The Common Good

An Easter Sermon: Immigration’s Winter and Spring

“That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain the resurrection of the dead.” Philippians 3:10-11

Harsh winters make us more deeply appreciative of spring. Last week, after a particularly intense winter, it finally reached 60 degrees in New York. I, for one, celebrated heartily. Spring is a reminder that winter is not interminable and flowers will bloom again. Almost exactly one year ago, the Senate released a bipartisan bill on immigration reform. Many Christian leaders celebrated the possibility that finally the nearly 11 million men, women, and children would be afforded the opportunity to integrate into this great country. In addition, in January the GOP released a set of principles that set the tone for the genuine possibility for immigration reform. There was a growing consensus that this is the year for immigration reform. Then the news started to change and many prognosticators said, “Immigration reform is dead.”

It is into this public eulogy of immigration reform that the Christian message of Lent and Easter can breathe new life.

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Immigration Reform: No More Excuses

As an immigrant who made the long journey from Zacatecas, Mexico, to the farmlands of California many times as a child, the Lenten story of Jesus’s wandering for 40 days in the desert has always resonated with me very deeply. And the Easter celebration that follows sustains my hope and resolve that the faith community’s long movement to reform our broken immigration system will succeed.

Late last year, I, along with several other immigration advocates and inspiring faith leaders, camped out in a tent on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to call attention to the moral crisis and human suffering caused by our broken immigration system. We asked ourselves: What are our faith, our words, and our history worth if not translated into action, sacrifice, and redemption?

So, for 30 days we fasted and prayed that leadership in the House of Representatives would follow the Senate’s lead and pass a comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform bill. The power of prayer surrounded us as we were led in reflection on a daily basis by pastors who serve undocumented families, by immigrants who suffer under our unjust system, and by public officials who came to see our commitment as days without food turned into weeks.

Even though the House refused to act in 2013, we believe that our fast, and the support of thousands of solidarity fasters around the world, helped change the discussion about reform from one of dollars and cents to one about people and families. Our sacrifice and the suffering of our immigrant brothers and sisters will end in victory and redemption.

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That They May Be One: Immigration and Christian Unity

As we approach Holy Week, I’ve been re-reading the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ Last Supper, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. In John 17, as Jesus prays for his disciples and their successors in the hours before he is arrested, he prays for our unity as his church:

…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you… May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:21, 23)

Central to our mission as Christ’s followers is to share with the world this good news: that the Father sent the Son because he so loved the world — but the best observable evidence of that Gospel reality, a unified Church, seems a distant, utopian dream. Just within the United States — this small sliver of the global church — we are divided by denomination, by race, by political ideology, and by the competitive human instinct that leads even those congregations who resemble one another doctrinally, ethnically, and politically to jockey over the same individuals in order to fill their sanctuaries (or auditoriums) and offering plates. Perhaps the situation is not quite so stark: I know that many — probably most — believers share the desire for unity. It just seems at times that we have so far to go, and might be drifting in the wrong direction.

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Immigration and Resurrection

I was traveling to Culpeper, Va., on the #Fast4Families bus tour to speak to a group of workers assembled at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church. As we looked out the window we were struck that every 50 feet there stood a plaque marking the place where another significant battle took place in the Civil War.

As we sat down in the church, I didn’t know what I was going to say to all-immigrant group. My message up to that point had focused on mobilizing non-immigrants to join the movement. What could I say to this immigrant gathering?

I prayed. I asked God, “What do you want to speak to this group through me?’ And the dots started to connect.

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That Our Creation Care Would Also Fight Racism and Poverty

What more perfect a passage to enliven our Earth Day celebrations than Romans 8:20-25?

Paul's letter to the Romans was certainly not an exhortation to deepen creation care by weighting it with environmental justice. It wasn't an exhortation for the middle-class church to listen to the groaning of people under the bondage of environmental racism. It wasn't intended to paint a picture of the intersection of climate change, poverty, and racism.

But we — two evangelical activists — are just foolish enough to give all that a try in this short space!

Our dear Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans paints a picture of the new age inaugurated by Jesus' death and resurrection. Jesus has taken sin – that which infiltrated the world (5:12), enslaved the world (6:6, 17-18), and brought death and destruction (7:8-14) — and had victory over it. By our death in baptism and resurrection with Christ, we participate in his victory over sin (6:4). This is a new age, we put on our new selves, we live with the (re)new(ed) creation ahead of us.

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Listen for the Groaning; Then Worship!

And as I worshiped I realized creation wasn’t singing with me. I had entered into creation’s ongoing worship of God!

But Scripture speaks of another utterance of nature — a groaning. (Romans 8:19-22) Even as creation worships, it bears the weight of our sin. Our addiction to consumption, our oil drills and oil spills, and our depleted uranium bullets whizzing through theaters of war in countries ravaged, torn apart — both the people and the land. Creation is groaning, even as the trees lift their branches heavenward in worship.

The Genesis 2 story of creation offers a profound picture of humanity’s relationship with the rest of creation in the beginning. In Genesis 2:15 God called humanity to till and keep the Garden of Eden. The Hebrew word for “till” (‘abad) is also translated “to serve” (as a bond servant). The Hebrew word for “keep” (shamar) is most accurately translated “to protect.” Thus, we were called to serve and protect the rest of creation. In the very beginning of our existence, we related to the land as its servants — its protectors. That relationship was full of care, nurture, security, and selfless service.

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The Hope of Glory Amidst 'Bondage and Decay' of Environmental Injustice

Last week during my Sunday school class, one of my second graders asked, “How can we go to heaven, if we continue to sin?” 

As usual, I am often stunned and quieted by the striking questions that come from the mouths of young people.

I usually respond to the inquisitive questions from my Sunday School students by reiterating what I have been told by many a Sunday School teacher: “Even though we break our promises, God doesn’t; God promised us if we believe in God and that God’s Son Jesus died for our Sins, we will go to heaven — even when we mess up.” 

While that seems like a really ‘simple’ explanation of one of many biblical truths, it is still striking and amazing that even though we continue to ‘mess up,’ God has not retracted on God’s promise of offering us a beautiful ending to the troubled world we live in today.

As I think about Romans 8:21 and how it speaks to the fact that “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God,” I get excited. Not only because we all will see the glory of God one day, but that the bondage and decay we are experiencing in our physical world will end in Glory!

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Prophetic Preaching: 'One of The Priests is Receiving Death Threats'

Last fall, on a Sunday afternoon, as I walked out of the church, a young man tugged on my Franciscan habit. It was Miguel, a member of our Latino choir.

“Father,” he said, “please, pray for the people of my home parish back in El Salvador, especially for one of the priests who has received death threats.”

Startled, I asked: “What is happening there?"

“These priests are organizing against the multinational companies,” he said. “The companies are looking for gold. What will be left for our people? Only poisoned water, a wasteland, and death.”

A few weeks later, I had another similar conversation with a group from Guatemala. Theirs was a similar tale of how indigenous communities were being threatened by mining projects.

As a Catholic and a member of the Franciscan Order, I believe that we are called to “read the signs of the times” and to listen to the cry of the poor and the “groaning” of God’s Creation.

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The Black Presence in the Bible: Uncovering the Hidden Ones

“Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.” -Psalm 68:31

The Bible is a multicultural book. This statement may sound controversial but archeology, history, and the text prove it to be true. In 2013 this controversy played out in the media when viewers of The Bible miniseries were upset that Samson was played by a black man. A second controversy occurred when a Fox News broadcaster confidently declared that Santa Claus and Jesus were white, yet when people researched original depictions of Saint Nicolas, they found pictures of a dark brown man. It appears that our faith has been distorted. As we celebrate Black History Month and prepare for Lent, how can uncovering the black presence in the Bible aid us in mourning against the sin of racism? One of the effects of racism is the whitewashing of history and sadly this has taken place even in our biblical studies.

The Roman Catacombs show biblical scenes painted by first- and second-century persecuted Christians, and their paintings clearly show people of color. What would Roman Christians gain from painting these characters black? What did these early Christians know and accept that seems unbelievable today?

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Faithful Sacrifice

There are so many people that have gone before me, people that have sacrificed their lives in pursuit of justice and equality. Because of this, I feel a deep sense of commitment to honor them by standing for some of the same things that they did. I am in complete awe of two things that connect deeply for me. The first is the cross and how Jesus gave his life for us all. The second is my ancestors who somehow understood Jesus’ sacrifice and passed it onto me through intense persecution.

I can’t say that I know persecution like my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents knew. I have been back to southern Alabama many times for family reunions and visited slave graveyards where relatives are buried. This compels me to be and do more with my life. I can’t say I understand why Jesus would choose to become human, walk this earth as a human being, and then die at the hands of his own creations to save those who were crucifying him. However, I do know it pushes me to be and do more with my life. I feel like I would let them down somehow if I didn’t take responsibility for addressing injustice with my life.

My life is not my own. I am the product of sacrifice. I am here because of those who saw beyond themselves and thought personal sacrifice was worth giving up to allow justice to take hold. I am here because Jesus modeled something completely illogical on the cross and then some of my ancestors took that example seriously and repeated it. I have no real right to the life I live. My only recourse is to continue the tradition handed to me in the same way.

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