“Won’t You Be My Neighbor–part 1”

September 9, 2018


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
Sept. 9, 2018

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”
Deuteronomy 10: 12-19; Hebrews 13:1-3

Today we are starting a new church year of educational events, house churches, choir music, and sermons! The over-arching theme for UCC is: A Year of Social Justice.
• Our house churches are studying the sin of racism
• Our Wednesday Night Alive program is working on Robin Meyers’ book “Spiritual Defiance”.
• Our Greene Lecture Series is bringing in two Jesus scholars to talk about “The Political Jesus”.
• Our worship will have a trio of sermons for various social justice topics, with music to enhance the experience. During the year, we will cover topics about economic justice; justice for mental, physical health; gender equality; racial justice; and environmental justice. Each of these topics will be handled in 3 parts – the Biblical and ethical … the historical …. And the current or practical aspects.
Today and the next two Sundays we will be exploring our identity as a nation – our pride in our country, our history as an immigrant nation, and the Biblical imperative about how we treat “the other”. I have named this triad of sermons “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Of course, that brings to mind the late Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood.

Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian Minister. He had a heart for justice and he believed that young children were often left out of the conversation about important issues in our world. He believed that children could comprehend and converse about these touchy issues and that they deserved to be invited into the conversation. He took on the hot topics of the day, including racism and even terrorism. He wanted to teach the greater truths that faith has to offer – not the pop culture rhetoric that can bring all of us down into non-productive political mudslinging.

My goal with the year of justice at UCC is to re-discover Biblical and ethical morality and to find positive examples of people who put their faith into action for justice. I am not a party politician – I am a minister with a deep belief in the principle that we are all children of one God who created us to be free and to live abundant life.

With that understanding – that this is not based in politics, but in theological and ethical discourse – we’ll begin!

“Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to be free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” These words on the Statue of Liberty are engraved on our hearts as United States citizens. Just to hear them warms our hearts. We know that most of us come from immigrant heritage and we love to tell the stories from our family lore about how our families came to this country.

Yet, immigration poses one of the most difficult and hotly debated topics in the U.S. It is a subject embroiled in questions of boundary and culture, identity and safety, economics and justice, prejudice and pride.

Today, I want to deal with two major questions:
* What are the root causes of illegal immigration?
* What are we, as Christians, called to do?

First, let’s look at some scripture. There are many more scripture passages about immigration and our attitude toward it than I ever imagined. In fact, I started marking my Bible with sticky notes so that I could read the texts and choose one for the scripture reading, but ended up with lots of really great scriptures. After all, Abraham was called to immigrate to another country. The sons of Jacob were strangers in a foreign land, Egypt. Jesus himself, as a baby, was a stranger in the same Egypt. And we know that Jesus sent the disciples out to all lands and they lived there, starting new churches and changing the beliefs of the people from the ground up. This is a huge theme in the Bible – what to do with the “stranger”, the “foreigner” and the “alien”. Here are a few of the scriptures I found:
Exodus 20:10 “The seventh day is a Sabbath… you shall not do any work – you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.”
Exodus 22:21 “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Leviticus 19:33-35 “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.”
Numbers 35:13-15 “The Lord spoke to Moses saying, “The cities that you designate shall be six cities… and you shall designate three cities beyond the Jordan, and three cities in the land of Canaan, to be cities of refuge. These cities shall serve as refuge for … the resident or transient alien among the Israelites…”
Deut. 10:12-19 “So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? … God is not partial and takes no bribe, God executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the strangers. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Deut. 24:14-15 “You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice.”
I Chronicles 29: 13-15 From King David: “And now, our God, we give thanks to you and praise your glorious name… we are all aliens and transients before you, as were all our ancestors.”
Psalm 146:9 “The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow.”
Jeremiah 22:3 “Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow.”
Ezekiel 47:22-23 “So you shall divide this land among you… you shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the aliens who reside among you and have begotten children among you. They shall be to you as citizens of Israel.”
Matt.2:13-15 “After they (Joseph, Mary & the child Jesus), an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you’; … Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt.”
Hebrews 13:1-3 “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
The Bible is clear about how we are to respond to people who are from other countries and living in our own country, with or without documentation. But let’s dig even deeper. This subject is not simply about how we treat others. It is a multi-faceted and complex problem.

What are the root causes of illegal immigration in the United States?

If we want a real, long-term solution to immigration, we need to address he source of the problem, not just the symptoms. If history tells us anything, fences, increased border control, deportation, and felonization are going to do little when you are unemployed or barely scraping by and you know you can feed your children if you move to the U.S. Obviously, global poverty is a root cause of immigration.

Everyone needs their own little piece of the global economy, their own small stake in the world, their own share of security for themselves and their families. Because when you have a little patch on which to build a life for yourself and your family, you can experience a deep satisfaction with where you are and who you are. But if you know there is no way for you to have that little piece when you live where you live, then you begin to look to other places. And eventually, you are willing to risk everything – which is very little – to get somewhere better.

If we really want to address the immigration issue, we must start with addressing the horrific tragedy of poverty. Almost half the world – three billion people now live on less than $2 a day and one billion people live on less than $1 a day. Until those people are more important to us than the ones who are sneaking across the border, we will continue to have illegal immigration.

Another root cause of illegal immigration is racism. Race still makes a real difference in how people are treated. It is no secret that the U.S. is more concerned about border control along our southern borders than our northern, eastern, or western borders. Most of our ancestors came to this country by way of our eastern border.

Rev. Pablo Jimenez, a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister, is a 4th generation Hispanic American. He tells of encounters in which well-meaning people ask him if he misses his “home country” or informs him of their work on behalf of illegal immigrants. His home country is New York. He and his family did not immigrate recently – rather 4 generations ago – and they never crossed the border. They were given U.S. citizenship when the U.S. Army invaded Puerto Rico. Yet, when he tells his story, people cannot wrap their minds around it. Just to be a Hispanic man is to be suspect.

These are two of the largest root causes of illegal immigration in the United States. There are other causes, obviously, that we do not have time to discuss this morning.

What are we, as Christians, called to do?
1. Understand that “we” and “them” is not a Biblical concept. We are all one people, created by one God. We all belong to each other; we all belong to one family. In an increasingly mobile and technological world, we are more connected than ever. And yet, this is a spiritual concept. As Leviticus says, “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress that person. Rather that stranger who resides with you shall be to you as an authentic citizen. Even more: you will love that person as your very self. Do not forget you were strangers and aliens yourselves.” We truly belong to a single shimmering web of relationship and possibility and dream.
2. Realize that how we treat the “stranger” is a measure of how we treat God. Matt. 25 is the story of the sheep and the goats. The sheep were the ones who gave food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothes to the needy, help to the sick, and welcome to the stranger. What’s really striking to me is that the people gathered in front of the throne of Christ in this story all really believe they are among his followers. And they must be completely stunned to learn that they will be separated and judged by how they have treated the poor and the foreigner! Jesus says, “I know how much you love me by how you treat them.”
3. Work / advocate to address global poverty. Poverty and oppression are the number one reasons for immigration. People are desperate and willing to do illegal things to have a better chance for education, health care, or support for their families. What if we addressed the source of the immigration problem instead of just the symptoms! Dr. Robert Pastor suggests that the long-term, effective solution to immigration would be if we invested $80 billion in economic and infrastructure development in Mexico, thereby increasing the number of jobs and average wage. This worked when the European Union was formed. Of course, the sticking point for such a proposal is that monstrous $80 billion – spread out over a number of years. Such an amount seems outrageous until you realize that amount is only 10% of what we spend on war in less than a year!
4. Be aware of our own biases and prejudices. It wasn’t that long ago that there were rampant prejudices against the Irish who immigrated to the U.S. There are many biases and prejudices we carry – no one among us is exempt. When we are aware of our inner judging ways, we can begin to address them.
5. Reject zero sum analysis. This theory says that we only have so much space and wealth and what goes to foreign workers does not go to our own. In fact, most economic analysis would suggest the larger the pool of workers, the greater the possibility of economic growth, and the greater likelihood of an increasing job market.
6. Advocate for humane ways to deal with immigration. Shooting people, taking measures to cause more immigrants to drown, separating children from parents, or watching people thirst to death is not a humane or a Christian answer to immigration. There are more humane ways to deal with the problems. As Christians, we ought to be outraged that our nation handles desperate people the way we sometimes do.
7. Understand that we are called to do more than to be just. As Christians, we are invited, no, commanded, repeatedly, to go further in our actions than to simply be just. The Biblical witness directs us to go way beyond – not allowing immigrants to work on Sundays, offering assistance and shelter, support, citizenship, inheritance and land, and (most especially) genuine hospitality.

These are the Biblical and ethical considerations. I recognize that I have not provided an answer to the immigration issue. That is not my purpose. My purpose is to start the discussion with a Biblical and ethical overview of what our faith teaches.

Let me end with a question… what does your faith ask you to do if a person or a family showed up at your door (or in our community) seeking refuge?

Resources Used:
www.rustyparts.com “Immigration and War” a sermon by Isaac April 7, 2006

www.fusn.org a sermon from April 2, 2006.

DisciplesWorld. “The Criminalization of Latinos” by Pablo A. Jimenez.