Watch: Ravi’s Sermon at Judson Memorial Church on March 4

via Judson’s Facebook page:

You all know I don’t like to stand behind a podium. I like to be in front with you. I like to talk to you. One thing I’ve learned, standing next to Micah – I know why I cannot be a pastor. Did you hear how beautiful he sounds when he sings? I have no voice. So that alone keeps me from being a pastor.

We are talking about the Good Samaritan. I have not read all the sermons – there’d be tons of sermons about this scripture — because I wanted to bring what I felt it meant to me.

You read about Martin Luther King’s version of it which is very powerful and I’m actually similar to that but I’m going to add another element to it. You know when you have the priest who was coming down? This was a dangerous road, a winding road coming down to Jerusalem. Was he alone? Everyone assumes he was alone. This is a priest. Would he be going down this dangerous path alone?

And if he was not alone, what then was he thinking about the people who were accompanying him? They held him up to a certain standard. They hold him up to “doing the right thing.” But does that right thing mean if he touched somebody who was bloody was he going to become unclean?

They described the person who was in the road as “battered and beaten” and what if he is a Samaritan himself? What if he is a merchant, of a lower caste, would he then be violating his own rules? His own people? His own religiosity?

And the Levite, who is a law-maker, who created the law. He who created the law would be violating the same law. As a Levite, he also walks with an entourage. He also has people with him. That’s really critical.

When I was invited to preach… I can speak. I can speak. Many of you have heard me speak at events. But a sermon is different. A sermon is my saying something to you that will fortify you and will strengthen you for the week.

That’s why you come here. You don’t come here only to sit down, to eat or have coffee. You’re here because what you’ve felt and lived through for that week, you need some sustenance. This is your sustenance.

This is your space where you hear the word of God or you hear the words of the pastor. Or you hear the word of your neighbor, sitting next to you and feeling “I am able to breathe.” “I am able to breathe.” So when I have to stand here and speak, I could not just talk about injustice and scream and shout and motivate you, which is different than fortifying you. It’s different.

Donna has asked me to speak many times and I did not want to do that because I am not a pastor. I am not pastorial. If you start talking with me, let’s deal with the problem and let’s fix it. Sometimes it’s not about fixing. Sometimes it’s about hearing what you want to tell me.

So why am I here today? Sometimes we have to take that next step. Sometimes we have to speak about what we cannot speak about. Sometimes we have to become uncomfortable to guide people, to help people, because then you are showing others that they can be strong.

So the Good Samaritan, who was an untouchable, right? He was the outcast in those days and when he went see this person, he may have been alone so he could act.

Remember the priest and the Levite, I believe, had people with them so they couldn’t act because the people were actually moving them to behave in the patterns, in the boundaries that they had placed themselves in, so they could not move past that.

But the Samaritan, who didn’t have that, who was untouchable, could act freely.
(This is a strange sermon, isn’t it? Where am I going with this?)

Do we need, therefore, to be outcasts? Is that what I’m trying to get to today? You know I’m wearing this [gestures] Indian garb and I use the word caste because I think it is appropriate.

We think the caste system is only applicable to India – you know, the Brahmins, the teachers, the warriors, the merchants and then the untouchables.

When we realize that there is a caste system we are all part of and and when we are living in our caste system, we may be comfortable. But then you have to realize that there are people who are beaten. There are people who have had everything taken away from them. There are people who have lost everything, who are lying on the road, dying. Who are incarcerated, who are in detention, whose families have been ripped apart. And you don’t act. You are like that priest. You are like that Levite. You may be looking at that neighbor next to you. And you know that neighbor is saying “you fit or you do certain things because you are in this space.”

Let me say that differently – because you are here, you have to act a certain way otherwise you will be ostracized. Otherwise you will be outcasts.

So it doesn’t leave much hope for us in this space. It doesn’t leave a lot of hope for our own people who are living the good life, who we expect to be doing more because we are confined to the role that has been defined, not only ourselves but also defined by the people we associate with.

And it’s depressing. Isn’t it very depressing? Haven’t I just given you a lot of thought? But also made it very depressing because Judson is a church where we have been known for our struggle for justice, for fighting the fight, for becoming the beacon where people can come and learn. And not only to learn but also to be part of a struggle for others.

But why would I talk about that depressive aspect of it? Well, when I choose to speak, to give a sermon, it is about also making us feel uncomfortable enough that we should be thinking, when we leave here, what we have to do.

So, I have been asked to say a sermon. And I didn’t know what I was going to talk about and as you realize, I usually don’t prepare. And there’s a reason I don’t prepare. I don’t prepare because I let the Spirit act in me and speak through me. And that’s not a good thing to do. Because then you don’t know where you’re going with it and you don’t know if what you’re saying actually touches people. But it is not what I have to say to the world, it is about what that world needs to be told.

And I am happy to come out of my comfort zone and do a sermon and speaking for hopefully fortify you. How many of you can say the same? And I know this is where I become the activist and I’m going to start challenging you, like the Good Samaritan.

We talked about the Good Samaritan – what about the guy who was beaten and dying? What caste was he? And if this untouchable is touching him, how was he feeling? Interesting thought, right? Would he say, “Oh no no, you can’t help me. Please please don’t help me” because this guy was a Samaritan? But he was so beaten down that he had no choice but to accept the help.

There are many of our own communities – immigrants — I have stood at many churches and preached, no, not preached, spoken and I would hear “I did my time” and “I went through the right way.” “I got here with a green card.” How many of you have thought “well, come here legally” or “come there the right way and then everything will be good”? And all turning their back on those who don’t have that opportunity. Yet when they are themselves facing this crisis because every single non-citizen is facing this crisis. We have people with green cards who are facing their deportation. I myself have a green card and I am facing my deportation.

They have no choice but to reach out to the hand that is helping them. So how can you help? How can you move away from the role that you have defined yourself in?

So “I am not a priest so I have to go to work” and “I don’t have time to help anyone.” And when I go to work and I say “ if I take time off that may jeopardize my position.” “What about my children?” “Oh, I don’t have time because I have to take my kids to dance or to soccer or to acting school.”
We always have some excuse but that excuse isn’t really where you need to be because, in the Scripture, it talks about the first rule – love your neighbor. And your neighbor is the person who needs help.

But if you are confined, how else can you help? There are many things you can do. There are many things that you, as a person who may have other activities, can help.

One of the things we have learned as a member of New Sanctuary (and I see many buttons here as representing New Sanctuary) is that you learn to be creative in your outreach and your help.

And you learn to understand that you yourself can create a space where you can help someone. You can make a phone call. You can write a letter. You can Tweet. You can just talk to someone about the fact that what they are saying is wrong. You can stop someone when they’re saying propaganda or when they’re repeating something they heard from Fox. Or when they’re repeating something that they heard from someone that you know is untrue.

So I am urging you here… (I like to keep on time. Am I on time? I can talk a long time and I’m trying not to do that but I am actually going to end. I spoke at Columbia University on Friday night at “Breaking the Bars” and they said it was a wonderful speech but I think I spoke very short so I’m not sure if it’s what I said but how quick I was finished.)

So what I wanted to share with you is, the words of Martin Luther King, at the beginning of your [printed] program said, and I would change the quotation – “It is not the violence of my enemies I will remember.” And right now we are facing some violent times. And that violence is not only against immigrants; it’s against a swath of people. It’s against all of us.

If you really think about who is the target, we are all targets. So “it is not the violence of my enemies I will remember but it is the silence of my friends.”
So you all are my friends. You all have stood up for me. You all have not been silent. You all have come out on the streets. You all have gotten arrested. You all have put pressure on them.

What I want us to do is take this one more step and say that we are here for others. So we’re here to bring Jean back. We’re here to stand with Ravi. We’re here to repeal the ’96 laws so we are not facing this crisis anymore.

So I am preaching here to you because I know that you all are not silent. I know that you all have not been defined by society to act in certain ways. That is why you are part of Judson. That is why you are here, standing with me, even when I am wear an Indian garb, not a suit and a tie because that is what most people preach in.

I think we need to break this up — I think we need to challenge people. And this is a safe space for that. Judson has become a safe space for many, many things, not just for immigrants but a safe space for you and I want you to extend that safety to others.

I’m going to end with the fact that you should have ribbons or, if you don’t have ribbons on your table, there will be ribbons passed around to you. Today we are going to have a ribbon-tying ceremony. This is what we, as New Sanctuary, use the ribbons to exemplify our thoughts for each other.

And I would ask that Will Coley will come up and talk about what we are planning to do with the ribbons today because this service doesn’t end after church. We’re going to have an action, a simple action, at the end after we break bread and we eat together.

Thank you.