Friday, February 19, 2016
But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
[Philippians 3:20 New Revised Standard Version]
In January I spent a week in Tucson, Arizona, with the Bishops of the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) at our annual Bishops’ Academy. As part of our week of continuing education, we made a side trip to Nogales, Arizona, a border city nearly 70 miles south of Tucson.
A wall separates Nogales, Arizona from an identically named city, Nogales, in the state of Sonora in Mexico. Erected in the mid-1990s, the wall was built from sheets of interlocking steel that were left over from what the military used to build temporary runways for aircraft.
The area is a gateway for commerce between Mexico and the United States. Many years before, people walked freely from one country to the other, considering themselves to be in the same city. So it is understandable why there is anger about a fence that discourages Mexican shoppers from coming to the Arizona side and hurts businesses that already have seen sales drop because of tighter border security. In addition, the wall has divided families, some that lived in one city but worked in the other.
On the other hand, there are those who are afraid. Afraid of terrorism, of escalating violence, a perceived lack of security. They desire increased protection which, they feel, comes from a sealed border. These are just a few aspects of the complicated issue that is immigration.
Just yesterday, Pope Francis became embroiled in the immigration controversy – nothing new – by making a stop at Ciudad Juárez in Mexico, within sight of the U. S. border, and praying for migrants who have died during their journeys to America.
Later, on board the plane returning him home after the six-day visit to Mexico, he was asked about Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign promise to fortify the wall between the two countries. Pope Francis replied, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”
Immigration is not about numbers and statistics, it is about people. Men, women, and children—human beings created in God’s image—who, for whatever reasons, have found it necessary to leave their countries of birth, their families and their familiar surroundings, and go elsewhere. As already stated, many die in pursuit of the dream of a new life.
The Bible abounds with stories of immigration. We could call it the ultimate immigration handbook. From the very beginning we hear accounts of people moving from one place to the other, some with no known destination. Abram, the central character in the Old Testament reading from Genesis, wandered from country to country.
It is possible that questions raised about immigrant issues have a deeper source than we are willing to admit—not our needs, but our wants and desires, which lead us to be centered on self. These desires make us “enemies of the cross of Christ,” as Paul writes in the Philippians reading. This may have been what the Pope was alluding to in his remarks to reporters. “Their minds are set on earthly things,” Paul concludes.
Nations and borders do not, and should not, claim our ultimate allegiance. Our citizenship is in heaven. Thus the question that this reading from Philippians – in particular the final verse (see above) – forces us to ask ourselves is: Why are we here? Is there a divine purpose for us to be in America other than the economic and social opportunities?
I close with a portion of a well-known poem by Robert Frost titled Mending Wall,
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…
Robert Frost, 1874 – 1963
And I include the video of a prayer that our ELCA Presiding Bishop, the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, prayed at the conclusion of our visit to Nogales. Click HERE for the video.