So, are you ready for Part 2?
After weeks of government shut down over “the wall,” this evening promises renewed drama with the State of the Union address. The predictions are that immigration and the “the wall” will be prominent.
Now, I am fully aware that this has become a very contentious issue, both on the left and the right. It stirs strong emotions on both sides of the political spectrum.
Moreover, I am also fully aware that I am not a “policy wonk” when it comes to immigration issues. I don’t know all the facts, I am not a security expert, and I as far as a wall is concerned, I am here, not there. I don’t have any first hand knowledge or experience, either way.
Finally, I am aware that secure borders are important, and that safety is a priority. I get all that.
But I also get immigration – personally. My daughter is an immigrant, born in Russia. Yes, she entered the country legally, with all the attendant paperwork in order (there’s a story behind that – ask me sometime!)
And then…looking in the mirror every morning…I see immigration in another light, Long ago, over 150 years ago, my great (or great- great, depending on which side of the family you are looking at) grandparents were immigrants from Germany. I am an American, but once my family was not. They were immigrants looking for a new life and a new future. And while Pastor Jean can claim a bit of native blood (she is 1/16th Eskimo), she too counts immigrants – many of them – in her past as well.
The fact is that most of us, maybe all of us, trace our roots back through immigrants. We all have a story that includes seeking out a new home, with a new future, and a new hope. We all have family who, long ago, sought a better life, freedom from persecution, and a chance to live differently. And we are the beneficiaries of their boldness, of their willingness to risk it all to move to a new land, with a new culture, and usually a new language as well.
It is in that light that I have pondered the gospel reading from this past Sunday. I read the text n worship, but I preached on 1 Corinthians 13. The gospel was from Luke 4:14-30. The story actually began the week before as we read the first part. Jesus, the local boy who has become a bit of a sensation as a traveling rabbi, has returned to his hometown of Nazareth, and has shown up in the synagogue to worship. As was their custom, they asked someone to read and reflect on the words of Isaiah – and with Jesus in town, they asked him to do the honors. Jesus read the text, and began to speak. All were amazed “at the gracious words” which flowed from his mouth. So far, so good.
But in the second part of the story, which we read this past Sunday, things go south, and pretty quickly. Jesus challenges their expectation that as a local boy, he will do great things for them because, well, he’s one of them. Sort of a “hometown bonus.” He reminds them of several examples from the Old Testament, where God acts, but not on behalf of the local crowd. Instead, God acts in the lives of foreigners, even immigrants. That causes an immediate, and pretty ugly response. They grab Jesus, and escort him to the edge of town – built on a cliff – and prepare to eject him the painful way – one step, off the cliff!
Doesn’t happen, of course. The story ends with Jesus mysteriously, miraculously, slipping through the crowd, unnoticed. One wonders how they figured it out, and how they reacted when he disappeared in their midst, but that’s a story for another day.
For now, we have Jesus, off to continue his work, but not among his own people. Off to teach, to heal, and in the fullness of time, to embrace the cross and the empty tomb.
So what’s the point of this kind of weird story? Luke is building a case that the gifts of God through Jesus are not confined to “our own kind.” God’s care for humanity is not bounded by borders or citizenship. God doesn’t care about walls or green cards or visas. And as hard as this is for us sometimes, God is not an American!
The message of scripture, again and again, is that God is a God of all people, and that when any people begin to imagine that God is theirs, that God belongs to them, they are sorely disappointed. God is God of all!
The people of Nazareth weren’t the first to misread God’s presence in their lives – the Old Testament is full of stories of God’s people expecting special privileges. Just like we sometimes imagine that we are a “chosen people,” with God firmly our corner. As if we no longer belong to God, but God belongs to us, and God really needs us – badly!
In fact, our history as Christians suggests that again and again we need to be reminded that God is not ours. And perhaps that is part of the devious nature of sin and evil – to attack us, not by leading us to push God aside, but instead to grab a hold of God as if God is ours, and in the process, to make God our own tool, to do what we want when we want it. In short, to take God’s place and be gods ourselves!
OK, after all that, I do not propose that this gives us any instant, obvious answers to the immigration questions that face this nation (or any country, for that matter). Rather, I invite you to ponder what it means to understand God as the God of all peoples. Yes, we have a country, we have borders, we have laws. But we also have a God who calls us to be generous, and to love, even those who are different from us. A God who reminds us that while God is our God, God is also the God of the immigrants, those who we are sometimes temped to vilify and despise. Can we really do that even as we stand in the shadow of the cross of Jesus?
We can if we imagine that God belongs to us. We really can’t if we remember that we belong to God – and so do they!
So, sorry if this doesn’t make things a lot easier. But perhaps it will allow us to consider the debate and political drama in a different light, And perhaps as we wrestle with stories like these, engage in some prayer, and let the Holy Spirit run rampant through us, we just might begin to discern, not what makes sense, but what is faithful.