July 30, 2017, Becoming a Super-naturalized Citizen – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon, click here: Z0000035
There is a really interesting website called myimmigrationstory.com where people of all ages have shared the stories of their coming to the US and becoming citizens of a new country. The stories range from hopeful to heartbreaking. Here are three that I’d like to read to you —–
I immigrated to the Bronx, NY, in December 1984 when I was only fourteen years old after waiting 11 long years for my father to send for us. The wait was long but it was worth it. I come from a family of five children, I’m #4. I could not imagine life anywhere else. My home country (Dominican Republic) although beautiful, is corrupt and lacks education and job opportunities. I can honestly say that I have lived the American Dream. I took every opportunity available to me and have been able to experience a great education, have lived well and have benefited from all the work of all of those who came before me, including my father with his 2nd grade education, a hard worker who taught me the values of hard work and education. I am proud to be an American and to enjoy the freedom and wealth this country has to offer. God bless America.
West Palm Beach, FL
My mother, father, siblings, and I had been living in a poor part of town in Guadalajara, Mexico. My father worked as a ranchero and my mother used to waitress at a local pub and restaurant. I was the oldest of all my siblings and therefore, the leader. I had to set an example for the younger ones and had to take care of them from the dangers of the world. One day, I was at home when I found out my father had been killed. It was a tragic day and my mother, devastated from the loss, wanted to move to America, speaking of being safer there and how America could help us all. We moved the following week, wanting to leave Guadalajara and the crime of the small town. We were missed and there was no one else to care after the ranch since my father died, so they closed it down, but it was necessary. We no longer wanted to live in such a dangerous place, so when we moved to America, we found out we had taken up all of the small apartment complex. After we moved in, there was no more room, so I guess we were lucky. My siblings and I went to school and had good grades, my mother working as a waitress, yet again. I grew up to be a police officer, wanting to be able to prevent crimes in my city, New York, like to what happened to my father. I thank America for the opportunities that it has given me and will be forever grateful.
New York City
My grandparents were refugees at the time of partition in India from, what is now, Pakistan to present India. They worked long and hard days doing blue-collar jobs so that my parents would have a better chance at life. My parents chose to honor their sacrifices by seeking a better life in the United States. We came to this country because my mother had a fellowship. We landed with just over $800 in NYC. My father’s MBA was not accredited in the United States so eventually he went back to school to repeat his degree. They recognized that the caste system in the US is based on where you go to school so they sent my sister and I to the best high schools and then the best colleges. I am now in law school working to make sure our systems provide everyone with a fair shot at success and my sister is teaching English helping the next generation learn empathy. We honor the sacrifices of our family by trying to make the world a better place. We believe that the promise of America can be a reality for all of us. We are Americans.
New York, NY
People who come to the US as immigrants very often come in the hope of having a better life – safety and security for their families, the opportunity to improve themselves by education and worthwhile employment, and the freedom to both exercise their individual choices as well as to have a voice in the creation and maintenance of the community. But the reality is never entirely in line with the ideal, and anyone who lives in the US for any length of time discovers that sooner or later.. Prejudices and corruption and all kinds of injustice rob people of their freedom and opportunity anywhere there are human beings. And these three people whose stories I read must have faced the failure of American values at many points in their lives. But in their own lives they sought to be what they believed US citizenship ought to mean And in the very act of fulfilling the rights and responsibilities that belong to the ideals of our Constitution, these three people have helped our country to become just that little bit more the country it is supposed to be. In the end it is good citizenship that creates a good nation.
Martha, the woman from the Dominican Republic, followed the example of her father who taught her the value of a good education even though he had only a 2nd grade education, and who taught her how to be a hard worker. Marisela came to America from a village in Mexico where their lives were in danger because of crime and violence, and she became a police officer to help make her own neighborhood in New York City a safe place for herself and her neighbors to live. And Aditi and her sister from India have dedicated their lives to making the legal system more just and to helping children grow up with respect and compassion for other people. Aditi writes: “We believe that the promise of America can be a reality for all of us. We are Americans.” But the truth is that it is people like Aditi – and Martha and Marisela – who make the promise of America a reality. America has certain treasured values that are set forth in our Constitution. But it is only when people live out those values that they become a reality. Good citizenship creates a good nation.
In the past couple of weeks, our gospel readings have been parables that Jesus told to give us a picture of what the kingdom of heaven is like. And the reason he wanted people to know what the kingdom of heaven is like is that his purpose in coming to live among us was to re-take the kingdom that rightly belongs to God the Father and to begin to restore that kingdom right here on earth. And that means that following Jesus means becoming citizens of a new country. We are immigrants ourselves, from the kingdom of this world that has long been in rebellion against God, to the kingdom of the rightful King.
In Colossians Paul wrote: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” In other words, in Jesus our application for citizenship has been approved, and in him we are eligible for full citizenship in his kingdom here and now, with all its rights and responsibilities. In Jesus, we have landed on the shores of a new country, where we will live life, not on the terms of our old country, but on the terms of this new country, under our new King.
Today we read a whole series of little parables that once again, Jesus told to help us to see more clearly what his kingdom is like. And in one of the mini-parables Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like a little dollop of yeast that a woman kneaded into her dough, that worked its way through the dough and made the whole thing rise. I have experienced the amazing power of yeast many times. One time I remember in particular, way back in the days we lived on the farm and had a zillion kids so that every week I made bread in enormous quantities in our big woodstove oven. And one day I mixed up enough dough for about twelve loaves of bread and left it to rise while I went to do something somewhere else – probably out in the garden. I was gone a little longer than I meant to be, and when I came back into the kitchen the bread dough had risen monstrously and spread out to cover the whole table, and was hanging over the edges.
The kingdom of heaven, Jesus wants us to know, starts small, with seemingly insignificant things like us. But it grows. “Consider yourselves,” Paul wrote once, “not many of you were wise or powerful. Not many of you came from big-name families that command people’s respect. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. “ The kingdom of heaven, where our true citizenship lies, is a kingdom of humble beginnings and small starts. But it grows.
If we know that that’s the kind of new country we’ve become citizens of, then we need to live accordingly. In the kingdom of heaven, we don’t despise the smallness of our own abilities or the unimpressiveness of our neighbor. We don’t have to be fearful of our own weakness or poverty. Because we know that our God is the God of small and humble things, and that he makes the humble great. Mary, the peasant girl who became the Mother of our Lord, understood this and sang,
“He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent away empty.”
If we live as citizens who respect the lowly, who raise up the poor, who in humility consider the rights of others before our own (as our King did before us) then we are making the kingdom a reality right now, in Norwood, New York. In our small way, we are making the kingdom come and become a reality in this world. And God will grow it, surprisingly, generously, immensely – just as he uses a tiny dollop of yeast to make the whole big lump of dough rise.
Jesus once said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and actually does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Just like naturalized citizens, like Martha and Marisela and Aditi, and so many others, in the way that they embody in their own lives the values and principles of our Constitution – just as they are the very thing that makes America more truly American, – we who are super-naturalized citizens of the kingdom of heaven are making that kingdom more and more of a reality in the here and now whenever we embody in our own lives what we have heard from Jesus. And in that way, when we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done” we are praying it not only with our lips, but with our whole lives. And so the kingdom grows.