I was talking to a colleague this week, and I said, I feel called to talk about immigration when I read this text about Peter, but it seems too obvious.
For me it’s a one to one.
Peter rejected outsiders. We Americans have rejected outsiders. Peter hears from God that he should love and welcome everyone and that everyone is capable of conversion to God’s love. We, as Americans are similarly capable of seeing the humanity of all people, including immigrants. The word “alien” comes from the Latin root “alius,” which means “other.” And we welcome others. We embrace the outsider.
So what am I going to say?
And besides, most, if not all, of my congregation already sees immigrants, as full human beings with inalienable rights. Heck, some of us ARE immigrants, first or second generation.
And even those of us who believe that immigration should happen through legal channels only – we all agree that treating people who are seeking asylum with basic human decency is the right thing to do.
Okay, he said. But the rest of the world doesn’t see it that way.
There are children who are still separated from their parents at the border.
And I said – yeah, but, my congregation knows better.
Okay, he said. But the rest of the world doesn’t.
What is it going to take for the REST of the world to see that Peter-like vision that you’ve already seen and understood?
How can you communicate that vision with the world?
Well, what about scripture? I said.
There is plenty of scripture that talks about welcoming and loving the other, the stranger.
And if you look it up, there is –
Remember that Jesus himself was a refugee, along with his family. After Jesus was born, the holy family fled to Egypt to flee persecution from Herod.
Abraham fled his home country when there was a famine, and he and Sarah resided as aliens in Egypt.
Lot fled Sodom.
The Israelites fled Egypt so quickly they had no time to make provisions, so they baked unleavened bread, because there was no time for the yeast to rise.
The Israelites were exiles in Babylon.
And then there are over 60 texts in the Bible talking about caring for sojourners, immigrants, and strangers.
In Numbers and Joshua, God tells Moses to create cities of refuge so that when people have to flee their homes, there are places they can stay.
Some of the most direct and strongly-worded commandments of the Bible are about caring for immigrants.
Exodus 12:49 and Leviticus 24:22 – “There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you.”
Exodus 22:21 – “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Leviticus 19 and 23 – “You shall not strip your vineyards bare…leave them for the poor and for the alien among you.
Leviticus again – “When the alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. 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”
Deuteronomy 24:17-18 – “You shall not deprive an immigrant alien…of justice.”
Deuteronomy 27:19 – “Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien…of justice.”
Isaiah 16:4 – Be a refuge to the outcasts of Moab.
Jeremiah 7:5-7 – “I will only dwell with you in this place if you do not oppress the alien…”
And of course Jesus, “When you cared for one of the least of these, you cared for me. For when I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. I was a stranger and you invited me in. 36 ’”
But there are millions of Christians who read the Bible and who are still anti-immigrant and anti-refugee. And even some who used the Bible to defend the policy of separating children from parents at the border.
And there are still people who applied for asylum legally at immigration checkpoints who are being held in detention centers.
And there are still people in our city who see people with darker skin as less than, the same way Peter saw anyone who ate pork as less than.
You’re right, my friend said, just the other day, I heard someone say that they’re afraid that their property values will go down, because immigrants are moving into their neighborhoods.
Well, first of all, how do they know they’re immigrants, I asked, and second, don’t people know that more people moving in, immigrants or otherwise, actually drives UP prices? Because more people and the same number of houses means a larger demand for housing? And of course, it’s not that simple, but that’s still awful to think that people would move out a neighborhood because people are moving in who look different than they do.
Yeah, he said. There’s an inherent belief that when people with darker skin move into a neighborhood, the value of the existing houses goes down, because people want to live in a white neighborhood.
Geez, I said. Well, that may be true, but my congregation doesn’t think that way.
So what I am going to tell them that’s new?
Well, he said – so they’ve already had that vision, that Peter vision.
But what are they doing about it?
When 6 foreigners showed up at Peter’s door, Peter listened to his vision from God, got up, and went with them.
What is your congregation doing?
How are they walking with people who are strangers to this place?
How are they walking with people who are afraid, who are fleeing persecution?
How are they walking with orphans who come here fleeing gang violence? How are they walking with border patrol agents who are trying to be humane while also doing their jobs? How are they walking with judges who are overwhelmed?
So, sometimes the Spirit breaks through, and things come together in such a way that you can’t ignore them.
Sometimes, it’s a dream or a vision on the roof like the one Peter had.
Other times, it’s emails and phone calls and a sense that the time is just right.
This week, that’s exactly what happened.
In addition to my conversation with my colleague,
On Tuesday, a parishioner called me and told me that issues of immigration and asylum were on her heart, and she wanted to know as a congregation, What are we doing?
And I said – right now, nothing.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t do something.
And she told me that she has a friend who organizes congregations to take action to help immigrants at the border and in our city.
And so we began a conversation about bringing her friend her to speak at COGS and give us some ideas about what we might be able to do to help.
And then the very next day, I got an email from the Conference.
Some of it is published in your bulletin today.
Good Shepherd UCC in Sahuarita, AZ is hosting a week of Faithful Witness at the Border.
And here’s what THEY’RE doing. And what we have the opportunity to be a part of.
When it comes to questions about immigration and even race and racism, how much more powerful would our witness be to our friends, to our neighbors, to our political officials, if we could say – I’ve been to the border, I’ve seen what detention centers look like. I’ve met judges who are working to expedite cases, and I’ve seen the conditions in Mexico where people seeking asylum are held.
And here is what I saw. Here is what I witnessed.
We have the opportunity to listen to this vision that’s already in our hearts, and take the SW Conference up on its offer, and like Peter, get up and go.
Who from here is going to go?
You don’t have to raise your hands now, but if you’re thinking about it, if your hand kind of thought about raising, I want to know.
I don’t know if I can go. I’m trying awfully hard to make the logistics work. My husband Royce and I talked about it last night, and we’ll talk about it again today.
But whether or not I go, I want someone from here to go.
Is it you?
And for those us unable to go, I want us to support the people who do, financially, through prayer, and through listening when they return.
I know that this is short notice. And yet sometimes, that’s how visions happen.
And how responses to God happen.
And this trip is not the only way we can help. I want to talk to you about what YOU want to do. How YOU want to learn and respond.
Another thing that happened this week is that Christa was able to go out of town to visit family, and so we postponed the Christian Ed meeting that was supposed to be after church.
Which means there’s an empty time slot.
An opportunity to talk about something else that’s on our hearts.
So after the 10AM service, if you’re willing to stick around, I’m going to be in the parlor, and I know some other folks who are going to join me, and I’d like to start a conversation about how we, as a congregation, are going to respond.
How are we going to welcome immigrants and refugees?
How are you already doing that? I want to know.
How are we going to respond as a church to the vision set out in scripture and the vision that’s come into focus with the help of the SW Conference?
I look forward to taking this journey with you together.