Sunday, 5 March 2017

Lenten Reflections - Part 1

The 2006 Desert Southwest Annual Conference of United Methodists in the USA directed the Conference Board of Church and Society to provide a way to study the issues we face concerning immigration. It opened their study with these passages and these questions. A revised version was issued in 2008.

This was long before the issues of migration and refugees became so high on the political agenda as they have today. They dominate the USA, dominate the Brexit plans, and dominate similar trends throughout Europe.

But I thought that in these troubled times, this would be a good opening for Lent reflections on the issue of migration, of the status of EU immigrants post-Brexit, of the laws directed against migration executed by the American President. When one considers that this was not pieced together today, but nearly ten years ago, it is extraordinary how directly it confronts us now. It could have been written yesterday.

Human beings

“All are created in the image of God”. (Genesis 1:26)

“God made us ‘a little less than God’.” (Psalm 8:3-5)

Are there any distinctions being made as to race or ethnic background, or nationality?

“Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

“Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:31)

So what do all of these passages say to us about who is important to God?

What do they say about who is important to us?

What does this say to us about how we place borders of separation between ourselves and others?

Character of God

“I will be who I will be; I will cause to be what I will cause to be”. (Exodus 3:13-14)

What does this tell us about trying to define who God is and what God does too narrowly?

“I have observed the misery of my people … and I have come down to deliver them…” (Exodus 3:7-8)

What is it that motivates God into action?

Psalm 136 is “a litany of celebration about God’s steadfast love”. God “brought Israel out” from Egypt. (Psalm 136:11)

How do you respond to some of what the Psalmist is thankful for?

“Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” (I John 4:21)

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

Another legitimate translation of Luke is “be compassionate as God is compassionate”. To be compassionate biblically is to literally feel another person’s feelings in your guts. It is to enter into another person’s life so fully and completely that you understand it from their perspective.

How does being compassionate transform how we see another person?

How does it confront labels like “illegal immigrant?”

Strangers, Sojourners, and Foreigners

A sojourner occupies a place between that of a native-born and a foreigner. His or her status and privilege come from the bond of hospitality.

“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)

God “…loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:18-20)

“Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:1-2)

Read the parable of Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37)

How do we deal with passages where God calls Israel to wipe out entire nations, to not let there be intermarriages, and to keep a sense of purity in their faith and in their culture? (Ezra 10:6-17)
Are these some of the same concerns in today’s discussions? Do you believe that many people are afraid of simply losing what is familiar and safe as we see our ethnic and cultural diversity grow in our country?


How do we think of justice today? As you read the following Scriptures, do today’s definitions of justice seem to fit the biblical understandings of justice?

“Seek justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.” (Micah 6:8)

“Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:16-17)

“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)

How does the biblical understanding of justice compare with our present day understandings?

We are a nation of laws, and laws are important. Without them, we would live in a state of anarchy.

So how do we look at immigration as people who seek to live within the laws that guide us?

What is the purpose of our laws?

How does the biblical understanding of justice form the discussion about immigration for us as people of faith?


Righteousness pertains to God’s character and human conduct. A righteous person characteristically invests in the community, showing special attentiveness to the poor and needy.

Those who are faithful to God “…are gracious, merciful and righteous. It is well with those who deal generously and lend, who conduct their affairs with justice … They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor…” (Psalm 112:4-9)

What does Psalm 112 say to us about the quality of our character and how it calls us to act?

For those who were not faithful to God “did not have pity on their young people or compassion on their orphans and widows…” (Isaiah 9:17)

What does this tell us about what the earth will look like when God is fully in charge?

Rabbi Abraham Heschel states that God’s righteousness, God’s character, always supersedes God’s justice.

Walter Brueggemann says that “If righteousness represents the principle of benevolence, the will to act beneficently toward another person, then justice involves the norm of distributing such good intentions toward many in the society, not just a few.”

Torah, which is usually defined as “The Law,” is actually the first five books of the Bible. A better translation of the word is, “Teachings,” and the word literally suggests someone pointing his or her finger and saying, “Go this way.” Torah is seen as a gift from God to the Hebrew people, which shows them how to live in “shalom”.

Shalom is a word that we define as “peace,” but has a much deeper meaning. It is a call not only to live in the absence of conflict, but to do all we can to bring the fullness of life to one another. To live in shalom is to bring wholeness (holiness), harmony, economic security, and well-being to all. The case can be made that it is a synonym for our understanding of “salvation.”

What does this say to us about our human conduct as people of righteousness?

In Exodus 32, we read how Moses comes down from Mount Sinai with the tablets containing the Ten Commandments.

As he approaches the camp, he sees the people worshipping the Golden Calf, and destroys the tablets, losing the commandments as a guide for how the people should live their lives. Moses may have destroyed the tablets because he realized that the people were not ready to receive them. Perhaps Moses was afraid that the people would misuse the Commandments in their faith walk.

Can our laws become idols that we follow? Can our laws become the ultimate power while we lose the ability to understand that they are expressions of solutions designed by a group of people?
Is this why God’s righteous character remains the bottom line for understanding our living of life? Is it ultimately God that is the ultimate authority to living our faith, and does God respond in the most loving way in each situation?

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:16-21)

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

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