I Corinthians 1:1-9
It is ours to follow in the wisdom of prophets like Martin Luther King Jr. and respond to the injustices of this world with compassion and generosity. It is not ours to fear the suffering of the world, but to overcome it with God’s justice. Amen.
God craves justice. Throughout the bible, hundreds of times in the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea , Amos, Matthew and John God calls out for justice. God begs, pleads, demands justice.
In the laws we enact God wants justice.
In our treatment of the poor, God wants justice.
In our care for the widowed, the orphaned, the foreigner and the stranger, God wants justice.
God’s justice does not discriminate, it makes no exceptions and it has no boundaries. In Ezekiel God says, “I seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak, the fat and the strong I will watch over; I will feed them all justice.”
God’s justice is not punishment and banishment, it is not pain, suffering or retribution. It is restorative, it is healing, it is binding and strengthening. The justice which God calls for is nothing less than the kingdom of God, here on earth, a peace which passes all understanding. It is not reserved only for God’s chosen people, as some have argued. Justice is not discriminatory, it is universal.
That is just what Isaiah is telling us this morning. The Lord says, “It is too light a thing that you should raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to ALL the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (49:6).
To the ends of the earth.
God’s salvation is justice. It is meant for the whole world. Where there once was division, there will be relationship. Where there once was sin, there will be forgiveness. Where there was pain and suspicion, there will now be healing and wholeness. This is the nature of divine justice.
And Amos tell us that God will not rest until “justice rolls like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (5:24).
This is the universal justice is which our Lord formed the prophet Martin Luther King Jr. to proclaim liberation for all people, especially our brothers and sisters of color. A lover of God, King embodied divine patience for the coming of God’s justice. He fought suspicion and hate with love and forgiveness. He confronted violence with peace and pain with prayer. With a message of universal justice he overwhelmed militarized anger and brought the gospel to a people who had long suffered injustice.
As a Christian prophet and a teacher, King ministered to all of us, calling on the wealthy and the poor, black and white, Latino and Asian to examine our hearts, forgive our offenders and seek justice for the sake of the brotherhood of the gospel.
The struggle is not over for us. There are many who still labor under the yoke of oppression and as Christians, as human beings, we all suffer as a result. As King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
And it is with the Christian desire for universal justice that I want you to hear the story of José.
José is a young Mexican migrant in search of a living. I met him when I worked as an English/Spanish translator in West Point, Virginia. As I got to know him, I learned his story, and I learned about God’s justice. José’s family is poor, even by Mexican standards. Having had to drop out of school to support his family, he is uneducated. Like many Mexican immigrants, he waited for years for approval on a visa application to enter the US legally. But that approval never came. So as a 16 year old boy he started out from his central Mexican village for the U.S.
José knew about the coyotes, men in Mexican border towns willing to lead people illegally into the U.S. for the cost of a few thousand dollars. He knew coyotes have been known to abandon their clients in the middle of the night, steal from them, leave the weak in the desert heat to dehydrate. He knew families who had lost children and spouses to the dangerous crossing. He knew he would have to walk through deserts at night and hide during blazing hot days, suffering without food or water. He only hoped that he would not be one of the hundreds who die of exposure every year or get caught by border agents or militiamen. When I met this child who had made the crossing and was constantly under threat of getting caught and deported, I tried to convince him that he is too young to be on his own and that he should return to his mother in Mexico.
In reply, José asked me if I understood what it means to be deeply poor, to have no opportunities for work. He asked if I knew what it was like to see someone die because they could not afford simple medicine, and to have that person be your own father. He knew the risks of life alone in the U.S. and he knew the risks of life on the edge in poverty, and he said he never had a choice. José is certainly not alone.
There are over 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. Many are here because severe, abject poverty drove them away from their homes and families into a foreign land in search of work. Indeed, so many have had to flee the poverty of Mexico alone that it is believed that atleast 10%, that is one in every 10 Mexican families, is dependent upon money sent home from relatives working in the U.S.
José and millions of others are illegal refugees in the United States, illegal economic refugees.
In the heated debates about immigration, most of what is being talked about is how to stop these millions of poor from coming to the U.S. Billions of dollars are being spent to build walls on our southern borders, incarcerate and deport countless illegal immigrants like José. Mayors, governor and legislators all over this country are pushing the boundaries of the law in order to create an environment that is wholly inhospitable to these millions of men and women who are in the U.S. illegally.
But I submit that no man made law can keep a person from trying to provide for their families.
You need only get to know people like José and visit the countless Central and South American, and Asian villages from which they journeyed to know that as long as deep poverty exists so too will the tide of people seeking a sustainable life in prosperous countries like the United States.
Our Lord’s justice, the justice that gave birth to Christ and to this church cannot stand for punishment and exclusion to be our solution, no we cannot stand for that.
The prophet Isaiah proclaims that his justice is to be brought “to the ends of the earth” (49:6). It is not reserved for the lucky few who were born in a country with the blessings of public education, medical care and the opportunities which have given all of the goodness we enjoy today. Justice is not reserved for the wealthy.
Thankfully, there are so many positive ways that we can seek a just solution to the struggles of illegal immigrants. Rather than devoting our resources to ensuring that the passage to America is more miserable than a life of poverty, our response must be to go to them, in their poverty, and work alongside them, by God’s grace, to alleviate their poverty so that they will never have to become economic refugees. Rather than build up walls, we must build up communities in Central and South America, Africa and Asia, so that they can care for their families rather than leave them in search of work.
And while this prospect may sound daunting, we as a church already have an incredible network of organizations worldwide upon which to rely in our cause for justice. Yes the church is our means for justice. The Episcopal Church has over 60 missionaries stationed all over the world, seeking to build up the kingdom with sustainable economic growth, agricultural programs and medical clinics to care for the poorest of the poor. We, as a church, need to send out more missionaries.
Episcopal Relief and Development, ERD, a non-profit based here in the U.S. has a presence in the poorest regions of every continent of the world. In response to natural and man-made disasters ERD helps people rebuild devastated communities so that they never have to become refugees. It works hand in hand with native peoples to create food security and health care programs, farming and business training and HIV/AIDS programs. Through the seed money you give to ERD people receive the tools to earn an income and create opportunities for their children. By building new homes, planting crops, creating clean water systems and constructing clinics and schools children like José can stay with their families, never having to risk life and limb in search of work.
Another Episcopal Organization called Five Talents is involved in the incredibly promising trend of microfinance. With lending models such as microcredit, Five Talents extends very small loans to impoverished entrepreneurs who would normally not be considered bankable. Loans as small as $25 can change entire communities, generating business and trade where there was none. This is a financial innovation which originated in India where it has successfully enabled extremely impoverished people to engage in self-employment projects which generate income and, in many cases, lift them out of poverty.
In your support of these and other organizations that seek to restore and maintain the dignity of human life you are ensuring that your own dignity is preserved. As King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
And there is much you can do here at home. Speaking to you as the granddaughter of an immigrant, I can sincerely ask you, brothers and sisters, to show compassion and love to the immigrants of our community, be they amongst us legally or illegally. Hear their stories, let them remind you of the hopefulness and bounty of the American dream. Welcome them into your homes and your friendship. And invite them to come and worship alongside you, as fellow human beings created by our one God.
While it may, at times seem daunting to realize the extent of poverty in the world, we can never throw our hands up and say that it is too big, too daunting, impossible to tackle. The psalmist writes “it is the Lord who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is. He keeps faith forever” (Psalm 146). Using us, his means of grace, God grants justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, the Lord sets the prisoners free and opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, and upholds the widow and the fatherless.”
Let us follow in the wisdom of great prophets like Martin Luther King and respond to the iniquities and injustices of this world with peaceful compassion and generosity. It is not ours to fear the suffering of the world, but to overcome it, indeed overwhelm it, with love.