Where are you from? I know you might answer that question Ohio, or Michigan, or New York, or Alabama. But I mean further back. Where are your ancestors from? Mine are from England, Ireland, Germany, and Wales. Where are your from? Do we have any Native American ancestry here? Except for the Native Americans, we are all descendants of immigrants.
Of course this country was built by immigrants: the British to start. Then there were waves of immigration: from Ireland, Italy, Germany, China, and Japan, to name a few. Each one of those groups has suffered discrimination as an immigrant people. The Japanese were put in internment camps during World War II. Germans were persecuted after World War II. When I was a kid we told Pollock jokes to make fun of people from Poland. Who knows why? They were just the people at the bottom of the heap during that time. There are always people at the bottom of the heap at a time.
Today we have a presidential candidate who wants to keep out not only all the Syrian refugees but any one immigrating into this country who is a Muslim simply because he is so scared about terrorism. That same candidate wants to build a wall all along our southern border to keep out immigrants from the south. Yet the refugees from Syria are fleeing a terrible Civil War. And asylum seekers from such countries as El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala are fleeing oppressive regimes where people are being murdered by the thousands.
As Christians, I believe we have a responsibility to provide a safe home for the refugee and the immigrant. There are more than 45 references in scripture about how we should welcome the refugee because God’s people, the Israelites were once refugees in a foreign land. This is why many churches work to help resettle refugees.
Our families, most of them, were immigrants at one time. And we were welcomed into this country. We made a home. Today there are people who are refugees from war torn countries who are begging to come to this country to make a new home. As Christians, it is our duty to support policies that will welcome these people with open arms. Of course we need to be some safe guards and background checks, but for the most part, these are honest, hard-working people who are suffering and need to be given a second chance in a new home.
Today’s scripture (Luke 4:21-30 (The Message Bible) for those following along from afar) speaks to what is means to be a refugee, or an immigrant. Because, you see, the refugees and immigrants are the outsiders in our world. They are the lowest of the low. No one wants them.
In today’s scripture, the Jewish leaders are trying to make sense of who Jesus is and what he is doing. You’ll remember last week’s message. Jesus read the scripture from Isaiah in the synagogue. He said: “I come to preach good news to the poor, to announce pardon to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, to set the battered and burdened free, to proclaim the year of the Lord.” Then he says that he is fulfilling this scripture today has he reads it. His pronouncement is shocking to the people. And they say to one another, “Isn’t this just Joseph’s son? Who we’ve known since he was a boy?”
Jesus gets a bit defensive and says they will probably quote scripture at him: “Physician, heal yourself;” and that they will say to him, “Do in your hometown what you did in Capernaum.” You see, the people of Capernaum were mostly non-Jews, they were outsiders. The people in his hometown did not like the fact that he was going off and healing foreigners rather than healing them.
Then Jesus reminds them of two stories from their own scripture. He says: “Isn’t it a fact that there were many widows in Israel at the time of Elijah during that three and a half years of drought when famine devastated the land, but the only widow to whom Elijah was sent was in Sarepta in Sidon? And there were many lepers in Israel at the time of the prophet Elisha but the only one cleansed was Naaman the Syrian.”
You see, Elijah and Elisha, two of their prophets, were in places where there were many Jews, and yet they chose to care for non-Jews, outsiders. One was even from Syria, like our modern day refugees. God sent Elijah and Elisha to the outsiders, not to the insiders.
Oh, the people are infuriated when Jesus brings up their own scripture against them. They don’t want to be reminded that God loves those outside their inner circle. They just want God for themselves. In fact they get so angry, they banish him from the village and then decide to take Jesus out and throw him off a cliff to kill him. But he gave them the slip and goes off to another village.
You see, we human beings like our insider clubs. Truth be told, some of us at least partly agree with that Presidential candidate that wants to build a wall in Texas and keep out all the Muslims. We are afraid of terrorists. We are already the insiders in our country. Sure, if we’re honest, we know we were immigrants at one time, but that was a long time ago. Now this is our country, and it’s full. We don’t have enough jobs to spare. We start living from a mentality of scarcity rather than abundance. There is not enough to go around, so we really can’t let any more immigrants in. We can’t let those outsiders in, or our quality of life may start to fall.
But Jesus came for the outsiders. He came to offer love and grace to the outsiders: to the refugees and to the immigrants. He calls us to be generous to the outsider and to share what we have so that everyone might live abundantly. Who knows? Maybe our church could even adopt a refugee family and help them get settled in Toledo?
But this scripture is bigger than the refugee crisis. It speaks to all our life situations. If we are honest, we have to ask ourselves if we have sense that some people are insiders and some are outsiders? In what contexts are you an insider? Where do you have privilege over other people simply because of who you are? Some of us have privilege because we are white. People treat us with more respect simply because we are white. We are insiders in a white only world. People expect us to be more powerful, more intelligent, and more capable than people of color. It’s not true but it’s a perception that is real in our world.
Some of you have privilege because you are men. Men are still seen as having more authority than women. People listen to men more than they listen to women. In a meeting, a man and a woman can put forth the same idea, but it will only be because the man puts for the idea that people begin to take it seriously. This is male privilege.
Some of us have privilege that comes with age. Younger people are discriminated against. We don’t think they have as much to contribute because they don’t have enough experience. They can’t be as wise as their older counterparts. So the older person in a situation has privilege.
Some of us have privilege because we are well educated. If you are well educated you are automatically assumed to be smarter and you are placed in a position of authority. People with less education are put down. It does not matter how smart they are. They are not listened to because they don’t have a degree.
All of these types of privilege make us insiders. And when we are insiders, we look down on people who are outsiders. We may not think we do it. We may not intend to do it, but we do.
So, in the places where you are an insider, what would it take for you to reach out to the outsider and be respectful, more loving and more generous? How could you be more Christ-like? What would it mean to treat the outsider as if she were an insider? How would you stretch yourself to include the outsider and invite him inside your circle?
This is what it means to follow Jesus. We tear down the walls between insiders and outsiders and include everyone in the circle of God’s love. You see, if I believe God loves everyone then I have to treat everyone, insiders and outsiders alike as beloved children of God. It’s hard to treat someone as an outsider if I believe they are a beloved child of God. It’s hard to build walls and keep children of God out of our country. It’s hard to pass laws to keep children of God out of our country.
It’s hard to follow Jesus and treat someone like they are not precious to God. So let us buck the system. Let us be original. Let us set aside the idea that there are insiders and outsiders, because it’s what Jesus would do. Let’s treat everyone as beloved children of God, and welcome everyone into the circle of God’s love. Amen.