The sermon on this Christ the King Sunday begins around the 31 minute mark.
This passage from Matthew which we read on this Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the liturgical year before we start Advent, is about Jesus – about what his kingdom of God demands, about how we are to serve Christ, and about how we are to be his people among the nations.
This passage took on a new and profound meaning for me last Monday.
About 50 – some of you and some from other churches and from Friends of Hola gathered in the parking lot of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).
The ICE office was in a building from 1963 Eastern Germany: poured concrete with a reflective glass front. ICE is in the right building – cold and formidable.
We gathered for prayer and then Lois, Sharon and I entered the very small room and went through the metal detectors. Six others were sitting along the perimeter. Sharon greeted them in Spanish and the smiles lit up the otherwise somber space.
I was called forward and passed the receipt of Leonor’s U-Visa (which, when accepted will put her on the path to US citizenship) and an application for a stay of deportation, through the small opening at the bottom of the glass partition. The person took it and said: “I need to talk to my supervisor.”
In less than five minutes Officer Crowley (not Officer Krumpke – from West Side Story) came to the window and said: “We cannot receive this application unless Leonor is present.”
I replied, “Both you and I know that isn’t true. Individuals turn in applications for others all the time. Furthermore, you and I know that if Leonor was present, you would immediately detain her and she would be deported. You wouldn’t even let her turn in the paperwork.”
Then I asked him, “Can you give me assurance that if Leonor comes to this office to apply for herself, you would not detain her?”
His response was “No.”
“So you are telling me,” I said, “that you will not allow Leonor her due process? U.S. Immigration already has her application for a change in her status and all they need in order to continue Leonor’s path towards citizenship is for you to accept this application, take the $155 and ask U.S. Immigration for confirmation.”
He said, “We will not accept this. Ms. Garcia made her choice. We are following procedure.”
Actually they are not.
I must admit I lost my cool just a bit and said: “Sir, I don’t see how you can have a good Thanksgiving knowing that you are separating a woman, who is following the U.S. legal code, from her four American citizen children.”
He walked away and that was that.
Lois, Sharon and I returned to the group waiting outside. We reported what had happened. Lois prayed that the officers “hearts of stone” would be changed to “hearts of flesh”; we sang “We Shall Overcome” and “This Little Light of Mine”; and chanted:
“Ice is kicking down the door” NO MORE
“Come to take the Brown and poor” NO MORE
“They don’t care if they’re following the law” NO MORE
“They want to take our neighbor Leonor” NO MORE
“Straight to deportation right from Christ’s door.” NO MORE
It was and is heartbreaking. Needless to say it was and is more heartbreaking for Leonor and her family. Leonor is following the law. ICE isn’t.
“Now when the Son of Man comes in all his glory, and all the angels with him… All the nations (in the Greek – ethne) will be gathered before him and he will separate ‘them’ (nations – not individuals) one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
“Come blessed by my Father inherit the kingdom prepared fro you from the foundation of the world: For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. 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… Truly I tell you, as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
There is no doubt that you and I as individuals, and we as a congregation, have to be engaged in service to the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the imprisoned and the stranger. And in humble gratitude to God’s grace and power, you and I seek to be faithful to this expectation. On Thursday folks were serving a meal at Labre. Every Tuesday we welcome guests into our food distribution program. Of course lots of you come and visit, and eat and stay with Leonor. And these are just three of the many things you do. And it is good. Keep it up! God bless you!
But did you notice that this scripture says very clearly that it will be the nations who are gathered and the question will be how did the nations help the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned, the stranger and the naked?
And for you and for me and for our time today it seems to me that we have to move beyond individual acts of charity and start waking up to God’s demand for justice and equity and compassion from the seats of national power. God is judging the nations by how the least among us are treated.
And what I experienced last Monday was the faceless and very frightening power of our nation, ICE given free reign to sweep up anybody and everybody – not held accountable by any other agency. In fact given free reign by our President and by mostly white men. Our nation was told that those brown people are rapists, and drug mules, and part of gangs that cannot wait to prey on you.
You and I can have all sorts of disagreements about theology and policy: how to best help the poor, how best to break down walls that divide, how to create more equity in our world: Democrats and Republicans should argue and compromise about all of this; for politics is the art of compromise. But to frame policy by racist and nationalist language is sinful; playing on our worst fears and then allowing structures and institutions to formalize and act upon this fear – is evil.
This is the very reality of structural racism that black people and brown people face every day. What are we doing to the least of these my people?
And with all these gross sexual sins now being outed by women victims; I am disgusted with my own gender and the culture that breeds it. What have we done to the least of these my sisters?
What we do, how we treat the least of these my brothers and sisters; the ones without power; the folks who can never catch up socially, economically, politically?
Our nation was grounded upon the most wonderful of aspiration that all “men are created equal” and yet for a long time Blacks were seen as only 3/5 of a person. We fought a civil war to set black people free – and yet we are still not free. It is going to take more than just individual civility to turn this around.
This nation sacrificed countless citizens to defeat fascism and to rebuild our enemies into partners. Our nation has been the most generous nation in all of world history, the hope of the world, the destination goal of people from all over the world; but now it is turning narrow and closed and fearful.
What are we doing to the least of these my sisters and brothers? The gospel answer is much bigger than “here is a plane ticket to Mexico.”
I actually agree with Judge Roy Moore – although what he has been accused of doing to the least of these under aged girls is beyond comprehension- but on this we agree: we have, as a nation failed, to follow the call of God.
Where I would disagree with him and many others, is that is call is NOT towards some fundamentalist Christian sharia law, but towards the upward inclusive call of Jesus Christ – that all children of God matter, particularly the least of these my brothers and sisters; particularly those who are marginalized and persecuted and powerless.
So we have our work cut out for us in the days ahead, as we turn to a new year – the first Sunday of Advent – as we remember the story of a displaced couple being forced to leave their home by the Imperial power to go to Bethlehem where they couldn’t find a place to stay – so in a barn, or a cave, the Savior of the world was born.
And this Savior, who is among the least of these, has a special love for Leonor, and for all those who have been forgotten, and abused, and cast away and used for political gain, and blamed for their addictions, and lost in the prison system and misused by the powers that be.
We have to pray for the ICE agents – who may be very nice people at home but who are victims of the structures that force them to do things that are wrong and inhuman.
Listen to the “least of these” my brothers and sisters. Don’t just do something for them, have a conversation – listen to their experience, don’t tell them what their experience should be.
Listen to that place in you that feels least, and powerless – tend to yourself as well as others.
You and I have the vote: so listen carefully to what national leaders really stand for; do they even talk about the least of these my sisters and brothers?
Friends, follow your compassion! Follow the gospel of Jesus Christ. Challenge the institutions and structures that have benefited folks that look like me at the expense of those who do not.
I don’t want to be part of a nation that loses its place in the Kingdom of God because we didn’t care for the least of these my sisters and brothers.