“You Shall Also Love the Stranger”

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In December of 2000, the United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution to inaugurate World Refugee Day, to be observed annually on the twentieth of June. Protestant bodies as diverse as the World Evangelical Alliance and the World Council of Churches (which include Orthodox bodies as well) urge member congregations to commemorate World Refugee Sunday each year on the Sunday before or after June 20th. The Roman Catholic Church observes the World Day of Migrants and Refugees in January.

According to 60 Minutes, hundreds of houses of worship in the United States haveΒ volunteered to shelter illegal immigrants and their families who face deportation. In fact, since Donald Trump was elected in November, the number of churches in the United States expressing willingness to offer sanctuary has doubled to more than 800, according to the Rev. Noel Anderson, national grassroots coordinator at Church World Service. Illegal immigrants can be arrested in places of worship, but ICE has a long-time policy of avoiding religious spaces, schools and hospitals.

Katy Long of The Guardian news organization tells the story of a Christian couple who own and operate Refugee Coffee, a company that hires newly arrived refugees. Long also writes about Clarkston, a small town in Georgia, that has received over 40,000 refugees over the past 25 years. They come to Clarkston from every corner of the globe. This year there are more Congolese than Syrians. Past waves of refugee resettlement have brought Bhutanese, Eritreans, Ethiopians, Somalis, Sudanese, Liberians, Vietnamese. All have landed in an otherwise unremarkable city in the Deep South, population 13,500.

TIME magazine called Clarkston the most diverse square mile in America with almost 32% of the city being foreign born. Their story is recounted in the best selling book, Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference.

Good for a Clarkston, Georgia, a shining example to us in our increasingly xenophobic nation! As people of God, we have our mandate: to love and respect those who come to seek refuge among us.

I share with you a litany for worship written by Ken Sehested, β€œYou Shall Also Love the Stranger.”

Gracious One, who jealously guards the lives of those at every edge, we lift our heavy hearts to your Mercy.

We live in a fretful land, anxious over the ebbing away of privilege, fearful that strangers are stealing our birthright.

Aliens breaching our borders.

Refugees threatening our security . . .

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β€œCursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.”
(Deuteronomy 27:19)
All the people shall say, β€œAmen!”

β€œYou shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy10:19).
All the people shall say, β€œAmen!”

β€œThere shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you” (Exodus 12:49).
All the people shall say, β€œAmen!”

β€œWhen an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien” (Leviticus 19:33).
All the people shall say, β€œAmen!”

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against . . . those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts”Β Β (Malachi 3:5).
All the people shall say, β€œAmen!”

[Speaking to those destined for paradise, Jesus explained:] β€œFor I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:35)
All the people shall say, β€œAmen!”

For we, who were formerly illegal aliens and undocumented workers in Creation’s midst, β€œare no longer strangers and aliens, but you with the saints and also members of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:19)

Amen, Amen and Amen!

Β©ken sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org

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Running Toward the Light

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Running toward the light is no easy thing. It’s an imperative for our better angels. It’s what we do when we are inching closer to the person we aspire to be. I have to admit that it’s far easier for me to dwell in a darker place, Β place that is darker because of the despondency that sometimes assails me, a place that is darker because of my tendency to criticize others, to avoid those who do not hold my views, to exclude and disregard.

But the outrageous act would be to rush to embrace others, to welcome relationships and to say, “Here I am. I care for you. I invite you into my life.” I am so inspired by the words Steven Charleston.

Go ahead and be outrageous, as wild as you want to be, in your generosity, in your compassion, freewheeling in your mercy, without limits in your kindness, totally out of control in loving those around you, breaking all constraints of who is in and who is out, ignoring prohibitions about not associating with “those” people, running amok in joy for every living creature, helping all that you can, flat out happy, flat out forgiving, no turning back, no excuses, running toward the light, inviting others to do the same!

~ Steven Charleston, Choctaw elder, author, retired Episcopal bishop of Alaska, and adjunct Professor of Native American Ministries, Saint Paul School of Theology.

I plan to be more outrageous in the days ahead. It would be a God thing, I think, to be “flat out happy, flat out forgiving.” It would be living wilder than I’ve ever been, freewheeling and unfettered by my own intolerance. It would, indeed, be running toward the light, God’s light.

This Is My America

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The road ahead after the 2016 presidential election seems frightening and lonely to me. I have contemplated the outcome of the election over and over again, trying to console and comfort myself. And I’m searching for what was my America.

While people protest in the streets of America and the people whose candidate won the presidential election continue to gloat and to spew hate-filled and divisive rhetoric, I am searching for my America. It’s not so easy to find these days. I can’t help but think that this is not a safe and kind place to live for millions of people.

I changed my mind today. It happened at a Walmart Neighborhood Market.

Shopping today was a heartening experience. A young mother with a small child stood by the door asking for donations of canned foods and other items. Their church was putting together Thanksgiving baskets. They have done this for fifteen years. They told us that they expected to give out baskets of a complete Thanksgiving dinner to about 10,000 families at their church on Russell Parkway in Warner Robins, Georgia. Their act of compassion and caring during this Thanksgiving season almost drowns out the voices of hate.

I was more than happy to donate a few cans and to be a small part of this ministry of love. I take another look at the road ahead and discover that it’s still there beckoning me to walk on with hope. This is my America.

On Lovingkindness

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Too often we use words of Scripture to prove a point. It can be a bad practice. Yet at times there are words that seem to speak clearly to our times. Such is this passage from the Book of Leviticus that is a clear call for lovingkindness.

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 New International Version (NIV)

This is what I hear clearly in this passage. The Lord is our God. And God commands us to treat foreign-born citizens with respect and love. It is as simple as that.

Juxtapose that command with the many voices calling for mass deportations, dividing immigrant families, and refusing to offer welcome to refugees fleeing from danger in their homeland. How can those who profess that they are people of faith advocate for unwelcoming national policy?

I cannot answer that question. I do not understand. What I do understand is this:

– 8.4 million Syrian children, inside and outside the country, are in need of humanitarian aid, and millions have borne witness to unrelenting violence from the brutal conflict that began more than five years ago.

– 2.6 million Syrian children are no longer in school and more than 2.5 million are living as refugees in neighboring countries or on the run in search of safety, helping to fuel a global migrant crisis.

– Syria is now the world’s biggest producer of both internally displaced people and refugees. Many children have spent several bitter winters living in makeshift shelters without adequate protection from the cold.Β (unicefusa.org)

On the brighter side the U.S. accepted more than 2,300 Syrian refugees in June of 2016 alone, sending the fiscal year total soaring past the 5,000 mark and putting the government on track to surpass President Obama’s goal of 10,000 by the end of September. (washingtontimes.com)

May God fill our hearts with compassion and lovingkindness. May our nation become a welcoming place of refuge. May we love others as we love ourselves.

Love in Action

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A high school teacher battling cancer looked out of his bedroom window and saw 400 students and faculty worshiping outside his window. They surprised their terminally ill teacher by showing up on his street and serenading him with hymns.

Ben Ellis, who taught at the Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville before his illness, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer last December. After a devastating medical report last week, he and his family decided to cease treatment.

Mr Ellis said that what the students did was “beautiful and unforgettable. It overwhelmed me that God would fill that many students with that much love. In that moment I felt that I was not alone.”

The lesson for us is about giving ourselves, selflessly and lavishly, to those who need an act of love. May God enliven us to put our love in action.

Fourteen Cows

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In a beautiful gesture of sympathy following the 9/11 attacks, the Kenyan Masai tribespeople gave American diplomats 14 cows.

For the Masai people, the cow is valued above all possessions and the gift of a cow is the highest expression of regard and sympathy

The cattle – regarded as sacred by the Masai – were handed over to William Brancick, deputy head of the United States embassy in Kenya, in a remote village near the border with Tanzania.

The gift was arranged by Kimeli Naiyomah, a Kenyan-born man who was studying in New York at the time of the disaster.

“This is the ultimate gift a Masai can give,” Mr Naiyomah told Reuters news agency.

“I knew my people, I knew they are merciful – they can be fierce and deadly when provoked – but they are also the type of people who can easily cry for the pain of other people.”

The ceremony was marked by tribespeople in traditional red robes and jewelry, some of whom carried banners saying “To the people of America, we give these cows to help you”

The US national anthem played as the herdsmen handed over the cattle.

What a gesture of generosity and compassion, given by a people who have so little . . . no running water, electricity, or means of communication with the world outside of their villages. Would that we who have so much might be as generous to those in need.

This story was reported by BBC News: World Edition on Monday, June 3, 2002.