Spiritual Discipline and Our Struggle
Fifth Week in the Time of Seeking the Kingdom
Regular and consistent prayer is the foundation of Spiritual Discipline. We have learned that Spiritual Discipline is the foundation of our struggle for justice. We have learned also that spiritual discipline, with its foundation in prayer, is a necessity for our relationships and the integrity of our community of faith. In prayer we ask for wisdom. Today we reflect on the words from James which tell us that “when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”
Today I would like to begin by telling you about a great movie. It is called “Pele – the Legend”. The movie is the story of the great Brazilian soccer player, Pele, who led his team to victory in the world cup at the age of seventeen. In the movie, an old man tells Pele that his style of play came from African slaves who escaped and practiced a military art called Capuera. Some of you may remember that we used to teach this style of fighting here. When the escaped slaves finally came out of the jungles they found that Capruera was made illegal. They found however that the movements and the spirit – what they called the Zinga – of caprera could be transferred to a style of soccer.
The Brazilian team had been humiliated in the 1950 world cup by the Europeans and their coach was focused on teaching them the European style of play. In Sweden they were humiliated. They were called “primitive”. Beneath the humiliating attacks was the racism leveled against a team of people of color. Finally, led by the young Pele, the team and the coach realized that they could not imitate the European style. Instead, they returned to their own Brazilian style, to the Zinga – and they won the world cup.
Pele’s father had taught him the Zinga style of soccer. He told him that to make this style work, he must believe in himself, in his people – and he warned him of the dangers of doubt. Pele’s father explained that he had suffered an injury that ended his own soccer career – and he confessed that he was injured because he doubted himself.
James gives us the same warning. Like Jesus, James tells us that God will answer our prayer. Jesus tells us that we have but to knock and the door to the Kingdom of God will open. But then James tells us that we must believe when we pray because one who doubts is like a wave blown by the sea and is double minded – and his prayer will not be answered.
So today, let’s explore “doubt” and the damage it does. Remember what Pele’s father told him. He explained that he had doubted himself – and that caused him to be injured and to lose his dream. He doubted the Spirit of the Brazilian people – which came from their African ancestors and their indigenous ancestors, not the Europeans who had conquered them. So in this example, there was both self-doubt and doubt in his people, his heritage. They go together.
You doubt yourself because you allow yourself to be judged with a set of standards by which your own people are not valued, by which your own people are disrespected. When the President of the United States says that Mexicans are criminals and rapists he is disrespecting an entire people. He disrespects you because he wants you to feel ashamed of who you are. If you accept this disrespect, then you are left to be judged by standards that reject the value of Latino culture, of the Latino character and even the faith of Latinos. If you judge yourself in this way, then you will doubt yourself. A people that doubt themselves can be controlled. They will not resist.
Yet what is the message of our faith? What is the message of Jesus? And what is the meaning of the appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe to Juan Diego?
Our faith tells us that God has planted a people here from the south to transform this nation, a nation which was built on genocide of the Native Americans, on the enslavement of Africans and the conquest and theft of land from Mexico. We read from Genesis that God has sent you here to make you a great people – because your own lands have been ground down by the north. Our faith tells us God planted a people here from the south to be like “Oaks of Righteousness” because God believed you could be a righteous people, an example of the Kingdom of God for all to see. Our God tells us that God did not doubt you!
Jesus called out to the poor and those who were discriminated against and marginalized. Jesus taught that it was these who would inherit the earth. He came with the Good News to the poor that he offered forgiveness for their sins and a place in which the Kingdom of God could grow on the earth. Jesus gave his life so you would have confidence that God sided with you against the hypocrites who disrespected and oppressed you.
When we began this year, a year in which we had to regenerate our faith and our self-confidence after the disappointment of the election of Donald Trump, we began with a celebration of the appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The poor of Mexico and Latin America had been conquered by the nations of Spain and Portugal. Their own religious temples and symbols had been torn down. They were told that God did not recognize them as a faithful people. They were made to feel ashamed of their culture. And then the Dark Virgin appeared to Juan, with dark features like his own, calling him her dignified son and giving him courage to confront the hypocritical priests who called on the people to accept the conquest of the Europeans, to accept the robbery and enslavement they had brought to the land.
When Elvira went into sanctuary, she stood before the nation and said “I am not a criminal. I am not a terrorist. I am a Mother and I am a worker.” When hateful people came to call her names, to say she was a bad mother, to say she was a lawbreaker, she did not doubt herself. Yet all the hate we see coming out of Trump and the organizations that want to make America White Again, that hate is designed to make us doubt ourselves and doubt God’s love and purpose for us. You see, if they can make us doubt ourselves than they can sweep us from this land.
When Jesus found people who doubted that God heard their prayers he told the parable of the persistent widow who came everyday to plead her case. The judge had to listen to her because she was so persistent. How much more, said Jesus, will God listen to the prayers of his own people if they are persistent – if they do not doubt themselves.
That is why James says that when you pray, you must believe, for if you doubt, he says, you are double minded and are like the waves in the sea. What we are saying today is that prayer and fasting is a way to eliminate doubt and self-doubt from your mind and from your heart. In prayer, you feel the God that brought you here, that made you, that gave you children to love as He loved you. You discipline your mind in prayer so that the accusations and the disrespect they level at you and at your people will be like arrows that turn to noodles and fall at your feet, You know who you are in prayer. You humble yourself, you confess your sins, you feel God’s forgiveness, his reconciliation and YOU KNOW YOU ARE GOD’S PEOPLE! That is what the discipline of prayer and fasting does for you.
Still we are asked by scripture, “What kind of prayer and fasting does the Lord want?” Is it to just to go to church once a week and tell everyone that you are a good Christian? No! It is to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke! Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”
James, like Jesus, tells us that there is no faith without works, no faith without putting it into practice. So why do we need prayer? Prayer is like getting dressed to go to a meeting. If it is a serious meeting, you need to dress in a serious way. If it is a meeting with God’s people, then you need to prepare yourself to serve and to stand in solidarity and to be a witness to his justice.
If they say you are a criminal, like they told brother Luis, and therefore you should be deported, you have to first get clear that you are not what they say you are. No. You humble yourself before God. You put on the clothes of salvation, the armor of righteousness. You confess your sins and are reconciled with him – and then you are sure you are not what they say you are. No. You are God’s people, the people of God!
I know that there are many people who have been disappointed by the churches they have gone to. Those churches did not stand by them. They did not build them up but actually sowed the seeds of self-doubt by judging them hypocritically.
I know too that many young people give up on the faith and on prayer because of the hypocrisy in the churches. Yet they know that there is a spiritual reality. They need to let themselves find their spiritual reality in the traditions and the faith of their own people so that they don’t give in to doubting their people.
If they doubt the Virgin of Guadalupe they need to pray with the mother whose child did not drown in the crossing because she prayed to the Virgin.
They need to study the Word and see that there is a place for them with dignity and purpose in following in the footsteps of Jesus, in carrying the cross of their people.
If they let others cause them to doubt the faith of the mothers and fathers who sacrificed for them, who have protected and raised them, then they let doubt into their hearts like a worm that devours the food of life they have been given.
Last Monday, Britzi stood before the media and before that tall building in which ICE has its headquarters, and she said she had no doubts about her mother, no doubts about their family, no doubts that God put them here to stay together. She did not doubt herself. She did not doubt her mother and her family. And she did not doubt God. She was NOT double minded. She was single minded in her beliefs and in her purpose.
We don’t gather every Sunday because it is expected. We gather every Sunday to regain the confidence that the Virgin of Guadalupe had in Juan Diego, the confidence that Jesus had in his disciples. We gather in prayer to purge ourselves of the doubt that wicked men would place in our hearts, doubts about ourselves and about our people. Then during the week we pray as Jesus taught us every day: that “Your Kingdom Come, Your Will be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” We want that Kingdom. We want to live in that Kingdom. We know our God is with us and we know that we are His people.
This is a sanctuary church here. But everywhere you pray is a sanctuary, a sanctuary from self-doubt, a sanctuary that raises up your people, a sanctuary from doubt and double-mindedness; a sanctuary for the Kingdom of God. They may deport you. They may put you in prison. They may label you a criminal. They may attack your faith. DO NOT LET THEM MAKE YOU DOUBT YOURSELF. YOU ARE GOD’S PEOPLE AND GOD WILL PROVIDE FOR YOUR REDEMPTION.
This week we called a meeting of all the organizations that are involved in the defense of the undocumented. We explained the reality that in September, Trump will eliminate DACA, will make 800,000 young people illegal and vulnerable to immediate deportation. We explained that Trump was eliminating TPS for over 300,000 people and had already sent out letters to 50,000 people from Haiti, telling them they had six months to get out of the country.
We called the meeting because we did not doubt ourselves. We did not doubt our people. We did not doubt that we could grow quickly a movement of hundreds of thousands of people in resistance. We did not doubt that we could force Trump to retreat from his plans. We believed and others joined us because we believed.
But how will we sustain the movement we began this week? How did we sustain a movement over this many years, recovering from betrayal and crucifixion with new life again and again? How did we maintain our families, our relationships, our church through difficult times? We have a strong foundation. It is the spiritual discipline of prayer, the prayer of believers, the prayer that saves us from doubt.
In prayer, we open our hearts and say “Submerge me in the river of your Spirit.” It is the river that refreshed our spirit after the disappointment of Trump’s election. It is the river that guided us through the year as we walked in the footsteps of Jesus; went to the cross with him and were resurrected with him; as we walked with the disciples to refresh our community of faith; as we sought the Kingdom of God in this summer season – a river that is taking us to the harvest of a new resistance movement in September!
Finally remember the last words of James in his letter to the communities of faith everywhere, communities of faith which were being attacked by wicked men who would put doubt in their hearts. James said, “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
So tell self doubt and doubt of your people to get away from you. Ask with belief for the Lord to give you faith as we prepare for communion and for the prayer which Jesus taught us to pray. Dame Fe! Dame Fe!
The Holy Scriptures for the Fifth Week in the Time of Seeking the Reign of God
Luke 11:1-10 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 come3 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.’” ….“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Isaiah 58:6-10 TRUE FASTING
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness[a] will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
James 1: 5-8 You Must Believe and Not Doubt
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.