The Faith That Backed Down the President

Posted on August 22, 2011

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Harvest 1 2011 Sunday Message

Because of the immigration law, and the ongoing criminalization in our community, many of our people have now the experience of prison. If you have ever been in prison you know that the Routine of Prison is meant to break your spirit. Every day is the same. In prison, you have to dig deep into your heart to find a spiritual rhythm that puts you in touch with God and with Creation and with the love of family you are separated from. All of our great leaders – such as Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, Ghandi and Emiliano Zapata, Caesar Chavez – they have all understood this spiritual mystery of the movement of the seasons of creation each year, and how you can get the rhythm of the Spiritual to combat the routine of oppression.
This is the first Sunday of the Harvest Time of this year. We have prepared the soil, and planted. We listened to James when he said have the patience of the farmer and let perseverance in the face of trials and temptations perfect you. We have provided water for the crop and we have defended it against our enemies. We listened to Jesus when he said the enemy will plant weeds among your crop but don’t pull them up lest you pull up the good with the bad. Wait for the Harvest.
God has worked through you and you do have a harvest this year, a victory that will help you survive. Most importantly, you are part of the harvest – for whether you recognize it or not, you have been changed.
In this season of the Harvest we are guided by the scripture called Revelations, the last book in the Holy Bible. This book records a vision of John who was called to write down his vision and send it in letters to seven churches. See John himself was in a kind of prison and he couldn’t travel to see his people, but the resurrected Jesus appeared to him and gave him an amazing vision and John wrote it down and sent it to his seven churches. These seven churches were filled with who were persecuted by the Roman Empire and but who had determined to follow the Way of Jesus Christ
In the vision, Jesus shows him the seven churches he is supposed to guide. And he shows John that there is an angel that leads each church.
In these times I want you to see that you are one of God’s seven churches in these times, for the people that have among their families and friends, the undocumented. What I want to show you today is that this is true: you are one of God’s seven churches in these times. God has touched you and worked through you and I want you to know that God has given you an angel to Guide you – and God is changing you, healing you, making you new – if you will just receive him and follow him…

God touched us and we came up with a plan this year. Most of you know how that went. You were there from the beginning when we prayed for God to come into our lives during advent. We determined to go after the president’s power, because there was no hope to really pass anything in the congress. It was futile to lobby congress although that was what the President and the Democratic Leadership told us to do to keep the heat off of them. No one else made this demand. Why were we chosen to make this demand? Why does an idea come into somebody’s mind?
Once we had the idea, we did our research. The Pesident did have the power to stop the deportations. He had the “Discretion.” To get our idea out we developed the tactics of direct action. Every week we were going down to ICE and people were getting arrested. Finally we got seven alderman arrested – but it seemed like nobody wanted to join us or hear us. Even Congressman Gutierrez had to back off from participating with us and getting arrested because the politics was so difficult. People said you cannot go after the President when the Republicans are so much worse. But an angel gave us the confidence to go on in spite of what people said.
We renewed the tactic of bringing a moral witness with the faith community, the testimony of the families. And a great youth organization was born, La FuerZa Juventud, that walked out of 13 high schools and shut down the streets downtown. It was a great event but we got little press. Yet we had faith that people were taking notice. The White House was watching. They wanted to see if the community was going to respond.
Then we asked the Congressman to go tirelessly around the country. At first it was difficult to find groups to host meetings for him. We had to depend in places like Providence and Houston on people we knew, people of faith – and out of faith they responded. Still it was really not until we had the meeting here in this church, when we had an amazing event here with the young people marching and dancing and praying in unity with their parents and Rosalba and her father singing – and that gave Gutierrez the courage and the Spirit – so when the press asked him what would happen if Obama didn’t stop the deportations. Gutierrez said for the first time “then I will not be able to support him in the next election.” The article quoting Gutierrez on withholding the vote from Obama appeared in hundreds of papers all across the country. The battle was on!
Then we came up with the idea of the Lockbox and we said we would deny Obama the vote. We were criticized for this but we knew it was having an effect. When Gutierrez talked to the White House they told him they would negotiate with him but “you can’t have that lockbox around.”
See what had happened here? Young people had constructed this lockbox out of wood and painted pictures of Obama on it. They took it all over town. They took it in front of Obama’s campaign headquarters. We didn’t get a lot of press outside of our own u-tubes – but you see the President of the United States was dreaming about that lockbox. Tell me that God is not doing something here. Why would he work through a little church like ours to put that dream of the lockbox in the President’s mind? That is the way God works.
We kept on going. We had to prove that Obama was lying when he said he didn’t have the power to stop any of the deportations. We had to convince our Latino community that he had the power. Then we had to convince the President that the Latino vote would not come out for him. That is big job for a little church! I don’t care how wonderful we think we are. We could not have done this unless there was a greater force working through us.
Gradually we got the support of many groups and the message to the President was sent from 30 cities. But when we went to Washington D.C. we faced a difficult situation. You see other congressman had signed a letter with Gutierrez saying they would get arrested in front of the white house if the President did not agree to use his powers to stop separating families.
In truth we were angry. We had wanted to take the lockbox to the White House and tell the President we would withhold our votes. We had planned with our brothers and sisters in Casa Maryland to have thousands of people march in front of the White House and put their vote for Barack Obama in the lockbox – and pledge not to take it out until the President did the right thing. But we were told that the other Congressmen would not come if we did that.
But when the time came, the White house called these other Congressmen and they backed out. Yes they did. They signed their names on a public letter but when they got the call they backed out – Congressman Grihalva, Congressman Lewis, and Congressman Honda – and they left Congressman Gutierrez alone with the families, the youth and the children.
Obama issued a personal public letter in response to Gutierrez. He told Gutierrez “I am not going to stop any deportations. I am going to enforce the law.” What he said was very insulting. Gutierrez said it was a hard and arrogant letter.
My spirit felt good because of the way La FuerZa and the families were in Washington. We were encouraged that our allies in Casa Maryand had stood up against the pressure. We heard Rosalba’s little song was getting out and people were hearing and listening. But I didn’t think we could win. I had the faith of determination but I had lost the conviction of hope. I think God for Emma whose faith was stronger than mine.
We came back and began the next step of organizing against secure communities. Yet while we were demonstrating and fighting with the police, the head of Homeland Security was on the phone to Congressman Gutierrez in Puerto Rico, briefing him, telling him the President had decided to use his executive authority, to use his discretion, to go through the list of all those in the process of deportation and to hold harmless those who had U.S. citizen children and those who were dream act eligible if they had no criminal convictions and that many of them would be eligible for a work permit.
The only explanation for the President’s dramatic reversal is that Obama recognized that Gutierrez and our little faithful movement had convinced the Latino community that the President DID HAVE THE POWER TO STOP THE DEPORTATIONS. His LIE had been exposed. The people told him, “Yes YOU can.” Moreover he became convinced that because of this many Latinos would withhold their votes.
Gutierrez asked Homeland Security about the ten year bar, the regulation which penalizes a U.S. citizen married to an undocumented person by forcing the undocumented to return to Mexico and then gets a ten year bar against them from returning. And Homeland Security told Gutierrez “that is in the works.” We will have to keep the pressure on! And we will have to stop the secure communities program which is terrorizing our community.
So just when we had given up, the work that God had worked through us to do, had moved on the White House and backed the President down.
We have known for some time – perhaps since Elvira went into sanctuary and the whole nation focused on her message – that God was working through us and that we had an angel to protect us in His work. Because of what had happened before, we had some of what was necessary to implement the plan God gave us –- and the angel provided whatever else we needed.
Don’t worry about who gets credit for this victory. We worked hard to get different organizations to sign on to our demand. Many of them finally did invite Gutierrez to speak in their cities and that was a contribution. We are not worried about the credit, like the silly fight for credit for the big marches, because we know that “From God comes the Power and to God Goes the Glory.”

In fact our effectiveness depends on our sincerity, our unselfishness, the extent to which we let God speak through us. If we had been more dedicated, we could have done more. For God had his hand on you! We are like blood vessels. If we eat the wrong food, plaque forms in the vessels and the blood cannot flow. If we eat the right foods, and are disciplined, and are unselfish, if you are sincere, if you act out of love, then the blood – the blood of Jesus – will flow through us and makes us effective in God’s work.
Remember our basic witness is the witness of families, willing to work hard, fight to stay together and raise their children in the ways of the Lord. Without money we have to rely on our unity and our commitment. We had to rely on young people who were willing to sacrifice, put their futures on the line and get arrested. The importance of these young people who stood for their families and their people – not just for themselves – was that they turned around all those dream act activists to stand for the families as well as themselves and unified the movement.

We have achieved a victory, part of the harvest. I want you to think of all the things that came from the faith of this church, through the angel of this church. We moved the heart of a great leader, Congressman Gutierrez. Alone in Congress, alone among national Latino leaders, Gutierrez stood strong, drawing on all his political skills and wisdom as well as the profound kindness and connection with the oppressed God put in his heart. He will tell you as he has told Emma and me that he would not have done these things this year if this church had not brought the plan to him and moved his heart with their faith.
I want you to know what God has done through you. The President has agreed to use his discretion. It will take another month before we really are sure of the details. Basically he set up a work group to review all the cases where someone is in deportation and make rulings. Some of those cases will be closed, some deferred, and some will be given the opportunity for work permits. The guidelines apply to those without criminal records who have roots in the community. But this has to be fought out on a case by case basis. These guidelines will also apply to new people who are arrested. But we will have to defend them on a case by case basis.
We have all the cases we already have, over four hundred. Some of these are very close to us here in the church. But there are going to be thousands more cases. Who will fight for these people?
In the scripture today, Moses was called on to set up the organization of the people. Through God’s intervention Moses had led the people out of slavery, out of danger. But they were still in the desert and we are still in the desert – and Moses had to keep them organized, keep them together.
His father in law Jethro told him that he was doing wrong. He was resolving everybody’s case himself. Jethro said you must appoint people to be judges for organized groups of people so that you can survive. You need to create committees and educate people who can lead these committees.
Remember Jesus fed the 4,000. He was giving them the gospel but they were hungry. The disciples said we have no food but he said take the few fish and loaves you have and “feed the people.” Then came the miracle that 4,000 people were fed from just a few fish and a few loaves of bread
But to feed the people – read the scripture! – to make the miracle work, Jesus first had to organize the people in 50’s and 100’s. The people were fed and there were seven baskets left over.
We are asking you to organize for self-defense: to protect the people from ICE with the weapons we have won. That means that Familia Latina Unida will organize in groups of five to ten families each. Each of you is charged with the responsibility to organize such a group. We can help you – and God will help you. You will be able to give people the information they need and help them with their case with the new guidelines. You can do this. You are part of a church that God has chosen and an angel is with you.
I don’t want anyone to say you can’t organize a group like this. I have seen you organize quinceneras – you organize dozens of people and you raise thousands of dollars. You know how to organize and now we have to organize.
These groups will also organize for mutual cooperation to survive where you are excluded from the benefits of the system: health care, economic cooperatives. You know the work we do with breast cancer and diabetes and exercise through Zumba. But there is something new we can do. The most people that die in this country die from Heart attacks. This week, tonight on CNN, the news is out that heart attacks can be entirely prevented by changing your diet. My father and my mother bath died of heart attacks so I know this is important information. That is survival information that we need to share in our groups to help us build these groups as a family. But we have to do what Jesus said to do when he had few resources – organize the people in groups and have faith that what you have will be enough.
We are going to be working in the next few weeks with La FuerZa so that they can organize their groups at the high schools and colleges they are returning to.

You may not recognize it but you have been part of something, something that God did – and that has changed you. You may not know it yet but you are not the same person you were when the year began. What kind of people will we be? You are part of a people who have been planted here and you have a destiny. In the next few months we have to organize a new generation of leadership. We need chapters of La FuerZa at every high school and college. We need the committees of the families organized.
I believe you will do this because I believe that God has been working with you, that he has been working with us since Elvira was in sanctuary. I believe that the many families here today that we have successfully defended against deportation, that they are a sign that God is working through us. So I believe we can organize.
In the next year, we need to organize a coalition of power. We are working with African American leadership willing to stand up to Obama and the Democratic Leadership. Our struggle requires us to make a road for justice between the racist assault of the republicans and the malicious neglect of the democrats. We need to organize more direct action. We need to be creative. We need to organize the solidarity vote – the 11 million who can register and vote for the 11 million who can’t vote.

We need to accept the call and responsibility God has given us to be one of the seven churches. We need to feel the presence of the angel that God has sent us. Without faith, without love, we cannot achieve power.
Why do I ask you to come to church every Sunday and to pray and study every day?. Remember the lessons of Kingdom Time: Face your necessities, be faithful to your loyalties, discipline your desires, and keep your eyes on the vision God gives you.
If our families fall apart we cannot win the right to stay together – and there are millions of families depending on us.
If our young people get caught up in the culture of death and selfishness, if they allow themselves to be marginalized by preoccupations with trivial pursuits, then they cannot be the next generation of leadership of our struggle
Let us not be arrogant in this little victory: Give God the Glory and work to put God in the center of your life. When the four thousand were fed, there were seven loaves left over: That scripture speaks to us in this harvest time season. There is no money coming down. We don’t have money for a big staff. But we can do what Jesus did if we are willing to organize our committees of defense from Chicago to Michoacán, our chapters of La FuerZa, if we organize the peewees in our Sunday schools and after school programs. The thousands will receive food, the food of justice. We will see what Jesus saw. The harvest was bread for the four thousand who were hungry, but the harvest also yielded the seven centers of faith and witness, the seven churches, the centers of faith, the seven groups of people that would not give up, whose faith made them strong, who could see the victory and inspire the people, who never let anybody discourage them, who had unity with each other, who grew strong in their love.
Today, just let yourself feel what God has done through you, feel the hand of God that is on you, close your eyes and see the angel that God has sent to you. Feel the angel’s breath on the back of your neck; feel the angel’s wings as they move gently but powerfully through your faith. Today we celebrate – tomorrow, we will begin the work, the organization of the people, the witness for justice and faithfulness, and we pray that God will provide us the wisdom to accomplish what God asks us to do.

The Scriptures
Exodus 18: 17-23
Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”
Matthew 15:29-38 Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand
Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel. 32 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.” His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?” “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked. “Seven,” they replied, “and a few small fish.” He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children.
Revelation 1:9-20 John’s Vision of Christ
I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man,[a] dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

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