The Seeds of Justice: Welcome the Stranger
Mathew 2:13-15; 25:34-40
Rev. Sandy Johnson
May 7, 2017
New Colossus (aka the Statue of Liberty poem)
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “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-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Welcome immigrants! I would venture to guess that every single person here, is the offspring of immigrants. Is that fair to say? My family came from England, Wales and Scotland to America during the 1700’s, seeking a better way of life, hoping to realize the promise of the new world. JJ’s the son of a Swedish mother and an African American father; one came voluntarily as the wife of a US serviceman and the other, the offspring of slaves, forced to immigrate against their will.
Much of what I’m share this morning is from our United Methodist Book of Resolution, originally adopted at General Conference in 2008 and then amended and readopted in 2016. The resolution is entitled “Welcoming the Migrant to the U.S.”
“From the dawn of creation human beings have migrated across the earth. The history of the United States is a migration narrative of families and individuals seeking safety, economic betterment, and freedom of religious and cultural expression. The reasons for those who immigrated willingly are numerous and varied depending on the context, but what all immigrants share is the promise of what they believe lies in another land other than their own. The arrival of migrants to the United States from so many parts of the world has also meant that there is a diversity of cultures and worldviews. The diversity of cultures, worldviews, and languages has placed an enormous strain upon migrants.
“The arrival of new cultures has also felt threatening to US citizens, and this has too often resulted in conflict and even violence. Throughout the history of the United States, the most recently arrived group of migrants has often been a target of racism, marginalization, and violence. As Christians, as Methodists, we regret any and all violence committed against migrants in the past and we must resolve, as followers of Jesus, to work to eliminate racism and violence directed toward newly arriving migrants to the United States.”
Immigration is part of everyone’s narrative. If we each look back into our family’s history, we can find the immigration stories of our ancestors, those who came to this country to escape religious persecution, war in their home countries, oppressive governments, poverty, those who came to join family who had gone ahead to the “Land of Opportunity.” Some came to the United States for education and jobs, some to flee horrific environments, limited access to food and clean water. Many risked their lives to bring their families across the arid desert of Arizona on the hope of a better life. Immigration is our story.
Immigration can be seen as two different issues – legal immigration and illegal immigration. And while I do agree that we have laws and they should be followed, I also know that as Christians we are called to welcome the stranger, regardless of their legal status. I would offer that Christ doesn’t make a distinction between legal and illegal strangers. I often wonder how bad it must be for a family to make the dangerous, often deadly journey from Central or South American to the US. How horrific must it be for these individuals and families to risk it all for a chance at a new life.
“Regardless of legal status or nationality, we are all connected through Christ to one another. Paul reminds us that when “one part suffers, all the parts suffer” as well (1 Corinthians 12:26). The solidarity we share through Christ eliminates the boundaries and barriers which exclude and isolate. Therefore, the sojourners we are called to love are our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers, our sons and daughters; indeed, they are us.
“Throughout Scripture the people of God are called to love the stranger in our midst, treating them “as if they were one of your citizens” and loving them as we do ourselves says Leviticus 19:33-34. Love for the sojourner is birthed out of the shared experience the Israelites had as a people in sojourn searching for the Promised Land. The attitudes and actions required of God’s people were to emanate from the reflection of their liberation from slavery by God’s hand. As the people of God were liberated from oppression, they too were charged to be instruments of redemption in the lives of the most vulnerable in their midst-the sojourner (Exodus 22:21; 23:9; Leviticus 19:34; Deuteronomy 10:19; 16:12; 24:18, 22—all NRSV).
“In the New Testament, Jesus’ life begins as a refugee to Africa when he and his family flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s infanticide as we heard in our scripture this morning (Matthew 2:13-18). Jesus fully identifies with the sojourner to the point that to welcome the sojourner is to welcome Jesus himself (Matthew 25:35). Jesus teaches us to show special concern for the poor and oppressed who come to our land seeking survival and peace.
“In Scripture, Jesus continually manifests compassion for the vulnerable and the poor. Jesus incarnated hospitality as he welcomed people and ministered to their greatest need. Jesus’ presence on earth initiated the Kingdom reality of a new social order based on love, grace, justice, inclusion, mercy, and egalitarianism, which was meant to replace the old order, characterized by nepotism, racism, classism, sexism, and exclusion. The broken immigration system in the United States and the xenophobic responses to migrants reflect the former social order. The calling of the people of God is to advocate for the creation of a new immigration system that reflects Jesus’ beloved community.
“The fear and anguish so many migrants in the United States live under are due to federal raids, indefinite detention, and deportations which tear apart families and create an atmosphere of panic. Millions of immigrants are denied legal entry to the US due to quotas and race and class barriers, even as employers seek their labor. US policies, as well as economic and political conditions in their home countries, often force migrants to leave their homes. With the legal avenues closed, immigrants who come in order to support their families must live in the shadows and in intense exploitation and fear. In the face of these unjust laws and the systematic deportation of migrants instituted by the Department of Homeland Security, God’s people must stand in solidarity with the migrants in our midst.”
A review of scripture shows us that welcoming the stranger is foundational and is found throughout the bible. Many of these stories relate these strangers as messengers bringing good news.
- Abraham welcomed three visitors and then was promised a child even though Sarah was past the age of bearing children (Genesis 18:1-11);
- Rahab hid the spies from Israel, and her family was ultimately spared from death (Joshua 2:1-16);
- Zacchaeus, upon welcoming Jesus into his home, promised to share half his possessions with the poor and repay those he stole from four times the amount owed. As Jesus entered Zacchaeus’s home he proclaimed that salvation had come to his house (Luke 19:1-10).
“All of these stories give evidence to the words of the writer of Hebrews who advises the listeners to “not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (13:2 NRSV). God’s people are called to welcome the stranger not only because of God’s commands to do so, but because God’s people need to hear the good news of the gospel incarnated in their stories and in their lives. Welcoming the stranger is so vital to the expression of Christian faith that to engage in this form of hospitality is to participate in our own salvation.
“There is theologically and historically an implied nature of mutuality in migration. Both the migrant and the native are meant to benefit from migration. Welcoming the migrant is not only an act of mission; it is an opportunity to receive God’s grace. The globalization of international economies and the continuing movement of migrants have created an increasingly diversified US population and this should be reflected in United Methodist congregations and our national church leadership.
“The United Methodist Church understands that at the center of Christian faithfulness to Scripture is the call we have been given to love and welcome the sojourner. We call upon all United Methodist churches to welcome newly arriving migrants in their communities, to love them as we do ourselves, to treat them as one of our native-born, to see in them the presence of the incarnated Jesus, and to show hospitality to the migrants in our midst, believing that through their presence we are receiving the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Immigration has changed in the last twenty years and will likely continue to change as the needs of the world continue to be fluid. Since 9/11 immigration has become more politicized and framed as an issue of National Security. While “all nations have the right to secure borders, the primary concern as Christians should be the welfare of the immigrants. Between 1994 and 2009, according to the Department of Homeland Security Border Safety Initiative, more than 3,860 migrants have died crossing the border between the United States and Mexico.
“Raids of workplaces, homes, and other social places have often violated the civil liberties of migrants. Migrants should be given due process and access to adequate legal representation. Due to these raids and the ensuing detentions and deportations that follow them, families have been ripped apart and the migrant community has been forced to live in a constant state of fear.
“To refuse to welcome migrants to this country—and to stand by in silence while families are separated, individual freedoms are ignored, and the migrant community in the United States is demonized by members of Congress and the media—is complicity to sin.”
But we don’t have to stand by, we don’t have to be complicit in the human rights violations, we can stand with the immigrant and affirm our United Methodist beliefs: We affirm the “worth, dignity, and inherent value and rights of all persons regardless of their nationality or legal status. We are urged to build bridges with migrants in our local communities, to learn from them, celebrate their presence in the United States and recognize and appreciate the contributions in all areas of life that migrants bring.”
Additionally, we can advocate for legislation that upholds the civil and human rights of all migrants, “we can denounce and oppose the rise of xenophobic, racist, and violent reactions against migrants in the United States, and support all efforts to build relationships among people, instead of building walls among diverse ethnicities and cultures. We can welcome newly arriving immigrants into our congregations; and oppose the building of a wall between the United States and Mexico, which the communities of both sides of the border are in opposition to. We can call the United States government to immediately cease all arrests, detainment, and deportations of undocumented immigrants, including children, solely based upon their immigration status until a fair and comprehensive immigration reform is passed.
“We can provide pastoral care and crisis intervention to refugees and newly arrived migrants, identifying and responding compassionately to their spiritual, material, and legal needs. We shall work with civic and legal organizations to support migrant communities affected by harsh immigration laws and over-reaching national security measures. We must support those churches that prayerfully choose to offer sanctuary to undocumented migrants facing deportation; and continue the work of the United Methodist Task Force on Immigration.”
Church, what is our response? Where is God calling us in this issue? We may not yet know what our response is, but I continue to hope and pray that we will know shortly what our corporate response will be. Please pray for God to reveal it to us.
Let us pray: God of the universe, our hearts ache for the harm that is inflicted on our immigrant sisters and brothers. Remind us of our own family’s history and help us to embrace those who are new to our country, regardless of their legal status. Help us to find ways to welcome the stranger among us. Amen.
 https://www.howtallisthestatueofliberty.org/what-is-the-quote-on-the-statue-of-liberty/ Accessed May 2, 2017
 http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/welcoming-the-migrant-to-the-us Accessed May 2, 2017