Pastor Susan Brecht
ctober 8, 2017
From Psalm 56:1-4 Susan
Be gracious to me, O God, for
people trample on me;
all day long foes oppress me;
my enemies trample on me all
for many fight against me.
O Most High, when I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I am not
what can flesh do to me?
From Isaiah 43:10 Pete
“Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”
From Matthew 22: 34-40
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
From Hebrews 13: 102
“Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
Lord, prepare me, to be a sanctuary,
pure and holy, tried and true.
With thanksgiving I’ll be a living
sanctuary for you.
This is a sad, sad time in our country. On Monday afternoon about 30 clergy gathered at the Cathedral of St. Paul’s in Boston to discuss immigration, in light of the administrations cancellation of DACA, and the raids by ICE two weeks ago, where 500 undocumented immigrants were arrested across the county, targeting MA, and those in sanctuary cities that refuse to enforce what they consider immoral laws. Fifty of those arrested were from Massachusetts, twenty had no prior criminal records.
Faced with the horror of the unspeakable carnage in Las Vegas the night before, our gathering began with a collective confession. Our Jewish colleagues explained that on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, they ask for forgiveness, not only for their personal sins, but collectively for the sins of our world. Our silence in the face of injustice makes us complicit.
It became a time to first mourn together, not only the lives lost and wounded, but a time to pour out our hearts and grieve over the state of our country: over gun control, health care, the opioid epidemic, the environment, budgets and tax reform, homelessness and lack of affordable housing, immigration and mass incarceration, storm ravaged lives. The list goes on and on.
People asked “Where is God at such times? Where do we find hope.” Yes, clergy ask these questions too. And there are no simple answers. Many of the scriptures, like Isaiah today, tell us “Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you. I will help you.”
In Psalm 56 the writer of this prayer puts his trust in God: “I am not afraid; what can flesh do to me?” Beautiful words, beautiful sentiment, but are prayers enough? Is trusting in God enough? What are prayers if not followed by action? They certainly ring hollow to me - just like our lawmakers standing for a moment of silence on the steps of the capital this week rings hollow if not followed by reasonable, moral gun control laws.
Yes, we need to take time asking God for wisdom and guidance, and then listening. We don’t do that enough. But then, we need to put on our walking shoes. Jesus is no longer walking on this earth. We are.
We moved from prayer and mourning that afternoon, to talking about action, and here again, ideas began to bubble up, but nothing concrete was decided. It will take much more praying and listening and brain storming.
How can we, as clergy, and congregations, do something that will really make a difference - that will demand that those in positions of power listen and move to action? How do we help our legislators and administration understand that these are moral issues, and laws that are not moral, are meant to be broken, just as Jesus told the authorities of his time over and over again. Our laws and actions are not moral if they are not based on empathy and compassion - if they do not work for the common good of ALL God’s people - not some, but ALL.
Our faith demands that we stand up for justice in such times as these. We can no longer sit silent and complacent while others suffer from our inaction. But the enormity, complexity and sheer numbers of the issues can be paralyzing. I’ve stopped counting how many petitions to sign and donation requests I receive each week. We can’t do it all, but we must do something.
Today we’re here to focus on immigration, an issue that has divided our country from the beginning, when white, anglo-saxon, Protestants slaughtered the natives who occupied this land. Those words of Thomas Jefferson: “all men are created equal” haven’t always applied to immigrants and refugees over the centuries.
I lived in California for over 30 years. The last seven serving a church on the Central Coast, surrounded by rolling hills of vineyards, over 200 wineries, with countless undocumented workers doing backbreaking labor picking the crops, work that our citizens refused to do. I referred to them as our invisible neighbors.
Only one winery that we knew of at the time treated their workers fairly. Driving through the countryside we looked to see if there were port-a-poddies, and covered places to provide relief from the sweltering heat in the fields. That was law, but not always followed. I learned of dozens of men crammed into old trailers with no electricity or running water. They couldn’t complain, or notify authorities, for fear of being deported. Where is the empathy and compassion?
You see, it’s not just the government. It was the greed of the owners, taking advantage of desperate people for their own gain. And it’s also those of us, wanting to buy cheap wine. We don’t want to pay for what it would cost if the owners had to pay a living wage and health insurance for their workers. Where is the morality here?
What can we as individuals and congregations do? I want to share one story that comes from the church in Simi Valley where I was ordained. It’s the story of Liliana. When her family came legally to the U.S. to be farm-workers in California, Liliana stayed behind to complete high school. After graduating, she was so desperate to rejoin her family that instead of waiting the estimated 8 years for a family member to petition for her legal status, she bought a false birth certificate and tried to come to the U.S., but was discovered at the border.
Instead, she crossed through the desert and joined her family. Nine years later, after she got married and became a mother, Liliana’s husband tried to petition for her, only to find out that her use of the false birth certificate incurred an automatic felony charge—falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen—which carries a lifetime bar to immigration.
All three of Liliana’s children and her husband were U.S. citizens. Her parents were also permanent residents of the U.S. and her brothers and sisters were all citizens or residents. Liliana and her husband both worked, payed taxes, and owned their own home, yet ICE came looking for Liliana to deport her.
In September of 2007, the church in Simi declared themselves to be a sanctuary church and Liliana moved into the parsonage, with church members and others staying with her in shifts. Eventually she was joined by her family on weekends. Then the pastor of the church and her partner moved in. It took three years, with the help of immigration lawyers from CLUE, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice in LA, until she was finally granted permanent residence. Is this what justice looks like in the US?
There is a heated debate going on in this country right now over who we are to call “our neighbors” - more important, how we are to treat as “our neighbors.” A good many are sounding the alarm: “Not ‘them’ - those foreigners - those undocumented workers - surely they’re not our neighbors. They’re here illegally. Go back where you came from. We don’t want you here, using our services, our emergency rooms, our schools for your kids - taking our jobs. You don’t belong here. You’re not one of us.”
Where is the compassion, the empathy?
Those voices were heard for months outside the Simi church during Sunday worship - anywhere from 4 to 40 of them, as the minutemen vigilante group picketed the church. They were sponsored by “Save our State”, an anti-immigration group with ties to white supremacists.
Inside the sanctuary the congregation had heard a different voice. Before declaring themselves a sanctuary church, their pastor told me, “The congregation shared their stories - almost all Americans here have immigrant roots. We came to understand, ‘I am the other. I am the person you are talking about’. ... When you take stands for the right reasons you feel a presence - the energy of God - and everything falls into place.” Practicing hospitality of the heart was a transforming experience for the congregation. These are the stories that give me hope.
With our congress unable to pass any comprehensive immigration reform, Obama gave hope to hundreds of thousands of young people brought here illegally by their parents, with the creation of DACA. Our current administration has now taken us backward. This morning I wanted you to hear first hand from one of the DACA recipients, so I invited Ali Morales to tell her story and I was thrilled when she accepted.
Thousands of years ago, the writer of Leviticus spoke for God to the Israelites: “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
Jesus took this to heart and practiced it. How will we follow his example?
Please join me in singing the second verse of “Sanctuary.”
God empower me, to be a witness for you,
acting boldly in your name.
Seeking justice, where there is hurting,
offering hope where there is pain.
Berthold Brecht, the German playwright, wrote a poem during Nazi Germany, “Will there be singing in the dark times?” I believe there not only is, but there must be. Let’s join together in singing “My Life Flows on in Endless Song” Black Hymnal 476