Sunday Sermon@Highlands: Immigration and Injustice
It was a week ago last
Friday morning. Jose Escobar kissed his wife and children goodbye and left for
work. The next thing his wife heard from him was a phone call from the airport
at San Salvador. On the way to work that morning, Jose had been pulled over by
Immigration and Customs Enforcement police, arrested, placed on an airplane
without a hearing and sent to El Salvador. His wife and children and US
citizens. They have no idea how long they will now be separated. She has no
idea how she will now provide for her children.
Jose came here from that
country when he was a child and his parents were fleeing the violence
perpetrated by government death squads. He told his wife her had no idea where
to go or what to do. The land was foreign to him. We live in times when his
story is becoming a common one. We heard these stories here during the Lenten
supper last Wednesday, stories told not by the media but by people living in
Cheyenne, working and going to school here and living in abject fear that what
happened to Jose Escobar may soon happen to them.
But I am getting ahead of
This morning we meet
Nicodemus in the 3rd chapter of John. Nicodemus meets Jesus who
tells him no one can see the kingdom of God lest they be born again…Nicodemus
says, “How can that be…”
Jesus tells him not to be
so astonished Do not be
astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’The wind blows where it chooses, and
you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it
goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” And then Jesus connects being born again to
God’s love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so
that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Rick Ufford-Chase was at
one time the Moderator for the Presbyterian Church USA, a position he describes
as “being the Pope without any power.” Holly Garrard and I met Rick when we
were among 525 other clergy marching for Native rights at Standing Rock last
November. So, when I saw he had written a new book I wanted to read the
thoughts of this courageous Christian leader.
The book is titled,
“Faithful Resistance-Gospel Visions for the Church in a Time of Empire.” Rick
speaks of the need for the church to be born again as times change and the
issues of social justice change and he says that in order to remain relevant, it’s
the church itself that must be born again each time.
Highlands is a “born-again”
church, Can I get an AMEN?
When Jesus answers
Nicodemus’s question about how one is born again, Jesus makes this connection: The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear
the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So
it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Jesus is talking about an eternal
church, alive and relevant as the times change as they always have and always
will. The winds blow. We have no control over the direction. To be born again is
to respond to those winds and the changes they bring.
From time to time, it may be the
warm breezes of justice or, as it is today, the icy and harsh winds of
injustice. It’s those icy, harsh winds that are blowing in the faces of our
brothers and sisters who are now facing an unjust immigration system. Yeah, I
know, the law is the law and they broke the law. I hear that a lot. People tell
me that what we are witnessing is consequences not injustices. They say, “We
are a nation of laws.”
Followers of Jesus should remind
them that in the first century, Rome was also a nation of laws. Jesus received
due process under Roman law, a hearing before Pilate and after the evidence was
presented a verdict was returned And Jesus was executed in accordance with the
Empire’s law. We wouldn’t have a cause to be here this morning if those early
followers had walked away from the cross muttering, “Well, sad as it was, the
law is the law.”
Injustice, often as not, is
visited upon marginalized people in the name of some law. Ask blacks who were
lynched, Native Americans whose lands and cultures were stolen, women who died
after being forced into back-alley abortions, gays and lesbians denied the
right to marry the one they loved, children forced to work in factories rather
than study in school. And today, unjust laws are used to break up immigrant
During Lent, you are
invited to pray about, reflect on and discern how it is our little born-again
church will respond to the injustices being done to our brothers and sisters in
the immigrant community.
Believe me, this is a
question being ignored in most churches. Only a born-again church would even
open itself to discernment about matters such as this.
But Highlands has not come
to this point for no reason. Over the years, we’ve evolved, our faith has
matured, our understanding of God’s call has been emboldened. It’s no accident
that Highlands finds itself with a heart for people like the ones we heard from
last Wednesday evening.
There are a lot of faith
communities where the question of what the church should do in these times
would sound strange, even frightening but we’ve answered God’s call, we’ve
stepped up to boldly serve the least of these our brothers and sisters who are
hungry, homeless, addicted. God has prepared us for such a time as this.
How will we respond? That’s
this year’s Lenten question. By the time we’ve traveled through the 40 days of Lent
to the hour of the crucifixion and on to the morning we celebrate the new life
that comes through the Resurrection…by that time we’ll know, we will have an
answer and we’ll be ready to say to our God…this is how we will respond.
blows where it chooses, and Jesus said you hear the sound of it, but you do not
know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born
of the Spirit. That wind is the spirit of God blowing through this church
because God knows this community of faith is prepared. Let me tell you a story about why that matters.
Esther was orphaned when
her parents were hauled off by Nebuchadnezzar and the invading Babylonian army.
Her uncle Mordecai raised her to be a talented, bright young woman. When
Mordecai heard the king was conducting what amounted to “auditions” for a new
king, he made sure Esther was in contention. When the king saw Esther, the competition
ended. Esther became the new queen and entered the palace, acquiring all the
privileges that went with it. But she had a secret. She was a Jew in a land
where Jews were marginalized. She kept that secret.
It came to pass that
Mordecai offended a powerful ally of the king. He failed to show the respect
that Haman though was due a man of his position. Haman decided he would kill
Mordecai. The problem was that if you kill one man, that would be considered
murder BUT if you wipe out an entire race, that could be considered good public
So, Haman went to the king
and said, “Look, there are these people who live among us who are not like us.
They have not learned our language, they don’t eat what we eat they don’t
worship like we do.” The king gave Haman the authority to kill them all, men, women
and children. When Mordecai learned of the horrible plot, he went to his niece
and asked her to intervene. “You have the king’s ear. You can speak to him and
save your people.” But Esther said no. She told him, “I’m sorry but there are
rules and laws against me doing so. I can’t just go to the king.”
Mordecai said, “Don’t think
for a minute you’ll be spared just because you remain silent.” And the he said
to Esther, “Think about it. Do you think it an accident that you are now in a
position to save your people? It might just be, said Mordecai in the Book of
Esther Chapter 4 verse 14, that you are here FOR JUST SUCH A TIME AS THIS.”
My dear friends, think
about how far we’ve come, where we are, and who we’ve become as we ask the
Lenten question. What is God’s purpose for this church at JUST SUCH A TIME AS