Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The DREAM Sabbath

One of the saddest experiences I can remember was the deportation of a Bolivian family that attended the church I used to serve in Baltimore.  The parents and the children were deaf.  They came on a visitor’s visa and decided to stay.  This was not permissible per the laws of the Immigration service but they stayed anyway, sleeping in the basement of a home of their friends who had come to the U.S. years before.  The two deaf children, both teens, had the opportunity to attend the Maryland School for the Deaf for many years and they got a good education there.  Sadly, the family’s undocumented status was brought to light and they were told they had to leave by immigration court.  These young people were sent back with their parents and had to make a way for themselves in Bolivia, where opportunities for deaf empowerment was much less than in the United States.  I still get a text message from this family occasionally.  Life is very difficult for them.  I wish they could have stayed in the U.S.
The United Methodist Council of Bishop’s committee on Immigration, the United Methodist Interagency Immigration Task Force and the General Board of Church and Society encourage congregations of Observe a DREAM Sabbath.
The interfaith observance to be held on a Sunday between September 16 and October 9 will enlist churches, synagogues and mosques across the country to dedicate time during or around their regular weekly worship service to a conversation about the DREAM act, which is intended to rectify an injustice in U.S. immigration law.  The bill, “Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors (DREAM),” would give undocumented students a chance to earn legal status if they came here as children, are long-term U.S. residents, have good moral character, and complete two years of college or military service in good standing.  The DREAM Act is bipartisan legislation pioneered by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill and Sen. Orin Hatch, R-Utah.
There is a free downloadable toolkit available to help congregation participate in the
Sabbath.  The packet includes planning resources, sacred readings, reflections, and links to videos and sample bulletin inserts. (http://www.interfaithimmigration.org/index.php/2011/07/01/dream-sabbath-launch/)
As United Methodists we have a history of speaking up for the needs of children.  This is an issue of justice that we need to be more aware of.  Others may not be concerned about the well-being of children, but we know that God’s angels are not only looking at our care for them, but reporting every injustice before the throne of God.  No matter what our political beliefs, God is going to look at whether we are causing his little ones to stumble by our actions or our inaction.  I do not believe that willful ignorance will be a useful excuse when we stand before our Lord.  “When did we see you, Lord, and not respond?”
Ola Kaso came to the United States from Albania in 1998, when she was 5.  Ola recently graduated from a high school in Warren, Michigan.  She was a valedictorian of her class.  She took every Advance Placement class offered by her school and has a 4.4 grade point average.  Ola is on the varsity cross country and tennis teams.  She was treasurer of the student council and treasurer of the National Honor Society at her school.  She tutors students who are learning English.
Ola was accepted into the honors program at the University of Michigan, where she will be a pre-med student.  In a letter to Senator Durbin, Ola wrote, “I aspire to ultimately become a surgical oncologist, but more importantly, I intend to work for patients that cannot afford the astronomical fees accompanying lifesaving surgeries, patients that are denied the medical treatment they deserve.  My goal is not to increase my bank account; my goal is to decrease preventable deaths.  I wish to remain in this country to make a difference.”
The Department of Homeland Security granted a stay of deportation to Ola, to give her a chance to continue her education.  That was the right thing to do.  It makes no sense to send someone like Ola, who has much to contribute, to a country she barely remembers.
Observe a DREAM Sabbath.  Take time to listen to the voices of these young people who cry out to God for justice.  Educate yourselves on the issues and seek the Lord’s guidance on how you are called to act, as a congregation or as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

More information: www.umc-gbcs.org or http://www.epaumc.org/news/stories/dream-sabbath

Monday, September 19, 2011

Grapes Grow on New Wood

Recently at a presentation of Large Church pastors, Dr. David McAllister-Wilson, president of Wesley Theological Seminary said an amazing thing: “grapes only grow on one-year old wood.”  He was not talking about gardening, of course, but about church growth and the “fruit” of evangelism, which are new souls won for Christ.  In John 15:2 Jesus reminds us that those who bear fruit will be pruned so they can bear even more fruit.  That is so the wood is always new so the growth can keep happening.
As pastors and lay persons committed to the ministry of Jesus Christ, how can you be more effective?  Is there something that needs to be pruned from your life that is getting in the way of witness or effectiveness?   Pruning is not a pleasant experience but it is more unpleasant not to be pruned.  Making disciples is our goal.  To stay as we are leads to decline and death.  To choose to change and be pruned leads to growth and life.  Choose life.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fruit and Vegetable Month

When the children of Israel went into captivity into Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar enlisted the brightest and best of the Jewish young men to be trained to work in his government.  Among them were Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and Daniel.  During their training time they were offered food from the king’s table.  Daniel objected and asked if he could eat vegetables and drink water instead of having meat and wine.  At first the servants of the king objected fearing that this diet would be harmful.  But Daniel persuaded them to allow a trial for ten days.  After the ten days of eating only vegetables and drinking only water the Israelites were healthier than the other interns, who had been eating the royal rations. 
The truth of the Bible never gets old.  Still today we should be eating vegetables and drinking lots of water to keep our bodies strong and nourished.  This month is national “Fruit and Vegetable Month” and it is a reminder of the importance of these basics elements in our daily diet. 

You are the temple of the living God.  Take care of your temple!  Eat right and you will be able to serve the Lord better and longer.  

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Reflections on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the modern day “Pearl Harbor” in the American memory we can all remember where we were when we heard the news about the twin towers at the World Trade Center in NY.  I was at home getting ready to go to church in Baltimore and the report appeared on Good Morning America.  My first thought was to go tell someone.  I looked out my front door and called out to my neighbor across the street, who was watering his plants.  For the next few hours we sat spellbound, watching the nightmare unfold on TV, and many tears were shed.  That evening there was a prayer service at the church and we all wondered what would happen next.
Ten years later much has happened.  The innocence of air travel has ended.  Many lives have been lost in wars. Many tears have been shed.  Muslims and people of Middle Eastern descent are sometimes profiled and feared.  The poor have become poorer.  Terrorism has increased around the world and there is no telling where it will all end.
If we are people of faith we are Easter people.  We are people that work for life in the midst of death; people who seek hope in a deadly cross; people who personally find ways of waging peace in this world.  The world needs the saving love of Jesus more than ever and no one will know it unless we spread the word.  Just as I urgently told my neighbor about the airplane that struck the World Trade Center on that fateful Tuesday morning 10 years ago, we need to, just as urgently, tell people that God loves them and that in Christ there is peace with God and with all people. 
Telling people is just one part of it.  We need to live in peaceful ways in this world.  Peace making only comes when there is justice for all people.  We all want peace and tranquility but it only comes when the hard work of dismantling oppressive power blocks that keep the powerful in power and the weak under their thumb.  This year is the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Summer.  In 1961 a group of young people, mostly white college students, came from the north to work for civil rights in Mississippi. They lent their political power to those without voices, helping African Americans get voter registration cards, helping people learn to read, and speaking out in political rallies.  Much good was accomplished but many of them were killed doing this work of peacemaking.  Any time power is challenged the pushback is quick and fierce.  But oppression is never the last word.  Jesus rose from the grave and that ends the oppression of death in this world. 
Wherever you have power, can you lend it to someone without power?  Wherever there is inequity in this world, can you speak out?  Is this not the work of Christians in the post 9/11 world?