Try to imagine a congregation like ours, who for the most part are made up of people who are educated, comfortable, financially-secure. We live in well-furnished homes in the safest neighborhoods of San Francisco. We have insurance policies. We take nice vacations. Our kids don’t really grow up wondering if they will go to college; the question more is, “Which one?”. We have choices. We have options. Some of these advantages can be wonderful gifts to enjoy and use to bless others, but they can also make us blind to the reality of the most vulnerable in our city. We just don’t know how to see these people. They’re invisible to us.
Now add something to this picture of our congregation. Try to picture folks who join us who are very different from us. They’re new to this country and without the proper papers. These two groups who come together in our sanctuary on Sunday mornings aren’t groups who normally fit together, and yet, here we are. These folks join us, and we hear what “normal” is for them, which isn’t normal for us. When their children get sick, they worry about going to the clinic and having to fill out forms and perhaps give away too much information. When they get phone calls from their loved ones in Mexico, they feel the sharp pain of separation. They’re anxious about who will care for their children if they’re deported. It’s one thing if these folks are distant from us–a newspaper topic or a cold statistic–but it’s quite another thing when their lives are right next to ours, when we’ve broken bread together, when our children play together and yes, fight together like real siblings. It’s quite a different thing, when we learn to see those immigrants, not as distinct from us, but as part of us, in all their beautiful, complicated, and God-given humanity.
There was one Sunday a few years ago when I preached on Isaiah 65, a text that speaks about the kingdom of God with rich, vivid details. When people picture the Kingdom of heaven–even Christians, unfortunately–we tend to get very sentimental and envision a rather ethereal scene. We imagine fluffy clouds, angels strumming their well-tuned harps, isolated serenity. But Isaiah 65 speaks of a city! A lively, fruitful city. Where things work. Where people thrive. This is Isaiah‘s vision of the Kingdom: “They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.…” When I preached from this text, I spoke about this as God‘s dream, God‘s beautiful dream.
After the sermon, a woman came up to me (this woman, “Rosa”, is a member of our congregation and undocumented). “Rosa” said that because of her situation, she never thought that she could have dreams. She didn’t deserve to have dreams–at least, that was the message she had always received– and yet, on that Sunday morning, she could hear in those ancient words from Isaiah, that this wasn’t at all true! Those prophetic words had jumped off the page for her because of this odd collection of people who were learning to live as one family. God had invested his dream in her, and in us together. He had invited us to flesh out that reality, not someday, but now. It was my job that day to preach the sermon, but there was a way that “Rosa’s” response, her joy, preached that sermon back to me. She could, because of her lack of leverage, hear things in that text that brought out the hopefulness of it.
This wasn’t abstract idealism for her. This was solid, substantial hope, heard by a woman who didn’t think she could have dreams.
God’s dream requires incarnation. As a congregation, we’ve begun to enact this dream, as God slowly, painfully, and redemptively blurs the line between “us” and “them“. This has meant seeing something marvelously new in the character of God that we haven’t always seen because of the blinders of privilege that we wear. It’s meant receiving the gift of our immigrant brothers and sisters in Christ as a gift that we need. It’s meant bearing their fears with them, loving their children, seeing them, and then letting all of this bring us back to our own salvation Story, to hear the hope in it.
Sharon Huey is one of the pastors of Grace Fellowship Community Church, a congregation which gathers and serves in the Mission district of San Francisco.
Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92 or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.
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