“Get Closer”

There is much in the sacred texts that Milo read to us today that resonates deeply within me, each of which are deserving of sermons unto themselves: choice; seeing; fire; life; death; infants; path; growth… With limited time, any guesses as to which one we will be talking about the most this morning? I will give you a hint… It won’t be fire. Many of you know that I was born and raised in Rifle, Colorado and today I am here with you in Minneapolis. But between here and there lie nine major cities and three countries that at different parts of my life I have called “home.” Some of you have traveled just as much if not more. This might provide for a discussion between us that would focus on path.

Some of you know that I am the youngest of seven children, that both of my parents have died as well as two of my older brothers, and three young nieces and nephews. And, I nearly lost my own life in a fishing accident in Puerto Vallarta. No doubt, some of you may have lost family members and close friends or even had your own close calls that would provide a nice foundation between us for a discussion about life and death.

Before I became a faith leader, I was a construction worker, a busboy, a soldier, a day laborer, a factory worker, a union organizer, a social worker, a legal advocate, a human rights monitor and a community organizer. You have had a few different jobs as well and this would enable us to share with each other about the choices we’ve made.

For sure, we have much in common and at the same time we are very different: ethnically, culturally, and perhaps, economically. I’m a Mexican migrant worker who traveled from place to place looking for work that would sustain me. But at the most basic level, I’m a grateful Chicano pastor, a working-class Mexican man of faith born of all my experiences. Today and hopefully far into the future, in our sameness and in our differences, here at 5th and 8th, all of our lives are now intertwined in a blessed mutual interdependence. Like the duality of the Yin and Yang symbol in front of you, we are different but complimentary, with our whole being greater than we can be separate and apart.

In our New Testament lesson, Paul says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but only God gives growth.” This describes a sacred covenant between Paul, Apollos and God—or in other words—between us and God. With God as our Divine Gardener, we were planted in fertile soil; we were watered by our parents and by others around us and we have weathered droughts and floods, sun and snow. But, we didn’t remain as seeds and we are not who we were. With God as our Divine Gardener, we became liberated from the confines of the soil. We are moving beyond our past, and together we are evolving into who and where we are called by our God.

Walter Bruggeman, an Eden Theological Seminary graduate and ordained UCC Pastor has this to say about we, the church: “The prophetic tasks of the church is to tell the truth in a society that lives in an illusion, grieve in a society that practices denial, and express hope in a society that lives in despair.”

We must be unafraid of standing where God wants us to be and confident that, above all laws, we are demonstrably loving our God and our neighbor as ourselves: standing with and protecting the poor, the oppressed, the undocumented. When Paul says, “We all belong to God,” he means it. All means all, without exception. Gloria Jean Watkins, whom you know as Bell Hooks, describes our growth this way: “When we drop fear, we can draw nearer to people, we can draw nearer to the earth, we can draw nearer to all the heavenly creatures that surround us.”

But growth requires self-reflection and a willingness to look at and reveal that which holds us captive. It requires persisting even when we have been warned and given an explanation, knowing that if God is with us who can be against us? Our liberation takes courage. This is the uncomfortable mirror that Milo talked about.

This morning, I have told you a little about myself but this only scratches the surface. Thinking about what to reveal meant looking at myself and sharing with you some of my growth in the limited time that we have. Several others have also decided to reveal to you some of their growth—who they were and who they are. They have looked into the uncomfortable mirror and are responding with courage. Last week, Jane asked us to “chance human vulnerability.” Let’s all receive this beautiful gift of human vulnerability from them.

[CARDBOARD TESTIMONIES]

What would your cardboard testimony say? Who were you? Where were you? Who are you? Where are you?

Robert Capa was an American photographer who died in 1954. About photography, he said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” First Church, I invite you to get closer…to each other, to our neighbors and thus, to God.

Amen.