February 11, 2018

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Sermon - Brad Brookins

Bible Study

02-04-18


Text and Questions


Leviticus 19:33-34;  Deuteronomy 10. 17-20;  Matthew 25. 31-46

Exodus 23.9   

You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.


Leviticus 19:33-34

33 When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. 34 The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.


Matthew 25. 31-46

 31 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” 44Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” 45Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’ 


In Scripture, the words “alien” and “resident alien” refer to immigrants from other countries who had settled in Israel.  Notice they are not called “illegal aliens”.  The notion that moving across a border rendered one “illegal” would have been distasteful in semitic, Middle Eastern culture where hospitality ranked among the highest of virtues.  Another english word used to translate this Hebrew word is “stranger”.

1.    Exodus 23.9  Can you imagine “the heart of an alien”?  What are the concerns, values and hopes held by one who is forced by circumstances to leave their own homeland and seek refuge in a new country?
2.    Leviticus 19: 33-34  The command not to oppress the alien implies that oppressing aliens (taking advantage of them) was something people were prone to do (otherwise they wound not need to be told not to).  How and why do people take advantage of immigrants?  What circumstances would need to be in play to make the alien oppress-able? (That isn’t really a word, but you know what I mean).
3.    V. 34  “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you”.  Discuss the impact of this regulation on each of these areas of civic life—that is, how would these area of public life in Israel have been affected by immigrants being considered citizens?
A.    Religious
B.    Cultural
C.    Political
D.    Economic
4.   Moses said, “you shall love the alien as yourself”.  He also said “you shall love your
      neighbor as yourself”.  What does this make the alien?
5.   V. 34  “for you were aliens in the land of Egypt”.  Why does Moses think Israel’s experience
      of being an oppressed immigrant should affect their treatment of immigrants in their own
      land?  What values and emotions lie behind this command by Moses?
6.   Is this any way to run a country?  Why or why not?
7.   Is it possible to run a modern country on these principles?
A.    If yes, what would the consequences be?
B.    If no, is it accurate for Israel today to consider itself Jewish or for America to consider itself Christian?

Matthew 25. 31-46

1.    A theological question:  What does Jesus mean—“inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”?  The “foundation of the world” would've been a long time before Jesus.  What kingdom was he talking about?
2.    V. 34,35  Adequate food and drinkable water, a homeland for the displaced immigrant, clothing (and by extension, housing) for the poor, healthcare for the sick, justice and compassion toward the imprisoned—Why does God care about these things?
3.    V. 34 begins with the phrase, “for I was hungry…”  God (in the person of Jesus here) identifies with the hungry, displaced, poor, sick prisoner.  Why?  What does this say about God?
4.    Mother Theresa said that when she looked at the dying in Calcutta she saw Jesus.  The righteous in Jesus’ story did what they did without seeing Jesus (or God) in the sick and hungry (“Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry… v.37)   What did they see?  What was their motivation for caring and acting?  What is our motive for doing good?
5.    Is this any way to run a country?  Why or why not?
6.    Is this any way to run a world?  Why or why not?    (Note:  5 and 6 are not the same question.)
7.    The sheep don’t know they are sheep and the goats don’t know they are goats.  Can you draw any conclusions from this detail in the story?
 

02-04-18

Leviticus 19:33-34;  Deuteronomy 10. 17-20;  Matthew 25. 31-46

 

The Least

 

This passage I’m about to read is a parable and it’s important to remember that.  A parable, as you know, is a story about something else.   It uses symbols and metaphors to make a point.  that means that while this story tells about sheep and goats and eternal life and eternal punishment, that’s not what the story is about.  Parables are always about something else.  Be careful not to get distracted by the graphic details.

 

Matthew 25. 31-46

 

 31 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” 44Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” 45Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

 

We’re going to focus this morning on just one line of the parable, verse 35, because this is where we are in our unfolding banner:  “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me”.

 

The Greek word translated “stranger” here is “xenos”—spelled with an X but pronounced as a Z, and I have no idea why.  I suppose the Greeks just got tired of saying “ekzenos” so they dropped the ek and kept the z.

 

Anyway, the xenos is the stranger—but specifically the alien, the foreigner and the immigrant; somebody who comes to your country from another country.

 

It’s hard to be a xenos.  If you’ve travelled to another country where people do silly things like speak French and drive on the wrong side of the road and sell their gas in liters and print their menus in a foreign language—you’ve had a little taste of the troubles of the xenos. 

 

It is particularly hard to be a xenos in America these days—especially if your skin tone is something other than a very light tan.  It’s not so bad if you are Norwegian.  But if you are brown or black, and from one of the countries recently described by a prominent politician as an open sewer, your welcome here will not be so obvious.

 

And, if you happen to have crossed the border by some illegitimate means—walking through the desert or overstaying your visa, you will be made most unwelcome and probably sent packing.

 

It seems we have become a culture that is, to a fairly large extent, “xenophobic”—another Greek word you have probably heard in news reports and commentaries.  We have “stranger fear”.  We are made uncomfortable by the different ones.

 

This is nothing new, of course.  People have always been afraid of strangers and immigrants.  Countries have always been intent on keeping what’s theirs; keeping themselves safe from the rest of the world.  Strangers of different colors or languages or places of origin have always been suspect—have seemed, and maybe even have been, dangerous.

 

The earliest Jews were rabid xenophobes.  That’s why Moses so pointedly told them to stop being that way.  “You shall not oppress a resident alien”, he told them; “you know the heart of the stranger.  The immigrant who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you”, he said.  “God loves the strangers”, Moses said.

 

Moses was clear that for Israel to fulfill the mission God had given them—if they were to live out their life together as God’s chosen people, they were going to have to learn to live with the stranger; to bring them into the circle of God’s concern; to be as generous with the immigrant as God had been with them.

 

They were supposed to do that; but they were never very good at it.

 

What goes around comes around, though.  The Jews never liked the Canaanites.  The Babylonians never liked the Jews.  The Persians never liked the Babylonians.  The Greeks never liked the Persians and the Romans never liked anybody.  Round and round we go.

 

So it’s not at all surprising that today, in this country, we would have a large hole in our hearts where the Mexicans and South Americans and Haitians and Africans should find welcome, but too often don’t.

 

Now this is not a sermon on the politics and policies of immigration—one of the stickiest problems of our time.  That would be well above my pay grade and skill level.  And besides, that’s probably not why you came to church this morning.

 

What I can do—and what I have to do because this is my job, is talk with you about the theology of immigration.  This isn’t any easier than the politics of immigration—probably even harder.  But theology is where we live as people of faith.  Theology is how we see, or should see, the world. 

 

The word “theology” means words about God or words from God.  It is from these words—coming to us mostly through Scripture, that we get both direction for our lives and the courage to follow that direction.

 

So what does God say, through Moses and Jesus, about immigrants and immigration; about strangers and aliens?  Well, on this I’ve got good news and bad news for you.

The good news is that both Jesus and Moses are as close to crystal clear on what they expect of us as anyone in the Bible ever was.  Read what they said and you will know what to do.

 

The bad news is that, at least in the political climate of the last few decades, what they tell us to do has proven terribly hard to pull off.

 

“You were an immigrant in Egypt”, Moses says to the Israelites.  “You know how it feels to be an immigrant—to be displaced, to have no home of your own, to be misused and abused by the powers that be.  So when you settle in the land I will give you and an immigrant moves into your neighborhood, you are to treat them not as a foreigner, but as a fellow citizen”.

 

Imagine that.  Color doesn’t matter.  Language doesn’t matter.  Origin doesn’t matter.  What matters is that they have come to you and you know what it is like to be in their shoes.  What matters is that you treat them well.  Treat them as the neighbor they are.

 

Jesus ratchets things up several notches.  “I am the immigrant!” he says.  “I am the foreigner, the stranger.  You know how you would treat me if you could.  Treat my fellow immigrants the same way”.

 

Imagine that.  To treat the immigrant well—to treat the hungry, thirsty, homeless alien well is exactly the same thing as treating Jesus well.  Who among us is not willing to give Jesus what he deserves? 

But, and here’s the rub—who among us is willing to give the alien, illegal or not, what Jesus deserves?

 

Did you know it is against the law, and has been of some time now, to give water to someone wandering in the desert, someone in danger of dying of thirst, if that person is attempting to cross the border illegally.  It’s actually a federal crime to leave jugs of water in the desert along trails known to be travelled by these migrants.  Nine members of a faith based ministry in Arizona called No More Deaths have been charged with this “crime” in recent weeks.

 

It would seem that in the American immigration system, it is more important to keep the alien out than is it to keep the alien alive.   We need to think about that.

 

If Jesus is that hungry, thirsty migrant wandering in the desert, and if our laws forbid us giving aid to Jesus there in the desert, our theology says there is something wrong with our laws.  And I would suggest that we who follow Jesus cannot, and must not, obey those laws. 

 

Until the system is fixed, volunteers for No More Deaths will go on breaking the law.  And they should.  And we should stand with them.

 

How do we fix the system?  I don’t know.  I’m not the policy wonk you need for that question.  I’ll leave the “how” to people smarter than me. 

 

I am, however, a theologian—as are each of you who thinks theologically; each of you who wonders what Jesus wants in the world and how we are to help bring that about.  And on this point, as I said earlier, what Jesus wants is crystal clear.  He wants the hungry to be given food, the thirsty to be given water and the stranger to be given welcome.  That’s what he wants.

 

How to do this is difficult, of course; and complicated.  Maybe even impossible; I don’t know.

 

But that difficulty is all the more reason, it seems to me, for us to stay faithful to what Jesus wants; to bring  our choices into line with what Jesus wants.   And to evaluate the politicians we elect by the standards Jesus lays out. 

 

You can’t follow a compassionate Jesus and vote for someone who would put you in jail if you give water to a thirsty Jesus wandering in the desert.

 

Life is hard.   Make your choices in the light of what Jesus wants.

 

“I was hungry and you gave me food”, he said.  “I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”  Leaving someone to die in the desert—whatever the reason for their being there, is not what Jesus wants.

 

So here’s a beginning theology of immigration according to Moses and Jesus. 

 

In making your choices, get as close as you can to what Jesus wants.  When you vote, choose someone who at least tries to govern in harmony with what Jesus wants. 

 

Our choices and our politicians won’t be perfect, of course.  But do you think we could maybe do a little better than leaving people to die in the desert because we don’t want them as our neighbors?

 

 

Being the church can be hard.  Seeing the neighbor in everyone we meet, welcoming the stranger whoever they are and wherever the come from—these can be hard.

 

But we are the church.  We are the Body of Christ in the world—or at least around Mt Vernon.  And as Carrie Newcomer says in one of her songs, “We can do this hard thing”.  Amen.