Reclaiming Jesus: Affirmation #3

15 07 2018

Reclaiming

This is the third modified version of a sermon preached at MVPC on “Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a time of Crisis” and the third affirmation could not be more relevant:  the treatment of immigrants.  It reads:

“We believe how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself. God calls us to protect and seek justice for those who are poor and vulnerable, and our treatment of people who are “oppressed,” “strangers,” “outsiders,” or otherwise considered “marginal”, is a test of our relationship to God.  Therefore, we reject . . . language and policies (that) debase and abandon the most vulnerable children of God.  (And) we strongly deplore the growing attacks on immigrants and refugees, who are being made into cultural and political targets . . .”

This affirmation, along with the countless other creedal statements, hymns, and Scripture passages, remind us that what we do to others . . . we do to Jesus.  And they’re all in agreement: the way we treat the immigrant, the foreigner, and the refugee, is a signpost of our faith.

While there are a variety of issues that divide the Church – everything from abortion rights to gun control, from the meaning of the sacraments to efficacy of prayer – when it comes to the issue before us this morning, the treatment of immigrants, there is simply no wiggle room.  Our faith is very clear.

Exodus tells us – you shall not oppress an immigrant.  Leviticus says – the immigrant who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you.  In Deuteronomy we read – cursed be anyone who deprives the immigrant of justice; and in Jeremiah – do no wrong or violence to the immigrant.  So put these passages of Scripture alongside of Jesus’ own experiences as an immigrant and with immigrants, and the 92 times he tells us to love our neighbor, and it becomes very clear that there is only one way to understand our faith’s teachings about the treatment of immigrants.

Is it any wonder that so many faith communities here in American and around the world have been outraged by all that is currently going on our southern border in recent weeks?  And if taking children away from their parents is not enough to offend our sense of discipleship, and basic human decency, then surely using the Bible to try and justify such action, should.  The proof texting that has been used by so many professing Christ-followers, with the very same verses of Scripture employed by the Church 200 years ago to justify slavery and 75 years ago as a means to encourage the support of Nazism, is just one more reason why so many are walking away from the institutional church today.  Because people know, that holy words, read and applied in a manner that lead to actions which deny or betray the love, grace, and mercy of God, must always be rejected.

Perhaps, like some of you, I would love a Scripture that put some parameters on the way we’re supposed to treat the stranger and alien among us.  But it just doesn’t!  As with most issues related to our caring for the lost and the least, God doesn’t offer any qualifiers.  Jesus never says, “Feed the hungry, unless . . . they’re lazy.”  He never says, “Clothe the naked, unless . . . they keep having kids that they can’t really afford to take care of.”  He never says “care for the immigrant, and the refugee, unless . . . they cross your borders illegally.”

No!  As hard as it makes things, Jesus doesn’t let us off the hook that way . . . ever!  And so this morning’s creeds, hymns, and Scripture are all calling US to take the lead when it comes to all that is going on in our country today.  And by ‘us’, please know I’m not talking about one particular party over and above the other.  When I walk about “us” I’m talking about the faith community.  Because frankly, neither the Republicans NOR the Democrats have displayed any kind of an ability to get anything done on this issue.  That too is what we’ve seen over the past couple of weeks; which is why the Church is finally speaking out the way it is.  For when a government fails to exhibit God’s grace, mercy, and love, then the Church, as the moral conscience of the State, must speak out.  For we, are citizens of God’s kindom, and Jesus alone is our Lord!

And that’s really the point isn’t it?  No one wants to abandon laws.  But even laws need to be enforced in ways that respect a person’s humanity!  None of us, ever, has the right to treat anyone, with anything less than love and grace and mercy than we’d show Jesus.  That’s the whole point of this morning’s passage.  We need to be treating everyone, with dignity and respect. Because the way we treat one another, is the way we are treating Jesus. This morning’s passage is NOT about OUR separating the sheep from the goats, even though that we love to do that, right?  Don’t we love to separate people, into different camps . . . the good ones and the bad ones; the ones we like and the ones we don’t like; the ones with whom we agree and the ones with whom we don’t agree.  We love doing that – separating and dividing people in a way that allows us to determine who are sheep, and who are goats.

In today’s reading Jesus is NOT saying that he wants US to start doing the separating.  He is telling the story because he wants us to understand that all of us, both sheep and goats, will be judged by how we treat others.  And not just those we like, or those we agree with, but everyone.  However we understanding judgement, goodness and Godliness are determined by how we treat . . . everyone, especially the least among us!

As we approach the 4th of July, I am reminded of the one of the things that has made this country so special: and that is that we have sought to stand on the side of good, and that our laws have been enforced with grace.  Now that doesn’t mean we haven’t made mistakes, and fallen short!  For we have.  And in profound ways.  I will be the first to admit that!

But in most instances we are seeking to acknowledge our deficiencies – not hide, or deny them.  And when we have recognized them, we usually try to correct them.  For the most part our history is one of having tried to stand on the side of goodness, and righteousness.  We have tried to value truth and honesty.  We have tried to honor integrity and justice.  But that has become extremely hard these days.  And if we in the Body of Christ cannot, and do not, stand up to moves that would direct us away from that day when justice flows down like waters, and righteousness like an ever rolling stream . . . if WE don’t stand again such trends, together. . . then who will?

So may that be our goal: in spite of the negative examples being set all around us.  May we never forget that Jesus alone is our Lord, and that what we do unto the least among us, we do unto him.


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