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So much has happened over the past year—in Lucio’s life, the lives of Dora and their children, in the ministries and daily routines of this church, in the mission of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, in the hearts and minds and lives of almost every one of the some 300 people who have written a check, prepared and delivered a meal, driven Dora or the children, attended a potluck, taken a Spanish class, or spent anything from a few hours to many, many, many overnights accompanying Lucio through his 24/7 presence in this building.
So much has happened, so many of us have been changed. So much has been lost, and some things—relationship, friends, perspective, purpose, community, and faith, to name a few—have been gained. Still, much remains painful and difficult. Still, much requires constant care and attention. Still, so much remains uncertain.
We talk a lot about the many aspects of Lucio’s situation—the legal hurdles, the paperwork, the politics, the family dynamics, the financial challenges, the personal stresses. We—and by we, I mean primarily Margaret and the Workers Center—have come up with any number of wonderful ways—letter-writing campaigns, Jericho Walks, press conferences, potlucks, and work with lawyers—to support Lucio and his family and to keep his situation in the public eye.
When there is so much work to be done—so many people to engage and policies to change—we sometimes forget the spiritual aspects of Lucio’s situation, the spiritual aspects of our own lives and careers and ministries and passions. In all our good-hearted, well-meaning efforts to love and protect the vulnerable, achieve justice, and change the world, we can sometimes lose sight of what is most necessary for the fullness of life.
This is where the beautiful and heartbreaking story of Jesus and the rich young man comes in. You see, the man had lived an exemplary life—but still something was missing. He had followed all the legal rules and kept all the religious commandments, but still there was an emptiness inside him. And so he asked Jesus what more he needed to do to experience the fullness of life.
Note that Jesus looked at the man and really saw him. Note that Jesus looked at him and loved him. Then he said, “You lack one thing. Go, sell your possessions, give to the poor, receive in meaning and joy more than you gave in money, and then, come and follow me.” And, hearing this, the man went away shocked and sad, for he was rich and couldn’t imagine parting with all he had.
Now, much has been made of Jesus’ comments about the rich and his instructions to the young man, and I’m quite sure that material comforts and our desire for still more do come between us and God, between us and a just and peaceful world, between us and the fullness of life. And . . . it’s worth noting that the person who asked Jesus the question happened to be wealthy.
I can’t help but wonder if Jesus’ larger point had to do with surrendering whatever it is that we’re most attached to, whatever it is that we love more than God or justice, equality, or peace, more than the well-being of our neighbors, whatever it is that separates us from God and each other.
One year ago, Lucio and Dora prayed fervently to God for guidance. What should they do about Lucio’s deportation order? How could they keep their family together? How should they respond to the church’s offer of sanctuary and the support of the Workers Center? And, most important, which option of the few that they had was the most faithful. How could they best glorify God and continue to follow Jesus?
Over the past year that Lucio has been in sanctuary, Lucio and Dora, Edvin, Tony, Jordan, and Lucy, have made huge sacrifices. Each one of them, especially Dora, has lost so much. Lucio has given up his job, his home, and his daily life with his family so that he can continue to be a husband to Dora and a father to his children. He has entrusted God with his family, his legal status, their finances, and his life. It is not easy. It is a hard and lonely road for them all.
Jesus says, “There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or wife or job, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not received a hundredfold now in this age.”
And if you look around, if you spend any time with Lucio or Dora or the children, you will see that, in fact, they have received much: a home in a church building, friends, family, financial support, legal help, emotional and spiritual support, a whole new community of care, and so much love.
We as a church and as people involved with sanctuary have received so much: relationship, a connection to what is real and important, the opportunity to make a difference, meaning, a new understanding of church, a new understanding of community, a new understanding of what is possible.
And still we follow, not knowing where the road leads. And still the journey is difficult and sometimes heartbreaking. And still we do not know how or when this will end.
So still we pray. Still we work together. Still we hang on to each other. Still we resist injustice. Still we follow the way of love and faith.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard Lucio say, “It is in God’s hands. With God, all things are possible.”
Indeed, already God has done great things. Already many things we could have never imagined have come to pass: For many of us our lives are now bound up, are hearts are entwined, with the lives of people we didn’t even know a year ago, with causes we may not have been engaged in, with new levels of purpose and meaning and love.
Already, the very ones our government puts at the bottom of the pile and the back of the line—Lucio and Dora, Edvin, Tony, Jordan, Lucy, and so many other immigrants—are now first in our hearts.
And so the world changes: decision by decision, heart by heart, person by person, family by family, church by Workers Center by synagogue by Quaker meeting by church, meal by meal, ride by ride, accompaniment shift by accompaniment shift. And so we discover the fullness of life.
Thanks be to God!
Invitation to Recommitment
Now I would like to invite Marylou Sullivan, the First Church moderator, to come forward, and while Marylou is coming forward I want to invite the members and friends of First Church Amherst to renew our commitment to providing sanctuary to Lucio and to supporting Lucio and his family.
In mid-September of 2017, when we as a church prayed and discerned (very quickly) and decided to offer sanctuary to Lucio, we really had no idea what we were getting into. Actually, we had no idea what we were getting into! Out of nothing more than faith and love, a commitment to follow Jesus together, and a passion for justice, we took a huge leap of faith.
One year ago we were something like lovers making wedding vows: led by love but pretty clueless about all their love would require of them.
Now that Lucio has been with us for a year, we have a much better idea of what sanctuary means. Now we know something of both the cost and the blessing.
It is one thing to take a leap of faith and love not knowing the costs. It is an altogether different and even more powerful thing to leap again—hearts and minds and eyes wide open.
Today we have an opportunity to renew our faith commitment to God, to one another, and to Lucio, Dora, and their children. Today we can choose again to continue to love, to continue to stand with our siblings in Christ, to continue to follow Jesus.
Congregational Recommitment to Lucio and His Family
God commanded the Israelites to love the strangers in their midst. Jesus says that when we welcome the stranger, we welcome him. A year ago we welcomed Lucio, a stranger facing deportation, and opened our hearts to his family. One year later, we are strangers no longer. We are children of God, siblings in Christ, companions in the struggle for justice. In the presence of God and this community, we, the members and friends of First Church Amherst, today recommit ourselves to providing sanctuary to Lucio, standing with him and his family, praying for them, and working with them for justice and reunion. May God give them strength and hope, grace and courage, faith and love, now and always.