Never finish a sermon early.
It seems that, quiet consistently, when I type that last, Amen and Alleluia, and put a period or exclamation point at the end… the Word refuses to let that be the last word.
Today we are reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans—it is written to a mixed Jewish/Gentile Christian church—one where the Jews were deported from Rome for five years under the Reign of Emperor Claudius, and when they returned there was dissension between the stayers and the returners—the Jewish Christians struggled to re-integrate into the life of the congregation from which they had been removed.
How pertinent this situation which Paul writes to, for us today.
You see, our partners in the Gospel—the First Indonesian Seventh Day Adventist Church who share our building—are experiencing just such a struggle.
10 of their members have been deported, or are in the process of being deported… Since the early 90’s they’ve returned to ICE—Immigration and Customs Enforcement—yearly and yearly have been given an extension on their stay here in the US on account of ongoing persecution of Christians there… This year they were immediately scooped up, persecution be damned.
I wonder what dissension there will be between the stayers and the returners back in Indonesia…
I wonder too of the suffering they will meet, and the culpability each one of us shares for their suffering.
I wonder at the tensions and the paradoxes of our lives as Christians.
Bound tense by time, living, as always we have, between the inbreaking of God’s Kingdom, and its consummation.
Imprisoned by the paradox of our very person, always bound to Sin, and yet freed by Christ.
Yes, I wonder at the tension of time and the paradox of person, both part of our deep reality—and when the Spirit allows it,
in small glimpses often fleeting,
I trust that here with us in all these things is the grace of God,
maybe within all this, reconciliation.
Let us pray
We are pulled, Church, into the open arms of God, trust this to be true—from the cross, in the grave, on the other side, we are caught by Christ.
Stand firm in your faith—God is for you and not against you
—God is at peace with us, because Jesus is the Prince of Peace and we are his. God’s love, which we most clearly experience in the person of Jesus Christ, wins.
Yet, this reality is one rarely experienced. In fact, much its opposite finds us. Christ’s glory is found in the glorious cross, in suffering—and so it should not surprise us when we too suffer.
Suffer, even for our faith
—and that’s where my heart is at right now
—these 10 Christians, returning to Indonesia, members of FISDAC,
and Ka-wu-wung families.
…One of the families left for America after their cousin, who was a pastor, was beheaded. They are returning to Jakarta, where its Christian Governor was sentenced to 2 years in prison for quoting the Quran.
When I talked to Pastor Rantung he was rather realistic about what those members of his flock are to face—persecution is part of being Christian.
None of this “they don’t say merry Christmas to me at the mall—I’m being oppressed.” But life and death decided by doctrine.
And there is the suffering of those who remain too—13 year old Joel, who is without his father, Arino, on Father Day. 6 year old Will and 1 year old Eden who are preparing to say goodbye to their dad, Billy
… a Christian community cut off from 10 of its members.
And as I think of these siblings who live so close, who share our building—I must ask,
“What of the 200 Chaldean Christians in Michigan who are being returned to Iraq—to the midst of a war zone?
Or, what of the children from Central America who come here to escape drug cartels? Or those Syrian refugees, of whatever religion, truly just trying to escape extremism…
…The Kingdom of God—already, but not yet…
How can we not look at this reality of our sisters and brothers in Christ and not see the depths of sin in which we ourselves are caught?
For decades these families faithfully returned to ICE and had their status as persecuted people renewed… then we spent an election cycle demonizing immigrants and refugees and now they’re in danger.
We allowed these new policies that encourage and empower ICE to conduct so called “low hanging fruit deportations.”
And I say we
—not the President,
—One of the hard parts of being a Christian in a Democracy is that we can’t hide behind Roman’s 13 “Submit to Governing Authorities”
or hide behind Martin Luther’s, “Let whoever has the power use it.”
We can not wash our hands of what the state does—This isn’t Rome or Medieval Germany—here we have the power.
If we disapproved of sending our sisters and brothers away to be persecuted,
we would speak up.
You didn’t know—you may say—I know what was my guilty conscience’s first defense
—but as citizens—and that is one of our Christian vocations…
as citizens, it is our duty to be vigilant, to be aware of the policies put in place in our name. And then, in our private lives and in the public square, to strive for justice and peace in all the world—to strive to love our neighbor as ourselves.
And we’re going to fail at it…
We’re always going to fail at it
—we’re not even going to have good intentions about our political choices most of the time—but we keep striving.
Because we strive from a place of love—God showed us his love through Christ while we were still weak, ungodly, unrighteous, sinners … we can try to love our neighbors, because we’re loved.
Yes, sinners we are, yet made holy too. Made holy to love our neighbors.
And today I’m asking a few things of you all:
-First, I expect all of you to sign a letter to our siblings in Christ who share our building letting them know we feel their pain. It’ll be passed around through the service.
-Second, there are sheets with a boilerplate letter you can use—as your conscience dictates— as a model to write you own letter and a list of people you can contact to tell those who have power over these things that their actions in deporting the members of FISDAC are unjust.
Third, pray throughout the week for these families.