Each year in the seven weeks of Resurrection, beginning with Easter, we re-live the appearances of the resurrected Jesus and seek to recover the gifts He gave us during his ministry. We have so far re-lived baptism and reconciliation and communion. Today, we re-live the gift of prayer – and we find in prayer the door to the power of believing.
Yet, as each year we re-live and renew these gifts, we also seek to understand what those gifts reveal about our current situation and seek the help they give us in dealing with that situation. We need to establish the context in which these gifts are renewed in our lives this year.
It is becoming clear that the context in which we live is the context ofsanctuary. We marched this week from Adalberto as the Puerto Rican community declared the Elvira Arellano Paseo Boricua Sanctuary Zone. We have in fact been living in sanctuary since 2006 when Elvira took sanctuary there. It turns out that that action was a defining action for our people all across the nation.
2006 was not the first time that someone stayed in a church claiming safety against an unjust persecution. The difference, however, was that Elvira was not hiding – she was bearing public witness to a justice higher than man’s law, a justice from the Kingdom of God. Those roots in the Kingdom gave that sanctuary its power – and the thousands who mixed and combined their prayers there sanctified it. Today, we remember and renew our commitment to such prayers which open the door to that Kingdom.
Along the way, I can testify that the sanctuary experience that gave rise to the social resistance of the next years also gave birth to prisoners and to addicts whose lives were changed when they claimed Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Along the way, I can testify that that sanctuary experiencealso gave birth to precious moments of reconciliation to troubled marriages and feuds on the street, and that it brought peace to troubled spirits. Just as true, the collective spiritual power of sanctuary was increased by each individual’s commitment to it in each of their lives.
To help us get to the truth of the experience of sanctuary, to help us open our hearts to this gift of prayer, we need to peel the onion, to start from the social reality of sanctuary and peel inward to the spiritual reality at its core.
Many here have benefitted from the actions we took and the victories we won: from DACA, which still persists, from prosecutorial discretion, which has now been removed. Both of those were sanctuary actions: they did not change the unjust law of this nation. Instead, they protected innocent peoplefrom those laws. Yet here in this church we know very well that the struggle which won those victories, which won protections from injustice, had aspiritual foundation. Because of that spiritual foundation we persisted when others gave up. Now as we continue to seek that protection from the Trump administration, we will need to draw on that spiritual foundation more than ever.
When we found that Obamacare did not cover the undocumented and most legal permanent residents, we began our youth health service corps and the fight for equality in health care. That struggle drew heavily on the spiritual foundation, the experience of sanctuary and the spiritual reality of living in the Kingdom of God amongst us. This week, the progress of our 5 plus 1 to get 20 initiative was honored. At the same time, the Republicans passed legislation in the Congress that would strip away health care from millions. We will have to dig deep again into the experience of sanctuary to carry on this fight.
While we were fighting the policies of mass deportation thousands of people were fighting the criminalization and mass incarceration of a whole generation of Black and Brown young people – and they rose up against each new police killing. The resistance began to bring some protection to these young people, some relief for those in prison. Yet at the heart of this resistance was the spiritual experience of sanctuary, of Holy Ground, on which these young people were treated like God’s sons and daughters, not like presumed criminals. Trump’s reversal of Obama’s policies, seen this week in Houston in the failure of the Federal Government to prosecute a police murder that everyone saw on video, just tells us that we must dig deep for the spiritual reality of sanctuary to renew that resistance today.
Many are talking – and marching – about resistance. Some of this is a purely political resistance. Yet we know that resistance to injustice must find itspower in righteousness – not in political competition. Just as we know that conversion from a compromised life requires an experience of the Lord, an experience of being naked in truth before God.
The strength we need to fight these battles requires a basic decision about the reality we choose to live in. There is a reality of the world in which we live, a reality of greed and racism and selfishness, but there is another reality to which we can find spiritual access. The world we live in calls us to conform to its compromise, to accept its perversions, to assimilate. As Latinos, it calls on you to turn your back on your own people, your own traditions and ancestors and to conform to a racist society - to become Mexican Americans as if “America” was a nation not a continent!
God calls on you to remember who you are and where you come from – so that you can discover the purpose He has for you. The politics of this country calls you to raise up the American Dream as if it belonged to you. Reality tells you the truth it is the American nightmare. Yet in sanctuary you discover the spiritual reality of the Kingdom of God which will outlast all the arrogance of men.
We are seeking in this church to organize the social reality of sanctuary – in our defense of the undocumented, in our pursuit of health care for all, in our resistance to the criminalization of the next generation. We have succeeded – and we will succeed – based on how well we seek and find the spiritual reality of sanctuary.
The Psalm today spoke of the frustrations of seeing the rich and greedy increase their wealth and the ease of their lives while our lives become more difficult. We feel that It is so unjust that a man like Trump should have his immigrant wife with him, even without love - while a faithful woman should be deprived of her deported husband. We envy what they have. Yes we do! Yet the Psalmist walks into sanctuary, into the Lord’s sanctuary, where he sees that the wealth and privilege of the rich is as empty as an egg shell with no egg in it, that it leads them only to destruction and self-destruction – he enters into the sanctuary where he sees the Kingdom of love and righteousness offered to those who serve the Lord.
Today we read how Jesus taught his disciples how to pray. He told them to ask for the Kingdom of God to come on earth as it is in heaven, to ask God for their daily bread, where bread meant the living word of God, to ask God to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; to ask God to spare us from the temptations of the world and its wickedness, and to lead us to the Holy Ground, to the space created by a community of faith, because “Thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever.”
The appearance that gives us our special gift this week is of Jesus to Thomas, who doubted the resurrection. Jesus tells him to put his fingers in the holes in his hands and his side. Thomas falls down before the resurrected Jesus, now believing. Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus gave Thomas the gift of believing. That is the gift we receive in prayer. The fourth gift revealed to the disciples was the gift of prayer. In prayer, we are united with God and with each other through the gift of moments of belief.
You cannot win battles you don’t fight. It is doubt that keeps you from fighting. It is believing that brings you back into the fight.
There is great power in believing. There is nothing more powerful than a made-up mind. There is great power when a group of people, a whole people, believe together. Nothing can stop those who believe together because we can only be defeated when doubt makes us weak. Yet believing comes fromseeing the Kingdom of God, from living in the Spiritual reality of the Kingdom of God, from standing on Holy Ground.
When we celebrate baptism as Jesus taught, we experience the reality in which we can be born again, in which we triumph even over death. When we celebrate confession and reconciliation, we experience the reality in which forgiveness joins us together with each other over the spiritual bridge of the love of Jesus - and when we celebrate communion, as Jesus taught, we experience the sacrifice and faith that joins a people together in God’s purpose.
Just as each must have their own baptism to become part of the baptism of a people; just as each must make their own confession to know the reconciliation of a people with their God; and just as each person must take the bread and the cup themselves for a people to be bound together in the love of Christ; so each of us must give ourselves over to God in prayer. Each mustsurrender their doubts and disbeliefs in prayer for our community to experience the sanctuary of believing, in the sanctuary in which we can see what is real and true and what will be on the earth.
Now we ask today, Lord, for the gift of prayer that can unleash the power of believing. Like the disciples, we ask “Lord, teach us how to pray.Teach us to pray each one of us and all together, for thy Kingdom to come, so that we may feel it alive between us, so that we may know that a community of righteousness can be in this world but not of it; so we can bear witness in this world and not be compromised by it; so we can know the victory of an Almighty and everlasting God and not be defeated by the wickedness and injustice of the world.”
I can testify that I have seen miracles. I have seen the wooden floors of an old building turn into Holy Ground, raised up by a chorus of saints, and a simple witness made known to millions. I have seen a concrete park become a spiritual cloud by the presence of a resurrected spirit and a hunger strike fill a people of a whole city with believing courage; I have seen this very congregation in this church transformed by the visit of an angel into believing and through believing reuniting a family across a border.
This is the season of Resurrection. The gifts of the ministry of Jesus arise again and surround us. Through Baptism, Reconciliation, Communion and Prayer we step into the sanctuary of the Lord. Through these gifts we are united in the sanctuary of the Lord, we know better the purpose God has for us, that God has planted his people here to be fruitful and multiply, to transform this nation and the continent of the Americas. Through these gifts we know the awesome power of the Lord is like a wind at our backs.
We don’t have to wait 400 years for Moses to be sent to make us free, for today, through the prayers of each, through the prayers of each joined together, we will ourselves sit and stand and walk and shout Amen! Allelulia! in the Holy Sanctuary that God proclaims, that God makes for us, that God renews in us, in which we can see the future with hope, through which our strength comes to do his will today and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow!
The Holy Scriptures for the Fourth Week in the Time of Resurrection
Luke 11; 1-4 Jesus’ Teaching on Prayer
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’”
Psalm 73 I Entered The Sanctuary Of God
1 Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. 3 For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4 They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; their evil imaginations have no limits. They scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression. Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance. They say, “How would God know? Does the Most High know anything?” This is what the wicked are like— always free of care, they go on amassing wealth…… When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. 18 Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. 9How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!20 They are like a dream when one awakes; when you arise, Lord, you will despise them as fantasies. 27 Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. 28 But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.
John 20:24-29 Jesus Appears to Thomas
24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”