Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Your People Will Be My People

One of the most contentious issues in this year's Presidential election has been the topic of immigration and, more specifically, the plight of the millions of political refugees around the world.   Even here on the streets of Southern California, refugees from around the world can be seen.  They are simply ubiquitous - from our own back doors to, as the song goes, "the shores of Tripoli".  Tomorrow night's debate between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump will surely hone in on the issue of immigration, more than any other issue of the night.

In this blogpost, I should begin by saying that I do not intend to wade into the myriad of issues and rancor involved in the immigration debate.  The binary debates happening at the highest political levels in this discussion do not give proper credence to the complexity of the topic, and they tend to gloss over the vast challenges involved on all sides of this issue.  However, I did want to offer a quick Biblical perspective on the issue of immigration and refugees.  Recently, I made a pretty startling discovery: almost every major figure, character, name, and person in our entire Christian faith history was at one time a political refugee and an immigrant.

This last week I preached on the story of Ruth and Naomi.  The story begins, of course, with two people, Naomi and Elimalech, who, because of a famine in the land of Judah, have to become political refugees, and have to flee to the land of Moab.  Once there, as refugees, their life moves on, and somehow comes back together again as their two sons, Mahlon and Kilian, marry to "foreign women"named Ruth and Orpah.  After all the men in the family die, suddenly, Ruth and Naomi once again become immigrants and political refugees to return back to the Holy Land.  Ruth, in a moment of clarity and compassion, says it best;

Your People Will Be My People

But this is just one example.  Consider the plethora of other examples of key Biblical figures who were refugees or immigrants at one time or another:

*  Abraham and Sarah - immigrants from Ur to Haran, and then again through Egypt
*  Jacob - a refugee from his own household, as he fled his brother's wrath
*  Jacob and family - become refugees from Holy land back to Egypt because of famine
*  Moses and the Israelites - a mass exodus of refugees from Egypt in the wilderness
*  The Entire Israelite nation - refugees during the reign of Babylon, Persia, and Assyria
*  Jesus and his family - refugees from Herod and the mass extermination of little boys
*  Paul - in a sense, Paul's entire ministry was a refugee ministry, all around the Roman empire

And I am sure you can think of many more examples...

An important aspect of refugees, of course, is not just that they are people who, because of political or other kinds of oppression, had to flee one country and go to the next.  It is also significant that the places that these refugees went, accepted them and welcomed them - for the most part.

Can you imagine, for example if Naomi and Elimalech and their tribe had not been accepted by the Moabites when they fled to that country because of famine in their own?  What if they had been shunned, or worse, killed?  Ruth is the ancestor of Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus.  There might have been no Jesus without Ruth, and without the acceptance of the Hebrew refugees into their culture.  And if the Moabites had not accepted Naomi and Elimalech, would we have a Biblical narrative at all?

The Egyptians, through the centuries, have tended to be welcoming of outsiders, although a case can also be made for the Egyptians not accepting refugees.  Egypt, for the most part, welcomed Joseph of the Old Testament (though he was initially a slave).  Joseph became governor over all of Egypt.  A refugee became President.  Can you imagine the United States doing that?

Egypt welcomed Abraham and Sarah (though Sarah was given to Pharaoh for carnal purposes).  Egypt did accept Jesus and Mary and Joseph when they fled from Herod (perhaps because of their gifts of passage from the Magi - gold, frankincense and myrrh).

It cannot be understated how complex the current debate about immigration and refugee status remains in our country and around the world.  Some countries who have accepted refugees have not taken the next necessary step to consider or think about how they will care for people who are so poor and abject in so many ways.  Some countries who have rejected refugees have not looked deep into their hearts to remember that most of them, were also descendants of refugees or immigrants at one time another.

Suffice it to say that this election's main issue will be remembered as a debate about personal indiscretions and immigration.  Because of this, perhaps we should not forget the words of Ruth, as she adopted a person from a people group who she was very different from - as she adopted a refugee into her own heart...

Your People Will Be My People

All For Now,


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