There has been quite a stir lately in the country over our policies concerning immigrants. On the one hand we are a nation that welcomes more immigrants than any other industrialized nation in the world. The words on the statue of liberty read, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
We have always been a compassionate people and for centuries we have opened our borders to people from other countries. On the other hand, there are questions being raised about the rights of immigrants, whether they should be eligible for certain benefits like social security or welfare. Many are in the country illegally and this is causing a burden on our states in the south and west.
As a result the US experienced a nationwide boycott that was organized to bring the issue to the attention of our government. It’s a difficult issue and there are no simple solutions. Like other issues of the day, people are divided. We can look to the teachings of Jesus and find evidence that he was an advocate for the poor. But even Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you.”
The letter of 1 John was written to the church who was struggling with the issues of their day. They needed direction, so the author of I John gave them basic instructions. Basically he wrote that it was not their task to figure out the precise and exact position on political or moral issues. Their task was to “love one another.”
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Life had become complex and people’s identity had become skewed. The faith community had forgotten who they were and what they were about. They needed to be reminded that to be believers in Jesus Christ had a direct connection with their actions and deeds. What they needed to practice was “real love.”
Real love is not just accepting Christ and believing in Christ. Real love means that our faith is lived out by what we do. Non believers will criticize the Church more than anything when we profess to be loving, but we practice exclusiveness. To either reject or exclude others from our congregation will be seen as hypocritical. In other words, people will say “They don’t practice what they preach.” Whether we realize it or not, people are watching everything we do.
When she was only 16, Romana Banuelos was deserted by her husband. She was left to live alone in Mexico with her two young children. She was poverty stricken, untrained and unable to speak English. But Romana had a dream for a better life for her and her children. With only a few dollars she headed to LosAngeles where she used her last seven dollars to take a taxi to a distant relative’s home.
Romana refused to live on charity. She found a job washing dishes, followed by a second job making tortillas. She managed to save $500, which she used to invest in her own tortilla machine. Over time, with a lot of hard work and good friends, Romana became the manger of the largest Mexican wholesale food business in the world. Shortly thereafter, president Dwight D. Eisenhower chose her to become the 37th Treasurer of the UnitedStates. Risking political criticism, Eisenhower selected a divorced, female immigrant to fill one of the highest offices in the land. I believe he did that for no other reason than for genuine love.
Real love also means to live a life of sacrifice. “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” These were also some of Jesus’ final words to his disciples. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
In rural Mississippi, Oseola McCarty spent most of her life helping people look nice. She washed and ironed bundles of dirty clothing. She quit school in the sixth grade to go to work. She never married and never had children. She never learned to drive since there was no place she desired to go. Her work was her life. It was her way of being a blessing to others. For most of her 87 years, Oseola spent almost no money. She lived in her old family home all her life. She saved her money, most of it coming in dollar bills and change. By the end of her working career she had amassed about $150,000. She then made what people in Hattiesburg, Mississippi called “The gift.” She donated her entire life savings to black college students in Mississippi.
To be in the community of faith means that the needs of other believers come first. It is not just being friendly or neighborly. It is a relationship that requires personal sacrifice and commitment.
And third, real love means we have the courage to step up to the plate when we see someone who is hurting. Since we are now in baseball season, we can illustrate this by use of a baseball metaphor. A batter must get into the batter’s box in order to put the ball in play. Those in the press box, however are just observers at a distance who don’t get involved in the game. To be persons of faith is to get involved. It means stepping into the batter’s box and doing what we can wherever we see a need.
John Boal tells the story of his encounter with Roberto Clemente, the famous baseball player. In 1972 Boal worked at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh as a beer vendor. He passed by a table where Clemente was just getting up after signing autographs. Their eyes locked and Boal greeted Clemente in Spanish. They immediately bonded and Clemente treated Boal with total respect. It made no difference that he was a great baseball player and Boal was just a lowly beer vendor. They were worlds apart but there was not one drop of condescension in Clemente’s voice.
Roberto Clemente identified with those who struggled. Throughout his life, Clemente helped people wherever he was. In Pittsburgh’s Hill District he helped homeless people. In his home country of Puerto Rico, he was always passing out money to kids. He once said, “If you have a chance to do something for somebody and do not make the most of it, you are wasting your time on earth.”
One time he was being honored by the Puerto Rican community in newYork. He refused to accept a Cadillac as a gift. He insisted that the money go to charitable organizations. His two favorite charities were helping mentally-challenged children and kids with physical handicaps. While managing a Puerto Rican amateur baseball team he befriended a fourteen-year-old boy who was orphaned and had no legs. He arranged for him to be fitted with artificial limbs. When a powerful earthquake struck Nicaragua in December of 1972 he became head of a relief committee to help the 250,000 people who had become homeless. He worked constantly, gathering supplies, raising money and doing TV spots to help the effort.
Clemente was killed in a plane crash soon after the earthquake. He was aboard a plane that was taking supplies to Nicaragua. This occurred just ninety-one days after he had made his three-thousandth hit in baseball. In 1973 Major League Baseball changed the name of the Commissioner’s Award to the Roberto Clemente Award. It is given annually to the player who best exemplifies the game of baseball through their involvement in the community. A high school principle declared, “This extraordinary man is remembered by most people as one who gave all he had to give, including his life, to help his fellow man.” (from Chicken Soup for the Volunteer’s Soul)
Roberto Clemente was willing to step into the batter’s box in more ways than one. His life of “real love” for others made a difference in the lives of others and even changed Major League Baseball. God knows that most of us will never reach the ranks of a professional athlete. Real love can be expressed through any one who is willing to reach across boundaries of language, nationality or race. Real love happens when we live by making sacrifices for others. Real love occurs when we are willing to step up to the plate and be involved.