Sunday, July 1, 2018

SORTING, SAYING, AND SEEING



©Wendell Griffen, 2018
July 1, 2018 (Sixth Sunday after Pentecost)
New Millennium Church
Little Rock, Arkansas

God of hope,
you are ruler of night as well as day,
guardian of those who wander in the shadows.
Be new light and life
for those who live in the darkness of despair,
for prisoners of guilt and grief,
for victims of fantasy and depression,
that even where death's cold grip tightens,
we may know the power of the one
who conquered fear and death. Amen.
Matthew 25:31-46
31 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,* you did it to me.” 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” 44Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” 45Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’ 
        I know that today is the last Sunday before the U.S. Independence Day.  It is the first Sunday following the end of the 2017-18 term of the U.S. Supreme Court.  It is Day 526 of the presidency of Donald John Trump.

And as I pondered these facts, I keep remembering the words of Jesus found at the end of Matthew 25.  I am wondering about what Jesus would think about the moral and ethical health of our society and world. 

What would Jesus think about policies – in the United States and in other nations – that treat immigrants as threats to be imprisoned and quarantined rather than neighbors to be welcomed?

What would Jesus think about the “zero tolerance” policy of the Trump administration that treats immigrants who seek to the U.S. fleeing hunger, poverty, violence, and other harms and do not have authorization to cross our borders as justification for tearing immigrant children – infants, toddlers, and children of older years – from their parents?

What would Jesus think about people who call immigrant strangers “animals?”

Where does anyone find justification in the teachings of Jesus for treating anyone in these ways?  What in the teachings of Jesus justifies putting immigrant children in internment camps? 

And finally, how would Jesus treat people who treat immigrants this way?

The words of Jesus at the end of Matthew 25 provide clear answers to these questions.  Jesus included the way strangers and people in prison are treated in the list of things that distinguish people who are righteous (just) from those who are wicked (unjust). 

According to Jesus, how we treat immigrants matters to God.

According to Jesus, how we treat people in prison – think of the immigrant adults in detention centers across the U.S. and think about the immigrant children interned in separate locations from their parents – matters to God.

There are several why what is happening to immigrant families – parents and children – in the United States and elsewhere around the world matters to God.  The most urgent reason is that immigrants and all other vulnerable people represent God’s presence among us!  Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you”  Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”  Immigrants are surrogates for God, anywhere and everywhere

In every society and age, there are people who need shelter, food, and clean water.  There are people who need healing from disease, illness, and injury.  There are people who have been locked out and kept away from opportunities because of prejudice and bigotry.  And in every society and age, there are people who leave their homelands in the hope of finding a safe place to live and work. 

According to Jesus, these people, including immigrants, are images of God among us.  The way we treat immigrants shows whether we are righteous/just or wicked/unjust. 

A second reason why we should focus on the present way immigrants are treated is that there are many passages in Scripture about the moral obligation to welcome migrating people and treat them with fairness and dignity.  The words that appear in Scripture that apply to non-citizens of a society are foreigner, alien, stranger, and sojourner.  Here are some passages that address the moral duty owed to non-citizens.

You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt (Exodus 22:21).

You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt (Exodus 23:9).

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizens among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt (Leviticus 19:33-34):  

For the LORD your God is God of Gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, are executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.  You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:18-19).

You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns (Deuteronomy 24:14).

You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice (Deuteronomy 24:17).

The LORD watches over the strangers…but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin (Psalm 146:9).

… I will be swift to bear witness against those who thrust aside the alien… says the LORD of hosts (Malachi 3:5).

Now remember the words of Jesus at Matthew 25:43:  I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.  

Thirdly, remember that in Jesus, God appeared in humanity as an immigrant! John’s Gospel declares:  The Word became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14).  Matthew’s Gospel recites that after Jesus was visited by magi, 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; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”  Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod Matthew 2:13-15).  In Jesus, God has appeared among us as Immigrant-in-Chief! 

According to Jesus, God loves immigrants.  God is especially concerned that immigrants are welcomed and treated fairly.  God condemns those who mistreat immigrants, who oppress immigrants, and who reject immigrants. 

Let me put it bluntly.  It is an offense against the love and justice of God for anyone to mistreat foreigners, aliens, strangers, and sojourners.  God is wronged.  God is wounded.  God suffers.  God will not ignore nor excuse injustice against and oppression of foreigners, aliens, strangers, and sojourners. 

That is why followers of Jesus must declare Trump administration policy towards immigrants to be wicked!  It is wicked because it is unjust, unloving, and unwelcoming.  Don’t allow anyone to fool you into thinking that the actions of our nation towards immigrants will “Make America Great…”  They won’t.  The wicked harms suffered by immigrants have stirred people from every ethnic, political, religious, and economic background to rise up in protest because Trump administration immigration policy is wicked! 

Finally, we should learn from Jesus how to define and deal with people who mistreat immigrants.  Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).’”

Jesus did not bless blessing on people who mistreat immigrants.  Jesus did not talk about praying for them or being patient with them.  Jesus did not excuse them or show leniency toward them.  And Jesus did not merely declare them to be wrong; Jesus cursed them![1]

If Jesus cursed immigrant hating people, why shouldn’t followers of Jesus curse immigrant-hating politicians?  If Jesus cursed immigrant hating policies, why shouldn’t we curse them?  If Jesus refused to pray for immigrant hating people, where do followers of Jesus find justification for behaving differently?   If Jesus called immigrant-hating people offensive to God to the point of deserving eternal condemnation with “the devil and his angels,” followers of Jesus can and should denounce and condemn the people responsible for oppressive immigration policies as hellish.

That is why I do not ask you to pray for President Trump, Stephen Miller, Jefferson Sessions, and the other politicians and operators of oppressive immigration policies.  We, like Jesus, should curse them.  The idea of praying for people who conceive and enforce wicked policies violates the very words Jesus spoke in this passage.  That idea also violates the other passages in Scripture that call on us to treat immigrants the same way we treat citizens and remind us that God loves immigrants and is offended by people who oppress them. 

We should curse the wicked politicians, and their religious enablers, who treat immigrants as threats to national security and public safety.  All information worth believing shows immigrants to be the most law-abiding and hard-working people in our society.  We should curse the “national security” and “public safety” arguments concerning immigrants as deliberate falsehoods, untruths, and lies.  And we should curse the people who make those lies as hypocrites and liars. 

We must stop allowing hypocrites and liars to scare the society into mistreating immigrants by using fear-mongering and bigotry.  That means we should confront U.S. Senators and Members of Congress and demand that they call on President Trump to re-unite immigrant parents and children.  We should demand an end to the “zero tolerance” criminalization of undocumented immigrants.   We should join protest demonstrations.  We should engage in acts of non-violent civil disobedience.  By these and other actions, we show God and our immigrant neighbors that we love them, and that we curse the wicked ways and words of our government leaders towards immigrants.

Beloved, the ways we treat immigrants and view immigration are much more than political issues.  These are profound moral questions. 

Let us sort these issues guided by God’s perspectives towards foreigners that are clearly set out in Scripture.  Let us see immigrants as surrogates of God, who in Jesus has lived among us as Immigrant-in-Chief.  And let us, as followers of Jesus, say – as clearly, loudly, and strongly as we can – that hateful people who practice and preach mistreatment towards immigrants are wicked, unjust, and cursed. 

Amen.


[1][1] Scripture reveals that people can reach such a morally depraved condition that their moral fate is sealed.  When that happens, God will not even listen to prayers on their behalf and prophetic people are divinely ordered not to pray for them!  As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer on their behalf, for I will not listen when they call on me in the time of their trouble (Jeremiah 11:14).  Then the LORD said to me:  Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people.  Send them out of my sight, and let them go! (Jeremiah 15:1); see also, Luke 16:19-26, where Jesus illustrated this point in the vivid lesson about the fatal deficiency of an indifferent wealthy man and the impossibility of altering his divine condemnation on account of that moral defect. 

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