The May 21st Sermon by Rev Walter L Coleman at Lincoln United Methodist Church in Chicago, on the fifth Sunday in the season of the Easter Resurrection, 2011.
We are in the season of resurrection and we are guided by the scripture and the Resurrection of Jesus just as a farmer is guided in each season leading to the Harvest. The Time of Resurrection is a time of making strong the people of God.
It comes after betrayal, after disappointment, after attacks on the people and attacks on our faith. It comes of course in scripture after the crucifixion of Jesus. But it is happening in our lives and in our movement in the same way. For this year, this season comes after Barack’s betrayal, yet again, and his counter attack. We had brought forth a proposal in faith. We asked him to use his lawful powers to stop the deportations and separation of families. The proposal started here in this church and through Congressman Gutierrez and Familia Latina Unida it spread across the country, city by city. But Barack not only rejected our proposal, breaking his promise again, betraying us again, he counter attacked. He attempted to isolate and ridicule our proposal with lies and misstatements.
And so, like the disciples after the crucifixion of Jesus, we have had to make ourselves strong again during this time. We experienced the healing of the meeting with Gutierrez here in this church, which sent a message of defiance through the nation that Latinos might withhold their votes for Barack if he did not act. That meeting, like meetings across the country brought forth the witness of the injustice of separating families and destroying the futures of young people out of the fear and hatred that has gripped this country. And then we saw the brave witness on May 2nd where 1000 students walked out of 12 high schools and stopped business as usual at city hall. And we are preparing for the “lockbox mobilization” we will make on Wednesday. In other words, we grew strong by taking action, inviting everyone to participate – but willing to go on alone if they did not. We have been gathering the people of our church and becoming strong again.
Making strong the people of God requires a person by person assembling of the strength and spirit of the people. The assembling of the strength of the people of God depends on our communities of faith becoming strong, but the assembling of the strength of the communities depends on the assembling of the strength of each of our relationships with each other, each of our families and each of our friendships.
For when relationships fall apart – the church and the people fall apart. How many times have we been witness to division and strife in two or three families destroyed a whole church! And when the strength of the families and friendships and the church fall apart, the strength of the people falls apart and there is no movement..
Remember, Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene, then to two disciples, then to ten, without Thomas, than to 11, then to crowds of people. And when these had been made strong and had the Holy Spirit they were prepared to take the witness of his resurrection to all the people on Pentecost – a time we will celebrate beginning on the week of June 9th. After the time of Pentecost, the disciples went further; they carried out the great commission to bring the Gospel to all the nations.
In this way, Jesus assembled the strength of the people one person at a time, one family at a time, one tribe at a time and one people at a time.
How do we grow in strength during this time? What does Jesus teach?
Jesus, when he appeared to the disciples, reminded them to one, follow his commandments and two, to love each other.
In fact, the love between two people depends on following the commandments. When your relationship is in trouble do you first look to see if you are responding to what God calls you to do? –or do you blame and criticize? I know that Oprah tells you to just have a good dialogue and get everything out in the open. And taking, communicating is good, but as we know that often breaks down into accusations and blame. And often in a relationship, or a churchor a whole movement, it leads to an unprincipled compromise that will soon break apart again.
Better for each to look again at the purpose in their lives, their calling to righteousness before God and to set a clear course in their lives and ask their partner to accompany them in this effort.
In the same way, to restore the strength of a community of faith requires more than talking or having meetings. The community must take action that God calls them to take. The love and unity of a people depends on following the commandments: there is no unity without principle: that is why we restored the unity of the youth and the families on May 2nd. Remember there was division among the people; the dream act had divided the young students from their families. We began here in the church when Congressman Gutierrez spoke and the young people came down and embraced their families, saying “We will never abandon you.” Then we went into action on May 2nd downtown. It was an action to restore principle – and it strengthened the unity and faith of our church in this time of resurrection, overcoming discouragement and attacks on us.
But what happens when you are surrounded by people who have given up following the commandments? When you pray and set yourself back on a way of purpose and commitment before God but those around you don’t want to join with you?
Jesus made the people strong by the method of observation and participation. The Bible in fact is based on early documents about both the teachings of Jesus and the acts of Jesus.
Jesus healed, drove out demons, gathered and fed the thousands, forgave sinners that the hypocrites wouldn’t forgive, attended to the most marginalized, the poor and the oppressed, marched on Jerusalem, threw the hypocrites out of the temple, stood firm when he was arrested and when he was crucified
Jesus made the people strong by observation and participation. He acted boldly with courage and principle and faith. He let the people observe him, in public although it was dangerous. Then he invited them to participate, and stayed with them for a while when they participated. That was his method because he knew that people learn and develop, grow in strength and faith, by observation and participation, not just by preaching and talking together.
That is what we are asked to do: Don’t just preach to each other, or criticize each other, but act according to the commandments and invite those around us to participate. We should apply this method in our relationships, in our church and in our movement – and that is what we have tried to do in this season of the Resurrection – and it is working!
And Jesus, when others fell away, went on alone. Observation and participation doesn’t always work. Satan defeats us – defeats our unity, our principle, our faith. Then, when others fall away, we are challenged to go on alone. That is a test of our faith.
The disciples had been abandoned by the people and they had abandoned Jesus – but Jesus went on alone. And here is the miracle of the power of God: he was resurrected and appeared to them to make them even stronger. In scripture that is what we are reliving as the appearances of Jesus to more and more people revive the movement, making it strong in the face of defeat and betrayal and attacks
The Presence of those who went on alone is always with us. Jesus taught that there is no greater love than someone who gives up his life for his friends – and that great love gives strength to the weak and courage to the disheartened. The presence of that sacrifice, of that willingness to go on alone, inspires us, stays with us, and is alive and powerful in us.
We have only to pray, to open our hearts, and they are with us: Jesus, and King and Chavez – and here in Chicago Fred and Rudy and Elvira. Why, because they are with God, God has taken them up and God is everywhere. They dwell with us because of their faith and their love. They abide with us and bind us together.
In the time of resurrection then we are working to make strong the people of God, beginning with our friendships and relationships, continuing in our community of faith and reaching out to make the movement of our people strong. Our method is the method of Jesus, the method of observation and participation. We pray for guidance, the guidance of what God is calling us to do with our lives. Then we take action to fulfill this purpose – and we invite our partners, our friends, our church, our movement to participate with us. If some or most do not, we are not discouraged. We are willing to go on alone knowing that when they see our faith it will summon up their own courage and faith.
But there is one last lesson of the Resurrected Jesus we must pay attention to today. Jesus reassured the disciples when he appeared to them. He restored Peter who had denied him three times. He forgave them and he gave them the power to forgive – or not forgive.
Jesus forgave the disciples who had abandoned him and who had abandoned the commandments of God. When observation and participation doesn’t work, and you go on alone, then you are asked to offer forgiveness to those who had abandoned you and abandoned God. And to make them effective, you must give them the power to forgive others you see, Jesus gave them the power to forgive – so that they could go out among the people and offer forgiveness. And that is what they did on Pentecost and began a movement that has lasted two thousand years.
Jesus also gave the disciples the power not to forgive: for we read in scripture today that Jesus said “once they have seen me and if they continue to attack me and you, then they have sinned.” Forgiveness is a wonderful gift but it should not paralyze you.
If you are in a relationship that is in trouble – and surely we have had some relationships in the church that were in trouble – that the pressures of the economy and of immigration enforcement and the disappointment of Obama’s latest betrayal, caused to be in trouble. And in these cases, sometimes one partner determined to move forward, to respond to God’s call in their life. They asked their partner to go with them, for they recognized the importance of their love, especially for their children, and the effects of their own problems on the church and the struggle. In some cases the other partner did not respond at first – but when they saw the one they loved loving and acting for God and for his people, they responded – and there was forgiveness and reconciliation. But if they had not responded, I would have told them to “keep on steppin’” – for forgiveness is not meant to paralyze the people of God or subject them to unprincipled compromise.
The same is true in the movement. It has been a struggle to get organizations around the nation to stand up to the President of the United States – especially when he started spreading money and pressure around. Yet we went ahead and we can forgive and reconcile with those who join us down the road – but we cannot be paralyzed by those who do not.
On Wednesday we will have our first “Lockbox” voter registration drive. We want to set an example. Hundreds of young, first time voters will register to vote along with U.S. citizens who have an undocumented member of their family. And they will be joined by people who are applying for citizenship this year so they can vote in the next election.
On Wednesday, they will register and then fill out a ballot for Barack Obama for President – and then put that ballot in the lockbox. Those votes will stay in the lockbox until Obama does what he has the power to do, what he promised to do when we elected him.
You see those ballots are a kind of forgiveness to Obama for his broken promise – and we have the power, millions of us have the power – to forgive – or not forgive. And we will use that power.
Because we are growing stronger. Because we feel the presence of the Resurrected Jesus with us. Because we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses to the righteousness and love and justice of the Kingdom of God in the eyes of our children. We are never really alone – for God is with us and if God be with us, who can be against us?
It’s Resurrection Time! It’s Resurrection Time and the strength is growing up in us and giving us the courage to love each other as Jesus still loves us, and Pentecost is only here weeks away! As we sing out, Give us a Heart Big Enough for Love! Give us a Heart Strong Enough for Struggle! – in His Name, in Su Nombre! In the name of Jesus Christ our LordI Amen! Amen! Amen!