Accepting Transformation in the Struggle 4th Week in the Time of Pentecost
I recall hearing the story of an undocumented young man who was being chased by the Migra. He was at the bus station and he made his way onto a bus that was about to leave. On the bus, he made his way towards the back until he found a seat next to a mother and a daughter. He did not know any of the people on the bus – and they did not know him. They did not know if he was a criminal or a murderer. When the Migra stepped onto the bus and asked if anyone had just gotten on, no one spoke. The Migra just stood there looking into their faces. They said nothing. Finally the bus driver told them “We have to get going. There is nothing for you here.” So the Migra left and the bus pulled away. The man on the run got off at the next stop, grateful for the solidarity of silence, for he had encountered the spirit of a community of faith and resistance that came to life on that bus, on that day.
The story we read in scripture today is of Ananais and Saphira. The community of the disciples was forming after the resurrection of Jesus. They were poor people and to survive they held everything in common. It is said that some sold their land and houses to support the work of the community. Ananias and Saphira said they did this but in fact they lied – they held back some of what they had sold. When they lied, they were struck dead before the disciples who asked, “Why would you lie to the Holy Spirit?”
The scripture showed that in the new community of faith and resistance formed by the disciples, they both feared and respected the high standard of truth and common sharing.
On the back of your program today you will see the five steps that bring you into our community of faith and resistance: 1) Find your place in God’s Time and the history of your people; 2) Accept the transformation that is offered you there; 3) Bring the transformation to others; 4) Bear witness of that transformation in the world; and 5) Multiply and connect the communities of faith and resistance that are formed.
I hope today you will give these five steps in initiation into our community of faith consideration and reflection. I hope also that today you will better find your place in God’s Time and in the history of the people of God. But first, today, we are called by the scriptures to understand and to live those steps.
The disciples have announced themselves to the people and called on them to be baptized in the name of Jesus who was crucified, dead and buried but rose again; they have survived confrontation with the authorities and felt the Holy Spirit bind them together; now they have to take time to strengthen the foundation of their community where they are guided by the Spirit of Truth and Self-Reliance
Like the disciples, we face repression and persecution; Like the disciples, we have come to understand that God has planted us here for a purpose; like the disciples, we have heard the call of Jesus to form communities of faith and resistance; like the disciples we have confronted the power structure, speaking truth to power; like the disciples we have discovered a common faith that binds us together as a community; like the disciples we are trying to strengthen our community as we fight.
In today’s scripture, we learn the lessons of the transformation of sharing and the transformation of truth.
As we are guided through the seasons of scripture and struggle each year, we are offered transformation. Everything in society tends to make us act selfishly, according to our own self interest. Love, even friendship, creates an exception. For those we love, for family, sometimes even for friends, we put aside selfishness and self-interest. We are willing to sacrifice for them
Jesus gave his life, not only for his disciples, whom he called friends, not only for Mary his mother and Mary Magdalene his wife, but for people he didn’t even know. He gave his life for the poor and the marginalized and the oppressed, for a people who had lost their way and their faith. His teaching and his example was of unselfishness.
The disciples applied this teaching, this supreme example, to the way they organized their community of faith and resistance. The rule was that “they held everything in common.” Those that had land or houses sold them so the community could continue its work.
We have tried to build our community on self-reliance, on sharing. We don’t depend on grants or contracts to carry out services – because we want our communities of faith to spread and they cannot spread if they don’t rely on the community, if they are not self-reliant. Even more, we have learned that our unity depends on our learning to share what we have with each other. The power of our witness depends on the depth of our commitment, on our love for children that are separated from their families, on children that are sent back to death and danger, on our love of those who face injustice like the deported veterans and the young brothers labeled as criminals by racist police. If we survive by sharing then we are called to act on that love, uncorrupted by self-interest.
The disciples also learned the teaching of truth. Jesus taught that “the truth will set you free.” The power of our witness requires that we speak the truth, the truth that others may not want to hear. Yet we cannot speak with truth in our voice if there is not truth between us. The disciples did not require that Ananias and Sophia sell their land and give the money to the community. They wanted people to think they were unselfish, willing to share and hold everything in common – so they lied. They held back in secret. In the scripture, they fell down dead, showing the power of the standard of truth that was held in the community.
Just as we find our place in God’s time, in God’s purpose and the history of our people, so we are offered our own personal and collective transformation. The practice of our community offers us high standards of sharing and truth. We are not perfect. We make commitments to our ministry but we do not keep them. We even lie about what we have done – when we have not done it. But we can confess and be forgiven and reconciled – and we do because God has set the standard of truth we live by.
While the world we live in leads us to be guided by self-interest, the standards of the community which God gives us lead us to sharing – and the unselfish love of Jesus. While the world we live in leads us to hide our true feelings, to misrepresent and lie to protect ourselves, the standards of the community God gives us lead us to be truthful with each other so that we can speak truth to power on behalf of our people.
When we live and become part of a community of faith and resistance, led by the scripture and the Spirit, we accept the standards of sharing and truth. Perhaps we do so first out of self-interest, wanting the benefits of the protection of the community, or the respect of the community among the people. Yet as time goes on these standards of sharing and truth take root in us. When we resist them, we are offered confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation – and reconciliation brings about a change in us. Step by step, as we feel God intervening in our lives, as we feel part of a movement which God directs, as we feel the faith of those around us and the presence of God when we are together in prayer, step by step we accept the transformation which the Way of Jesus offers.
What gives our communities of faith and resistance their power, their ability to challenge men with great power? We have seen a child facing the loss of his or her parents break the hearts of cruel men, and move the hearts of a nation. Yes, we have seen that. We saw it this week with the Honduran little boy that Julie brought to Washington DC, who made it to the floor of the Congress with his letter to President Trump. And we have seen that people who come to this community immediately trust it – and trust themselves to it.
If people see members of a community who have overcome selfishness and self-interest, then they will trust the community. If they find people who truly welcome them, with respect and with solidarity – even though they do not know them - it moves them. If they see in the community people who have a high standard of truth, people who like them are not perfect, but people who are made perfect through confession and forgiveness and reconciliation, then they want to be part of that community.
We utilize legal and political strategies to defend our families. Yet our real effectiveness depends on our transformation – the transformation that we offer others just as it was offered to us, the transformation of sharing and of truth.
It is the greatest blessing we are offered in the communities of faith and resistance. Jesus taught that “You must become like a little child if you would enter the Kingdom of God.” You see Kingdom communities offer transformation, transformation that restores our innocence, the innocence of Jesus.
This is the process we go through, renewing our faith each year. We find our place in God’s Time and in the history of our people. We accept the transformation that is offered us, that restores our innocence no matter what we have done. Then we are called to offer that transformation to others in the way we relate to them, in the way we welcome them, in the way we are in solidarity with them. Then as a community, and each of us individually, are called to offer that innocence, living in the standards of sharing and truth, in witness, in the testimony of our actions.
These are our ministries, the work of the community of faith and resistance. The ministry of family unity and reunification; the ministry of the youth health service corps, the ministry of freedom from criminalization and mass incarceration; the ministry of the deported veterans. What we do in these ministries is to put our transformation into practice – and that not only lets that transformation grow in us it strengthens our place in the purpose of God. Just as our witness in these ministries puts us in conflict with wickedness, it brings us into harmony with God’s purpose, God’s intervention – and lets us live in God’s time, free of separation, even free of death.
Finally, our communities of faith become strong enough to multiply, to give birth to new communities, as we have seen new communities spring up from this church in Humboldt Park, in Hermosa, in Waukegan and in Bensonville; as we have seen our community of faith connected to other communities of resistance in this country and throughout Latin America!
I like to think that the undocumented man running from the Migra trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ when he got on the bus. He did not know anyone there – but he saw they looked like him, that they were speaking his language, perhaps he saw both the pain of suffering and the joy of love that he knew in his own people. He sat down in faith – and his faith was answered.
Those on the bus did not know him and yet risked their own security to give him sanctuary. They did not know if he was guilty of a crime, if he was a terrorist, but they recognized something in him that was like them. He surely was not a perfect man and had not lived a life without sin. Yet the community on the bus accepted him and he became innocent through his faith and his trust in them.
It is not easy for us to learn to share with each other. It is not easy for us to live in truth with each other. Alone we cannot hold to these standards. Yet when we find our place in God’s purpose for us, in the reason he has planted a people in this nation, when we find our place in the renewal of his Way, we are offered transformation and given the power to offer that transformation to others.
Communities of faith and resistance, like the ones we are determined to realize, offer transformation and come to life through transformation. That transformation connects them directly to God and there is no wickedness, no prince of wickedness in the White House or any of his agents, that can drive us from this land, separate us from our families, hurt us or tear us from the bosom of the Lord and his people.
Some of us heard Minister Farakkhan this week. He reflected that many of the Africans brought here in slavery were Muslims like him. He said that through God’s intervention, the faith of Islam had sprung up here in the U.S. He reflected that the unity of Muslims in the United States was now a light shining back on the East where division and madness had brought Muslims to fight and kill each other. Trump’s racist attack on Muslims here is done to put out that light.
As we listened we realized something. Many who came to this country from Latin America hid who they were, hid their faith, were ashamed and tried to assimilate. But a strong Spirit has brought Latinos to respect themselves and teach their children their history, their faith and their culture. During the long fight against the deportations, Latinos have achieved a powerful unity, Now, like Muslims in this country, Latino unity shines like a light to the nations of the south where conflict and violence is tearing apart the lives of the people.
For God did not plant African Americans and Latinos in this nation as an escape or to assimilate into the values of materialism and conquest – but to establish that light of faith and unity which can bring unity and self-determination down the continents of the Americas. This nation has grown rich on the exploitation and the divisions in Mexico and Latin America. We must see that Trump’s war on Latinos is driven by a fear that a growing majority of Latinos will put a stop to what this nation is doing to Latin America. Trump and his kind have seen God’s plan, God’s planting unfolding. It is now for us to see it clearly – and see we are living in the purpose and the protection of God.
I have faith today, that the communities of faith and resistance we are building as we fight each battle for each family, for each young person, for each child, will spread across the land, will carry us through the storms of the next four years and will emerge victorious, will emerge in a victory, in which our next generation can grow strong in the purpose of God.
Accept in communion today, not just the body and blood of Jesus, but the transformation the Lord offers you, the way of sharing and solidarity, the way of truth and the way of forgiveness that restores your innocence; accept the transformation that is offered you; join with us in this community of faith and resistance that the Lord has made known to us. Open your hearts and be made innocent as we share the bread and the cup together, renewing again the faith God gives us.
HOLY SCRIPTURES FOR PENTECOST 4
Psalm 118 Blessed Is He Who Comes In THE NAME OF THE LORD.
When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; he brought me into a spacious place. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. …The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to theLord. This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter. I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. ….Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Acts 4:32-37 The Believers Share Their Possessions
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
Acts 5:1-6 Ananias and Sapphira
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.