“We are not alone in the Fire” The Assembly of Destiny Fifth Week in the Time of Assembly
Destiny is sometimes a hard word. If you have a destiny it means that there is something important in your future, there is something you must persevere to realize. Destiny doesn’t give you what you want now, it promises you that your life could have meaning – even if you must face many hard times and many challenges.
Human beings have an inclination to selfishness, an inclination to jealousy and envy, an inclination to immediate gratification of their desires, an inclination to status and power – and of course an inclination to gaining material wealth. These inclinations bring about the structures of injustice and oppression in the world. They give rise to racism and cruelty and violence. Yet history is replete with a specific pattern in which those who are unjustly treated, those who are set upon with racism and cruelty, seem to be chosen and blessed to grow in their numbers and their determination and unity to overcome the conditions they face. It is a pattern of intervention from below to bring about justice.
Nowhere is this pattern of intervention from below documented more powerfully than in our faith as it is guided by the Word, the Holy Scriptures. The whole of the Bible is the story of a people who are conquered, who are forced again and again from their land, who are put into slavery and who face the worst conditions of injustice and oppression – and of constant humiliation and shaming. The scriptures tell the story that this people, this oppressed and humiliated people, were chosen by God to be His people, to bring his message of justice into the world. These same scriptures describe God’s favor on this people – a favor that makes them to be fruitful and multiply, to grow in their numbers in spite of the obstacles they face. Each time a child is born they see God’s favor on them and they find hope that God has given them a destiny to bring God’s justice into the world – and to themselves taste that justice.
As they are hated and humiliated by powerful men they feel they are loved by an almighty and powerful God. As in the words of the song, they look to a God that loves them and they cry out to their God “You are the wind beneath my feet.”
That “Wind” blows in the pattern of intervention from below to bring about justice – and to guide the destiny of a people.
At the same time, the scriptures tell the story of a people who are called to be faithful to God and to join together in the unselfish love that Jesus showed when he said, “There is no greater love than to give up your life for your friends.” The wind of destiny that blows through a people is also a calling wind, a wind that calls a people to be worthy of the destiny to bring justice and transformation to the world.
In our readings from the book of Daniel today, we learn about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego They are captives in a foreigh land. They are not citizens. They have no rights. They are hated by those who fear they will change their world. Their ways, the ways of their faith and their people, are ridiculed. The freedom that God promises them sustains them – and yet it calls on them to be faithful even in the face of threats of death.
The law of the king calls on the people to worship a golden idol. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refuse. Those that hate them being them before the King and he has them thrown into the fire. Yet when the King looks at this furnace he sees four figures not just three. And when the doors are opened Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego walk out without even their clothes being singed by the fire. It is a sign and they are empowered in that country and win the right to practice their faith – and to continue to increase in their numbers!
We face an election in just over one week from today. It is a dangerous time: a time of both great danger and great promise. It is a difficult time because over twenty million people who have the most at stake in this election cannot even vote. And yet millions more Latinos will vote in this election than ever before. They are unified against the threat of mass deportation in their community – and they are a new and powerful force in this country.
We are in the fire. The flames of hate and deportation and family separation are hot and burning around us. And yet there is “a fourth figure” in the furnace. It is those who have long persevered racism and discrimination in this country. It is those who were born here of undocumented parents. It is those who claimed their citizenship through the first amnesty. It is the millions of young Latinos who have turned eighteen and have a voice and a vote in this election.
We wait to see if this “fourth figure” in the fire will save today’s Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego , today’s Juan and Miguel and Rosalba, from the fire. And if they emerge from the fire that would be a sign that God has favored a people – and called them to a destiny to transform this nation.
We have already seen signs. We have already seen those who have emerged from the fire. Last Wednesday, we celebrated the twenty years of struggle of Familia Latina Unida/Sin Fronteras and La Fuerza Juventud. We held our celebration in the church in which Elvira Arellano took sanctuary with her U.S. citizen son.
When Elvira was deported she saw with new eyes. She saw U.S. citizen sons and daughters de facto deported with their mothers or father. She saw fathers and mothers separated from their children and from their spouses. But she also saw the way Central Americans were treated, brutalized and tortured, by Mexicans as they made their way north, fleeing the violence that the U.S. market for illegal drugs had brought on their countries. She took up their cause. She married a man from Honduras, from that movement for justice, and they had a child.
Last Wednesday we celebrated the miracle of her united family and we heard Saul say, “I am here with my mother, by step father and my little brother. I am tired but I will not give up the struggle for other families.” That whole family had emerged, united, from the fires!
We reflected with Elvira and Emma and Jose Lopez how the struggle had brought about a new identity in this country. Millions of people now call themselves Latinos. Whether from Mexico or Puerto Rico, Honduras or El Salvador, with or without papers, born here or newly come here, they are Latino. It is a new identity of unity – and of destiny. It is an identity of destiny because their growing numbers will likely be the difference in this next election.
God’s work continues. His intervention continues. From above he guide and forms a force from below that will transform this nation. And so we have seen Latino youth join African American youth, born of those ripped from their country in slavery, separated from their families, - join them in a new unity against the wickedness of criminalization and mass incarceration.
Today, the family of which Saul Arellano is so proud is in the fire of this election. There are many here who are in that fire. In fact millions are in the fire. They are in our prayers. We raise up especially those who have remained faithful to their families, to their faith and to their people. We affirm that God is with them in the fire – that God’s people are with them in the fire.
Surely in the minds and hearts of every person who has a family member in danger the most pressing emotion is their love for that person. God makes us in families – and God forms new families through love, families of many kinds and shapes. The love we experience in our families – and even in our circles of friends – is the seed of a great people. Through struggle, the love among family and friends becomes the love of all those who suffer the same or similar injustice. And as that love grows, so does the destiny of a people to bring God’s justice to the world.
Through the years of our struggle we have seen a new unity and purpose grow to create in this nation a people of God, a people planted here to be like oaks of righteousness. Each year we have seen this destiny more and more fulfilled. Each year we have seen more people emerge from the fire, protected by that “fourth figure.” And more and more we have felt the wind that is blowing in the pattern of God’s intervention – the intervention from below which is also from above!
We saw the signs and we felt the wind in the time of the Harvest – at least some of us did. Some remained with their doubts. Some looked too long at the Golden Idol that called them away from their people, away from the cause of justice, away from the Way of unselfish love and commitment. They were still tempted to worship status and wealth and selfishness and instant gratification of their desires. Now is the time to assemble those, however. who did feel the wind. It is time to assemble those who felt the destiny God is planting in them.
We call together in assembly those who have come from the fire, those who are still in the fire and find themselves protected from the flames, those who have felt and feel the wind of a Holy Spirit, a Spirit of justice and unselfish love blowing through this land. Prepare yourself for in the next year a new movement will arise from your assembly.
Know now that you have become many. Know that God not only favors you but he challenges you to be his messengers to this nation, to tell this nation that racism and injustice and abuse have no place in God’s creation, to tell this nation that it must cease its wicked ways in Latin America and the world, put greed aside and seek justice.
We are assembling a formation for the future. From our Spiritual Centers with the Prophets we are assembling circles of families and circles of the next generation, ordered in beloved community, living in the assurance of a common destiny.
Know that your love of family, your bonds of friendship, are seeds that God has planted so that you will come to know your destiny. That wind blows from the heavens. Those who embrace it will know God – and they will be part of his promise.
Open our eyes, Lord. Open our ears, Lord. Let us feel the wind. Let us embrace it. Let us become your oaks of righteousness in this land. Lord protect us from the fire and Give us Faith! Give us Faith!
THE HOLY SCRIPTURES FOR THE FIFTH WEEK IN ASSEMBLY
Isaiah 61:1-3 The Year of the Lord’s Favor
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,because the Lord has anointed meto proclaim good news to the poor.He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captivesand release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favorand the day of vengeance of our God,to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.
Daniel 3:16-23 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.
Daniel 3:24-30 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire
Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.” He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them. Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God…. Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.