Friends, this set of readings today is probably the strongest yet since Easter giving us a most clear direction in the way we as followers of Jesus must proceed—must, in fact, live our lives—we could say that the Spirit had an active hand here! We see in the first reading from Acts that the budding Christian community is not at all sure that they can trust Paul, who as Saul was a rabid persecutor of Christians. But, Barnabas steps up and calls the others to love and forgiveness as Jesus modeled so well from the cross. Fear was overcome by love in some of Jesus’ early followers—something that would need to happen again and again, then, and today as we all strive to follow our brother Jesus.
We, as a Vatican II community of believers had the opportunity this past week to follow Jesus as your board voted unanimously to become Winona’s first Sanctuary Support Community to assist immigrant sisters and brothers in our midst needing help to remain in this country. Other churches will follow our lead and because we and others have answered any fears we may have in taking such a stand with love; we will hopefully give the church in town considering becoming Winona’s Sanctuary Church, giving actual shelter to those in need, the extra support to answer their fears with love too.
In John’s 1st letter—our second reading, we are instructed to basically, “walk the talk”—to love in deed and in truth, not just talk about it! John continues and I paraphrase; love is our way of knowing that we are committed to the truth and are at peace with God, no matter what our consciences may charge us with. This is a tremendous statement when you think about it! We are to love, no matter what our consciences charge us with—love is always the test! If the action isn’t about love, we may have to check the foundation of our consciences.
What is the loving thing to do?—always a question we must ask when we don’t know how to proceed. Many times people’s consciences have been formed devoid of love and so we will see people rabidly defending the God of their own making, or morals intended to control others, lifestyle choices, truly believing in the rightness of their actions—all without the consideration of what is the loving thing to do—or what Jesus would have done.
I had an extended conversation with a board member after our historic decision on Monday evening and it was all about the realization that this is what Jesus would have done—we all know his words from Matthew’s gospel depicting the Final Judgment—“I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.” And the people will say, “When were you a stranger and we did not take care of you?” And God will say, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” As Easter people, we are challenged to this deep kind of thinking.
Often, we pray in our liturgies for the renewal of our Church—a renewal that needs to happen. We try to do our piece here at All Are One, and I believe that each of us realizes the challenge that is before us each day to do the loving thing, whether we ultimately do it or not! Sometimes, there is the tendency to think that “the loving thing to do” is to never say, “No,” but really it is about speaking the truth as the Spirit gives it to us and that sometimes the answer will be, “yes” and at other times, it will be “no.” It is always easier to not say what needs to be said, to protect ourselves, our positions, our reputations. But the loving thing is about bringing compassion, hope, mercy, understanding and truth–to situations often devoid of these gifts. Our brother Jesus showed us so well how to bring these gifts to his world.
Jesus gives us the wonderful analogy today of the vine and the branches—we are part of something living and good and Jesus’ life force pulses through this vine/this family that we became part of at our baptisms—we grow as branches from that vine if we are people of love. If love is not the determining factor in how we do “church,” then the young that we hope to attract will walk away, as many already have. The younger generations want and have a right to expect that we be authentic—that we at least attempt to “walk our talk.” Friends, it is good to regularly question our commitment, check to see that we are indeed, “walking the talk”—that our words are lived out in our actions.
Winona’s attempt through the Interfaith Council to address the need for a Sanctuary Church in our county that is home to 400 undocumented people—our brothers and sisters, really, as followers of Jesus, is walking the talk! I believe that we, as a community of faith can be humbly proud of the decision our church board made on our behalf this past Monday night.
During the month of May, coming up next week, Catholics have traditionally turned to Mary, Jesus’ earthly mother and our sister for the journey. Mary adds the human feminine face of God to our world, a face that has traditionally been depicted in a totally male form. Mary was a woman of strength, a woman who said, “Yes” continually to God throughout her life on behalf of her son who showed us the way, the truth and the life to strive to live. I like to consider Mary more as a sister in my relationship with her, than as a mother, because it allows her more of a voice. In her role as a mother; she can be positioned—set aside, really, on a pedestal, to be respected, yes, but I truly believe God intended more from her—as a challenge to us, as a model in how to follow her son, our brother, Jesus. We will sing a version of Mary’s Magnificat as a concluding hymn today—this is really a marching song—an action statement! Let us often throughout the month of May, turn to our sister, our friend and ask her guidance as women and men to live full and strong lives as her son’s followers.
My friends, all of us, women and men are called equally to be the hands, face and heart of Jesus in our world. Jesus always meant it to be so—we only need look to his lovely, final meal with his disciples and friends, men and women and no doubt family members the night before he died, praying “that they would all be one—one in message, one in acceptance of each other to be true bearers of Jesus profound message of God’s love for each of us!
This year, we are embarking on a historic time; we will be celebrating 10 years of faith and mission, living out the call of the Second Vatican Council, proclaiming that women too are called and that each of us is called to be the change that we so long to see in our world. By saying “yes” to be a witness in this community as a Sanctuary Support Church; we are continuing our work of 10 years in being a place that attempts “to walk” the talk of the Scriptures. To each of you who support this vision and mission; I am privileged to be your pastor and walk this walk with you.
(at conclusion –pray the pledge)
“We affirm that as a congregation of people of faith, we are taking seriously the call to provide sanctuary support in the Winona Sanctuary Network. We recognize that our immigrant neighbors are a vital part of our community and local economy and that due to a broken immigration system they have not all been allowed the legal protections that they deserve. To this end we will use our privilege and our resources to stand with our community members that are in fear of deportation. As a sanctuary support community we are able to do this by providing; prayers, security, time, money, advocacy, relationship, and fellowship to the degree that is within our power.”