It’s hard for me to take in the fact that the beginning of Advent is only 3 weeks away. Where is the time going? The Scriptures we read on Sunday got me thinking about Advent as I prepared my sermon. Our liturgy is using track 2 so we read the Hebrew Scripture from the prophet Amos along with the letter to the Thessalonians and the Gospel from Matthew. Since all of these passages addressed the need to be prepared and ready – whether for the coming of the Messiah as in Amos or the return of Jesus in the Christian Scriptures – they seemed appropriate possibilities for Advent reflection. No wonder there are some congregations considering the return to the celebration of a 7-week season of Advent.
I was particularly struck by Amos’ prophecy (Amos 5:18 – 24). It’s clear in these verses that the people thought they were doing all the right stuff. They were worshiping and offering sacrifices and singing songs of praise. On the surface, everything looked great! But clearly, in God’s eyes, this was all for show. Their hearts weren’t in the right place. The passage ends with: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” Maybe it’s implied in the verse that the people weren’t “doing” justice but it doesn’t say that exactly. I wonder if instead it might mean that they weren’t “living” justice. There’s a difference between taking action out of a sense of duty and obligation and doing good because it flows from a heart of love and compassion.
That reminded me of Matthew’s Gospel that we’ll be reading in two weeks on Christ the King Sunday:
‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’ (Matthew 25:34b – 40).
Perhaps I’m reading more into this text than is there but it seems to me that the people to whom the Lord is speaking didn’t even notice that they were doing the right things. They had to ask: “Lord, when did we…?” Their gracious behavior seems to come from their hearts and not from their sense of obligation.
Alright, so how does Resolution Review come in? You all know how I feel about resolutions. I wish we didn’t need them at all yet, since this is the way we do business, they can be a good way of informing one another of possibilities and resources that can make it easier for us to live out justice and righteousness. I think the more we practice, the more it will well up from a heart in the right place.
At Convention last month, we passed 5 resolutions, all of which address important human rights issues – issues of justice and righteousness. I wrote about the first one last week so if you didn’t get a chance to read the blog, you can find it here.
This week I’d like to share the next resolution:
Resolution 2: Sanctuary Churches
RESOLVED, that the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan will support congregations that have committed themselves to providing shelter and sanctuary to people whose immigration status is being litigated, and be it further
RESOLVED, that the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan encourage all congregations to learn about the meaning of immigration sanctuary and consider their role in this issue, and be it further
RESOLVED, that the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan encourage all congregations to offer tangible and spiritual support to sanctuary congregations as their resources allow, and be it further
RESOLVED, that sanctuary congregations will provide guidance to others who are considering this type of outreach and support to immigrants.
Here’s the rationale behind this resolution as presented by the originators:
The Episcopal Church’s fifth baptismal covenant proclaims that we will strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. Millions of human beings in this country are caught in conflicts over immigration laws. Many immigrant families are being separated from their loved ones. Many people have been arrested and detained because of their official immigration status, and many others live in jeopardy of being captured and detained. Many immigrants are being forced to live where they do not wish. We pray for the well-being of our new neighbors, who give us the gift of their presence among us. Some churches have discerned a call for responding to this human crisis in the United States, and some congregation(s) in the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan have committed themselves to providing shelter and sanctuary for people whose immigration status is in doubt.
Here is the opportunity to welcome the stranger as we read in Matthew. And the need is great. Just this week a mother who has lived in the Sterling Heights, MI, for the last 30 years was deported back to her country of origin, Montenegro. She has no criminal record and a pending motion for a stay of removal in federal courts yet she was forced to purchase a plane ticket and leave her family behind. Zahrija Purovic, 50, hasn’t been back there since she left at 19. This is tragic. You can read more about this case here.
And this is only one case among many. Currently there are thousands of other Michigan residents waiting for deportation. Our current administration seems to think that tightening our borders and removing anyone who isn’t quite like us (whatever that is) might help make America great again. The numbers of refugees allowed in the country has been drastically cut and the travel ban continues to add insecurity to those seeking assylum. According to Jesus, this really isn’t an option.
Last May, the Rev. Kit Carlson of All Saints, East Lansing announced that her congregation would begin the process of becoming a Sanctuary Church, a welcoming place for individuals needing shelter as their immigration case is under review. I wrote a blog post when this first came to our attention which you can find here.
Since this resolution calls for offering support to any congregation serving as a Sanctuary Church, I contacted a friend at All Saints for an update. Currently, they are installing a shower which they need before they can invite a guest to stay with them. In the meantime, they are compiling a list of individuals and congregations that have offered help and support. They would be pleased to add your name and the name of your church to their list. Members of the Sanctuary Task Force would also be pleased to come and share their story with your congregation. You can reach them by contacting the church office at 517-351-7160 or sending an email to email@example.com They answer a lot of preliminary questions on their helpful information page which you can find here.
Becoming informed is the first step in making a difference and getting involved. Sharing information that you might have will also help the rest of us keep up-to-date on the latest news on sanctuary and immigration issues. As always, together we can accomplish so much for the Kingdom of God.
Let us pray –
open our eyes so we can see you in the eyes of our immigrant brothers and sisters,
eyes downcast for having lived so long in the shadows,
eyes challenging us to join them in the streets or picket lines,
eyes lifted looking for the Christ light in us.
Compassionate God, who has come to dwell among us,
open our ears to hear the cries of your children,
children being separated from their parents,
rounded up in raids,
led to detention centers,
silently giving up dreams.
God of Justice, who crosses all boundaries,
give us courage to resist, to say NO
to unfair labor practices,
to unjust laws,
to unwarranted practices.
Give us the strength to stand with and for
your inclusive love,
faith to believe,
another world is necessary and possible.
Let it begin with us. Amen.
~ The Rev Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council