THE REWARDS OF STRUGGLE
Fourth Week in the Time of Seeking the Kingdom of God
Today we are called by scripture to answer a hard question: What is our reward for doing what we know is right?
Our church - both this church and the other three churches that are part of family Latina Unida ministries – are “blessed” with having almost every kind of immigration case. So for us this immigration struggle is personal. God made it personal for us. Yet the struggle reaches into the lives of millions of people, especially now as we face a campaign of mass deportation.
Let’s take the case of Miguel Perez: His future is uncertain while he sits in ICE detention. If he is deported to Mexico there will be people waiting for him there, people in the movement, people who love justice – and people will honor him finally for the hero that he is. He will be honored and embraced because he struggled! If he wins his fight to stay in the country he fought for, he wins for all green card veterans and he remains here with a community and a family that love him. So while he remains in prison, fighting for his right to stay in this country, either way he will know the rewards of his struggle.
Elvira stayed in sanctuary for a year. She faced tremendous pressure – but she also had tremendous support and she changed the way the nation thought about the issue of immigration. When she made the decision to leave sanctuary and take her case throughout the nation, she knew what she faced. When she was arrested in California we believed she would face time in prison but instead she was simply set down on the border. She led a life of struggle in Mexico, united with her father before he died – and in time, she brought Saul back to finish high school and prepared him to go this fall to college. So you could say that because she struggled, because who chose to do what is right, she got her reward even though she was deported.
What are we saying? If you are thinking about superficial things, you may be disappointed by the struggle – or by the persecution we face. You may lose things that you believe are important to you, very important. But if you think about the Kingdom of God coming alive among the people of God, and struggle to find your place in that struggle and in those kingdom communities, you will not be disappointed.
In the back of our church there, behind you, is the picture of Rudy Lozano. He chose the struggle for his people, for the undocumented, for the unity of Mexicans on both sides of the border, for Latino unity, and for black Latino unity – in spite of the dangers. He gave his life. Yet does he not still live in the Kingdom?
We are entering a very dangerous and very difficult period. Those who control the power of government are very serious about deporting millions of people, without regard to their lives here. We know that is not right.
We know that Trump’s election was a historical phenomenon. It was not normal. A wave of wickedness, of racism, was awakened across the land. We know that Trump is failing as a President, alienating even his own party, and that the more he fails as a president, the more he scapegoats the undocumented, the more he plays to those who out of fear and hatred and insecurity want to make America white again. That too is a historical reality.
If we stay silent, his reign of terror and racism will continue. If we continue to resist, if we stand strong, if we build our community of faith and resistance, then this time of scapegoating will be much shorter –
So, we know what is right to do. Not only in the case of the struggle – but in the way we live our lives, in the way we are with each other. Listen to how James warns against breaking each other down instead of building each other up, how many times we run from the problems we have, the problems of our relationships, and live in a world of dreams and false hopes, instead of just facing and resolving our problems with each other.
How we are with each other and how we are in the struggle are part of the same choice – the choice of the Kingdom, the choice of Jesus.
What is our reward for doing what we know is good, what we know is right? It may not be the reward we may have been thinking of. It is not the superficial reward we dreamed of. Our reward is being joined to the Kingdom of God.
The historical situation we are in today is not the same as we have lived for the last ten or twenty years. For years, we gathered around families who were fighting to stay together against the broken law. Their witness brought much support to our cause and much hope to others in the same situation. In fact, we won more time for many of these families to stay here – and to stay together.
We fought for the dreamers – and we won DACA,
Now we must face a new historical situation. It will not be easy to win even the temporary victories for many people, even for those in our congregation for which we will fight the hardest. Some may say, “Why should I struggle, why should I fight the injustice, if I am just going to lose anyway/”
Scripture tells us that such thinking means a person has lost sight of what our faith teaches us. We think about the house or the good job we have. We think about losing those things. We feel defeated. Why struggle if there is a good chance we will lose? Indeed, as we see the deportations increase we will see many people “self-deport”.
Yet scripture tells us that if we do what is right, if we do what is good, our reward is in the person we become and the community of which we become a part.
That is why Jesus called on his disciples to pick up his cross and follow him. That is why James warns us not to put our thoughts into dreaming about the future and the things we want. Instead, James says it will be as God wills and I will choose to do what is good and right now. That is why James warns us not to be a friend to the world, a friend to all the pleasures and comforts of the world, but instead to seek to do what God calls us to do.
We call this season the season of Kingdom time, or the season of seeking the Kingdom. If today, you decide for the Kingdom, if you decide for Christ, if you choose what is right and good to do, if you choose to walk in the rain of justice, then the reign of God will come upon you.
You will be joined. Joined like Elvira. Joined like Miguel. Joined like Rudy. For Elvira lost her battle to stay in the United States when she left sanctuary and traveled to California to bring the struggle to a higher level. Yet she won her place in the Kingdom of God and in fact her family was completed!
Miguel may lose his battle to stay in this country – even after staying long months in detention, Yet his example is raising up hope for thousands of green card veterans and is putting the entire system on trial. Whether he wins his fight or not he will win his place in the Kingdom of God among the people of God!
What good is it to save your life if you lose your soul? Rudy lost his life – and yet he gained eternal life and everywhere you go in Pilsen or Little Village you see him remembered, you see young people ready to follow his example.
We all have doubts and we all have fears. We don’t want to lose what we have, often what we have worked hard to build. What they are doing by separating families is wrong. What they plan to do by making 800,000 dreamers illegal again is wrong. It is right to struggle against it.
Yet we should be very clear. If we dare to struggle, if we choose to do what is good and right, then our reward if great. They can separate a family and cause that family to live in two countries – but they cannot break apart the love and the bond that ties them together. When a family struggles together, they strengthen that bond; they find the Kingdom in that bond.
If a young person who has daca now struggles together with the 800,000 and is deported – they may lose the opportunities offered in this country but they will find strength in the community they build which no borders can separate.
The struggle, however, does make it clear to us how precious are our relationships. When we struggle, when we choose the good, then we don’t judge each other and cause division. We don’t talk about each other and cause isolation. We work through our problems together and build each other up. Sometimes we may have to leave someone behind because they choose to hide from what is right – but e leave them behind with love so that later they will return to us.
What is our reward for doing what is right, for choosing the good? I can tell you it is to grow in the Kingdom of God among the people of God. But to be strong in this conviction, to live by this conviction, you must open your hearts and see the Kingdom.
Open your eyes and see a mother’s love, see a child’s hope and rust, see a father’s determination and see a young woman or a young man who chooses to dedicate their lives to the struggle for their people. These will give you a glimpse of the Kingdom. That glimpse will be like a seed that grows within you – until you confront the choice to do good with courage, with integrity – and with joy, until you see the morning coming even on a dark night.
If you see with the eyes of faith, you will see the kingdom. You will be joined to a kingdom that has no borders and in which there is no separation.
The Holy Scriptures for the Fourth Week in the Time of the Reign of God
Matthew 16:24-28 Jesus Predicts His Death
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. 28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
James 4: 1-6 Submit Yourselves to God
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.4 You adulterous people,[a] don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us[b]? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”[c]
James 4: 13-17 Boasting About Tomorrow
13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.