral one.

Jesus teaches in today’s gospel that the kingdom of heaven is like tiny mustard seeds, which, like the young David, appear insignificant, but can grow to house a community or lead a nation. We are those seeds. Will we allow ourselves to touch the ground and bloom? We can be the seeds of love that grow and cover the ground with insistence for justice. For the love of all fathers everywhere, may we find the courage to act on the love we proclaim.

U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K Smith,[3] an African-American woman who grew up nearby here in Fairfield, offers us this poem, “Refuge.”

Refuge    by Tracy K Smith

Until I can understand why you
Fled, why you are willing to bleed,
Why you deserve what I must be
Willing to cede, let me imagine
You are my mother in Montgomery,
Alabama, walking to campus
Rather than riding the bus. I know
What they call you, what they
Try to convince you you lack.
I know your ankles, the sudden
Thunder of your laugh. Until
I want to give you what I myself deserve,
Let me love you by loving her.

Your sister in a camp in Turkey,
Sixteen, deserving of everything:
Let her be my daughter, who has
Curled her neat hands into fists,
Insisting nothing is fair and I
Have never loved her. Naomi,
Lips set in a scowl, young heart
Ransacking its cell. Let me lend
Her passion to your sister, and
Love her for her living rage, her
Need for more, and now, and all.
Let me leap from sleep if her voice
Sounds out, afraid, from down the hall.

I have seen men like your father
Walking up Harrison Street
Now that the days are getting longer.
Let me love them as I love my own
Father, whom I phoned once
From a valley in my life
To say what I feared I’d never
Adequately said, voice choked,
Stalled, hearing the silence spread
Around us like weather. What
Would it cost me to say it now,
To a stranger’s father, walking home
To our separate lives together?[4]



[1]  Molly Hennesy-Fiske, “Was a breastfeeding infant really taken from an immigrant mother? The answer to this and other questions about families separated at the border” Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2018 http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-immigration-families-border-wall-20180616-htmlstory.html

[2] Kristine Phillips, “‘America is better than this’: What a doctor saw in a Texas shelter for migrant children,” Washington Post, June 16, 2018 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2018/06/16/america-is-better-than-this-what-a-doctor-saw-in-a-texas-shelter-for-migrant-children/?utm_term=.afba09ad5706

[3] For a brief biography of Ms. Smith, see Poets.org bio Tracy K Smith

[4] “Refuge” published in Wade in the Water, by Tracy K Smith (Minneapolis, Graywolf Press, 2018)