Video via Derek DeBoer
Watch the full video of Ravi Ragbir’s sermon as he receives one of the Episcopal Church’s highest honors – the Bishop’s Cross – at the main service at historic St. Ann & The Holy Trinity Church. Below is a transcript of the sermon:
We are living in tumultuous times and no matter where you are sitting, you are feeling the chaos that is permeated throughout this country and throughout our community. We have to sit down, we have to be with each other to navigate this chaos together.
So when we look at Mark 1 verse 29 – 39, there are many ways we can start interpreting these verses. We can talk about them walking together which is what I just said or we can talk about the sick and the healing of the sick and in the service of the sick.
We can talk about the continual casting out of demons or we can talk about the job that has to be done and the way he had to step back and pray about his duty, his responsibility, taking the time to be with himself to undertake the task.
What I wanted to talk about is the sickness that he was there to heal. Usually people think about sickness as being a fever, a cold, cancer, et cetera. But we have another type of sickness that has infiltrated our communities and has permeated and it is a tangible sickness that we are seeing through millions of people, through millions of our children, through millions of our fathers and mothers — and that is the fear of deportation. You will not think that this is a sickness but when you have children who are in school crying because they don’t know at the end of the day if their parents will be home when they get back home. They cannot work, they cannot study, they cannot write, they cannot LEARN because every day they are worried about their parents. They are worried about their lives.
And the parents themselves, we will not tell the kids “well, we are in this crisis.” “We are afraid that ICE will pick us up” – Immigration and Customs Enforcement — pick us up. We don’t have to SAY that because it is there. We will turn the televisions off when the news discussing immigration and the fear and the possibility of taking people away. Yet the children know what is happening. You can feel it. That’s a public health crisis that we are in right now. When our children but also our adults are debilitated. They are weak because of this fear. And why are they afraid? Don’t think this fear has only happened in the last year. This has been going on for many, many years. It started under the Clinton administration with the 1996 laws that allowed ICE to continue to oppress our communities. And it was made very effective and efficient under the previous administration who deported over 3 million people — 3 million people were deported under this administration. And those are the OFFICIAL numbers. He has not included voluntary departure. He has not included expedited removal. He has not included those people who were refused entry into the country because they are fleeing prosecution and oppression. Why would people leave their country to come to the United States? Well, one is the United States is a beacon, right? It is a space where we expect to be free. The anthem talks about this is the home of the brave and the free.
Imagine traveling thousands of miles to come here, not knowing if you are going to have food. How you’re going to do that, if you’re going to survive. How brave are you to be taking that journey? And then you add that some of them are toddlers. We have heard many stories of children who have left Africa – Africa! – flown to Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and then making that journey, not knowing the language, not knowing the borders, not knowing the direction. Yet placing their faith in God to guide them through to the beacon of hope. This should be a place of hope, right? This is the United States of America where the Statue of Liberty beckons those who are tired and poor.
But when you come here, what has happened? They are targeted. They are getting ready, they are living their lives every day knowing that ‘I may not go back into my home. I may not be there when my daughter steps home or my wife goes inside or my husband goes in. I may not be there.’ That fear is very, very intense and traumatic. And until you have lived it, you don’t understand the intensity of that fear.
On January 11 when I had to report in, we always knew that any day that I go to immigration that that day will be the day that I will never come out.
But when I had to live that reality, was very traumatic. More so for my family and my friends and you who are sitting here because of the uncertainty of what they were going to do to me. You will say, well, why was I not afraid? But I have been living with this fear for such a long time. For over 12 years I have sat with this fear, deep inside my core. And I’ve had to take this fear and put it in a chest and lock it with a key and hide it away so I can continue my work to help those who are afraid and don’t know what to do.
This was rather cathartic for me, actually, because the fear of not knowing what will happen and actually having lived it now shows that I don’t have to be afraid of them.
In fact, what I have found out is that they were afraid of ME. Right? And why were they afraid of me? They were afraid of me because of YOU. They were afraid of me because of the community and the people that stepped up to protect me and to support me.
So, when Jesus said let us go out, he could’ve gone out himself, right? He could have gone out and healed and cast out demons but it was never his intention to do this alone. It was the intention to create disciples and servants who will do the work that he will have to leave them to do. So when I am inside, you had done that work, you all were doing that work.
A lot of the times when liberals come together or progressives or church people, one of the terms I have used with one of the trainings that I have in speaking to churches – “church people are crazy people.” Right? And one of the reasons they’re crazy is that they have a Messiah Complex. They have a Messiah Complex. Because I am lifting you up but now I am the leader and I am telling you what’s good for you. This is not what the verse [Mark 1 29-39] is about. It is not about becoming a Messiah. It is not about taking people up and having them serve you. It’s about you serving with them. It’s about you walking hand in hand with them to heal the sick and cast out demons.
And you know what’s funny? We don’t have to go far to find the demons, right? Just across the bridge – 26 Federal Plaza. (Am I allowed to say that?) We won’t say that, we will say the principality of darkness that fills that building.
When I was released on Monday – only Monday. It’s unbelievable what’s happened since then. Monday January 29 the Deputy Director who was signing all those documents to deport me, sat me in his vehicle, in his SUV, and drove me from 26 Federal Plaza to Judson Memorial Church. And everyone was stunned. Everyone was watching when he came around the corner. People were shocked because this was a guy who was so intently planning to remove me. He was obsessed and the effort and resources that were put to use in taking me away. They had 20 officers in Bellevue Hospital watching me. I am shackled and I am lying on the gurney and 20 people watching me. They had 10 vehicles escorting me to the airport, getting me out of the city into Newark Airport. And, when we pulled up on the sidewalk imagine “The Fast and the Furious” cars just coming right and left and back, surrounding me. And I was in an out-of-body experience watching all of this happen. And this same gentleman, out of the ‘kindness of his heart,’ you have to say he was kind. Because it was cold. I was just being released from detention and I would have been traumatized. Every time you get released from these places, when you come out into the world – you are shocked by the expansion, all the wideness of what freedom is and it takes a moment to gather yourself. Why did he do this? That’s the problem they are facing right now. And that’s the problem for the immigration officers at 26 Federal Plaza are facing right now.
What I have wondered at and just sat down and was just amazed for throughout the last three weeks is the explosion of leadership that has been created. People have stepped up to do things that needs[?] their skill. And beyond. People have stepped up to stop what was happening. And people have stepped out and go out to speak to those infirm and sick. They have gone out of their comfort zone. They have broken their comfort zone to become the messengers for those who are sick, teaching them and educating them about what they can do to stop this deportation. Removing the intense fear. Not taking it away but teaching them how to control that fear.
It was amazing to watch all of these things happening like the oak tree when it throws out its seeds, all of a sudden these things are happening. That was the amazing part of what happened in the last three weeks — the leadership that was grown. All the strength, all the messaging, all the messengers, and the power that was created. What we don’t want to see, what I hope will not happen, is that we implode, thinking that “Ravi is here and that we can step back and wait and let Ravi or the New Sanctuary lead us.” We cannot allow this to happen. What we need to do is we need to be silent, be silent, because when we are silent, you know, Jesus stopped the demons from speaking. It wasn’t about them knowing him. They knew him and he KNEW they knew him but he did not want anybody else to know him because it was not about what HE was going to do but about what he was doing.
It sounds kind of confusing because it’s not about the honor of what he was doing. It wasn’t about the glory. He was just doing the work he had to do. And the trainings that the New Sanctuary has created about being silent and witnessing. Denise [pointing] she said we are great witnesses, and we have been training people to be great witnesses. And that witnessing in Federal Plaza has started to change what has been happening in Immigration Court. And I can ask people who are being in those trainings, who are being in the courtroom to share their stories and you will hear fantastic stories. What is also happening is that witnessing has also touched the humanity in those ICE officers. So right now they, inside these ICE officers, it is too much. It’s chaos. They know the law itself is wrong. The law itself is wrong. And they have, that is their job, and they will do that. But the humanity, or more importantly, the Jesus that is in them, is rising up and shouting and saying, ‘We cannot allow this to happen!’
So when we go out of here today, let the Jesus in you, don’t speak but let the Jesus in you reflect in what you do. Let the Jesus in you preach every day and maybe you will say a good word and say ‘thank you for allowing me to do this.’
And thank you for allowing me to speak to you because we ARE in this together and you HAVE created a fear in them that the world is changing. And let us not stop believing that the change is for the better. Thank you.