Moving Through Locked Doors

Sermon delivered to Preaching II class on Friday, 20 May 2005 (texts used were for Pentecost, Year A - Sunday, 15 May 2005). For those interested in thought processes, this link will take you to the post in which I originally began pondering this text and topic.

"When it was evening . . . and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you.’ . . . 'As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’” - from John 20:19-23

“The Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief, 2005” became Public Law on May 11th. As its title suggests the new law authorizes an additional $82 billion for U.S. military spending in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, the Palestinian Authority, and ongoing tsunami relief efforts in Asia. What its title does not mention is its incorporation of the Real ID Act of 2005 - an act which, when it stood alone, was largely opposed by Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike. Despite the opposition, when tucked into this “must pass” supplemental appropriations act, the Real ID Act was whisked through the system and signed into law. This is the latest piece of legislation that, in the interest of “homeland security,” is designed to tighten security around our nation’s borders and simultaneously to increase the challenges faced by those seeking asylum in the United States.

When the new law effectively prevents terrorists from using our asylum laws to gain entry into the United States, the Real ID Act will be heralded a success. When it prevents a terrorist from illegally crossing our borders, the Real ID Act will be heralded a success. When the new law turns away a family – no, even one individual – when the new law turns away even one person who is seeking asylum to escape the daily risk of torture and death, who will raise their voice and declare the Real ID Act a failure? Who will stand up when Irena Antipova, a Jewish Russian national, is denied asylum because the immigration judge “believed that Ms. Antipova put her faith on display in Russia and bore the blame for her persecution” by lighting a menorah candle at her apartment window?[1] Who will stand up when Mihail Daniel Ileana, a Romanian Baptist, is denied asylum because the immigration judge didn’t believe Mr. Ileana’s testimony that because of his beliefs, he and his family were kept under surveillance and suffered severe beatings by the Romanian security service?[2] Who will stand up and declare that the Real ID Act and “Homeland Security” are euphemisms for locking our doors against those whom we fear – those who are not like us?

The disciples were not so different. In today’s gospel we learn that the disciples had locked the door for fear of the Jews. And yet, despite this locked door, Jesus entered the room, stood with his disciples, and greeted them: “Peace be with you.” Though the disciples wanted to protect themselves - to close their doors against those outside - Jesus came in, passing through the locked door, breaking down the artificial boundary. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Just as Jesus demonstrated his willingness to break-through an artificial boundary – a locked door - so we are called to break through the artificial boundaries of our world – to move outside of our comfortable house, to stand up with those on the other side of the locked door.

Next month on June 20th World Refugee Day will celebrate its fourth anniversary. Chicago’s Interfaith Refugee & Immigration Ministries will be hosting events on June 18th and June 20th to celebrate this important day. I invite each of you to join me in this time of celebration and advocacy – either here in Chicago or with your home congregations. By our participation in World Refugee Day we will be demonstrating our commitment to unlocking the doors. But, let us not stop there. Let June 20th and World Refugee Day mark our renewed commitment to unlocking the doors, greeting our brothers and sisters with a sign of peace, and standing up with them in the name of the God who sent Jesus and who now sends us.

[1] Maria S. Constantinescu, “Faithful but Forsaken: REAL ID Act Harms Victims of Religious Persecution,” document endorsed by 34 non-governmental and faith-based organizations including Episcopal Migration Ministries, (Washington, CD: Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, February 1, 2005; Updated April 11, 2005), 17.

[2] Ibid, 16.