Sunday’s sermon: If You’re Not Welcomed

Find the full service for this sermon here.

immigration

Tests used for this sermon: Jeremiah 7:1-7 and Mark 6:1-13

  • This weekend, we’ve been celebrating, right?
    • Picnics resulting in paper plates piled high with hot dogs, potato salad, chips, watermelon, and red-white-and-blue cake
    • Maybe the excitement and fun of watching parade
    • Maybe enjoying an outdoor concert
    • Lots of conversations and laughs with people we love
    • Culmination: beautiful fireworks display (Oronoco, Rochester, Stewartville, or even in your own backyard)
    • We’ve been celebrating the birthday of our nation – of the United States of America. We’ve been honoring and celebrating the freedoms that we all enjoy.
      • Freedoms guaranteed by our constitution
      • Freedoms that were hard-won almost 240 yrs. ago in Revolutionary War and that are still protected by the hard work and sacrifice of men and women in uniform today
      • Freedoms extended to each and every citizen
        • Freedom to safely speak out in favor of or against anything
        • Freedom to worship when/where/how we choose without fear
        • Freedom to help form the governing of our lives – locally, statewide, and nationally – by participating in a fair and honest voting process
        • Freedom to learn – to expand our knowledge and our horizon of understanding without censorship or oppression
        • And so many more. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, right?
    • I must admit that I find it a little bit ironic that the PC(USA) planning calendar, which designates nearly every Sunday on the calendar as a special Sunday for one group or another, has dedicated the Sunday after the 4th of July as Immigration Sunday. Ironic … and yet appropriate. As we celebrate this country that we love despite all of its challenges and struggles and imperfections, as we celebrate the freedoms and opportunities that we enjoy here in this beautiful country, as we celebrate the birth of this nation that has become so prominent and powerful on the world stage, we do so with the knowledge that in one way or another, we are a country of immigrants.
      • Our own ancestral immigrants that had the strength and the guts and the curiosity to leave whatever native countries we hail from and settle in this strange and unfamiliar land
      • But also the immigrants who even today are trying to make this country that we celebrate their home – those who are fleeing persecution; those who are escaping war-ravaged homelands; those who are desperately seeking a better wage, a better chance, a better life for themselves and their families.
    • As we enjoy and celebrate our freedoms this weekend, let us also hold in our hearts and minds those who are still anxiously and eagerly striving to be included in those freedoms. In the land of the free and the home of the brave, how do we treat our neighbors? In the land of the free and the home of the brave, how do we welcome those who come seeking? In the land of the free and the home of the brave, how do we respond to those among us who are strangers, foreigners, aliens?
      • Scriptures this morning – shed great deal of light on immigrants/immigration
  • Gospel story = story of a stranger’s travels on a few different fronts
    • First encounter: Jesus as stranger – an alien – in his own hometown
      • Text says he “returned to his hometown” with disciples and preached in the synagogue on the Sabbath – totally blew people away: He made a real hit, impressing everyone. “We had no idea he was this good!” they said. “How did he get so wise all of a sudden, set such ability?”[1] → Speaking in front of people can be nerve-wrecking, especially when it’s people you know. They know all the mistakes you made as a kid. They know all your family history and how that influences what you’re saying and how you say it. They hold in their head preconceived notion of you based on an incomplete picture – based on who you were, not who you are today.
      • Not so different for Jesus – turns out he had every reason to worry: In the next breath, they were cutting him down: “He’s just a carpenter – Mary’s boy. We’ve known him since he was a kid. … Who does he think he is?” They tripped over what little they knew about him and fell, sprawling. And they never got any further.[2] → thought they knew everything they needed to know about this Jesus guy
        • Knew his stories
        • Knew his mistakes
        • Knew his family/family history
        • And in their knowing – incomplete though it most certainly was – they wrote him off. “They tripped over what little they knew about him and fell, sprawling. And they never got any further.” They dismissed Jesus without learning about him. → judgment/prejudice = so detrimental that it limits Jesus’ ability – text: Jesus wasn’t able to do much of anything there … He couldn’t get over their stubbornness.[3]
      • Think about it. These people knew Jesus, and still they let their preconceived notions and biases get in the way of letting him do his thing.
        • Could have healed people
        • Could have driven out demons
        • Could have taught/preached more awe-inspiring lessons in synagogue
        • Could have opened their eyes to his identity as Son of God
        • But the villagers let themselves be blinded simply by what they thought they knew … what they thought they saw. Friends, how often do we let that happen in our society today? We stereotype people into their little boxes – boxes based on race, on ethnicity, on gender, on socio-economic status, on all sorts of things – and we get all offended and bent out of shape when they try to break out of that box. → becomes 100x worse when we discover someone wasn’t “born here” like there’s some God-given privilege to being an American that makes us inherently better, smarter, worthier simply because we are Americans
          • Could be turning away doctor capable of curing cancer
          • Could be turning away professor with incredible teaching skills to engage students
          • Could be turning away brilliantly gifted architect or engineers
          • Or we could be turning away someone with the kind of compassion, strength, and grace that can touch someone else’s life – really touch someone else’s heart and soul and encourage them to make a powerful change for the better. You know … kind of like that Jesus guy.
    • Second “strangers traveling” encounter in NT = Jesus sending the disciples out → I find this part of the story to be incredibly powerful and incredibly prophetic.
      • Jesus sends disciples out in pairs → He knew the journey wouldn’t be easy. He knew how difficult it was to travel to a new place and be unwelcomed. So he sent them out into uncertainty and adversity with another person by their side to cling to when times got tough.
        • And yet … how many immigrants come into this country alone? (MAYBE: rest of the family couldn’t afford it, too dangerous to flee with so large a group, rest of family turned their back on decision to leave, rest of the family was dead)
      • Jesus sent his disciples out with bare minimum – Jesus to disciples: Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment. No special appeals for funds. Keep it simple.[4]
        • Even more specific in pew Bibles: He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.[5] → Jesus is particular about how little the disciples are to take with them for one simple and specific reason: They are to rely on the hospitality of others. They won’t need money or food or extra clothes because those things will be provided for them by those whom they encounter along the way.
        • And yet … how many immigrants come to America in much the same condition as the disciples – no money in their pockets, no food in their bellies, nothing but the clothes on their backs – and how often do we welcome them in?
      • Jesus recognizes that there are times when they will be turned away – text: If you’re not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.[6] → passage may not be as tame as Eugene Peterson (Message translator) makes it appear
        • Gr. includes phrase “shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony”
        • Scholar: When they leave a place where they have been rejected, [the disciples] are to “shake off the dust that is on your feet,” a strong symbolic action recalling the tradition that Jews returning to Israel would shake off the defiling dust of the Gentile lands from whence they traveled.[7]
          • Bit of an insult
          • Bit of a theological “so there” (I never wanted your crummy dirt on my feet anyway!)
          • But it’s also a testament to the non-welcome that the disciples receive. You see, the roads in this part of the country were all dirt at the time, and the dust in that part of the world is an insidious, clinging sort of dust – the kind of stuff you find in your food and your hair and your clothing long after you’re sick of finding it. And yet Jesus instructs the disciples to shake this dirt off – to rid themselves of the taint of it.
            • How often have we treated the immigrants of this country so poorly – with such prejudice and exclusion and inferiority – that they cannot wait to rid themselves of the taint that we have left on them
              • Taint of pain
              • Taint of rejection
              • Taint of hate
  • And so, with this in mind, we turn to the prophet Jeremiah for God’s Word of instruction.
    • Jeremiah = prophet of very strong words (doesn’t pull any punches): Only if you clean up your act (the way you live, the things you do), only if you do a total spring cleaning on the way you live and treat your neighbors, only if you quit exploiting the street people and orphans and widows, no longer taking advantage of innocent people … Only then will I move into your neighborhood.[8] → This is God’s throw-down for the people of Israel, God’s way of saying, “If you’re going to talk the talk, then you had better walk the walk.”
      • Comes down to the age-old question that was asked of Jesus – question we’ve asked time and time again: Who is my neighbor? → When we ask this question, do we respond with sameness or diversity? Do we respond with apathy or with action? Do we respond with closed doors or open arms?
  • Friends, it doesn’t matter what color people are or where they come from. It doesn’t matter whether the people that we’re talking about speak this language or don’t. It doesn’t even matter whether they are documented or undocumented. The legal side of immigration is an incredibly immense and complex issue that would take an entire sermon series to truly tackle. And I know that there are people that fall on both sides of those arguments here. We’re not talking about the legality of immigration today (though if you’re interested, there are some great denominational resources available on the [UCC/PC(USA)] website – personal stories, prayers, statistics, and plans of action.) What we’re talking about today is our response when we encounter immigrants in our day-to-day lives. In the land of the free and the home of the brave, how do we treat our neighbors? In the land of the free and the home of the brave, how do we welcome those who come seeking? In the land of the free and the home of the brave, how do we respond to those among us who are strangers, foreigners, aliens? How do we take our love for this nation and share it with those who have come here seeking a different and hopefully better life? Amen.

[1] Mk 6:2b.

[2] Mk 6:3.

[3] Mk 6:5, 6.

[4] Mk 6:8-9 (The Message).

[5] Mk 6:8-9 (NRSV).

[6] Mk 6:11.

[7] Michael L. Lindvall. “Proper 9 (Sunday between July 3 and July 9 inclusive) – Mark 6:1-13, Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 212.

[8] Jer 7:5-6, 7a.

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One response to “Sunday’s sermon: If You’re Not Welcomed

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s service: If You’re Not Welcomed | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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