Transcribed from the sermon preached January 25, 2015
The Reverend Deborah Lee
Scripture Readings: 1 Corinthians 7: 29-31; Mark 1:14-20
Thank you for having me here with you today. I want to thank this congregation for the many ways you have supported our organization and partnered with us in serving the immigrant community in this region. Several Specifics come to mind:
- Being a Sanctuary Church – being one of the first- publically- a model for others around the Bay – The steadfast accompaniment with the Avila family – not just this time around, but Sanctuary work in past years – supporting refugee and immigrant families – the global face of God’s family
- For the several times that this congregation has responded- through the Mission and Justice Committee to the emergency needs of immigrant population- unfairly targeted by immigration raids and attacks : Pacific Steel workers in Berkeley, Recycling workers in East Bay- unjustly fired because of Immigration raids – and your Support for the most recent arrivals and refugees this past few months.
- In addition, your support and presence at the monthly WCDF Vigils – David who is the official welcomer and “opener” of these vigils. Who inspired us to go beyond 1 year (I was proposing we call it quits) – and now we average 80-100 people each month where we continue to bring awareness and increase solidarity. Seen others of you from this church at the vigils – remember– in particular- elaborate collection of percussion instruments that came.
So thank you for your partnership.
The words of the song we sang this morning: If you hear the voice of God speak today, harden not your heart.
This week as I was reflecting on the readings for today, I kept thinking of the ways in which God calls us and speaks to us. (Those of you- who read Samuel passage last week—we thank God – that God calls us not once but 3 times –maybe more.) I heard an amazing story this week of a woman who was awakened by a dream from God- two times- and gave away a thriving business she had. Picked up, moved halfway across the world, changing her life in dramatic – and downwardly-mobile fashion – to write some truth-telling plays about human trafficking. It doesn’t have to be as dramatic. But do you believe that God speaks to us and calls us? Sometimes in a dream, Sometimes in a flood of tears, sometimes through the voice of another person. Sometimes through a nagging itch that just won’t go away- tugging at your heart. When have you heard God’s voice? What was God telling you?
Fortunate for us – God calls us more than once. Doesn’t let go. God doesn’t speaks to us many times along our journey. And not just the ministers and the Elders, of course- But God calls each and every one of us– who have chosen to follow Jesus. Whether we are teachers, health professionals, engineers, childcare providers, bankers, bus drivers, parents, retired persons. We are Christian and followers of Jesus in all that we do.
Today’s scripture reading from Corinthians suggests a sense of urgency to God’s call. We don’t have all day. The Time is Short. The old world is gone. And the world –in its present form– is passing away.
For some these words might sound frightening – as frightening as Climate Change .
For those for whom the present reality – was repressive and dim…( like the early Christians living under a crushing Roman Empire) these words of imminent Change – would be words of Hope and relief.
But the scripture doesn’t pose this as a choice- does it? It’s not asking- those who would like the present time to change…raise your hands. Those who would like it to stay the same…raise your hands.
The Scripture is saying– the present form IS passing away. The world is in transformation. The present reality cannot stand. Change is on it’s way. In the Gospel of Mark’ – states it as “ the kingdom of God is at hand.”
Change is coming either way… Time is Short— And if we can hear this message it invites our response in 2 Ways:
2) to Recommit.
Our nation- this past week with the celebration of Dr. MLK’s birthday, the release of the film Selma and the protests over the past few months- here in the Bay and all around the country for Black Lives – brings our nation to an important and critical Kairos moment.
Just a few days ago I had the opportunity to listen to Alicia Garza, one of the three queer women who started Black Lives Matter Movement. (Feb. 7th- PSR) She shared how these 3 simple words- were a response to the grief and pain of the epidemic of unprosecuted murders of black men—killed Every 28 hours by police, vigilantes, or security guards. Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown..a very long list of names. She said that “Black Lives Matter” began as a love letter to Black community that has been so physically, emotionally and psychologically wounded – to think that such occurrences are normal. That the lack of apologies and accountability, and prosection was to be expected. A love note–saying- our brothers and sisters, sons and daughter,and friends- – their lives matter. They are not garbage. They count for something. It was 3 simple words to rehumanize black people in a world that dehumanizes them. And asking: What kind of a Country do we live in that this is OK? What is sick in the soul of our nation – that behaves with this pattern of disregard and abuse?
Movement has spurred groups of people all over the country- standing up for dignity and their humanity – chanting Black Lives Matter. And others- with signs that say: All Lives Matter, When Black Lives Matter. Another Striking sign I have been seeing- that reminds me of our scripture reading today says: “It Stops Today.” The Time now. Time is up on racism. The gig is up.
This kairos moment- has come– saying that we cannot carry on with business as usual, go on like all the years before- accepting this as the normal state of affairs. The present reality is passing away….and new reality calls us – to repent and root out racism in the insidious ways it is embedded in every institution of our society.
The Protests over the past few months– have included protests among medical students at USF- drawing attention to the racial disparities of health care and life expectancy; Law students- at Boalt Hall- highlighting glaring racial disparities in the application of our nation’s laws; High School students have walked out – raising up disparities in education – which 50 years after desegregation – still remain in defacto segregation – essentially divided between public and private education; Immigrants have raised the question- how racism impacts the punitive way we detain and deport immigrants and treat refugees, and don’t want to pass immigration reform so people can become citizens. Our churches – cannot remain outside these conversations – for we are not above reproach. How far have we come in the past 50 years? In our struggles to survive as institutions- and remain relevant- how much have we done to vigilantly fight racism and bring about racial justice and healing to this gaping wound in our communities and societies. Have we acknowledged and addressed the epidemic of structural racism and what the movement has called “state violence” against a segment of our own people? Not just police shootings, poverty, low wages, housing inequalities, life expectancy.
An honest assessment – I believe- requires our repentance and our recommitment.
God needs our help. It’s a big project. In the Gospel of Mark reading for today, we see how Jesus goes out and gets some help. Most disciples seek a Master. But here- Jesus is the active one. The Master- seeks out the disciples and calls them by name Pointed out to me that Jesus did not put out a general call for volunteers….”Would anyone like to follow me?” But seeks and finds them and calls them out by name.
The Greek word for Church in the NT– ekklesia– literally means the called out ones – Called out- by God. We are not volunteers- but we are fished out of the sea and drafted… to teach others and engage in God’s ministry to restore (make whole) his people.
When Jesus calls the Fishermen (according to commentator Ted Smith)- Jesus was not asking them to add just one more task to their already busy lives….but calling them into a new way of LIFE. A whole new set of loyalties. Repenting- turning away from old set of values and loyalties to power, success, control, the supremacy of any people or religion over others,— letting that go and pass away – because the old systems will not bring about God’s Reign. And committing to A new way of life– a new shift in consciousness and commitment oriented in the “same direction as God’s life.” (Barbara Brown Taylor)
This is by no means an easy task – but it is not only up to us that this will happen— For the miracle of the Gospel reading in Mark- is the power of God- to call out, to move, to motivate, to change human lives, to make ordinary people to extraordinary things in the fulfillment of the God’s Dream.
There are these Beautiful words to a prayer:
“We are called by name and we respond with our whole bodies.”
Our flesh and blood. Our hands and feet. Our intellect and heart. Our– real breathing bodies. Our whole selves. That’s why our bodies matter – and the loss of real flesh and blood – like Eric Garner and Michael Brown’s bodies matter too. We needed them here to help us.
A few weeks ago- I brought a seminary intern who was shadowing me for a week to a meeting of Sanctuary Churches at Marilyn’s home. Young Catholic, Latina sister. Dreamer. Undocumented – whose own parents had been deported, she had been active in the immigrant rights movement before she answered the call to religious life as a Catholic Sister. So in the midst of this exciting years in the world of immigrant rights movement she had to remove herself for two years- of relative seclusion in the formation house. But every day they read the newspaper- their connection to the outside world. This summer-she read about the flood of children and families arriving. Felt so helpless- stuck there in the house. Wanted to be doing something so badly to help them but couldn’t- it wasn’t her time yet. Instructed by her teachers- her job right then- was to pray so that OTHERS would respond to the urgent needs. That was the contribution that she could make. To Pray that OTHERS would respond to the needs.
When she came to Sanctuary Meeting – hearing what the congregations have been doing….so moved to tears as we left. My Prayers were answered, she said….. People DID respond.
Time is short. The Kingdom of God is at Hand. The Time is now for Repentance and Recommitment.– Are we able to say Fish me, O Lord. Here I am.
— Rev. Deborah Lee, Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights, (firstname.lastname@example.org)