A Reading of Scripture
Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
May 19, 2019
Genesis 46: 1-7 & 47: 1-6 (CEB)
Israel packed up everything he owned and traveled to Beer-sheba. There he offered sacrifices to his father Isaac’s God. 2God said to Israel in a vision at night, “Jacob! Jacob!” and he said, “I’m here.” 3He said, “I am El, your father’s God. Don’t be afraid to go down to Egypt because I will make a great nation of you there. 4I will go down to Egypt with you, and I promise to bring you out again. Joseph will close your eyes when you die.” 5Then Jacob left Beer-sheba. Israel’s sons put their father Jacob, their children, and their wives on the wagons Pharaoh had sent to carry him. 6They took their livestock and their possessions that they had acquired in the land of Canaan, and arrived in Egypt, Jacob and all of his children with him. 7His sons and grandsons, his daughters and his granddaughters—all of his descendants he brought with him to Egypt.
Joseph went to inform Pharaoh and said, “My father and brothers with their flocks, herds, and everything they own have come from the land of Canaan and are now in the land of Goshen.” 2From all of his brothers, he selected five men and presented them before Pharaoh.
3Pharaoh said to Joseph’s brothers, “What do you do?”
They said to Pharaoh, “Your servants are shepherds, both we and our ancestors.” 4They continued, “We’ve come to the land as immigrants because the famine is so severe in the land of Canaan that there are no more pastures for your servants’ flocks. Please allow your servants to settle in the land of Goshen.”
5Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since your father and brothers have arrived, 6the land of Egypt is available to you. Settle your father and brothers in the land’s best location. Let them live in the land of Goshen. And if you know capable men among them, put them in charge of my own livestock.”
This morning, we continue in our sermon series “Jesus Speaks Today” by taking a look at what the Bible has to say about immigration. Of course, we all know that this is one of the biggest topics in the news right now. There are record numbers of asylum seekers and immigrants crossing our southern border right now to the point that the situation is now regularly referred to as a crisis. There is great debate in Washington and around the country about how to handle these people and their families, especially the children.
I am smart enough to know that this is enough of a hot button issue right now that it would not be in any way beneficial for me to insert into this sermon any of my own thoughts, opinions, or even exegesis. So, I’m not going to do that. And I really don’t need to anyway because it turns out God has an awful lot to say to us about how we treat immigrants or foreigners or strangers in our midst. So today, this “sermon” is going to be a bit different because after sharing with you a few statements from the United Methodist Church, all I am going to do is read many verses from all across our Bible; from the Torah, the poets, the prophets, the Gospels, the Epistles; a little of everything from Genesis to Revelation. I will offer context when needed, but today, we need to just let God’s Word speak for itself. I hope each of us will ready our hearts and minds to hear God’s Word today.
To begin with, though, I want to do like I did on the first Sunday when we talked about the climate and read to you the United Methodist Social Principle entitled “Rights of Immigrants.” This is the official United Methodist stance as it relates to the rights of immigrants. (Read Para. 162.H, p. 122).
These Social Principles are not just statements. Together with the Bible and our Book of Discipline, these are expected to be guiding principles for how Methodists live our lives. To that end, just last week, our Council of Bishops took the following actions related to immigration:
Immigration efforts: The bishops called for UMCOR to continue to support United Methodist efforts to address the humanitarian needs of migrants around the world with special attention to the efforts of the episcopal areas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Connectional Table and the General Council on Finance and Administration were asked to authorize a Sunday in 2020 for the promotion of the Advance for Global Migration (#3022144) in consultation with the Council of Bishops Immigration Task Force.
Now that you are familiar with the United Methodist stance about immigration as well as some of the current work of the United Methodist Church as it relates to immigration, let’s see what Jesus would say about immigration if he were here among us today. Earlier, Charlie read ea brief part of the story of Abram and his status as an immigrant as he followed God’s guidance to leave his land and travel to Canaan. And a few moments ago, I read to you part of the story of how Israel came to be in Egypt, where they were given the choicest land and thrived for many generations despite a terrible famine in their homeland. These early stories of our history with God are foundational to everything that follows in Scripture related to migrants and foreigners precisely because Israel’s history, OUR history, is a story of immigration, a story of being foreigners in a strange land. As I hope you will hear through these Bible passages, God does not want the people to forget that history. So let’s continue now by reading what God says about immigrants. Any words I might offer around these Scripture readings is only to give you context so you have an understanding of what exactly is happening in each passage.
In Genesis 23: 4-6 – Abraham and Sarah have been living as immigrants in Canaan and Sarah has just died. “After he [Abraham] got up from embracing his deceased wife, he spoke with the Hittites: ‘I am an immigrant and a temporary resident with you. Give me some property for a burial plot among you so that I can bury my deceased wife near me.’
5The Hittites responded to Abraham, 6 ‘Listen to us, sir. You are an eminent man of God among us. Bury your dead in one of our own select burial sites. None of us will keep our own burial plots from you to bury your dead.’”
From Exodus 12: 48-49 – God is preparing the Israelites to leave Egypt and is giving them instructions for the first Passover. “The whole Israelite community should observe it. If an immigrant who lives with you wants to observe the Passover to the Lord, then he and all his males should be circumcised. Then he may join in observing it. He should be regarded as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat it. There will be one Instruction for the native and for the immigrant who lives with you.”
Later in Exodus, God’s law is given to the Israelite people. These are some of the commandments included in that law:
Exodus 22: 21 – “Don’t mistreat or oppress an immigrant, because you were once immigrants in the land of Egypt.”
Exodus 23: 9 – “Don’t oppress an immigrant. You know what it’s like to be an immigrant, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt.”
These laws and commands continue in Leviticus and Deuteronomy:
Leviticus 19: 33-34 – “When immigrants live in your land with you, you must not cheat them. Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.”
Leviticus 23: 22 – “When you harvest your land’s produce, you must not harvest all the way to the edge of your field; and don’t gather every remaining bit of your harvest. Leave these items for the poor and the immigrant; I am the Lord your God.”
Leviticus 25: 35 – “If one of your fellow Israelites faces financial difficulty and is in a shaky situation with you, you must assist them as you would an immigrant or foreign guest so that they can survive among you.”
Deuteronomy 10: 17-19 – “the Lord your God is the God of all gods and Lord of all lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who doesn’t play favorites and doesn’t take bribes. He enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing. That means you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt.”
Deuteronomy 24: 14-15, 17-22 – “Don’t take advantage of poor or needy workers, whether they are fellow Israelites or immigrants who live in your land or your cities. Pay them their salary the same day, before the sun sets, because they are poor, and their very life depends on that pay, and so they don’t cry out against you to the Lord. That would make you guilty…Don’t obstruct the legal rights of an immigrant or orphan. Don’t take a widow’s coat as pledge for a loan. Remember how you were a slave in Egypt but how the Lord your God saved you from that. That’s why I’m commanding you to do this thing.
Whenever you are reaping the harvest of your field and you leave some grain in the field, don’t go back and get it. Let it go to the immigrants, the orphans, and the widows so that the Lord your God blesses you in all that you do. Similarly, when you beat the olives off your olive trees, don’t go back over them twice. Let the leftovers go to the immigrants, the orphans, and the widows. Again, when you pick the grapes of your vineyard, don’t pick them over twice. Let the leftovers go to the immigrants, the orphans, and the widows. Remember how you were a slave in Egypt. That’s why I am commanding you to do this thing.”
Then, continuing in Deuteronomy, some instructions for what to do upon settling in a new land. Deuteronomy 26: 4-5 – “The priest will then take the basket from you and place it before the Lord your God’s altar. Then you should solemnly state before the Lord your God: ‘My father was a starving Aramean. He went down to Egypt, living as an immigrant there with few family members, but that is where he became a great nation, mighty and numerous.’
Finally, from Deuteronomy, the consequences of failing to follow God’s commandments: Deuteronomy 27: 19 – ““Cursed is anyone who obstructs the legal rights of immigrants, orphans, or widows.”
All the people will reply: “We agree!”
We have now reached the length at which I usually end my sermons. However, we’ve only made it through the Old Testament Law. So I’m going to continue on. We are considering how Jesus would respond to these matters which are filling our news today, and our Lord has a lot to say about immigration. I think it is important that we hear it all and take it all to heart.
In 1 Chronicles, an account is given of David re-establishing the practice of worship among the Israelites. In the midst of that, David sings a song of praise. Here are some of the words. 1 Chronicles 16: 19-23 – “When they were few in number—insignificant, just immigrants—wandering from nation to nation, from one kingdom to the next, God didn’t let anyone oppress them. God punished kings for their sake: ‘Don’t touch my anointed ones; don’t harm my prophets!’ Sing to the Lord, all the earth! Share the news of his saving work every single day!”
Near the end of Job, Job gives his final defense, a litany of his good deeds. Here are some of his words. Job 29: 15-17 (NIV) – “I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy; I took up the case of the stranger.”
Psalm 146 begins, “Praise the Lord.” Then it continues in Psalm 146: 9 – “The Lord: who protects the immigrants, who helps the orphans and widows, but who makes the way of the wicked twist and turn!”
The prophet Jeremiah shares a word from God. Jeremiah 7: 5-7 – “…if you truly reform your ways and your actions; if you treat each other justly; if you stop taking advantage of the immigrant, orphan, or widow; if you don’t shed the blood of the innocent in this place, or go after other gods to your own ruin, only then will I dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave long ago to your ancestors for all time.”
In Ezekiel, the prophet lists some of the “detestable practices” of the Israelites for which God will judge the people. Among many other problematic actions, Ezekiel offers the following. Ezekiel 22: 7 – “In you they treat father and mother with contempt. In you they oppress immigrants and deny the rights of orphans and widows.”
And later, these instructions are given in Ezekiel 47: 22-23 – “When you distribute the land as an inheritance, the immigrants who reside with you and raise families among you are considered full citizens along with the Israelites. They will receive an inheritance along with you among the tribes of Israel. You will assign the immigrants’ inheritance with the tribe with whom they reside. This is what the Lord God says.”
The minor prophets continue the same refrain. Listen to these words from Zechariah 7: 9-11 – “The Lord of heavenly forces proclaims: Make just and faithful decisions; show kindness and compassion to each other! Don’t oppress the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and the poor; don’t plan evil against each other! But they refused to pay attention. They turned a cold shoulder and stopped listening.”
And from the final book of the Old Testament, Malachi 3: 5 – “I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against the sorcerers, the adulterers, those swearing falsely, against those who cheat the day laborers out of their wages as well as oppress the widow and the orphan, and against those who brush aside the foreigner and do not revere me, says the Lord of heavenly forces.”
As we turn now from the Old Testament to the new, do you see the pattern of our Lord’s teaching? Is there really any question as to what Jesus would say to us today about immigration? Lest there is, let’s hear Christ’s own word, which sometimes are more general commandments about how we should live in relationship with all people.
From the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5: 43-44 – “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you….”
Later in Matthew, Jesus describes the final judgment. By way of explanation, Jesus speaks of separating the sheep and the goats. I’m not going to read the whole passage, but remember these key words from Matthew 25: 35, 40 – “I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me…Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’”
The Book of Acts records the beginnings of the early church as those first Christians sought to share the Good News and discern how God incorporates people into the saving work of Jesus Christ. The following is recorded in Acts 10: 34-36 – “Peter said, ‘I really am learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another. Rather, in every nation, whoever worships him and does what is right is acceptable to him. This is the message of peace he sent to the Israelites by proclaiming the good news through Jesus Christ: He is Lord of all!”
Paul offers his thoughts in Romans, Philippians, and Colossians.
Romans 12: 13 – “Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home.”
Romans 13: 8-10 – “Don’t be in debt to anyone, except for the obligation to love each other. Whoever loves another person has fulfilled the Law. The commandments, Don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t desire what others have, and any other commandments, are all summed up in one word: You must love your neighbor as yourself. Love doesn’t do anything wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is what fulfills the Law.”
Paul says in Philippians 3: 20 – “Our citizenship is in heaven. We look forward to a savior that comes from there—the Lord Jesus Christ.”
And in Colossians 3: 11 – “In this image there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all things and in all people.”
One of my favorite passages in all of Scripture is Hebrews 12, the call to run with endurance the race that has been set before us, surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Just after that, it is written in Hebrews 13: 1-3 – “Keep loving each other like family. Don’t neglect to open up your homes to guests, because by doing this some have been hosts to angels without knowing it. Remember prisoners as if you were in prison with them, and people who are mistreated as if you were in their place.”
James describes for us what lived religion really looks like. This is what he says, James 1: 27 – “True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us.”
In one of his letters, John praises the faithful work of the people with these words. 3 John 1: 4-5 – “I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are living according to the truth. Dear friend, you act faithfully in whatever you do for our brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers.”
And in the final book of the Bible, a vision of the God’s Kingdom come. Revelation 21: 3 – “I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God.”
You know, in one sense, Christ was an “immigrant” here one Earth. Our heavenly God took on human flesh, departed the heavenly realm, and came to Earth to live among us so that ultimately God’s Kingdom might be established here. It is no wonder, really, that God has a lot to say to us about the immigrant in our midst, for indeed, “Whenever you have done it unto one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine….” God’s commands are clear. The question for us is will we chose to follow those commands.
I want to leave us today with one final word, the one Jesus put before us as the greatest commandment. “On this hang all the Law and the Prophets…We all know this commandment, but almost none of us really live it…
Luke 10: 27 – “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
This is the Word of God for us, the people of God.
Thanks be to God.