Leviticus 19:15-18, 33-34
1 John 4:7-8, 21
It is said that when humans try to plan in advance, God laughs. And so it was with this service.
A month ago, inspiration struck on my commute home from work. Within thirty minutes of arriving home, I had today’s service half planned; I had chosen a theme, the scripture, and a couple of hymns – I even outlined the main points of my sermon!
But, alas, it was not to be. For though I made a bulletin and even wrote half of a sermon on the topic of New England Congregationalist tradition that I was so excited to preach, the world is different than it was a month ago.
A month ago, the news wasn’t filled with the stories of wailing children being torn from their parents, sent by the hundred to overcrowded detention centers, without any sense of how they might be reunited with their families. A month ago, I hadn’t seen the pictures of crying brown children in chain-link cages or behind heavy fences circulating online with comments asking why “it” was only caged – why didn’t “it” have a muzzle, why was “it” allowed to live? A month ago, the Supreme Court hadn’t declared that it was constitutional to ban people from primarily Muslim countries from entering the United States.
Children. Forcibly removed from their families. Pushed behind bars. Called “it” and “animal” by strangers. Told they should just be killed so that Americans don’t have to deal with them. Children.
All because they are brown. All because they were born on the wrong side of an arbitrary border.
Fellow humans. Forced to stay in war-torn areas. Forbidden to travel to visit family and friends already in this country. Called terrorist and worse. Fellow human beings.
All because extremists have used religion as an excuse to wage war. All because they were born on the wrong side of an arbitrary border.
So you see, friends, that’s why last week I put down my sermon on tradition and instead started crafting a service centered around immigration.
Now, before I go any further, I want to make one thing crystal clear in case any of y’all are getting nervous: there is a difference between being political and being partisan. Yes, it’s a fine line to walk, especially in the pulpit, but as someone trying to follow Jesus and preach in a way that is true to his teachings, it’s hard to not be political. After all, Jesus himself was political and radical, so much so that the state executed him for it. My point is, I don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat or Independent, I don’t care who you voted for, please just hear me out on this one.
From the dawn of human evolution, from seven million years ago when the human and chimpanzee lineages split to now, we have always been a migrant people. From our origin point in Africa we spread out to the Middle East and across all of Asia and Europe and kept on moving until every land on the Earth had been inhabited by our kind.
And even then, when the whole world was covered with people, we still kept migrating. In fact, we didn’t begin to stop moving until ten thousand years ago when our ancestral nomadic groups turned from hunting and gathering to agriculture and a new way of living. But as civilization grew and people started settling instead of moving all the time, these ancient people didn’t forget their nomadic roots.
A perfect example: Our own Old Testament scriptures are constantly referencing migration, because even though cities and empires existed at this point in history, people were still moving from place to place: to trade, find new grazing areas for their animals, and to start new settlements.
The book of Genesis is a genealogical narrative that details how in every generation, the descendants of Abraham lived, at some point, as immigrants. Abraham and Sarah traveled, following the word of God, and resided in a new place as aliens. Isaac grew up and went to another place and resided there as an alien. Jacob, fleeing his brother Esau’s wrath, sought to make a life in a land that was not his own. During a great famine, Joseph had his brothers join him in Egypt, as refugees, so that he could support them with grain from his stores.
The book of Exodus is one huge story of immigration. The Hebrew people, having been enslaved in Egypt for generations, escaped Pharaoh only to become refugees wandering in the desert for forty years before finally being able to enter the Promised Land.
And then Leviticus, a book that lays out the bulk of ancient Hebrew law; and this Hebrew law is extremely clear when it comes to how to treat the foreigners among them. In a chapter titled “moral holiness” – which covers everything from how a man should keep his beard to witchcraft and wizardry – we find today’s first scripture lesson.
You shall not profit from the blood of your neighbor. You shall love the alien as yourself for you, remember, were aliens in the land of Egypt.
Go a little further, skip ahead to the New Testament and read the story where Jesus himself becomes a refugee, fleeing to Egypt with his parents to escape Herod’s wrath.
Keep turning the pages and you’ll find more. Jesus’ new commandment to love all as ourselves, that love is more powerful than anything, that perfect love can even cast away all fear.
In today’s words, the Bible seems to be telling us that Americans shouldn’t be profiting by locking up asylum seekers. It continually reminds us that we need to remember that we’ve fled persecution too. That for those of us who hold the privilege of being Americans with white European heritage it was only a couple hundred years ago our ancestors started sailing across the Atlantic to find a new life in a new land (a fact that many today seem to have conveniently forgotten).
And most importantly, over and over and over again, that love is the answer – that perfect love is the only answer to all of this sorrow, to all of this hate, to all of this fear.
How is it with your moral holiness?
Maybe you have a righteous anger over the separation of families at the Mexican border, maybe your heart is weeping that there is no end in sight for the plight of the young adult Dreamers, maybe you cannot stand the seemingly inescapable violence and bloodshed plaguing our world, maybe you despair for your Muslim siblings in the wake of this week’s ruling, but how have you been treating the immigrant in your midst?
When you go to your local sandwich shop and see the woman in a hijab behind the counter, do you begin to feel uneasy? When in the grocery store checkout line behind young men conversing in Spanish, do you consider switching to another cashier? Does the brown person panhandling on the sidewalk cause you to walk to the other side of the street? Are you subconsciously inflicting damage on the immigrants around you?
Or is your moral holiness sound? Despite the world that constantly tries to push you towards hatred, do you choose the way the way of love, the way of God? Despite your doubts, despite your fears, do you make yourself a living sanctuary, a refuge in the storm, a safe haven for all who need its shelter?
If not, may it be so. If not, or even if your moral holiness just needs a little more encouragement, then this is my prayer for you:
May God strengthen you and guide all of your actions towards love.
May God make you a living sanctuary with a heart open to all who are called outcast and stranger, so that all will feel safety and calm in your presence.
May God’s Spirit fill you and make you holy, cleanse you of all hatred and fear, and make you new; ready to do God’s work.
May God clear your mind of all worry and make your trust steadfast so that you never doubt that love is the only way to survive.
Even on your darkest day, may you give thanks to God for the gift of life and vow to use it in service for all that is holy and good.
With joy, may you give your bodies, living temples of blood and bone, so that every breath and step you take be one towards justice and peace for all.
May God bless you and keep you and make you a sanctuary of the Creator’s heart of Love, now and always.
Oh Lord, may it be so.