Fifth Sunday of Easter, guest sermon by Rev. David Benham
During the 1970s and 80s I worked with many churches in Hawaii. This was during my tenure as the Southern Baptist denominational staff person assigned to assist new congregations in the Western U.S., Canada, and the Pacific Territories. I would travel to Hawaii several times each year, not a bad job and as the saying goes, “Someone had to do it!” My endeavor was very much like the Cannon to the Ordinary, Jason Alexander who is assisting us to find the right person to be our new Vicar here at All Saints. When those Hawaiian congregations completed their Parish Profiles, like we have here at All Saints, I learned how those churches had their start and became aware of their church histories. Most of the churches I worked with were established during the years following the end of WWII.
Many who were the founding members of those churches had become converts to Christianity as children when they and their parents of Japanese descent were interned (imprisoned, caged) in prisons here in Arkansas.
I attended public school and university here in Arkansas, but I was never informed that there were so many American citizens 16,970 imprisoned without due process of law in the two internment prisons here in our state. It was only until 2006, that the internment camps were recognized by the federal government. In 2004 there was a news feature on NPR on these prisons and a PBS documentary film that same year Time of Fear outlines the history of the prisons at Jerome and Rohwer, Arkansas. But most people today do not know the history and impact of these all-but-forgotten events in our History. These two sites were in the deep Southeastern delta of Arkansas 5 miles from the Mississippi river and near the border with Louisiana. That part of the state was then and even now is sparsely populated. Jerome had a prison population of 8,495 and Rohwer had a prisons population of 8,475. When the two internment facilities received the prisoners they became the fifth and sixth largest towns in the state.
Oh, what a dark time in our nation’s history.
The bright spark in that dark time was that many residents of the small delta towns, primarily church groups, provided social services to the internees. There were sewing classes, Cub Scouts, flower arrangement classes, English classes and Bible Study classes.
These local provincial delta folk, whom I believe have never been properly recognized for their humanitarian efforts. We can be pleased to claim them as Arkansas Citizens.
Hostile attitudes separated and engendered caustic relationships that have over time have faded and have been replaced with friendships and loving attitudes.
I want to relate to you another account of enemies who became friends when there seemed to be no resolution to their caustic relationship. My grandfather as a young man was an active warrior engaged in conflict with the Federal Government, yet at his death he was honored with a full military burial staffed by the U. S. Army personnel from the United States Army Field Artillery School at Fort Sill. Today, Fort Sill remains the only active Army installation of all the forts on the Southern Plains built during the Indian Wars.
When the Indian wars ended the army enlisted former enemies as troopers in the 7th cavalry. My grandfather was one of those. He became loyal and strongly patriotic. Friendships developed between army officers and Kiowa of Troop “L”. Tonemah (my Grandfather) named his son, Lieutenant Quay after an officer, Lieutenant A.G. Quay. Now Quay is a family name handed down in the Tonemah family to this present day. Quay Tonemah in turn named his son General Scott after General Scott who commanded the Troop “L” at Fort Sill.
Later my cousin, General Scott Tonemah, was commissioned as a lieutenant in the army serving in the European theater of war. He said any time he wanted to make a phone call he would say, “This is Lieutenant General Scott Tonemah I need a phone line.” And he would quickly be given a priority line.
Sir Thomas More Lord Chancellor of England (the office to ensure proper functioning of the courts of law) refused to acknowledge King Henry as Supreme Head of the Church of England and to give his approval of the annulment of the King’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. As a result Sir Thomas More was convicted of treason and beheaded.
In Robert Bolt’s play, A Man For All Seasons, Sir Thomas More says to his daughter: Listen, Meg, God made the angels to show Him splendor, as He made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity. Man He made to serve Him wittily, in the tangle of his mind. Our natural business lies in escaping.
In our first reading from Acts we read that despite the hostile violence brought against him, Stephen prays for his enemies. Sir William Roper Thomas More’s son-in-law recorded these words by Thomas More after he was condemned to die.
“More (further) have I not to say (my Lords) but like as the blessed Apostle St. Paul, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, was present, and consented to the death of St. Stephen, and kept their clothes that stoned him to death, and yet be they now both twain holy saints in heaven, and shall continue their friends for ever, so I verily trust and shall therefore right heartily pray, that though your Lordships have now in earth been judges to my condemnation, we may yet hereafter in heaven merrily all meet together to our everlasting salvation” (William Roper, The Life of St. Thomas More, paragraph 5-7).
Hear the words of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians, “And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, He has now reconciled you in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach. For it was the Father’s good pleasure to reconcile all things to Himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
Thanks be to God.