"From the Pulpit" - Reflections on the Weekly Texts, from Pastor Greg at Living Lord Lutheran Church
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God. Leviticus 19:9-10
When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. 34The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. Leviticus 19:33-34
So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called "the uncircumcision" by those who are called "the circumcision" — a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands — 12remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. Ephesians 2:11-22
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and the LORD Jesus Christ. No, these texts above are NOT the lessons for this Sunday. They are, however, timely. Maybe you've heard about FL Senate Bill 1718, involving immigration in Florida. The gist of the bill is that if enacted, it could be a felony for anyone to aid an undocumented immigrant in Florida, including by way of example, housing, aiding, giving a ride, or otherwise assisting such a person/s. I think the language is a little unsettled right now, but make no mistake, it could have significant consequences not only for those directly involved, but for institutions and individuals who lend assistance and support to this group of people. And there are thousands, tens of thousands, more...people in FL in this category. The church is likely to be impacted if this bill, in its current form, passes. And I'm talking about the wider church in Florida, not just the Lutheran church.
And this is where it gets tricky. Many mainline and other church denominations across the country offer assistance to undocumented immigrants all the time, providing housing and shelter, rides to and from work and school, food, clothing, and more. While it's not totally clear yet, such individuals and organizations caught offering such assistance may be looking at felony charges for assisting these folks.
I put two Scriptural references above, two from Leviticus 19, and one from Ephesians, giving us an idea of how Scripture views the "alien" or "other". I'm also reminded that we Christians were once "far off" from God, but through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, are brought into the family of God. We once were aliens ourselves, we Christians.
This hits particularly close to home for me. At my last congregation, Allegheny Evangelical Lutheran Church (www.aelc.org), we regularly participated with a non-profit in the area called Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) providing shelter, meals, rides to school and work, and more, for families in transition, which often included undocumented families. Reading, PA, and the surrounding area is a place where many such people tend to migrate to, because of such strong interfaith social service agencies in the area. IHN has many counterpart organizations around the US, under different names, but all seeking to provide relief, shelter, and a sense of normalcy to families in transition, including the undocumented.
While it's not totally settled, it's possible that such organizations in Florida, many of them church based, could become the target of such legislation, whether knowingly or otherwise. And at the center of it all, as I see it, is our church - the Lutheran church in all its denominations. As well as, of course, other churches in Florida that do similar work After all, this is a large part of what we, as the body of Christ, are called to do - help the "other", the one in need.
I'm guessing that our Synod, and other denominations, are eyeing this closely to see how, and if, this will all play out in the legislature of Florida. I looked this morning on the synod's website (www.fbsynod.com) for any word from the Bishop, but none yet. I imagine that the Bishop, Pedro Suarez, and other denomination bishops in and around Florida will be busy with this one. Our Synod Assembly is coming up in the first weekend in June, and it will, I'm sure, be a hot topic for those in attendance.
For now, just a note to raise our awareness of this bill in the Florida Senate now. It may have a chilling effect on much of what we do as a (wider) church. But, where, I ask, is the Christian ethic of welcoming the stranger in this? Where are we in our call to save a portion of our harvest for the "other"? Where are we who were also once aliens in the land, when we now are looking at making it a felony to help those most vulnerable in our world? I get the politics of all of this, but there has to be a better way. I hope I'm wrong on all of this, but I'm thinking not totally.
In the meantime, I would ask you to pray as you are able for those in positions of authority...our lawmakers, and others, to do so with hearts of compassion and grace, keeping in mind the Scripture references above. Amen.
1. We have a guest preacher this Sunday. LLLC member Eric Mumford has graciously agreed to offer the message on Sunday. The gospel is from John's gospel - the "doubting Thomas" reference. Many thanks, Eric, for being willing to help out. We're looking forward to hearing your message.
2. We also have (2) guest musicians this Sunday - Dan and Kirsten Panachyda. Our Minister of Music, Adria Ryan in back in western NY for a few days visiting friends, so Dan and Kirsten have agreed to fill in this Sunday. Many thanks, guys.
3. Chair Yoga being offered at LLLC. We're offering a 4 week chair yoga program for you and your guests, starting in early May. It's being offered by one of the area's leading yoga instructors, who will be with us tomorrow (Sunday) to introduce the program. It's easy, fun, safe, and you'll feel better for it. Cost is $40 for the 4 weeks. Sign up in the church lobby, and we need a firm commitment and payment in order to make this work. Bring a friend!