THE MINISTRY OF CONNECTION
The Sixth Week in the Season of Pentecost
In the Church in the Struggle
Today I want to talk with you about our children, our young people, about violence and the influence of the street. I want to talk with you about the Ministry of Connection.
But today, I want you to feel the way God is working. Outside, the roses are still appearing around the Virgin of Guadalupe. We have been given a great gift in this church. We call this gift the Revelation of the Seasons. The Lord has showed us how to live in harmony with his powerful intervention in our affairs by following the discipline of the seasons of the year in scripture and in the Holy Spirit. Because He has made us see the truth.
It is through this process of Revelation that we were able to inspire and lead the immigration struggle – not just for our church members – but for millions of people. Through this leadership, through this process of revelation, we were able to inspire and put into place the first real victory for the undocumented in over ten long years.
I don’t know if you believe in this process of Revelation. In truth we have been learning how to live what we have received. We have been learning how to trust it. We have been learning how to see with the new eyes God is giving us. But you know a tree by the fruit it produces! And the guidance of the Revelation of the Seasons has given us fruit. Many of you are together with your families because we conceived, demanded and won prosecutorial discretion. Hundreds of thousands of young men and women under thirty will be able to apply for a deferment and work permits and come out of the shadows after August 15th. The fruits are real!
Now, we are in the season of Pentecost – in the sixth week. This season reveals to us the ministries we are called to begin in the next year. If our faith is sincere, than these ministries will bear fruit. Today we are called to focus our faith on the passing of the torch to a new generation. Today we focus on the gift of CONNECTION, on the calling to be a CONNECTOR.
The scripture that leads us is “the choosing of the seven – and Stephen.” In the gospel story we live out every year, Jesus came to restore a people. He said “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” The people of God had been saved from Egypt. They had been given a law to live by that would insure their unity and just and loving relationships. God was using them to be a witness to his justice and love that would inspire all the nations. And God promised to make them grow in numbers until they would become as many as the stars in the sky.
But the people of God became lost. Their leaders became greedy and hypocritical. They were conquered by an empire. Then it was the Roman Empire. Today, it is the U.S. Empire. They no longer lived by God’s law. They fought with each other. They killed each other. Their families fell apart and they did not raise up their children in the way of the Lord. They were miserable, they hurt each other, and they did not know why.
Jesus was anointed by God to bring the people back to God’s ways. He gave them God’s message of forgiveness and renewal with his life. After his crucifixion and resurrection, his disciples received the Holy Spirit and began to spread the message of renewal, of being a renewed people of God, everywhere. That happened in this season of Pentecost.
Now in the sixth week of Pentecost, the disciples realized that they could not do all the work. They appointed seven people, including a man named Stephen, to help them carry out the work. The seven were not only young people, the next generation; they were people who had gone to live in other countries. They had begun to speak in different languages. They had been influenced by other cultures and that made it that much more difficult for them to reconnect with and renew the way God had given them to live in his love and justice, a light to all the nations.
And that is the challenge, the ministry we take on today. It is the MINISTRY OF CONNECTION.
Last week God sent me a visitor. He came and sat down outside of the church. He came for prayer – to give him courage for a journey. He came also to make us understand and focus on the ministry of connection. This young man grew up in Pilsen. He became involved in the d’s. He was selling drugs, enforcing the gang’s territory – and killing to protect their territory for selling drugs. He was arrested and sent to prison for four years.
Before he was arrested he married a young woman and they had a beautiful daughter. We have all seen this many times. Having a child makes you think. What are you doing with your life? What kind of life are you going to give that child? Are you going to protect that child or are you going to put that child into the life of the street, the life of death? The marriage and the child made him think –but it didn’t stop him. Still in the fourth year in prison, he began meeting with a chaplain, praying and reading the Bible. When he went into prison he told his wife to forget him. That is one of the things you do to help you do your time. That is one of the things you do when you know the life you are leading is no good for the child you love.
So in the fourth year in prison he came to a decision to begin a life that would make him worthy of his wife and child. When he got out he called her, they talked, and he told her about his decision. This country and the mess our young people are in don’t make it easy. Out of prison, it is hard to get a job. And the brothers you had been with before, the only people you know, your friends, they reach out to pull you back into the life. We are like crabs in a barrel. When one tries to get out, the others reach out and pull him back in.
He got a job but his former friends reached out for him. He lost his job. His wife took his daughter and ran away. Desperate to try to start over, he fought with his former friends and they tried to kill him. He was on the run, with no job, no place to live, no one he could trust, no wife and no daughter.
He felt like it says in the Psalm we read today. “They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim cruel words like deadly arrows. They shoot from ambush at the innocent; they shoot suddenly, without fear”. He felt like he couldn’t stay in the city or he would be dragged back into the only life he knew, the only life that accepted him – but he had lost the dream, the vision he had hoped for in prison. He was asking for prayer, for strength, to just pick up and leave the city, to start over.
What was it he was looking for when he got out of prison? What was it that called him but which the world denied him?
The night after I talked with this young brother, I saw a movie called “a wedding for Bella.”Giovanny and Hector, I want you to show that movie this week on movie night. In the movie, a young Italian man had lost his own mother and was raised by a woman named Bella, who had a strong family and ran a bakery. He became a baker. She also had a daughter of her own who had left home. When the young man found out Bella was about to die of cancer, he wanted to do something for her. He arranged to get the daughter back home. Then he convinced her to get married, just so Bella could see the wedding.
It wasn’t supposed to be a real marriage – just a wedding for Bella. But the young man and the daughter began to share their feelings. He said,”I am telling you things I never even thought.” What they both said was that they were feeling DISCONNECTED. They found no meaning in their lives. And they felt like they had become people they didn’t respect, part of a culture of exploitation. She died before they could have the wedding – but they determined to get married anyway!
What they were looking for, what my visitor last week was looking for, was a connection to a way of life that put family and love and respect and justice first. They were looking for a life that was so hard to find in the world around them. God had given an immigrant people a life in faith – but this generation had lost it and could not connect to it.
In the movie they found that connection – but life is not a movie. My visitor could not find his way out of the barrel of crabs pulling him back down. His only solution was to get on a greyhound bus and find a place where nobody knew him to start over. It is not easy for this generation!
Now when I tell the story of the young brother from the street you may know people like that – you may be like that. Or you may say,”My children are not like that” or “I am not caught up in the gangs like that.” What I am telling you is that so many are caught up like that young brother. What’s more, the influence they have on the whole generation of young people is so powerful that we better learn how to help them out of the barrel or we will lose a whole generation. And that will be very bad because they are “The Connectors” of the people whom God has sent to this country with a destiny.
It is natural for young people, starting at an early age, to rebel. It is part of life. And it is a good thing for them to think for themselves and to reject things we have accepted that we shouldn’t have accepted.
When they rebel, they look around for what is out there for them. Some of them see dreams of wealth and status. They want to become rich and famous. They are mostly all disappointed. Moreover, when they get into the race for success, they find it is turning them against the values their people treasured, against the faith of their people. You don’t become successful in this country as a child of undocumented parents, as a Mexican –you become successful – if you are lucky –as an American. You have to change the way you talk –because if you were really Americans your parents wouldn’t have to live in the shadows, or be picked up and deported; you wouldn’t be racially profiled and discriminated against – so you change to be successful and you become disconnected from the values and faith of your people.
Facing disappointment- or unwilling to be a hypocrite, others turn to the street life. That is a life of resistance. There you can be proud to be a Mexican. You can be proud of your people. And therefore those rebels who choose this way have a big influence on the whole next generation. And there is a truth to the way they live. That is why they define the music and the talk. Still, the street life has an economic foundation and rules that must be obeyed because of that economy. It is the economy we call blood money and its rules are the rules of violence and death.
20 million people in the U.S. –most of them well off- buy drugs illegally. That creates a market for the illegal production and illegal sale of drugs illegally from Mexico and down the whole continent. Since there are no laws to guide this business, the law of the gun controls it. And the guns are supplied by companies in the U.S. for great profit.
60,000 people have been killed in Mexico alone since 2009 in these drug wars. Thousands have been killed here in the streets of U.S. cities, in Pilsen, in these drug wars.
Because of U.S. policies like NAFTA, millions of young men cannot find work in Mexico – and they look to the cartels to survive. Because of unemployment here in Chicago, thousands join the street organizations. They become soldiers to protect their drug markets. And they recruit. And when they kill, when they take a life, the light goes out of their eyes. Their humanity is stolen from them by what they do, by the wickedness of Blood Money!
And so it is we have a generation that is caught between the hypocrisy of success and the dehumanization of the street. They are disconnected from their history and their people. It is right that they rebel-that they think for themselves and reject what the generation before them has done wrong. But they should be able to connect with what is good and strong in their history. They should be the ones to renew the faith and integrity of their people. Instead, they are pulled away, disconnected, separated even from each other.
Jesus said “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” Remember what that means. Jesus came to renew the faith and unity of a people and their relationship with the love and justice of God. In his teaching and his healing he showed the people what it meant to be connected to God and to God’s people. In his crucifixion and resurrection he convicted the leaders of their hypocrisy and the people of their silence. He provided a way for the people to reconnect with the True Vine.
Steven and the seven were like the young generation today. They had been raised in another culture. Some didn’t even know their own language, their own history. Roman domination made them feel like they were nothing. Some of their own parents were hypocrites –or at least had been silent in the face of hypocrisy. Some of them were illegal, outside the law. There were bandits, outlaws-remember Jesus was crucified between two of them and the crowd had chosen Barabbas over Jesus.
What I am saying in this sixth week of Pentecost is that Scripture is crying out to us. Help this generation of Stevens make a way. Help them become the connectors between the people chosen by the Virgin of Guadalupe five hundred years ago and the generations that will challenge and change this nation. Teach them what you know and give them the authority to make their own way, to be connected and to be connectors.
In a few days, we are going to have seventy young people here every day. They are going to be fighting for the life of our community through the 4 plus 1 to get 20 health program and the legal defense program. We are also begin a campaign to expose the blood money business which is killing so many and stealing the humanity from so many more. We are going to try to teach them what we know. We are going to give them the authority to lead a people out of the mess we are in. And we are going to give them the ground on which they can stand between hypocrisy and death so they won’t have to head for the Greyhound Bus, but can find their destiny here.
Today we pray for the power of the Spirit of an Almighty God to be with them. Where they are caught between the hypocrisy of success and the dehumanization of death, may God show them the way to connect with what is good in the history of their people and to be the connectors to a new generation already growing up around them. May God show them the common dangers they face and the common destiny they are called to fulfill, so that they will open their hearts to each other and stand together with each other.
God almighty let them know they have a destiny. It is not with the cardaucians – nor is it with the scarfaces. It is a destiny to find righteousness in their lives and in their relationships, in the struggle of their faith and their people. Help them to see though the traps and the deceptions and to see the truth of what is in front of them. Help them to see the outlines of the battle they face, the positions the enemy has taken up. God is with them. The Holy Spirit can be the wind at their backs, they are God’s connectors.
HOLY SCRIPTUES FOR THE SIXTH WEEK IN PENTECOST
Hear me, my God, as I voice my complaint; protect my life from the threat of the enemy. 2 Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked, from the plots of evildoers. They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim cruel words like deadly arrows. They shoot from ambush at the innocent; they shoot suddenly, without fear. But God will shoot them with his arrows; they will suddenly be struck down. He will turn their own tongues against them and bring them to ruin; all who see them will shake their heads in scorn. All people will fear; they will proclaim the works of God and ponder what he has done.
John 15:5-8 The Vine and the Branches
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Acts 6:3-7 Choosing of the Seven
Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.