As we traveled to visit family over the holidays, we drove past a church camp I went to for several summers. Connie asked about the camp and as I reflected on my experiences, I realized part of my journey away from biblical literalism began as a college intern at camp. Everyone is on a journey. Where is the Lord leading you?
As someone who lives within a four hour drive of my childhood hometown, I may be the least qualified of our preachers to lead this Global Migration Sunday. (umcmigration.org/) Jefferson, Sandy and Jin made international migrations. Our Golden Triangle congregation largely immigrated to Nashville within the last twelve years. My migration is more of one spiritual practice and personal theology than physical relocation. Every Christian should have a migration story. Where has Jesus led you? Where is Jesus leading you?
People of faith always are always on the move, always striving to see things “on earth” become “as in heaven”. Jesus describes our alien status as he prays for us in John 17 “They do not belong to this world, just as I do not belong to this world…As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:14-19) Christians live with a bit of holy disquiet, our spirits fidget with the status quo. Our allegiance resides beyond our hometown, for this side of heaven, no place is truly home. Paul proclaims “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). Do you feel a spiritual homesickness longing for a place where “justice rolls down like the mighty waters”? (Amos 5:23-24) Do we work for a promised land where faith, hope and love rule our interaction ?(1 Corinthians 13) Do we seek first such God’s kingdom? (Matthew 6:33)
If we are resident aliens who “do not belong to this world”, then our allegiance must reside with an Authority higher than any governor, president, senator, or judge. Do we feel a sort of spiritual homesickness that seeks to reside “on earth as in heaven”? Where is your life traveling to? What land does God call you into?
People of faith are always moving! Our Biblical Journey begins with Abraham and Sarah who make a physical and spiritual journey, following God who commands “Go- to a land that I will show you”. (Genesis 12) Our spiritual ancestors celebrated the harvest feast, recalling their migratory roots. “take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce and put them in a basket. Then go to the sanctuary setting the basket before the altar, saying to God, “ Oh LORD, I have come to the land which you gave to our ancestors! My Ancestor was a wandering Aramean, who went down into Egypt… But the Egyptians mistreated us, subjecting us to harsh labor, we cried out to the LORD, who saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and brought us to this place and gave us this land, and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, our LORD, have given me.” Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the LORD your God has given to you and your household.” Deuteronomy 26:1-11
The journey continues as Sarah’s grandson, Jacob flees his brother Esau’s revenge for a sojourn with his uncle Laban, only to migrate back home, when Laban continually rips him off. Here, at least once, it seems God solves an economic injustice issue with a migration patch. After wrestling with God all night, in fear of Esau, God gives Jacob the name “Israel” which means “striving”. (Genesis 32) We don’t strive in place- let us not get trapped on a spiritual stationary bike!
The journey continues, as a Israel’s son, Joseph is sold by his brothers into Egyptian slavery. “What (his brother’s) intended for harm (enslavement and forced migration), God turned into good, in order to preserve a people” trapped in famine. (Genesis 50:20). Read that immigration story for migration is God’s solution during a famine! How do these stories of God’s people migrating shape your thoughts and politics?
The law instructed ”When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” Leviticus 19:33-34
In time, a new Pharaoh arose, who did not remember Joseph’s great service to Egypt, oppressed the Hebrews. Sick of it, Moses, like a freedom fighter kills an Egyptian taskmaster. Is God’s plan for Moses fleeing? After a wilderness sojourn, God sends Moses back to Egypt to liberate the people from oppression and lead a massive migration out of Egypt. Read Exodus and ask your soul, is not migration God’s solution to preserve an oppressed people? Indeed, our spiritual ancestors will spend 40 years in the wilderness as refugees camping in tents.
After a season in the Promised land, the people experience the Babylonian invasion and subsequent exile, enduring a forced migration to Babylon. Curiously, again what others intended for harm, God used for good for during the Exile without a homeland, temple or king the people turned to daily prayers, good deeds, the Scriptures, and community found in local synagogues. This is the heart of modern judaism and Christianity! Hear Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles “ seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare…. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29) How are the ancient stories shaping your modern thoughts?
We might ponder Mary, the mother of our Lord, who runs to the hill country, finding refuge with Elizabeth and Zachariah, until Joseph, hearing from God in a dream, sends for her. Let us remember the nativity story where a pregnant Mary walked 92 miles to Bethlehem and finds no room in the Inn. Why is our Lord born in the stable- because an Emperor’s’ desire to carefully check the census roles. (Luke 2)
How do these stories of God’s people migrating shape us? Do we remember the Great Commandment calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves ( Matthew 22:39)? Do we remember Jesus comes to us as a stranger? Matthew 25
On this Epiphany Sunday, do we remember the magi’s migration? Hear it again, how “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Did you read about walls to stop these foreign kings who come to worship the newborn king? Are you on a journey, following the Morning Star? Will we arrive at the place where Jesus is? How do these stories shape our story today? Where is God leading you?
Do you remember how the Magi ignored the King’s command? Do you remember how they followed a Godly dream instead of the laws of the land? Do we remember how doctor King taught us that God’s moral law always supersedes human law- “how everything the Nazi’s did was legal” but immoral?
In the midst of the magi’s migration another story unfolds. Do you remember how the politics of fear and isolation gripped the ancient capital? How does a threatened King Herod respond? Herod draws isolating lines- choosing the age of two years old to demarcate the threat. How do these ancient stories shape our modern understandings? Are we moved with compassion for the weeping in Ramah? Do we believe Jesus might be in that band of asylum seekers? Do we seek first God’s kingdom? Do we long for justice to roll down like the mighty waters?
Do we remember the Holy families migration or the flight to Egypt? “When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So Joseph got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.” Matthew 2:13-15 Do you weep with a nursing Mary walking to Egypt because she longs to protect her child from violence? Can you see beyond the King’s decree? Might that be Jesus coming as a stranger disguised as one of the least likely immigrant? Could Jesus need sanctuary? Do not human laws matter less compassion and God’s eternal moral law? Is the Golden rule our mantra; “in everything, treat everyone as you long to be treated”? (Matthew 7:12) Is the Golden Rule our voter guide?
Do we remember that Jesus, a skilled carpenter (after all he co-created the world), choose to live a migratory life saying- “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head…(adding) Follow me.” (Matthew 8:20) Where is Jesus leading you?
Just before Jesus ascends back to heaven, ending his earthly migration, Jesus says “ Go…make disciples of every nation” ( matthew 28) and “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1) How can we get to the ends of the earth with walls, closed borders, closed minds, and closed hearts?
We could go on to speak of Pentecost, Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, the Damascus Road, first church Antioch sending out Paul and Barnabas, Phoebe coming to Rome, Priscilla and Aquila sailing to Syria to plant a church. Hear the names of our books: Rome Corinth, Galatia, Philippi, Ephesus, Thessalonians. Acts and Paul’s letters read like the travelogue of faithful people seeking to bring Good News to the ends of the earth! How do these ancient stories shape our modern sensibilities? Do we travel carrying the Good News of God’s love, compassion, freedom (Galatians 5:1) and grace for everyone?
Oh friends, let us be always be on the move- may our lives continually migrate towards Christ’s love. As we travel let us remember that God has used migration to address famine, oppression, economic mistreatment, corrupt kings, religious persecution and more. So how will we live, believe, work, and vote? Will we strive to end famine, welcome the stranger, provide sanctuary, establish justice, pray for the welfare of cultures we find foreign, treat the resident alien as our own native born, and love (offering redemptive goodwill) to all our neighbors as ourselves. Will we live as resident aliens, who do not count this world as our ultimate home? Will we strive frist for God’s kingdom? Will the ancient stories move our hearts and minds? Let us keep moving carrying hope, liberation, welcome, justice, compassion, striving to see “on earth” become more like “as in heaven”. Amen.