Galilee 1: The Baptism of Jesus and the Moratorium Movement
Today we begin our journey with the ministry of Jesus. That ministry
changed the world – that ministry can change you.
His ministry began in the midst of John’s movement, John’s baptism
movement. John said, “I baptize you with water, One will come to
baptize you with fire – and with the Holy Spirit.” Our task today is
to understand these two baptisms and to answer the question: why did
John have to come first to “make the way ready for Jesus.”
John’s baptism movement was, in fact, a moratorium movement. He
preached repentance and the forgiveness of sins. He preached that the
compromise the Israelites had made with the Roman Empire would not
work – and that it was destroying the soul of a people, destroying
their families and their relationship with God. He preached that the
people should “suspend” their relationship of compromise with the
Romans and with the culture of corruption while they awaited the
coming of a new power, a new force, in their lives.
In many ways, that is where we are today. The compromise that our
Latino leaders made with the democrats to get immigration reform did
not work – because too many of our people would not make the demand
strong enough on the democrats, because too many of our leaders, too
many of our organizations, were dependent on these democrats for
funding and for position.
The United States, like Rome in the time of Jesus, is an empire – and
it is in decline. It has grown wealthy on exploiting the poor
countries of the world – and the poorest people who came here to
work. This nation, this empire, missed the opportunity God gave it.
In a country where the basic family values that hold a country
together are falling apart, this country was offered the faithfulness
and witness of millions of migrant families, fighting to keep their
families together under the most difficult conditions. We have said
that this was a test, an opportunity for this nation to redeem itself.
We had hoped that the legalization of the 12 million and their
families would change both the thinking and the make-up of the
population in this country, making it possible for this nation to
peacefully change its ways and relationships with the people of the
But sadly this nation has failed that test and lost that opportunity.
The cowardice of the democrats and the racism and hatred of the
republicans combined to turn this nation away from justice and to
create a situation of violence and greed and hate that we saw erupt
yesterday as a tea party member assassinated a congresswoman in
Arizona. The hate unleashed by organized political forces against
immigrants and against Latinos is going to continue to lead to
violence. The situation with unemployment and economic decline is
going to be used by these forces to blame all the problems of a
failing nation on Latinos.
This situation could have been avoided if the democratic leadership,
if President Obama, had acted with courage and kept his promise and
moved quickly to resolve this immigration issue when he had the power.
He did not. They did not. They played a dangerous and ignorant game
which unleashed the racism and violence of the right. And we are going
to be in the middle of a very difficult situation for the next few
years. The question is whether we will go down with it or whether we
will grow strong enough to survive it.
And it was in this very type of situation that John the Baptist called
for a moratorium:
The moratorium we are calling for needs to begin with ourselves. We
are demanding a moratorium on enforcement of the immigration law to
save our families, to save the future of our children. A moratorium is
a delay, a suspension, so that we the nation can review, reevaluate,
reorganize. But for that movement to be successful, we need to begin
the moratorium with ourselves, the way John did.
For our moratorium movement to be successful we need to apply it to
ourselves. We need a moratorium on dependence and assimilation. There
are going to be hard times ahead of us because the economy of this
country is not ever going to be what it was. And the damage that this
nation’s greed and fraud have done to Mexico, Central America and the
Caribbean means that the situation there will be even worse. You
cannot go back there because the people there are still trying to come
here, driven by the hunger of their babies. We need to learn to rely
on ourselves and our community. We need to share our resources and
organize our resources. We can’t be dependent on the government or on
foundations in our organizations for, if we are dependent, we will not
be clear headed. We will not be strong. That is one of the lessons we
have learned from the last two years.
Only if we organize and pool our resources can we provide a future for
our children – this government has proven that they will not provide
for them. Instead of waking up every morning thinking about how they
can improve educational opportunities for our young people, this
government wakes up every morning thinking about ways to deport their
parents and destroy their families! We can’t depend on them. We can’t
be made servants to them. During this last two years of our struggle
the leaders of our movement were sipping tea in the White House once a
week while 1100 people a day were being deported. And they let
politicians whose only concern was their next election tell them what
was possible and when it was possible. We need a moratorium on those
kind of relationships and those kind of compromised situations!
And we need a moratorium on assimilating to the corrupt,
individualistic, materialistic culture around us. We need to stop
raising up “the American Dream” and start talking about the “American
Nightmare” that forced people to come here to survive in the first
place, which exploited their labor and now wants to criminalize and
throw them away like garbage. We need to stand firm on our faith and
family values: to work hard, be faithful to our people and raise our
children in the ways of the Lord.
Second, we need a moratorium on drama, born of idle minds. What I mean
is that when we don’t unite to solve our problems; when we don’t
organize ourselves to provide a future of purpose for our children,
then we will find a lot of our people and a lot of our young people as
they are now. When your mind is idle, when you don’t see a clear
future, if you don’t have a clear purpose, then you drift into stupid
things and you create drama over what somebody said, or what you
thought they said, or about relationships and – today – that is
leading to violence and, at the very least, to wasting the time of
Third, we need a moratorium on violence against each other in the home
and in the street. Our children are taught in school about Martin
Luther King and, sometimes, about Caesar Chavez. They are not taught
about what they struggled for and the opposition they met. Instead,
they are told that these were great men because they were “non-
violent” and because they believed in American Democracy. And so we
have grown up being non-violent towards our oppressors – but yet we
are violent towards each other! Cousins kill cousins. It happens every
day. Fathers beat their wives in front of their children. It happens
everyday. And even our language is violent towards each other. We need
a moratorium on this kind of violence – the violence between us.
Fourth, we need a moratorium on ignorance. This culture encourages
ignorance. It encourages us to be ignorant about what we eat, about
what we drink or what drugs we take, about the way we don’t take care
of ourselves. In the struggle we are facing, we can’t afford to be
ignorant. In our schools, our children and young people are separated
into two groups: the “smart good kids” who will go on to get good jobs
and the “ignorant bad kids” who are being prepared to be served up to
the criminal justice system. Sadly, out of anger and hurt, hundreds of
thousands of our children and young people are accepting the ignorance
they are being programmed for. Even in our churches, we don’t study
the science of the Holy Scripture. We let ten cent preachers spoon
feed us short quotations and miseducate us as to what they mean,
taking them out of the context of struggle they were written in,
because we accept ignorance. Equally as bad, a whole generation of our
young people have allowed themselves to be turned off by the hypocrisy
of the Christian Church and remain ignorant of the wisdom of the
Scriptures: of the Torah, the Gospels and the Qua’ran. We need to
place an immediate moratorium on “ignorance!”
We need to do more than demand a moratorium on deportations from
Obama. That won’t get it. We have to live the moratorium – the
moratorium is the movement, the movement is the moratorium
We won Alberto’s case because we struggled.
The Nunez family is together because we struggled.
The Linos are together because we struggled.
The moratorium is not just a demand on the President – it is a
struggle against deportations, family by family, city by city. And as
we have been talking about it, the moratorium is a demand on
ourselves, it is about a change in our lives!
Now, into this moratorium movement of John, came Jesus – with his
baptism of fire and the Holy Spirit. You see, the people had to be
made ready to receive Jesus and the gifts and power he brought. They
had to suspend their relationship with the Romans, with assimilation
and dependence, with drama, with violence against one another, with
ignorance – and then they would have eyes to see and ears to hear.
John wasn’t talking about the “perfumados”. He wasn’t talking about
the leaders. In fact when they came around John said “Who told you
vipers about the wrath that is to come? Who told you to come for
salvation after all you have done?”
John’s movement brought the masses of people to baptism in the river.
He brought the people who had been excluded from the temple, who had
been called criminals because they were poor, whose labor had been
used and who had not been given the dignity of their labor, the right
to be with and raise their families, that God reserved for them. And
to them, Jesus came and was baptized with them, right there in the
same river, and a dove came and landed on his shoulder and a voice
came from heaven saying “this is my son, with him I am well pleased!”
And Jesus brought the Baptism of Fire and the Holy Spirit as John had
The fire was the fire of judgment. Jesus warned that the consequences
of the way people were living, the compromise with the culture of the
roman empire, the failure to live by God’s commandments with purpose
and respect and seriousness – that these consequences would destroy
Most did not listen to Jesus. In fact, in a few years, their whole
world came apart and they were dispersed all over the world and at
least one third of them died. Surrounded by the Romans they ran out of
food and began to eat each other. Some survived. They had faith and
they listened and they changed. They followed John and his moratorium
movement – and they received the Word and the Holy Spirit from Jesus
that gave them the strength – and the faithfulness – to survive.
We have been warned. The nation has been warned. It may be too late
for this nation and for many in this nation – but it doesn’t have to
be too late for us. For Jesus, is still with us, still teaching us,
still filling us with the Holy spirit. The positive thing about being
rejected as an immigrant, about being hunted down, the positive thing
is that it has slowed down the process of assimilation. They didn’t
want to let you into the bakery to get the cookies and so you have not
yet been cooked! We will survive the ovens of fire. As the empire goes
down, we will grow stronger. In the next 14 weeks we will learn from
his ministry and follow in his footsteps.
Remember Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the Book of Daniel. They
would not worship a golden idol. They would not give up praying three
times a day. They would not give up their traditions and their
faithfulness to their God. They would not worship the man made Gods of
the nation that oppressed their people.
Jealous hateful men convinced the King to throw them in the furnace.
They went to the King the way the advisors and consultants went to
Barack Obama to poison him against legalizing the undocumented. And
they turned his weak and ambitious nature.
The King had Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego thrown into the fire –but
they were unafraid. They believed their God would save them but they
said, “No matter if we do die, we will not worship your Gods.” And why
should they? They could see what these “Gods” were doing to their
people even though the King had been favorable to the three of them!
And so the King was angry at their faithfulness and had them thrown
into a fire so hot that the soldiers who threw them in were burned
But then, when the King looked at the furnace he saw the shadows of
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego walking around untouched by the fire!
And he saw a fourth figure, “one like a Son of God”, who was with
them! And they came out of the fire without a single burn on them or
even on their clothes! And then the King made them heroes and had
those jealous evil men who turned his head bound up and thrown in the
We are in the fire – the fire of deportations, and unemployment and
violence and a culture of infidelity and drama and ignorance. But
Jesus is with the faithful. Let’s John’s Baptism wash out your ears so
you can hear, wash the sleep from your eyes so you can see. Jose, you
be Shadrach. Alberto, you be Meshach. And Sergio, you be Abednego.
Listen to the women who are calling you to stand up for your people.
Listen to Jesus. Let us walk with him. Every day. For the next
fourteen weeks. Until we know the power. Until we know who we are
again, who God made us to be!
Amen? Amen? Amen!