I preached this sermon at St. James Episcopal Church in Cincinnati on February 5th, 2017 immediately following the newly announced immigrant ban announced by the President of the United States. Two weeks after that sermon, I led a discussion forum at St. James on how to best support immigrants and refugees in our local communities.
|Preaching (on an earlier occasion) at St. James, Cincinnati|
It’s been an extraordinary week for those of us in this country and around the world. We have been besieged relentlessly with the news of our new president’s ban on immigration from a number of predominantly Muslim countries, with the prospect of even more countries being added to the list (although thankfully that executive order has been put on hold for now). We have heard daily of the rampant Islamophobia in hate speech and hate action and yes, hateful public policy besetting our nation and so much of our world. We have seen in the faces of our Latin American immigrant brothers and sisters the horrific fear of families being torn apart by detention and deportation, simply because they had the gall to flee a civil war that would have taken their lives within days.
Perhaps worst of all is that so much of the disgusting actions we have seen against our Muslim, our Latnino/a, our immigrant brothers and sisters, against LGBT folks & more have been perpetrated in the name of “religious freedom”. This idea of wanting to bring this country back to its “Judeo-Christian roots” is so toxic and so baseless that we have no choice but to forcefully reject it. Friends, let me be very clear, if this is the sort of “Christianity”, the sort of “Judeo-Christian faith” that our nation is said to have been built on – I want no part of that kind of Christianity. I want no part of a Christianity that slams the door on peace-loving Syrian refugees, leaving them to brutal death at the hands of terrorism, just because of our own baseless fears.
Into this, the words of the Prophet Isaiah today could not be more perfect. Isaiah is talking to his Israelite people, who by the way, are in exile in Babylon, the area that is modern-day Syria & Iraq. Isaiah notices that the people claim to be practicing their religion and following God, but they have actually fallen into a way that is oppressive and ignores the true justice of God’s word.
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;…
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Folks, these words could have been written to America in 2017. This could have been written directly to a nation, or a national political and religious framework that claims to uphold Jesus, who by the way was himself a Child refugee in Egypt fleeing the wrath of Herod with Mary and Joseph, but then delights in slamming the door on Middle-Eastern refugees! It could have been written to a government that claims to give a preferential option to “religious minorities” that is in actuality a cover for discrimination.
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and BRING THE HOMELESS POOR INTO YOUR HOUSE;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
This is a sermon that preaches itself. This is the loving, liberating, lifegiving way of Jesus Christ! On Friday, as a sign of solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters, I attended Friday Du’ah at the Clifton Mosque, just a few minutes down the road from here. Du’ah is the main prayer service of the week, something akin to Sunday morning in the Christian world. Praying shoulder to shoulder alongside some 300 or 400 of our Muslim neighbors, people of every race and color, immigrants and native-born, led by Imam Ishmail (who happens to be an Irish American white guy), I remembered the one-ness of our sacred faith. I watched as they wash their hands before worship, much like in the Jewish tradition and in our own as the priest’s hands are washed before celebrating the Eucharist. I prayed the prayer positions with them – positions much like ours – orans, kneeling, standing reverently with folded hands.
Guest preacher Hassan Shibly, a civil rights lawyer from Florida, said in his sermon to the gathered assembly that in spite of it all, this country, the United States of America remains one of the freest places for Muslims and people of all faiths to practice our religion, of any country in the world. He reminded all of us not to lose heart, not to lose faith, but to lose our religion, but to hold stronger to it. He told all of us, Muslim and non-Muslim, to hold fast to the “deen” - an Arabic word that roughly means our true religion, our true faith, the way of peace and submission to God. That word “Deen” is the same as the Hebrew word meaning judgments and righteousness that we pray often in the Psalms, promising to hold to God’s “righteous judgments”
Guess what, in today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us to do precisely the same thing! “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. What Good is our religion if it no longer leads us to the way of Justice and peace? What good is our “American Christianity” if it leads us to create injustice rather than breaking it down? You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
This is the time, perhaps now more than ever, to let our light shine. This is the time, Christians, followers and lovers of Jesus, to let our love shine for all to see. We MUST be a lighthouse to the refugee and the immigrant because we too were refugees and immigrants ourselves. We must be the lighthouse because that is what Christ not urges or suggests, but Requires us to do. I hope you will join me after church as we discuss and prepare to fulfill this sacred duty together.